Printer Friendly

European porcelain figures at Fenton House.

Fenton House, on the crest of Windmill Hill, Hampstead, houses among the most interesting and eclectic gatherings of ceramics in the care of the National Trust. Strong in both oriental and European examples, the collection is a reflection of early twentieth-century taste. (1) When the Trust was left the collection by Katherine, Lady Binning (1871-1952) on her death, much of the European porcelain was displayed in illuminated, glazed cabinets in the first floor Drawing Room, then known as the China Room. It is in this room, redecorated in 1973 as the Drawing Room by John Fowler (1906-78), that today's visitor can admire a photograph of Lady Binning (Fig. 1), surrounded by the collection she helped to form.


It was not Lady Binning alone, however, who was responsible for assembling the collection as it is today. Born Katherine Augusta Salting in 1871, she was the only child of William Severin Salting. His elder brother, George Salting, was a famous late nineteenth-century collector, who on his death in 1909 bequeathed much of his collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. He was a noted collector of oriental ceramics and much of the blue and white currently shown in the Blue Porcelain Room at Fenton House--formerly Lady Binning's bedroom--was no doubt from his collection, for Katherine was the residuary beneficiary of his estate. Katherine married George Baillie-Hamilton, Lord Binning, in 1892, but he died in 1917 before he could succeed to the title of Earl of Haddington. Widowed in her mid-forties, she spent much of her time in Scotland at Tyningham, East Lothian, one of her husband's family's houses. Although she bought Fenton House in 1934, she did not take up residence there until 1937, and continued to spend part of each year in Scotland. During her lifetime, the collections at Fenton House included furniture and objects brought from Scotland that were to return to her husband's family on her death. Lady Binning's mother, Millicent Salting, appears to have had a strong influence on her taste. A descriptive inventory, prepared by George Stoner of the St James's dealers Stoner & Evans, gives a detailed account of the contents of Millicent Salting's house, 49 Berkeley Square, in 1914; (2) many of these items are now at Fenton House. Although she clearly collected in her own right, it appears that George Stoner was Millicent Salting's adviser until her death in 1924. Moreover, several pieces are known to have been acquired at auction by Stoner after George Salting's death, and in any case European porcelain was a category apparently not collected by him. It therefore seems likely that pieces now at Fenton not in the 1914 inventory were either subsequently purchased by Millicent Salting or later still by Lady Binning. (3) The collection today is particularly rich in figures and groups, mostly displayed in two glazed wall cabinets in the ground floor Porcelain Room and in vitrines in the first floor Drawing Room; it is these small-scale sculptures that are the subject of this article.

From the earliest days of porcelain manufacture in Europe, the concept of portraying the human figure, or modelling animals and birds, in this easily malleable material was seized upon as an important and commercial part of a factory's production. Johann Friedrich Bottger (1682-1719) initially discovered how to make a red stoneware and subsequently created the first white hard paste porcelain at Meissen, was quick to exploit these new materials for figurative work. The red stoneware was developed in collaboration with Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651-1708), court scientist to Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (1694-1733). Some early essays in figure modelling of c. 1710-12 depict commedia dell'arte figures modelled by Balthasar Permoser, Benjamin Thomae or Paul Heermann, as well as a slightly later chess piece by Johann Joachim Kretzschmar, depicting the owner of the Meissen factory, Augustus the Strong, grandiosely portrayed in Roman dress. (4) These grandly baroque pieces in polished red stoneware are precursors of the white porcelain that was to follow in the 1730s and 40s. At that time, simple, seated oriental 'pagoda' figures were made, inspired by blanc de Chine originals from Dehua in the Fujian province of south-east China. As well as contemporary bronzes and ivories, engravings were also being used as design sources. An early example of this is the grotesque teapot in the collection (Fig. 2), whose decoration is taken from an engraving by Francoise Bouzonnet Stella in the Livre de vases (1667), which comprises designs by her uncle Jacques Stella (1596-1657). It is thought to have been modelled by the sculptor Johann Gottlieb Kirchner (b. 1706) in the early 1720s, and only subsequently decorated at the Augsburg workshop of the Seuter family, about ten years later. (5)


