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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 Monday, April 22, 2013

When it comes to decorating porcelain plaques the Germans are at the forefront and particularly those at the KPM (Konigliche Porzellan Manufactur) manufactory in Berlin whose work was considered superior even to that at Meissen. The golden years were undoubtedly from 1840 through to around 1900.

 a k.p.m. berlin plaque of the young christ after hofmann circa 1890 - 1900

A KPM Berlin plaque of the Young Christ after Hofmann circa 1890 - 1900 (FS14/614)

The most popular plaques were painted with religious or mythological subject matter inhabited with coquettish maids or the scantily clad, but topographical scenes and faithful copies of existing paintings also featured. Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt and Guido Reni were amongst those most commonly mimicked. Whilst only copies, they were of exceptional quality – you might think it is hard putting a brush to canvas, but I guess painting on a plaque and seeing how it fares in the kiln is perhaps more unpredictable. Once completed, a porcelain plaque has the benefit of retaining all the brightness of colour it had at conception and unlike paper or canvas it will not fade.

 a french porcelain plaque halt during a hunt after watteau, mid 19th century

A French porcelain plaque Halt during a Hunt after Watteau, mid 19th century (FS18/558)

Painting on porcelain was also undertaken in France and in Britain to a lesser degree. Illustrated is a mid 19th century plaque which with a little artistic licence is a copy of a 1720 work by Jean Antione Watteau entitled Halt during a Hunt, which is currently part of the Wallace Collection. However, my job is all about attention to detail, so I noticed that the rifles depicted were percussion rifles (not flintlocks) which weren’t invented in 1720. More concerning is that the pastoral idyll is broken by the fact that all of the rifles are not only primed ready to fire, but are in the hands of children, was there no Health and Safety?

detail of a french porcelain plaque halt during a hunt after watteau

Armed with a weapon from the future (FS18/558)

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Monday, April 22, 2013 1:14:32 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
Comments [0] Early Porcelain | General | Trackback

Review Entries for Day Sunday, April 21, 2013

You may have wondered why so much Chinese porcelain is referred to in French terms, anybody with a passing interest is familiar or should I say ‘au fait’ with the terms famille rose when referring to a palette of porcelain decoration that is primarily red or pink and famille verte if the choice of enamel is biased towards the green. These weren’t Chinese terms and weren’t used by them. The answer lies in the fact that the first European to document Chinese porcelain was Pere d’Entrecolles, a French Jesuit missionary who did so in a series of letters ‘back home’ in 1712.

  a chinese porcelain famille rose tureen and cover, qianlong 1736-96

 A Chinese porcelain famille rose tureen and cover, Qianlong 1736-96 (FS18/490)

Pere Entrecolles known as Yin Hongxu was something of an industrial spy who used technical knowledge, sharp observation and his influence on Catholic converts to gain knowledge of porcelain production whilst tending to his flock in Jingdezhen. It is ironic that Josiah Wedgwood who was so concerned about spies availed himself of Entrecolles published work and copied extracts into his commonplace book.

 a pair of chinese porcelain vases decorated in the famille verte palette, 19th century

A pair of Chinese porcelain vases decorated in the famille verte palette, 19th century (FS18/493)

Two thoughts have just occurred to me firstly whilst the terms famille jaune and famille noir are used why isn’t blue, which comprises the bulk of Chinese porcelain production, called famille bleu? The second rather more random thought is had Marco Polo, who was in China in the early 14th century, dictated the story of porcelain rather than a self aggrandising tale whilst in his prison cell we might have using terms like famiglia rosa  and famiglia verde to describe Chinese porcelain.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013 12:37:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Thursday, April 18, 2013

I was having something of a bad day when up pops an email request for a valuation that was titled ‘Blue and white pin trays’. I groan quietly to myself and opened the message wondering what form of words I was going to select in order to let the sender down gently. One can be blunt when delivering good news as it is always well received, but through experience, auctioneers have a tactfully extensive vocabulary for delivering disappointing news.

 a worcester porcelain butter boat in the transparent rock pattern circa 1758

A Worcester porcelain butter boat in the Transparent Rock pattern circa 1758 (FS18/550)

On opening the images, I was delighted to see a pair of First Period Worcester porcelain butter boats, not pin trays, but quaintly unnecessary leaf shaped cups for containing melted butter. Pleasantly surprised, I pulled down the relevant volume to find that they were a rarity from 1758 in a pattern known as The Transparent Rock. Named on account of there being a large piece of quartz in the foreground of a rather quirky landscape containing a tiny house…. and the book said the illustrated example was the only one known; quite a rarity and ironic as quartz is the second most abundant mineral on earth.

