My friend Bob is wise about a wide range of earthenwares, but when it comes to figures I liked to think I had him beat. I am a perpetual student, no expert, so this time I was thrilled to learn from Bob. Bob emailed me last week: Would you be interested in showing / discussing my feldspathic stoneware figure of Charity? I can’t find any literature reference to stoneware figures & I’d like to find out if there are other figures out there; perhaps even a marked example. I’m assuming Chetham & Woolley. The detail of the molding is incredible.
Chetham & Woolley? They didn’t make figures...or did they? Busts yes, but figures? Bob clearly was a step ahead of me this time, and I couldn’t wait for the pictures to arrive. So here she is.
A simply gorgeous figure, is she not? Looks rather like a Staffordshire pearlware figure, doesn't she? My first reaction was to the modeling. Charity’s enormous hands and heavily hooded eyes are features found on Ralph Wood figures, and the overall modeling is of a Ralph Wood standard. Viewed from beneath, the base is finished in the manner consistent with Ralph Wood. But the decoration on the figure is less suggestive of Ralph Wood. The blue line goes around all four sides of the base, in contrast to the three lines found on Ralph Wood enamel-painted figures. Above all, the body appears to be stoneware, and it is translucent. This means light shines through it. Porcelain is translucent, yet this figure is earthenware.
Let’s look at the types of earthenware bodies. Bob referred me to Colin Wyman’s Chetham & Woolley Stonewares 1793-1821
for a very concise clarification of this otherwise murky area.
- Earthenware (pottery to most of us) comprises mixed clays. When fired, it is gritty and porous. Unless it is glazed, water will seep into it. It is not translucent.
- Stoneware uses a modified clay mix able to withstand even higher firing temperatures. The body is vitreous (glassy) and fine. It is not translucent.
- Feldspathic stoneware comprise a clay mix with more feldspar in it. With high firing temperatures, it yields a stoneware body that is translucent.
Bob’s figure is feldspathic stoneware. Possibly Chetham and Woolley made it. This firm established its potbank in Longton in 1795 and pioneered feldspathic stoneware, a new earthenware body that was translucent. The blue line around the base of Charity is like that found on soccles supporting busts made by this manufactory. I know an attribution can’t be hung on a blue line, but the line is a slim clue pointing us in a direction.
Although I have seen many versions of Charity, this form appears to be unique. I have seen no other example modeled thus. The molds are of a high standard and must have been costly, so it is difficult to understand why we don’t see other figures from them.
I can only conclude that Bob’s Charity was an experimental attempt, possibly by Chatham and Woolley. If you have any thoughts on this figure, please share
The only other figures I have recorded with a blue line around the base are the Seasons (discussed on July 27 2011, accessiible here
) and a soldier. The decoration on the figures was suggestive of Ralph Wood but insufficient basis for attribution. At best, I must conclude that a painter who had worked for Wood may have painted these figures too. The figures are ordinary stoneware—not translucent, as best I can assess. They have pearlware glazes and in all other aspects resemble earthenware Staffordshire figures. Update:
Thanks to Raymond Parkin for the following information:
The Castlegate Antiques Centre in Newark recently sold a pair of feldspathic figures from a set of the seasons. They were about four inches high and were uncoloured, but of superb quality and not unlike similar Neale figures. They were unfortunately unmarked.
The figures had languished in a cabinet for some considerable time but I had resisted the temptation to buy them because of the price.
When I finally decided I must have them guess what, they had been sold just two days before! How man times have we done that......?
In over 40 years of collecting pots I can only recollect seeing a handful of these feldspathic figures.
Great information....and a reminder to always seize the moment!
I love hearing from so many of you, but now I have a question. Will someone please explain to me WHY this pair of figures has been sitting unsold on John Howard's site for a few days.
Current stock of John Howard. Pair of Flemish Musicians, titled, each with impressed mold number, attributable to Ralph Wood. Made in Staffordshire ca. 1790.
