Our exhibits for the 2017 show, ‘Kensington Heart of Ceramics’, comprise a variety of rare delftwares, stoneware and earthenware pieces, as well as a group of figures, and items with interesting provenances or intriguing origins.
The barber/surgeons and apothecaries of the 17th and 18th centuries had need of many utensils supplied by the Delftware factories. These included a fine large barber’s bowl (3) decorated with the tools of the trade, a plain white bleeding bowl or porringer, and a drug jar (8) with a very rare label for PING. URSI, or ‘Bears’ Grease’. Other tin-glazed earthenware items are a fine early 18th century Vauxhall polychrome vase (6), two late 17th century tulip chargers (2), and a large lobed bowl. Amongst further plates on offer is a cheerful ‘farmyard’ plate (7) showing a pheasant in flight, perhaps an unusual sight in the 1740s as the birds were in decline at that time.
Election fever is nothing new, as the “Cresswell Esqr For Ever” plate (9) attests. The whiff of scandal and corruption is always present where the contest of power is being played out, and Cresswell was returned as MP for Wootton Bassett unopposed in 1761 and 1768, despite being guilty of bigamy and the attempted murder of both his wives. Ironically, the plate had been in the collection of Ernest (later Lord) Marples, who was no stranger to controversy.
Also from the late 17th century are two Delftware mugs, one large (4) decorated in blue and white with oriental figures and a smaller ‘gorge’ (5) embellished with manganese banding on the neck and blue stylised foliage. Slipped earthenware was a more homely material for the less wealthy, but the Wrotham mug (1) is a rare survivor made more desirable by the inscription WF 1738, together with the fact that it had been in the Collections of John Hewitt, E J Sainsbury and Eila Grahame.
A small group of teapots contains a specimen of tin-glazed stoneware from the Mrs Dickson Collection exhibited at the V&A in 1948, and another in salt-glazed stoneware which was in the Shand Kydd Collection. A third (12) from the Helen Carleton Macy Collection, is moulded with a vine motif, and crabstock spout and handle, and enamelled with brightly coloured elements on an aubergine ground.
The modeller of the stoneware figure of a dancer (10), has captured the brio of his subject, and the polychrome overpainting adds to the vibrancy. The products of the Wood family are exquisitely finished, and the colouring of the shepherd and shepherdess group is especially appealing, as are the sheep and goat. The zoic theme continues with the little shoal of fish moulds (11) in salt-glazed earthenware.
Jugs are often used as vehicles for narrative themes or complex imagery. The early creamware example (13), has been manufactured from a stoneware mould resulting in a tortuous, and slightly amorphous design of figures amongst vegetation, picked out in colour. The Liverpool creamware jug (14) is transfer-printed in black with a scene entitled “Old Oak & Saplin”, published by Laurie & Whittle in 1796, showing a veteran sailor commiserating with a younger messmate over his inability to stomach vast quantities of Stingo* (strong beer). Last in this collection is a remarkable documentary Dutch-shape white earthenware jug (15), painted with an illustrated account of a trial for perjury at Liskeard in Cornwall brought by James Richards against Bob Brabin in 1830. The text explains that Richards, a gentleman, won his suit against Brabin, Mrs Brabin and their daughter Poll, with the help of testimony from five witnesses. The case was tried by the local JP and sometime mayor of Liskeard, Mr Justice Jope. The jug itself was commissioned by a friend of Mr Richards, to commemorate this triumph of the legal process on January 1st 1830, with instructions that the jug should be filled annually to mark the day. The participants are all depicted in coloured enamels by amusing portraits, and Farmer Brabin is further humiliated by another scene on the reverse of the jug, where he is shown filling an enormous tankard from a cask of rum!
*For readers brave enough to try it, visit Samuel Smith’s Brewery.