After Bottger's death in 1719, the Meissen factory made rapid progress and was placed on a sounder commercial footing with the employment of Johann Gregor Horoldt (1696-1775), who--with such colleagues as Samuel Stolzel, a chemist who had been instrumental in bringing Horoldt to Meissen--developed a novel style of painting, using a broad palette and a range of ground colours hitherto unknown on porcelain. Horoldt's star rose rapidly, he was appointed Hofmaler (Court Painter) in 1724, and by 1731 was in the powerful position of Court Superintendent, with thirty painters and ten apprentices working under him as well as sculptors and potters; better yet, the factory's output had trebled. Meanwhile, the figure sculpture had not developed as dramatically as the wares. Kirchner was appointed in 1727 to work on modelling porcelain for the Japanese Palace but proved wayward and was asked to leave. He was taken on again in 1730 to begin work, together with the soon-to-be appointed Johann Joachim Kandler (1706-75), on the celebrated series of large animals and birds. It was Kandler, however, who, arriving at Meissen in 1731, was to change the emphasis of the factory's modelling with far-reaching effects across Europe. After the King's death in 1733, Kirchner was dismissed and Kandler had a free hand to explore his talent for modelling. Kandler had been used to working in both stone and wood, having served under Thomae, and soon acquired the skill to work with the hard, bright, white material of porcelain.

In the same year, Heinrich, Graf von Bruhl became director of the factory and instructed Kandler to work on the celebrated Swan Service, which was executed between 1737 and 1741, and commemorated his own marriage. Following on from this, a series of imaginative human figures portraying members of the court, peasants, and characters from the commedia dell'arte were undertaken. Kandler described his extensive repertoire of models as 'little display pieces in the form of figurines'. (6) Among the court figures represented here is a lively group of the court jester, Frohlich, with the Postmaster General, Schmiedel (Fig. 6); full of humour, Frohlich holds a mouse-trap and teases the Postmaster who, proudly dressed in his uniform emblazoned with the arms of Saxony and Poland, holds a carrot and looks not only surprised but thoroughly absurd. These figures replaced traditional table decorations such as sugar sculptures, and some of them became hugely popular, first among the court and aristocracy and subsequently when copied for a broader clientele. Frohlich was also modelled on his own and there is an example in the Fenton House Collection, with his braces inscribed and dated 'JF 1741'. The rather wooden pose is perhaps explained by the fact that it was taken from an engraving by C.F. Boetius dated 1729, although Kandler first modelled this figure in 1736. The statuesque figure of a Lady of the Mops Order, from the mid-1740s, again displays this slightly static quality, but the detail of the enamelling is superb. It is important not to see these figures and groups as mere caricatures but as real people of the time, in contemporary dress and with the attitudes and manners to match; certainly the presence of the pug-dog as a symbol of Freemasonry would not have been missed by an eighteenth-century audience. Theatre, too, was an important inspiration to Kandler and his commedia figures and groups are well represented in the collection: Columbine and Pantaloon from about 1740 was reworked from an earlier version inspired by an engraving by Christoph Weigel (1654-1725), first published in 1723. This wonderful group illustrates Kandler's astonishing skill at translating these theatrical figures into real people with emotions, feelings and life; they are somehow released from their theatricality, perhaps because he had such a superb understanding of movement and, of course, of the nature of porcelain. The Spanish lovers or Beltrame and Columbine, of the same date, has similar qualities. Nevertheless, among the finest figures here are the Scowling Harlequin, Harlequin with a jug, and Mezzetin dancing, all of about 1740 (Fig. 5). It is difficult for us now, with the wisdom of hindsight, to appreciate quite how extraordinary these figures would have appeared to their original audience, and 'audience' is perhaps the correct way of describing the contemporary viewer. These figures would have been used as table decorations, intended to be seen in the round and as a stimulus to conversation; moreover, the story-line and humour of the commedia dell'arte would have been well understood. A series of commedia figures was created by Kandler in association with Peter Reinicke (1715-68) for the Duke of Weissenfels in 1743-44 of which Harlequin dancing, Dr Boloardo and Harlequin 'ancien' are represented in the collection; these are taken from engravings by Joullain after Callot, which served as illustrations for Riccoboni's Histoire du theatre Italien, published in Paris in 1727.


A slightly later group modelled by Peter Reinicke of Two orientals with a parrot of about 1750, of which only one other example is recorded in the literature, shows the marked French influence at this time. (7) Based on a print by J.-J. Balechou after Francois Boucher (1703-70) from Les delices de l'enfance, it lacks the strength of Kandler's creations, but displays a refreshing lightness of touch. This move away from the outspokenly baroque is perhaps best illustrated by the work of Franz Anton Bustelli (1723-63) at Nymphenburg. His rendering of the commedia figures could not be more different from Kandler's. The figure of Scaramouche at Fenton House (Fig. 3), although sombrely enamelled in grey and black, has a theatricality of movement which encapsulates the spirit of the rococo, and almost stuns the senses when it is seen in the same cabinet as Kandler's figures in the Porcelain Room there.


