Freeman’s is pleased to announce the upcoming William C. Armstrong Collection of Fine 18th Century Porcelain, included in the sale English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts to be held on 19 May 2015. The collection includes rare works by Chelsea and Worcester that speak to a period of production that was guided by a particular fascination with natural forms driven by advances in both botany and taste. Rare works such as the Chelsea ‘scolopendrium’ dish, circa 1752-55, demonstrate an interest in unusual botanical species in part stimulated by the development of new taxonomic systems for classifying plant life as codified by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) in his Systema Naturae and Philosophia Botanica; others such as the Longton Hall porcelain cos lettuce leaf dish, circa 1755, speak to an increasing attention to more local specimens and forms as well as the popularity of whimsical natural forms throughout society.
Such porcelain wares reflective of nature enjoyed great popularity during the second and third quarters of the 18th century. A variety of leaf-form dishes were produced with specific forms being employed for different purposes. Pickle dishes were crafted in the form of small leaves, while larger leaf forms, such as the overlapping cabbage leaf dishes or rare vine leaf dishes produced by Worcester and Chelsea, such as those dated to circa 1760 and 1765 included in the collection, were typically employed for dessert services. A common feature to all is the realistic modeling in low relief of the veins, likely indicative of the forms being produced after real examples taken from nature. Small dessert tureens realistically modeled in a variety of forms including cauliflower and heads of lettuce were also popular and inspired by both examples from nature and earlier examples first produced on the continent by Meissen and other German factories, particularly in the region of Thuringia.
The interest in nature was not purely driven by botanical advances, but was also driven by changes in tastes of the aristocratic patrons who commissioned services in new patterns as is demonstrated by the variety of ‘Blind Earl’ dishes included in the collection. The ‘Blind Earl’ pattern derives its name from a special commission by the Earl of Coventry from the Worcester porcelain factory. Characterized by a high relief molded stem issuing roses and low relief molded leaves, dishes in this pattern have an unusual tactility. By legend they were designed in this manner for the earl after he was blinded in a hunting accident and requested that his commission be decorated in a manner he could feel. Though records of the Earl’s accident indicate that it took place in either 1770 or 1780, the pattern was produced as early as the mid-1750s rendering the charming tale likely spurious. Nonetheless the pattern enjoyed great popularity throughout the 18th century and was used, often with some variations, by a number of porcelain factories including Chelsea and Worcester; it was produced in only three shapes: dessert plates, sweetmeat dishes and spoon trays.
Exhibition for our 19 May auction English & Contintental Furniture & Decorative Arts opens to the public on Friday, 15 May at 10:00am. We invite you to visit us at 1808 Chestnut Street in Rittenhouse Square to preview these delightful works inspired by nature being offered in person.