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Nic Saintey
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About Nic Saintey
Nic Saintey is a director and a specialist in ceramics. His effervescent nature and wide experience has seen him regularly appear as an expert on the BBC's Bargain Hunt and Flog It programmes
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The material published in this web log is for general purposes only. It does not constitute nor is it intended to represent professional advice. You should always seek specific professional advice in relation to particular issues. The information in this web log is provided "as is" with no warranties and confers no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions.

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Review Entries for Day Friday, March 20, 2009

How many times have you heard the response ‘Huh, a monkey could have done that’? Generally from experience usually the words fall dismissively from the lips of someone faced with a material piece of human endeavour (the wider word calls ‘art’) that they just can’t understand. Perhaps the next step up from this forthright type of criticism is ‘My three year old could have done that’.

Whilst children occur regularly as the subject of art it is perhaps unsurprising from a Western European perspective that monkeys don’t! Aside from King Kong and Tarzan and Disney’s version of Jungle Book I can’t think of many instances of the ape as subject matter. When one does appear it is in a subservient or unflattering role.
 royal doulton character ape hn.960

However recently I bumped into two apes that have made me reconsider. Firstly I sold a Royal Doulton Character Ape, a humorous figure which shows the seated individual with a book in its lap something which suggests a sideswipe to Darwinism. Although relatively mass produced it is the tongue in cheek face of art from a Western standpoint.

In my second encounter I came across a Nigerian, Yoruba carved figure of a monkey. This one was different, but equally engaging, unlike the Royal Doulton Character Ape which was one of an identical number, this was completely bespoke. I am familiar with Royal Doulton, but understandably am less so with ethnic carving, let alone the products of Yoruba.

 yoruba, nigeria, a carved wooden figure of a monkey

Rather than a purely decorative object it was obviously intended to have some function – though I have no idea what. Frankly it has a disproportionately large head and teeth and seems pretty unfriendly, but then I do realise it wasn’t made for me. I suspect, even though this is not my field of expertise, it had some ritualistic, religious or social function and I guess it was no fertility symbol (work it out for yourself) he looks pretty aggressive and strong and doesn’t seem to be wholly ape, just like the Doulton Character Ape, there is an anthropomorphic aspect to him, but why is he holding a cup?
Is it now art - well why ever not? I liked the Yoruba monkey so he is now nakedly presiding over my kitchen, my wife has made no comment, but then our terrier also roams nakedly around our kitchen, but I can assure you he is definitely no work of art!
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Friday, March 20, 2009 12:13:07 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Now here's a few questions, are animals in aspic Art and is Damien Hurst avant garde or just recycling an old idea?

In a few words I cannot possibly approach a definition of the concept of 'Art', but I can comment on the work of Edwin Beer Fishley because; one as a professional antiques valuer I genuinely admire his work; two because I was actually brought up in Bideford (a stones throw from Fremington): and three because I am about to sell a collection of North Devon Art Pottery that belonged to the late Audrey Edgeler.

Edwin Beer Fishley came from a dynasty of Fishley potters based in North Devon who in turn absorbed their influence from their landscape and a long traditional of artisan potters typical to the area.

'To Mother Earth I owe my birth, then formed a jug by man' - so reads the caption on many Fishley pottery pieces any bunny hugger, son of the soil or potter cannot fail to be moved by the sentiment and not understand the emotive connection between art and nature.

edwin beer fishley pottery frog

So what of Damien Hurst and North Devon, where am I going with this? Well one of the more unusual pieces of the Edgeler collection is a pottery frog, the late owner's son wonders whether it was formed using a real one. I hope not, but can't help admiring anything of a seemingly everyday nature, meticulously observed, created with intent for its own sake and above all formed from the sod itself. Was it not a medieval superstition that believed the frogs were physical born out of mud itself?

I don't know whether the pictured Edwin Beer Fishley object is a paperweight, a Victorian art pottery tile or whether it is a sculpture in its own right, does it matter? I am drawn to it, it speaks to me in so many ways, unobtrusively beautiful, it reminds me of my home and my job, but above all it's a beautifully rendered dead frog and I think it's Art with a capital 'A'.