These figures are really
early enamels, made between 1782 and 1801. Yes, they are over 200 years old. They are deliciously beautiful, very elegant, in super condition, and a true pair. What more could you want? You need to know who made them? That I can tell you too. These are attributable to Ralph Wood, perhaps the most famous of the early potters. Each figure is impressed with a Ralph Wood mold number. There is nothing more that you could want.
So why haven't I bought these figures? I have a pair. When my friend Nick Burton got them for me in the UK some years ago, he was wowed by their serene beauty. If you don't own Ralph Wood enamels, buy this pair. You will never tire of them. And if you can explain why they have not flown off John's site, please email me
Last week, this little vase sold at auction. I had photographed it in a private collection some years ago, so I was aware of its existence. It isn't spot-on my taste, but it is a beautiful little treasure nonetheless. You have to marvel at the intact gilding. Early gilding was very soft and barely stuck to the surface, so much of it has been lost over time. This vase is important because it is impressed TURNER beneath. William Turner of Lane End is recorded in trade directories between 1796 and 1834, but I can't recall seeing his mark on any other figure.
Far prettier to my mind is this pair of similarly styled figural vases that are/were in the stock of Martyn Edgell
. Yellow is so eye-catching in pottery, and these two are charmingly cheerful. Beware if you go to Martyn's site: the experience is like going into a antiques shop in the days when they were packed with wonderful finds. You just don't know what you will discover that you MUST buy!
This is one of my favorite variations of the Turner vase and it is 'Sherratt style.' Note the distinctive applied sprig garlands to the base. I photographed it from the stock of Jim Dunn at Bittersweet Antiques
a good while ago.
And once upon a time this variation was in the stock of Barbara Gair at Castle Antiques
. Note that it has a bocage.
Isn't it fascinating to see how potters shared/copied and reused/adapted molds to meet the varying tastes of the market? Something for every eye and pocket, then and now.
Aurea Carter has added some wonderful Ralph Wood figures to stock. Remember that these are among the earlier figures of the period I cover and were made some time between 1782 and 1801. Aurea is offering this clown, and I was particularly exited to notice that it was impressed with the number 6.
Stock of Aurea Carter
Frank Falkner records seeing this figure impressed 5, but this is the first numbered example I have been able to record. It has been added to our Rogues Gallery of Ralph Wood figures, found here
And this figure is not just about its number. Isn't it beautiful? Those early enamels are quite something. Note the same figure occurs titled "Sloth." I have recorded it and an unnumbered "Clown" as A6 on my Ralph Wood figures page.
Courtesy John Howard
Too late, too late. This pair of "Gardener" and "& Mate" flew off John Howard's site. She was impressed 8. He was impressed 9. I have recorded her in the Potteries Museum....but impressed 9. Now I have an example impressed 8. How complicated! My brain whirls trying to keep things straight. As for "Gardener", I have not recorded a numbered model before, so one more for the list.
Stock of Aurea Carter
Before you abandon reading this, let's get back to basics: a simply beautiful tall figure impressed 136 and titled "& Partner." Again, this is in Aurea's stock. The only other numbered example I have seen was in the Potteries Museum. Who is the partner of "& Partner"? This I do not know. I have yet to work that out, but, like so many other figures, she stands magnificently alone.
Stock of Aurea Carter
Aurea also has this sweet little figure emblematic of Water. In a particularly pretty palette, she is unmistakably Ralph Wood. Don't you love her expression? It doesn't end here: check out Aurea's other Ralph Wood offerings.
Much as I like the cheerful naivety of later figures, early enamels of the Ralph Wood and Neale/Wilson type leave me awestruck. They are so very pretty. With their creamy delicacy, they appear edible. If you haven't added any to your collection, do so. But beware: they are addicting.