 the underside of a worcester porcelain butter boat with tiny workmans mark on the handle

The underside of a Worcester porcelain butter boat with tiny workmans mark on the handle (FS18/551)

So in our fine sale next week, there are two rare Worcester porcelain butter boats in the Transparent Rock pattern, or so I thought. My book is a 1981 first edition and it seems several more have since come to light including, can you believe it another being sold on the same day as ours? Just like buses, you wait ages for one, only for three to turn up all at once.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:23:10 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The original ‘Portland’ vase was a tour de force of Roman cameo glass making that was first recorded circa 1600 and has since then had a colourful history. Amongst these was Cardinal Barberini the nephew of Pope Urban VIII whose family retained the vase for 150 years before it was sold to clear the gambling debts of the Princess Barberini-Colonna to a Scottish antiques dealer called James Byres in 1780. He treasured the vase so much that he had sixty plaster copies made by James Tassie which he sold along with the original.

 a pair of wedgwood pale blue jasper ware portland vases

A pair of Wedgwood pale blue jasper ware Portland vases (FS18/514)

Passing via William Hamilton it was purchased by the eccentric Dowager Duchess of Portland who was said to be ‘intoxicated only by empty vases’. On her death in 1785 her son the 3rd Duke of Portland purchased it at auction allowing Josiah Wedgwood to make porcelain copies of it provided he didn’t bid for it. Unfortunately even before Wedgwood got his hands on it, it was broken twice, and presumably this was when the beautifully carved, but obviously errant base was stuck on.

 wedgwood's copy of the errant base added to the original portland vase before 1785

Wedgwood's copy of the errant base added to the original Portland vase before 1785 (FS18/514)

The 4th Duke of Portland left it with the British Museum for safe keeping where in 1845 whilst on view, it was comprehensively smashed by an intoxicated Irishman. It was glued together, although thirty seven pieces could not be found. The 7th Duke failed to sell the vase at auction, but subsequently sold the vase to the museum in 1945, luckily the missing pieces were found shortly afterwards.

detail of a wedgwood portland vase showing the myth of peleus and thetis

Detail of a Wedgwood jasper ware Portland vase showing the myth of Peleus and Thetis (FS18/514)

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013 10:46:06 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, April 15, 2013

Having mentioned the leonine characteristic of the rather bizarre kylin I thought I may stray into less fantastical territory and focus on the depiction of lions in Staffordshire pottery. However, having said as much I have found that the lion was considered a symbol of Resurrection because medieval belief had it that lion cubs were born dead for three days until their father breathed life into their faces.

 pair of staffordshire ralph wood lions, circa 1780

Pair of Staffordshire Ralph Wood lions, circa 1780 (FS18/509)

A more commonly held belief is that lions are masters of the animal race and are symbolic of fortitude and strength. In Chinese art they were sculpted by the entrances of buildings to ward off demons. They were also popular motif for the British whose demons were probably ‘The French’. They appear in both ferocious mode like the pair of Ralph Wood lions illustrated as well as the rather unsubtle political stance depicting the British Lion and Napoleon III. (for an image see my blog of 14th August) The lion is a motif that has stayed the course one only has to look at our national football or cricketing shirts or even the name of the British rugby team.

 a staffordshire perlware performing bear group circa 1820

A Staffordshire perlware Performing Bear group circa 1820 (FS18/508)

But back to our Staffordshire potters it seems that they were not averse to recycling the lion in a somewhat ignominious way. If you look closely at the Staffordshire performing bear group you will note that the handler’s dog is in fact a miniature lion forced to be a bit part player. How the mighty have fallen.

 detail of a staffordshire performing bear group, how the mighty have fallen

Detail of a Staffordshire Performing Bear group, how the mighty have fallen (FS18/508)

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Monday, April 15, 2013 8:32:31 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Friday, April 12, 2013

Many Western eyes are aware of the symbolism suggested by the appearance of certain beasts in art there can be few who don’t see the dog as a metaphor for fidelity, or who recognise piety when a pelican is indicated or perceive temptation or something evil afoot when faced with a serpent.

 a chinese porcelain dragon dish, guangxu mark and period 1874-1908

A Chinese porcelain dragon dish, Guangxu mark and period 1874-1908 (FS18/338)

Unsurprisingly, whilst we may not be familiar with it, the Chinese also attribute similar implicit meanings to their pictorial bestiary. The Latin word draco signifies both our aforementioned serpent, but also the dragon a popular beast on Chinese porcelain. The dragon is the lord of the skies and emblematic of strength, authority and fecundity everything that one might expect from an emperor, but curiously being cloud based it is also seen as a bringer of rain, not necessarily a useful skill set for its fire breathing European counterpart. Initially a five clawed dragon represented the emperor and those with less digits individuals of lesser rank, but this rather specific detail was largely defunct by mid 16th century.