Saatchi eat your heart out and Damien, you were beaten by a century, keep up!

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009 12:09:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When I started out on this, my second incarnation, a life that centred on antiques I was asked at a very early age – so what are you going to specialise in? I hadn’t initially given it much thought, but then for a number of reasons mostly boring I decided on ceramics, probably driven by the fact that every house has pots in it so you are never short of something to do.

So in my time I have kissed a hell of a lot of frogs and as a result found just a few princesses. So it was, just recently, though my relationship with Lot 23 in our sale of 28th January was a fleeting one full of hope, desire and admiration, but alas ultimately out of my reach. True platonic love some would say. I am unsure whether these dishes came from the reign of Selim II or Murad III, however despite their age these dishes were far from naively decorated having stark simple, recognisable, but striking renderings of, amongst other plants, carnations and tulips. Tulips were an indigenous species of Turkey a flower that created a mania amongst the European glitterati at the time – they were the must have item of the 16th and 17th centuries. Despite being no horticulturalist these Isnik dishes were truly beautiful despite some pretty large chips and more than a few good old fashioned rusty staple repairs.

 isnik dishes


They were broken, but gorgeous and as a result of their less than perfect nature I thought they might be the achievable object of my desires, but alas it was not to be. What would you prefer a flawed beauty or perfect banality? I leave the final sentiments to Leonard Cohen ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009 3:56:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Sunday, January 25, 2009

Of all the major porcelain manufactories in Germany perhaps the least known and the shortest lived was Frankenthal. Karl Hannong the brains behind a French faience workshop moved his staff in the late 1750’s to an empty army camp in Frankenthal. After a difficult start the death of Karl and an internecine struggle over the secret recipe for ‘porcelain pots’ meant that the surviving brothers Joseph and Peter had to rely increasingly on Carl Theodor Prince Elector, Count Palatine and Duke of Bavaria.

It was not long before Carl a long time patron of the arts and founder of a Science Academy took over the administration of the Franthenthal works. This led to a period of relative stability and arguably produced some of the best quality porcelain outside of Meissen during the 1760’s. 

 carl theodor frankenthal porcelain boar


So its Hats off to Carl, patron of the arts and all round good guy – unfortunately as a monarch and politician he rather failed at his day job by leading his country into some ill considered conflicts and dodgy blue sky thinking when he proffered a playground swap for the less interesting bits of his country with the then neighbouring Austrians. Eventually when he shuffled off this mortal coil after suffering from a stroke, did his citizens rush out in patriotic fervour and buy up all his remaining pots as future antiques and collectors items? No, apparently not , instead they celebrated for three days, so much then for best intentions.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009 9:23:02 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I often wonder what singular piece of inspiration caused the first person to consider using ground up swim bladder to clear wine. What arbitrary series of events occurred in the mind of the individual who mixed tobacco spit and urine because it made a ‘nice pattern’ on Mocha Ware – a man could lose sleep over things like that.

So it is with Lot 365 in tomorrow’s sale. I have nothing against pottery jugs, how could I, they are inoffensive enough and are often beautiful works of art in their own right? Elsemore & Forster were a rather small concern based in Tunstall between 1853 and 1871 that made useful objects in Ironstone (a sort of robust pottery that has some of the characteristics of porcelain). Don’t get me wrong it is a great jug, a little on the large size, probably on the edge of being practical when full, but who in their right mind conceived the decorative scheme on it. Who stood back and said yep that’s good, I’m pleased with that?

elsmore & forster grimaldi jug

Often referred to as a ‘Grimaldi’ jug in deference to the two passable portraits of the late great celebrated British Clown it also has a rather sweet if eclectic series of  domestic and wild animal portraits that a nightingale, cats, frogs, bears, zebras, tigers, a race horse and others including a rather distressed beached whale. It looks like the kind of jug a Victorian child might covet, a pleasant distraction that had the advantage of passing educational value.