This summer I am going to work on a paper on the Ralph Wood enamel-painted figures. I am shell-shocked at the thought. The complexity! Ralph Wood's Gardener's "& Mate" occurs numbered 8 and 9--or 9 and 8. To top it, 9 occurs on examples of the Lost Sheep too..........and this is just the beginning of the problem. Untying the Gordian knot? If you have any thoughts, please share!
I am so excited at being able to show you this pair of pearlware equestrians because I believe they are the finest pair you will ever see.
Breathtakingly beautiful, are they not? Equestrian figures are so rare and desirable that restoration has to be tolerated. Yet this pair is in the most amazing condition. The male figure is perfect. Not a nick or a chip. Even the little spurs on the back of his boots are original. The female figure has the only restoration on this pair: the very tip of one horse's ear. And there is one repair: one horse's leg has been reattached. Note repairs consist of reassembling original material; restorations comprise adding new material.
Play the slideshow above so you can enjoy these figures from all angles. I am spellbound by them. The details--the loop on the rein he holds, those spurs on the boots-- the horses' beautiful heads, the painting on the bases, the soft black of the enameling that has never required retouching.....these figures simply amaze me. When I look at them, I dissolve into their time.
If you haven't read my book you may not know that these figures represent circus performers. The circus was born in the late 1700s, but it was not the circus as we know it today. Early circus performers were all skilled equestrians--both men and women. Initially, they staged trick riding acts, but performances quickly evolved into full scale dramatical re-enactments on horseback of events such as hunts and military battles. What of the lions and elephants we associate with today's circus? Well, if you wanted to see those you went to the menagerie! It was only later in the 19thC that menageries and circuses melded to give us the circus as we know it today..
One of my favorite books is John Hall's Staffordshire Portrait Figures
. This slim little volume is of no great academic worth, but John Hall's love of figures oozes through the pages. I wish I had known John Hall, but alas he was before my time. BTW, you can pick up the book very inexpensively. Barry Lamb at Referenceworks
will get you a copy of this or any other book on ceramics.
All books have errors--a fact authors inevitably learn to their sorrow--and John Hall's book is no exception. Notably, it describes a New Marriage Act just like this one as early, when it is not.
But John Hall's book has left me with a far more vexing question. It illlustrates a crucifixion group, shown from the front only. It looks very like the example below--it probably came from the same potbank because even the bocage leaves are arranged identically. This example, from Andrew Dando's past stock, is unmarked. But Mr. Hall records his example as "John Walton impressed".
Here I have two problems:
- First, WALTON, not JOHN WALTON is the standard form of the Walton mark. Did this figure have some other variation of the Walton mark.....or was Mr. Hall a bit sloppy? Nit-picky you think? These little things start mattering when you are piecing together a research puzzle.
- Second, while I have recorded other examples of the same crucifixion group, I cannot find a single example that is marked WALTON. Collectors and dealers with encyclopedic memories can't recall an example marked WALTON. Old-school dealers tended to use the term "Walton" very loosely, often applying it to figures that simply had a bocage. I am sure that Mr. Hall thought of this figure as being in the Walton style, but he captioned the image as "John Walton impressed."
Until I see a crucifixion group marked WALTON, I cannot credit the Walton potbank with having produced one. My article on Walton pearlware figures appears in the American Ceramic Circle Journal 2011
. The ACC did an amazing job of printing in color examples of all the Walton figures I have recorded. Among them is no crucifixion. If you ever see a crucifixion marked Walton, please email me
....but I don't expect to be hearing from you on this.
Andrew Dando Antiques's Summer Exhibition, Recent Acquisitions & Selected Items from Stock, opens on Saturday June 4. You can visit Andrew and Jan's charming shop on Saturday, or you can participate in the Internet debut on Sunday from the comfort of your armchair at www.andrewdando.org
This time John Howard almost made me a liar. In my last blog posting, I noted that there was not much I had not seen….so John promptly added to his stock a figure I haven't encountered. The WOW addition to stock is a pair of military figures.
Pair of Staffordshire pearlware figures in the stock of John Howard. Right figure marked Stephan P. Circa 1795.
"Duke of Wellington." Potteries Museum, Hanley, UK.
Firstly, John's figure on the left. This, I believe, portrays the Duke of Wellington. I have encountered a few other examples over time. Their owners and I have speculated on the subject’s identity, but this example titled Duke of Wellington
in the Potteries Museum settled that debate. You can read about it here
Oddly enough, there is an example of this figure in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection attributed to the porcelain modeler Pierre Stephan. I expect it is also marked thus and have emailed the museum to enquire. Stay tuned for my update. This will help us attribute John's figure with certainty to Stephan.
Courtesy the National Portrait Gallery.
But what about the other figure, the figure in the red coat, the figure that almost made me a liar? This figure I have NOT seen before. The figure has very Hanoverian facial features, and that's because he is a member of the royal family. He is Prince William (1765-1837) and he became King William IV in 1830. The figure is after a portrait of Prince William, seen here. Painted by Sir Martin Archer Shee, the portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. But Prince William never led forces to any great victory. In his youth, he served in New York at the tail end of the American War of Independence (1775-1783). Thereafter he served under Nelson in the West Indes. In 1789, he was created Duke of Clarence and ceased active service.
John’s figure of Prince William is probably unique, but it is special in another way:it does bear the mark of Pierre Stephan, the famed Derby modeler. Yes, the name of a porcelain artiste on a piece of Staffordshire is a first in my experience.
Well, portraits are intended to flatter, so William’s portrait portrays him as the Conquering Hero. The flag behind William in the portrait is, I believe, the flag that flew over Britain’s American colonies. But the flag behind the earthenware figure is the first American flag, called the Grand Union flag. This flag had 13 red and white stripes…and I am sure the painter tried to get as many of those as he could onto the earthenware flag.
Let's get back to the Derby modeler Pierre Stephan. In his book Derby Porcelain Figures 1750-1848 (pp 405. 406, 460), Peter Bradshaw notes that the very last soft-paste models were created at Derby between 1792 and 1810 and among them were four figures portraying four renowned admirals: Admiral Hood, Admiral Duncan, Lord Rodney, and John Drinkwater. These four models are stylistically similar to the Derby figure of Admiral Lord Howe, an example of which occurs marked P. Stephan. Pierre Stephan freelanced from about 1773 until 1798, working for Wedgwood and others. Bradshaw concludes that “The evidence suggests that the five portrait Derby figures were all created by Stephan between about 1794 and 1798.”
At this point, it seems reasonable to conclude that both John's Staffordshire pottery figures were also modeled by Pierre Stephan between 1794 and 1798. And in addition to the distinguished admirals he modeled in porcelain, Stephan modeled an earthenware figure of a prince who never became an admiral: Prince William Duke of Clarence.
Disclaimer: My knowledge of American history is scant, and I know even less about flags, so shout if I need to correct anything. Any porcelain collectors who can shed light, please comment.
I overthink the concept of collecting. What drives us to collect as we do? Some people collect on a narrow theme, ignoring fabulous figures that don't fit. Others don't collect, they acquire. They buy anything and everything: the good, the bad, the ugly, the broken-beyond-belief. Believe me, I have seen it all: figures arranged so carefully by the decorator that if you move one you have to replace it on the precise spot; figures stacked so deeply in cabinets that you can't see a thing; figures around the edge of a bathtub; figures covering a kitchen cook top; figures under a dining room table, figures in attics, figures in basements. As I said, I think I have seen it all, and each time I wonder about the motivation.Looking around my shelves today, I realized something about my own collection. Every figure in it was there because I had waited for it. In other words, it was on my Want or Wish list. Acquiring it was the result of a hunt.