I cannot leave Germany without mentioning the delightful Dancers from Frankenthal, perhaps modelled by Johann Friedrich Luck, who worked at the factory between 1761 and 1764 (Fig. 4). (8) The female dancer is perhaps taken from an engraving after Lancret and is thought to represent the famous dancer Salle. These engaging figures have a curiously stiff look to them, but they are not without movement, for all that their fussiness would have been quite inconceivable in a work by Kandler and their economy of decoration would not have passed muster at Meissen. There are also several Hochst figures and groups modelled by Johann Peter Melchior (1742-1825), which have been displayed together away from the Meissen figures, in the Drawing Room. Although technically fine and with a characteristic pastel palette, they have a simpering prissiness about them that it is hard to like, but perhaps one should not make comparisons (Fig. 7). They symbolise a rural idyll that never was: these effete shepherds and shepherdesses in striped and flowered clothes look as though they never did anything more exciting than stand or sit on their grassy mounds, and somehow lack a sense of purpose. In spite of this, they were fashionable models, which were reproduced and forged not only throughout the nineteenth century but well into the twentieth.


In England, the picture was rather different. There was no aristocratic, royal or state patronage, and the factories had to make a commercial success of their enterprises without such financial support. The manufacture of porcelain did not come to England until the mid-1740s, and was from the outset heavily influenced by its continental predecessors. Meissen, as ever, is a strong influence, with many Kandler models being copied by Sprimont at Chelsea directly from the Meissen originals he borrowed from the collection at Holland House, which had been given to Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams by Augustus III during his service as the British Envoy to the Saxon court in Dresden. The correspondence of 1751 between Sir Everard Fawkener, the Duke of Cumberland's secretary, and Hanbury-Williams is especially revealing in this connection. (9) The name most associated with Chelsea figure modelling is that of Joseph Willems, who had come from Tournai to Chelsea in about 1749 and was largely responsible for the modelling at Chelsea throughout the 1750s and early 1760s. His style, like Kandler's before him, has an individuality, even when copying Kandler's models, that is unmistakable. The soft paste and unctuous, clear glaze lend a softer and gentler look to the modelling of his works in contrast to the sharp and tense appearance of their continental counterparts. The Chelsea figures and groups at Fenton House, however, are late examples of Willems's work, belonging to the gold anchor period; a group of Winter and Spring shows a lively couple clasped in one another's arms and with seasonal attributes, their clothes vibrantly enamelled in a palette typical of the period with a preponderance of rich gilding and on an elaborate pierced, scroll-moulded base applied with scattered flowers (Fig. 8). The Imperial shepherd and shepherdess are treated in a similar fashion, although this time based on Meissen models, as are a pair of Harvesters; these are all large in scale (around thirty centimetres high), and were not intended to be viewed in the round, but on a chimney piece, sideboard or table. The concept of 'figures for desart' was rather out of fashion by the mid-1760s. In a similar vein are an extremely rare pair of large Bow figures of Spring and Autumn, which represent an attempt by the factory to mimic Chelsea's figures of the gold anchor period. They are somewhat clumsily modelled but are heavily enamelled and gilt in the Chelsea manner. They have a triangular aperture at the back to take a tole peinte (painted tin) branch of porcelain flowers, perhaps terminating in a foliate candle-nozzle (Fig. 9). (10) Among the English figures, the Italian Comedy is represented by a Bow example of Harlequin, taken directly from the Meissen model by Kandler and Reinicke made for the Duke of Weissenfels, and then perhaps copied in the late 1750s from a Chelsea version of 1755 (Fig. 10). Another Harlequin, this time cross-legged and playing the bagpipes, from Longton Hall is similarly copied from a Meissen model of about 1745 thought to have been a reworking of the Kandler model by Eberlein; it represents one of Lady Binning's rare purchases for which we have a receipt (Fig. 11). (11)


The collection is especially rich in figures from Richard Champion's factory at Bristol, where a hard paste porcelain recipe was used. Two sets of Seasons shown here not only illustrate the contrast between the rustic and the classical versions of the same subject, but the very different modelling styles which were both once thought to be by Pierre Stephan. (12) The Rustic Seasons (Fig. 12) came from the Trapnell Collection, dispersed by the dealers Albert Amor in 1912, and subsequently acquired by Mrs Millicent Salting. The Classical or Agricultural Seasons (Fig. 13) are marked with the repairer's mark 'To' (except for Autumn), which is now thought to be that of John Toulouse,

who later worked at Chamberlain's factory at Worcester. This mark has been traditionally associated with the name Tebo, whose mark appears on Bow, Worcester, (which he left in 1772), and Bristol until November 1774, when he was recorded as being with Wedgwood. Wedgwood described him disparagingly as a modeller who was 'not equal to a Figure ...' Whether Mr Tebo or John Toulouse, he was the repairer who assembled the pieces in question rather than their modeller. (13) The Rustic Seasons are adapted from the Derby 'French Seasons' attributed to Nicholas Gauron, and are conspicuously French in manner. With their large heads, they appear ungainly and their stances contrived, but perhaps not so offensive as to warrant the tirade meted out to them by the ceramic scholar Arthur Lane, who felt that 'The smirking archness of their expressions is at Bristol even more objectionable than at Derby, owing to the large scale and coarsening of detail.' (14)


