Staffordshire figure collectors can pick from a range of figures that cater to all tastes. If those pretty little gardeners are not your thing, how about these?
Rare pair of Wood and Caldwell Tritons, ca.1795. H: approx. 9'. Courtesy Elinor Penna.
What are they, you might ask? Well, a pair of tritons, of course. And what is a triton? If you watched Disney's Little Mermaid II you would know. Or Hall's Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art will tell you that a triton is a merman, half man and half fish, with fins at the hips. Triton was the son of Neptune and Amphitrite, and in the classics tritons generally escort Neptune and play around in the waves, blowing shell-shaped trumpets. The subject inspired the Wood and Caldwell manufactory to model Tritons in pearlware figure form, sometime between 1791 and 1818--I suspect earlier in this period rather than later.
We attribute our Staffordshire tritons to Wood and Caldwell based on stylistic similarity to that manufactory's wares. Also, marked Wood and Caldwell triton figures are recorded. Falkner, plate XLVIII, shows one with a brass nozzle attached so it serves as a candlestick. One of a pair, it is finished in a bronze enamel that simulates true bronze. Ugly thing, me thinks, but each to his own!
Eliza Meteyard notes triton figure forms were produced by Josiah Wedgwood prior to the formation of the Wood and Caldwell partnership. Flaxman modeled a triton for Wedgwood in 1775, and such a figure--probably made in basalt--almost certainly inspired the Wood and Caldwell figures.
If you have already read the posting below about Jason and Medea, scroll to the bottom of it to see the pair of porcelain figures, ca. 1780, that relate to our earthenware examples.
Porcelain figures generally predate the earthenware figures we collect, and in some cases Staffordshire's figure potters mimicked porcelain figures to create cheaper wares. We see this again and again. Let me quickly add that most Staffordshire figures are NOT derived from porcelain models. Instead, they simply mirror everyday life through the eyes of the potters. Of course, porcelain lovers appreciate the refined exquisiteness of porcelain. I like the earthy comfort of pottery, so when I figure is available in both pottery and porcelain, pottery wins out each time, by my reckoning!
Two Look-Alike Ram Groups. Left: Pearlware, Staffordshire, ca.1815. Right, Porcelain, Derby porcelain, ca. 1760. From the stock of Andrew Dando.
The ram groups above let us glimpse at plagiarism at work. Clearly, the porcelain figure group on the right was the design inspiration for the earthenware group made some 60 years later.
We see the same thought process at work with the design of the figures of the Welch Tailor and Wife.
Welch Tailor and Wife. Derby Porcelain. Ca. 1790. Stock of Andrew Dando.
Welch Tailor and Wife. Staffordshire earthenware. Ca. 1820. Stock of Martyn Edgell.
Clearly, the Staffordshire figures are derived from the Derby figures. The Derby figures were themselves copied. The original figures were produced ca. 1740 at Meissen. The story behind the design is rather amusing. Read it in the August 2009 blog posting by clicking here.
My interest in design sources dictates that I look closely at porcelain figures...and on rare occasions I admire them, but never enough to buy one. I am amazed by the longevity of the designs: the Welch Tailor made in Staffordshire in the 1820s looked just like the one made at Meissen 80 years earlier.
Tithe Pig Group. 19thC Derby. Courtesy Andrew Dando.
This Derby figure form--an early 19thC example of a group that Derby made in earlier decades--again inspired copying in Staffordshire clay. The theme was a popular one. You can read about it here in my January 2009 blog posting.
Tithe Pig Group. Staffordshire C1810. Courtesy Andrew Dando.
The Staffordshire group was a roaring success, and you can find it with varying bases and bocages. Some examples have a spill vase in lieu of a bocage. Every collector should have at least one!
Quite a few Derby figures portraying theatrical characters were made in the 1820s, at the same time as Staffordshire figures looking just like them. Which came first? No way of knowing for sure, but my bet is on Staffordshire. And when it comes to chronicling everyday life as it was then, Staffordshire wins hands down.
Classical figures are SO under-rated. Their quality is frequently glorious, with lovely soft enamels associated with early figures. That most collectors find them 'boring' is a sad reflection on our intellectual capacity, or lack thereof. I too was among the clueless....until I acquired a copy of Hall's Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. This book made the story that each classical figure tells riveting--most would be R rated by today's standards. The figures became more interesting as I learned about them, and all the little details made sense. Particularly puzzling was this figure, commonly referred to as "The Sacrifice."
Staffordshire pearlware figure. H: 8'
I bought this figure about 2 years ago. I thought the enamels were luscious, but I knew nothing about the subject. My research took me to Peter Bradshaw's book on Derby figures. There I learned that Derby made a pair of 'sacrifice' figures. The male portrays Jason and the female is Medea. They are both modeled at the Altar of Diana. The Derby male appears to have been the prototype of the Staffordshire male we see above, but the female Derby figure seems to have disappeared, and today we don't know what it looks like.
Bradshaw (pp. 179-181) traces the male figure to an engraving by Charles Monnet titled Jason and Medea at the Altar of Diana from ‘Les Metamorphoses d’Ovide’ by L’Abbe Bannier, Paris, 1767-71. I found a copy of this book at the NY Public Library. It was stored off site, so I had to put in a request and return two days later to the Print Room to see the book by appointment. My heart was in my mouth as I carefully paged through, looking for the source engraving. Well, I found it...but, sadly, it bears little resemblance to the figure. The engraving did inspire a large composite Derby 'sacrifice' group, so perhaps Bradshaw determined that the individual figures were derivative. Who knows? Anyway, it does make sense that the Staffordshire figures depict Jason and Medea at the altar of Diana.
Pearlware figure of Medea at the Altar of Diana. Courtesy Elinor Penna.
Pearlware figure of Jason at the Altar of Diana. Courtesy Elinor Penna.
The figures, like most classical figures, are usually found on white bases with a decorative line. Encoch Wood made a figure of Medea just like the one above. We know this because of a large shard (interestingly, it is porcelain) excavated from the St Paul's Church, Burslem, site. It was among the wares Enoch Wood deposited there in 1828. Interestingly, there is more than one model of Jason. He occurs with a different head, as below
Pearlware figure of Jason at the Altar of Diana. Note the figure has an unusual head.
I have not seen a different version of Medea--nor have I seen the figure with the beard paired with Medea, so perhaps he was made to stand alone. Time may reveal more! As mythical figures go, Medea was among the worst. She was Jason's wife and a witch...literally. The only good thing she seems to have done, was help Jason capture the Golden Fleece. When Jason deserted her, she murdered their children to exact revenge. As a sorceress, she did the unbelievable. There was much draining-and-replacing of blood, and Medea actually rejuvenated a ram, after chopping it into bits. I know we have Jason sacrificing the animal in our figure, but perhaps a blog reader can explain all this to me.
A later addition to this posting: Andrew Dando has kindly supplied a photograph of a pair of figures from the Chelsea-Derby porcelain manufactory, c1780.
Porcelain figures of Jason and companion, Chelsea-Derby circa 1780. Courtesy Andrew Dando Antiques
Andrew's porcelain Jason was clearly the prototype for the Staffordshire figure. As for the companion....well, she seems a little confused. Her floral garland suggests she is Flora, while the Dove in her hand suggests she might be Venus. My guess is that the modeler had no idea of the identity of Jason's companion, so he improvised.
Staffordshire's figure potters produced an extraordinary range of wares. And they also made more than their fair share of religious figures. Figures portraying the Madonna and child have never been my 'thing'....but this week two examples popped up that made me change my mind. Andrew Dando's current Exhibition features a Madonna that is quite a tour de force.
Staffordshire pearlware Madonna and child from the stock of Andrew Dando. H: 23'
Well, isn't she simply beautiful? Sublime. Notice the traces of the original soft gilded pattern on her blue cloak. You don't often see that because gilding was an expensive touch and it wore away quite easily. Despite being an impressive 23" high, this figure is elegant and not at all clunky. The wording on the base, SANCTA MARIA ORA PRO NOBIS translates to "Holy Mary, pray for us." It is found within the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as the Litany of Loreto), originally approved in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V.
At the other end of the design spectrum is this little Madonna and child, a mere 5" high.
Staffordshire figure of a Madonna and child. H: 5'
This figure was sent to me by a blog reader who wanted to know what it was. I had never seen this figure before--nor had I seen its base form. At first, I wondered if it was English but after looking at some more photos I was convinced.
Bae of pearlware figure of Madonna.
Very definitely pearlware, made in Staffordshire circa 1820. And it has all the quirky charm that makes little figures so engaging. As I always tell my lecture audiences, Staffordshire figures provide something for every pocket.
Myrna muses: this figure's form looks rather like Quimper versions of the Madonna. Any chance our potter was inspired by a French figure? Or is the resemblance merely coincidental?
Our family of figures with gray bases is growing. I doubt you will recall the blog article of March 14 (click to read), but we featured a figure of Spring among the small group of gray-based figures.
WInter and Spring on gray bases,
Spring now has a companion: Winter. The bases are formed identically and their size is the same. The collector who owns these pieces hopes one day to have the complete set...so shout if you see any more!
I have a soft spot for The Seasons and found these on Aurea Carter's site this week.
Pearlware figures of Spring, Summer, and Winter from the stock of Aurea Carter.
I have never seen these forms before. Must admit I like my figures enamel-painted, so I will live in hope of finding figures that underwent the next stage in the decorative process.
Other news: I have finally finished laboring on my article on John Walton, which will hopefully be published next year. I identified 83 distinct figure forms that occur with the WALTON mark. I am going to move onto enamel-painted Ralph Wood figures next, so if you know of Staffordshire figures that might interest me, please share.
Last but most important, visit Andrew Dando's Exhibition, online from tomorrow, by clicking here. As the pound goes down, pottery in the UK becomes a better and better buy for US collectors, so seize the moment!
I love this charming, naive, rather wobbly looking figure. Seeing her made my week--probably the month --in my obviously pathetic life. I long to see figure forms that are hitherto unrecorded, and this figure had eluded discovery until Andrew Dando found her.
EUROP. Pearlware Staffordshire figure symbolizing Europe. Circa 1820. H: 6'. Courtesy of Andrew Dando.
The figure symbolizes the continent of Europe. It is endearingly titled EUROP--spelling was not the potters' strong suit. I assume that the intent was to make this figure as one of a set of four that would have represented the Four Quarters of the Globe. This theme was developed by Meissen circa 1750, and the figures were mimicked by Chelsea in 1759. Derby's figures, made from 1760 onward, are the best known. These figures are all porcelain, whereas our little EUROP is the only recorded pottery rendition of Europe. She must have been inspired by a porcelain figure. Peter Bradshaw, Derby Porcelain Figures 1750-1848, page 303, illustrates a set of the Four Quarters of the Globe wherein Europe shares many of the emblems found on our earthenware figure. As befits the queen of the world, our pottery EUROP wears a crown and holds an orb and sceptre. The horse at her feet, as well as the crossbones and symbols of war, allude to her supremacy in war. The books piled to the right of the base allude to her leadership in more peaceful arts.
Derby figures of the Four Quarters of the Globe.
Andrew Dando has supplied this photo of a set of Derby porcelain figures from his stock. As you can see, each figure has appropriate emblems, so titling is not necessary for identification. This porcelain Europe (second from the right) has a horse at her feet.
The porcelain figures are exquisite, but they fail to engage me. The pottery EUROP on the other hand oozes charm. The figure is indeed leaning to her left (prescient of the social shift that was to follow??), but something went a little wrong in manufacture. One arm of the bocage was lost.
EUROP. No repair or restoration or damage.
How do I know that the bocage broke off in manufacture and not subsequently? Viewed from the back, we can determine that the bocage broke off during the glaze firing and the mark where it touched the shoulder is still apparent. Close examination shows that both scars were enameled over and then fired one more time. This figure is as made. To think that someone might attempt to replace the lost piece of bocage sends my blood running cold. A unique figure in great original condition is a treasure.
What happened to the other three figures in this set? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps EUROP was a first attempt and the lack of success discouraged further initiative. I am hoping that the remaining three figures were indeed made and that I will find them someday.
Andrew Dando's much-awaited May Exhibition is almost upon us. Set the timer on your phone to remind you to check it out online....unless you are fortunate enough to be within driving distance of one of Britain's top 50 antiques shops. Click here to link to the site. The Exhibition runs from May 8-15.