Admittedly, my first three purchases were random. Then I bought every book and old auction catalogue I could lay my hands on, I visited museums (even lugging a 1980s videocam to England for just this purpose), and I watched what came onto the market. From that, I learned what made my heart skip a beat. Those were the figures I was going to wait for---and I am still waiting for some. Admittedly, the odd item not on The List made it into my collection, but usually the figure was a minor one that I liked and hadn't seen before--and there are not too many of those. Well, the purpose of all this is to ask you to think about why you buy what you do. I can't be the only one tormented by these thoughts!!
A long time ago, The List had on it a rare figure titled WHO SHALL WARE THE BRECHES. I had spotted one at the Park Lane Ceramics Fair, on Jonathan Horne's stand, and marked SOLD the moment the fair opened. I simply loved it and told a dealer I trusted that I wanted that figure group SO badly. The dealer knew of one in a collection he had visited and told me that circumstances would bring it onto the market in time. Well, inevitably the owners, two elderly ladies, died. My heart leaped. Nasty? Hmm....maybe. But when I die, I hope a whole lot of collectors go "Yippee" at the prospect of finally getting something from my collection. How flattering! Then, I heard that the ladies had left their collection to the National Trust. Despair! Just when I thought all was lost, the Trust decided to dump the collection at auction...and my heart filled with hope again.
At last, viewing day arrived and my dealer went to view my coveted figure. Believe it or not, the auction house had broken it--a minor break, the lady's arm. My sorrow was tempered by relief that the arm was still there, not lost, and could be reattached. And in due course, WHO SHALL WARE THE BRECHES came home.
The two cartouches on this figure group are impressed WHO SHALL WARE THE BRECHES and CONQUER OR DIE.
Now is that not a figure group worthy of stalking? I almost used it for the dust jacket of my book. Doesn't its earthy colorfulness epitomize Staffordshire pottery? I know of only one other example on clawed feet. There is another variant of this figure and it is on a flat base. I know of 6 flat-based examples, three of which are in museums. I prefer the raised claw base groups, in part because the enamels are brighter on both examples I have seen, in part because the added height gives the group more pizzazz. But believe me, I would have grabbed either variant of this vary rare piece of pottery.
Today, most marriages end in divorce, but by the early 1800s there was still no divorce law in England. That's because at marriage a woman ceased to exist legally. Instead, she became one in the eyes of the law with her husband--and he could hardly divorce himself! Of course, then as now, all did not go well in English marriages, and the age-old battle for the breeches, captured in Staffordshire clay, is a pointed reminder that in those times death was the only release from a miserable marriage.
Another interesting feature of WHO SHALL WARE THE BRECHES is the cat in the foreground. Little dogs are very common on Staffordshire groups, but cats are few and far between. That's because in the early 1800s the cat was not yet considered a domestic animal. In many areas, cats were still associated with witchcraft, and only later in the century was the cat welcomed into British homes.
This Staffordshire pearlware figure portraying Europa and the Bull was made circa 1800. Europa is, of course, the personification of Europe.
In Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess. Zeus, king of the gods, spied Europa gathering flowers near the sea shore. Smitten by her beauty, he wanted to seduce and ravish her. Being a god, he had a unique solution to the problem: he approached Europa disguised as a docile bull, and when Europa clambered upon the bull's back to adorn his horns with garlands, he plunged into the ocean and bore her off to Crete, where Zeus made her Queen of Crete. And that's how Europa gave her name to the continent that includes the Greek mainland.
Extant artworks depicting the myth of Europa and the bull predate the Christian era; by the seventeenth century, the subject was particularly well represented in European art.
By the eighteenth century, Europa and her bull were also depicted in English porcelain. As early as 1751, a soft paste English porcelain figure from the “Girl–in-a-swing” factory portrayed the myth. A porcelain prototype possibly inspired this earthenware figure.I know of only one example. In the moral climate of the early 1800s, figures portraying myths associated with passion and eroticism were probably unsuitable for our potters’ target customers. Today, that would not be a problem!