That is it would have been had not the design department of Elsmore & Forster considered that the ideal decoration for the rim was a series of cock fighting prints that include gory images of the ‘Knock Down’ and ‘The Kill’. Was this just a collage of spare or off cut transfers,  it seems not, several similar have come to market in the last few years? Was this a jug for grown ups – maybe? However this jug has a name and a date 1860 which indicates it was a present for a youngster, perhaps for a birthday. I wonder if master Joseph Morgan had nightmares, whether he grew up to be a pillar of society, or whether he sought solace in pulling the legs off spiders?
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Tuesday, January 13, 2009 2:30:01 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, January 12, 2009

If I told you that Josiah Wedgwood was buried in a ceramic coffin you would probably be right to distrust me. However, whatever vessel he resides in he must surely be spinning in it now with the very sad news that his once proud ‘pottery business’ has gone the way of nearly every other domestic ceramic concern in this country.

Josiah Wedgwood the man who invented Black Basalt and every conceivable colour of Jasper Ware, the individual who improved the quality of fine bodied Cream Ware made pottery not just a poor cousin to porcelain, but a very real competitor to it in every sense.

 wedgwood blue jasperware      wedgwood keith murray 'annular' vases.    wedgwood ravilious 'garden implements' pattern.

Even better I just loved the idea that even a grand ‘art house’ concern such as Wedgwood also made toilets, sanitary wares, tiles and things of a more mundane nature, something that should have made it a resilient business.

The company continued it's enterprising spirit through the 19th and on into the 20th century with Wedgwood employing striking and radical designers such as Keith Murray and Eric Ravilious and on occasion the downright bizarre if you consider the ‘Fairyland Lustre’ of Daisy Makieg Jones!  Just where did it all go wrong?

Is the concept of a ceramic coffin equally as bizarre? Apparently not, several examples have been unearthed in the Hamadan area of Iran, most recently in 2001. 

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Monday, January 12, 2009 3:36:50 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Sunday, January 11, 2009

Perhaps because I’m flawed myself, I despise perfection – perfection has no character – no matter how great its quality. Perfection in porcelain is something to be admired in itself, the skill and dexterity to make something so perfect it could have been made by a machine!

For me there can be nothing greater than the naive charm of an object that shows the ‘free’ hand of its artisan maker, a comforting earthiness, an accidental fingerprint perhaps. Peasant art, and rather backward looking maybe, but a Donyatt puzzle jug has all the warmth, comfort and character that anyone could wish for from a ‘useful’ object.

I was bought up in Bideford and now live in Somerset, literally miles from the site of the old Donyatt pottery – of course I’m biased. Donyatt shows all the character of the popular, but unaffordable Bideford and Barnstaple harvest jugs, probably because the raw material was the same in both places and because one John Jewell made the trip from Bideford to nearby Chard in the 1690s.

The body, glaze and style of decoration remained fairly consistent for centuries. The example illustrated is from the latter years of the Donyatt pottery and was probably produced by the Arlidge family.

a donyatt puzzle jug from somerset

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Sunday, January 11, 2009 2:31:31 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, December 15, 2008

I am always fascinated by the ethereal process that turns practical household objects into 'Art' or desirable 'Antiques'. Sounds like an alchemist's dream doesn't it? So it is that antique wine bottles are keenly sought, and strangely not for their contents as they are invariably empty!

A recent sale at our rooms in Exeter was a good demonstration with prices from a few £100's to just shy of  £3,000 for a Cornish example bearing a seal for 'T.Lanyon Gwinier, 1721', not bad for rubbish I would say.

 an antique wine bottle


Strictly speaking these were high status items used for decanting and serving the contents of a gentleman's cellar, hence their owner's desire to mark them. Early examples circa 1680-1720 were hand blown into wooden moulds and are often referred to as 'onion bottles' in deference to their shape although I can't help thinking the next evolution in shape circa 1720-40 known as 'the bladder'  has a more appropriate resonance for an antique wine bottle.

As I blog another antique wine bottle with local connections has appeared on my desk this example is charmingly marked for 'I.Y at ye Dock' and research suggests that it was almost certainly made for James Yonge a second generation naval surgeon from Devonport.
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Monday, December 15, 2008 4:41:59 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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