 a pair of late 19th century chinese porcelain phoenix

A pair of late 19th century Chinese porcelain phoenix (FS18/475)

The ideal stable mate for a dragon is the phoenix being emblematic of the empress, the warmth of the sun and harvest. Though something a little more confusing is a Kylin often referred to as a lion dog, as the latter suggests they have leonine characteristics and are said to tread so lightly on the ground they leave no marks. Despite having a name formed from the words qi-lin (which translates literally as he-she) they are seen as symbols of great wisdom and administration.

 detail of a canton porcelain vase showing kylins competing for a pearl

Detail of a Canton porcelain vase showing Kylins competing for a pearl (FS18/492)

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Friday, April 12, 2013 3:05:08 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Thursday, April 11, 2013

There is often a perception that pottery is the poorer country relative to porcelain, but if you believe that you would be guilty of trying to compare oranges with apples. Some people may prefer the earthy charms of a country lass rather than the polished finish of a metropolitan socialite and to my mind the former can if necessary put on the airs and graces to get by in the smartest of circles. Certainly when Satsuma earthenware is at it’s best it can hold its head in any company.

 a dramatically decorated, but unsigned satsuma vase

A dramatically decorated, but unsigned Satsuma vase (FS18/500)

Satsuma was first produced in the late 16th century in Kagoshima province on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan its soft white appearance and crazed glazing quickly becoming popular. Named after the Prince of Satsuma production eventually moved to Kyoto in the 19th century and became very popular in Europe after the opening up of Japan and the subsequent 1873 Vienna World Fair.

 a satsuma box and cover by kinkozan sobei vi

A Satsuma box and cover by Kinkozan Sobei VI (FS18/498)

Unlike the sparse decoration on Kakiemon porcelain or Japanese woodblock prints, Satsuma is both richly gilt and profusely decorated, often the backgrounds being embellished with precise and minute dots. Perhaps the finest exponent of the art was Kinkozan Sobei VI who headed up one of the largest Satsuma manufactories in Kyoto. However, having extolled the virtues of Satsuma, even Kinkozan Sobei could be inconsistent though this was largely as a result of buying in undecorated blanks from elsewhere. So if I was to continue the metaphor I started with it would seem that even the sassy city lass could get caught with a pair of wellies getting as mucky as anyone else.

signature of kinkozan sobei vi

Signature of Kinkozan Sobei VI (FS18/498)

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:28:19 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Although something of a Cinderella company that appeared on the English ceramics landscape somewhat later than the likes of Worcester, Wedgwood and Derby one cannot help but have admiration for Royal Doulton. Formed in 1815, it’s most consistent output, initially was salt glazed stoneware a resilient body used for the ‘pub’ and hotel trade for mugs and jugs, but also for sanitary wares and the tiles used outside.

 a large pair of doulton lambeth pate-sur-pate vases by florence barlow

A large pair of Doulton Lambeth pate-sur-pate vases by Florence Barlow (FS18/538)

But I guess what is most impressive is the sheer diversity of Royal Doulton, it wasn’t long before this practical stoneware was used for art pottery and if you have ever seen the work of George Tinworth, the Barlow sisters, Mark Marshall, Harry Barnard, Eliza Simmance, you would know how adaptable and innovative this most utilitarian of bodies could be. It didn’t stop there either Doulton also made porcelain tableware, commemorative and advertising pieces as well jardinières and fountains on an architectural scale. And of course the ubiquitous character jugs and figures.

 a royal  doulton dickens dream jug by charles noke

A Royal Doulton Dickens Dream jug by Charles Noke (FS18/540)

Embracing diversity and employing some of the best modellers and decorators secured Royal Doulton’s longevity, but as we all know how you treat your customers is also important. In the forthcoming Fine Art Sale on 25th April 2013, we have a ‘Dicken’s Dream’ jug designed by Charles Noke, but with it are also two letters, one type written, responding to a customer query about the level of the limited edition and the other a hand written note from Charles Noke embellished with a pencil sketch of Fagin. Now that’s customer service.

a hand written letter by charles noke regarding the dickens dream jug he designed.

A hand written letter by Charles Noke regarding the Dickens Dream jug he designed (FS18/540)

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013 9:23:46 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, April 09, 2013

For collectors of Oriental porcelain with more modest pockets there are still plenty of interesting items to spend your money on, not everything is out of reach.

 a chinese porcelain taper stick after cornelius pronk circa 1740-50

A Chinese porcelain taper stick after Cornelius Pronk circa 1740-50 (FS18/469)

Take for instance the rather charming taper stick holder in the form of a chubby child’s arm. Although decorated in a rather garish palette it doesn’t look entirely Chinese, but Chinese it undoubtedly is. After a design by Cornelius Pronk, a topographical artist employed by the Dutch East India Company in 1734, this ‘chine de commande’ was initially popular but hideously expensive. A set of Pronk plates would cost the same as a house in Amsterdam. The original order for these taper sticks was in1740 – ironically the year that Pronk’s contract was terminated as it proved just too expensive for even the deepest of pockets.

 a chinese porcelain vase of fanghu form circa 1874-1908

A Chinese porcelain vase of Fanghu form circa 1874-1908 (FS18/483)

Another piece of Chinese porcelain worthy of note is the Gaungxu (1874-1908) mark and period Fanghu vase. Being of a traditional archaic bronze form, Fanghu translates literally to mean square base. A striking and bold shape typically under flambé and lavender tinged glazes is mentioned as being of a form used as an award of special merit to deserving individuals. I’m sure you’ll agree it is a beautiful thing although I’m rather amused at the idea of receiving a Fanghu as a thank you.

detail of fanghu vase showing shape and colour

Detail of Fanghu vase showing shape and colour (FS18/483)

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013 7:41:40 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, April 08, 2013

Josiah Wedgwood was an arch experimenter when it came to ceramic bodies and perhaps his most ubiquitous invention was jasper ware. The Dictionary of Wedgwood states it as ‘the most significant innovation in ceramic history since the Chinese invention of porcelain’. It sounds something of an exaggeration, but Wedgwood thought so highly of it that he would only pass the secret recipe to his colleague Bentley in 1776, in code, in two separate letters, however as England was then a hot bed of industrial spies there was wisdom in his actions.

 a pair of wedgwood pale blue jasper ware portland vases

A pair of Wedgwood pale blue jasper ware Portland vases (FS18/514)

Another body championed by Wedgwood was Black Basalt; ironically the principle constituent of this fine body was ‘Car’, sediment carried in the water drained from coal mines! First trialled in 1767 it took the addition of manganese and Devon china clay and a couple of years to perfect. Had Wedgwood not found a skilled carver to ‘tinker all the black vases that are crooked’ and provide the factory seconds with blackened or bronzed wooden bases he would have been bankrupted.

 wedgwood black bassalt plaque king james crowned by peace and justice above the body of discord

Wedgwood black bassalt plaque King James crowned by Peace and Justice above the body of Discord (FS18/516)

Whilst many other producers of fine porcelain looked to the Orient Wedgwood favoured Greco-Roman mythology and intaglio or cameo portraits of European worthies as his primary source of artistic inspiration and wasn’t afraid to use the best pottery techniques of engine turning, polishing, laminating and polishing to enhance his finest porcelain.


a wedgwood pegasus vase with medusa handles depicting the apothiosis of virgil

A Wedgwood Pegasus vase with medusa handles depicting the Apothiosis of Virgil (FS18/510)

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Monday, April 08, 2013 2:54:01 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Friday, April 05, 2013

I believe it was the art historian Ernst Gombrich who suggested that nobody can look at an art object with an innocent eye, meaning that it is futile to try and look at something without bringing to bare all ones personal prejudices be they positive or negative.

 two early bow porcelain figures of fish sellers circa 1755-62

Two early Bow porcelain figures of fish sellers circa 1755-62 (FS18/548)

I can appreciate the workmanship that went into the pair of early Bow porcelain fish sellers in our forthcoming sale on 25th April, colourful, well modelled and charming examples of early English porcelain, but ultimately they where rather over sentimentalised bourgeois things. Give me something in which the hand of the maker is obvious, something like a North Devon pottery harvest jug.

 a documentary north devon pottery harvest jug

A documentary North Devon pottery harvest jug (FS18/507)

To consider it solely as rustic country pottery is a disservice. Dug from the red soil of North Devon and brim full of all the agricultural and maritime symbolism you might expect from the county, decorated with a galleon in full sail, compass, sun, moon and stars, fish, birds and foliage. As well as a Bideford attribution, a local name and dated too! What more could you want?

 a north devon pottery harvest jug inscribed for richard ching, bideford, 1855

A North Devon pottery harvest jug inscribed for Richard Ching, Bideford, 1855 (FS18/507)

Having waxed lyrical about this North Devon pottery harvest jug, you might be forgiven for thinking that I once lived in Bideford, well I just couldn’t say.


a north devon pottery harvest jug showing typical scroll terminal and thumrest

A North Devon pottery harvest jug showing typical scroll terminal and thumrest (FS18/507)

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Friday, April 05, 2013 11:52:37 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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