The collection is also well endowed with models of animals and birds, the most notable being the exceptionally fine Meissen models of Parakeets by Kandler of around 1745, mounted on contemporary Louis XV ormolu bases (Fig. 14). From England there are more homely birds, Finches from Derby, a Peacock and a pair of Dismal hounds from Bow (Fig. 15), all dating from the late 1750s, and a magnificent and rare pair of Hares, after Meissen models, from Cookworthy's factory at Plymouth of c. 1768 (Fig. 16). Lady Binning's interest in animals extended to collecting nineteenth-century models from Rockingham, Chamberlain's Worcester, and the Staffordshire manufacturers of both porcelain and earthenware.


Although she lived until the middle of the twentieth century, her taste, nurtured by her mother, was very much in the spirit of the late nineteenth-century collectors. Arguably the most notable of them, and a pioneer in this field, was the celebrated Lady Charlotte Schreiber (1812-95), who--like George Salting--had left the major part of her collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum over half a century before.

I would like to thank Anthony du Boulay and Jane Ellis, Custodian at Fenton House, for their assistance with the present article.

(1) For the oriental ceramics at Fenton House, see Anthony du Boulay, 'Lady Binning's Inheritance from her uncle, George Salting', Oriental Art, vol. XLIV, no. 2, 1998, pp. 4-7.

(2) George Stoner, A Descriptive Inventory of the Porcelains, Engravings, Furniture etc., at 49 Berkeley Square, W., 1914 (typescript, 2 vols.), library at Fenton House.

(3) For an investigation of the complexities of the Salting provenance, see Tracey Avery, 'Four Georges: The decorative art collections of Mrs David Gubbay and Lady Binning', APOLLO, vol. CXLIX, no. 446 (April 1999), pp. 16-19.

(4) See Ingelore Menzhausen, Early Meissen Porcelain in Dresden, London, 1990, p. 195 and plates 13 and 15-20.

(5) See S. Ducret, Meissner Porzellan, Braunschweig, 1971, vol. I, colour plate VIII and plates 361a and b.

(6) "J.L. Sponsel, Kabinettstucke der Meissner Porzellanmanufaktur von Johann Joachim Kaendler, Leipzig, 1900, p. 134.

(7) Erika Pauls-Eisenbeiss, German Porcelain of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1972, vol. I, pp. 114 and 115.

(8) These have the paper label of Stoner and Evans, and are apparently from the Marquess of Ripon's collection. Luck had previously modelled these dancers at Hochst in the late 1750s.

(9) See Elizabeth Adams, Chelsea Porcelain, London, 2001, pp. 70-71, where this is quoted in extenso.

(10) See Frank Stoner, Chelsea, Bow and Derby Porcelain Figures, Newport, 1955, plate 103.

(11) Purchased from J. Rochelle Thomas, King Street, St James's, 16 February 1939, for 13.0.0 [pounds sterling]. See also Meredith Chilton, Harlequin Unmasked, Toronto, 2001, nos. 35 and 36.

(12) The attribution to Pierre Stephan is tenuous, and although Champion wrote to the modeller of the Derby elements in February 1772 with precise instructions as to what he required, the addressee's name, and hence the modeller's, are unknown. See Hilary Young, 'Pierre Stephan: the career of a Derby modeller reviewed', Derby Porcelain International Society, no. 4, 2000, pp. 83-93.

(13) For a pair of large figures of a Milkmaid and a Goatherd in the collection at Fenton House (FEN/C/14 a,b), also given to Pierre Stephan, but with the impressed mark 'To', see Arthur Lane, English Porcelain Figures of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1961, plates 94 and 95.

(14) Ibid., p. 127, and plates 92 and 93.

Anton Gabsewicz is a ceramic historian and an independent consultant. He has written on early English porcelain, and is co-author of Bow Porcelain: The Collection formerd by Geoffrey Freeman (1982), and Made at New Canton (2000). Having worked for many years at Christie's in the European Ceramics Department, he currently lectures worldwide.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Apollo Magazine Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Gabszewicz, Anton
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2003
Previous Article:'A cultivated eye for the antique': Charles Winn and the enrichment of Nostell Priory in the nineteenth century.
Next Article:'Like a Roman sepulchre': John Soane's design for a Castello d'acqua at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, and its Italian origins.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |