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CHELSEA CHINA - 1745-1770
HISTORY. Like the early history of Bow, the earliest chapter of Chelsea's history is scant and involved in uncertainty. What we know is that the Chelsea factory was working in, or slightly before, 1745 and that in that year were produced the celebrated "goat and bee" cream jugs with the legend " Chelsea, 1745 " scratched in the paste before it was fired-sufficient evidence that the establishment was in existence and functioning. It is also recorded that a group of Staffordshire potters went to work in 1747 at the Chelsea China Manufactory. Becoming disgruntled, they left and returned to Staffordshire, an event which seems not to have affected the Chelsea works in the least for it went blithely on in its course of progress
What we believe to be likely is that the factory was established by or, at least, managed by one Charles Gouyn, who is said to have been either a Fleming or a Frenchman, and that his skilled workmen came from France and Germany. Gouyn's identity and personality are largely conjectural. In his exhaustive book on Chelsea china, William King points out that "the strong resemblance between early Chelsea porcelain and that produced by the French soft paste factories renders it highly possible that Chelsea was started by some refugee from St. Cloud, Chantilly or Mennecy, and if this be so, Gouyn may well have been the individual in question " It is also likely that Sir Everard Fawkener was deeply concerned in the inception of the Chelsea factory and may have been responsible for financing and establishing it. He was at first a merchant and accumulated a comfortable fortune. Upon being knighted, about 1735, he was sent as ambassador to Constantinople; in 1744 he was made secretary to the Duke of Cumberland, and, in 1745, was given a lucrative post as joint postmaster-general. We shall meet with Sir Everard again further on.
Be all these things as they may, about i7¢9 Nicholas Sprimont appears on the scene and Charles Gouyn disappears shortly thereafter. Hence onward, the main facts of the factory's career are no longer obscure. Nicholas Sprimont, said to have been a Frenchman, but certainly some time a silversmith by trade with a shop in Compton Street, Soho, becomes manager and directs affairs so capably that the enterprise grows and prospers.
Sprimont directed the concerns of the factory with energy and discretion, and displayed great good taste in determining the character of the wares put forth. While not despising the manufacture of things of common use for which there was necessarily a constant demand, it must be confessed that Sprimont's efforts seem to have been more keenly bent in the direction of making elegant and elaborate articles and in multiplying the variety of products. Nevertheless, such was the distinction and charm of Chelsea china that the greater stress upon decorative considerations seemed not to prejudice financial returns.
Every conceivable thing that could be made of porcelain was made at Chelsea. Advertisements of sales and sales catalogues some of the old sales catalogues have fortunately been preserved-acquaint us that "Epargnes and Srvices for Deserts, beautiful Groupes of Figures, etc., complete Table Sets of round and Oval Dishes, Tureens and Plates, with the greatest Variety of other useful and ornamental Pieces" are to be disposed of; that "a large and beautiful Lustre, richly ornamented with flowers and a fine figure of Fame sounding a trumpet," "a most significant Lustre in the Chinese taste," and "a most grand Lustre , with Flora and Cupids in the middle" are all within the reach of an eager public; that there are "several very curious Deserts, used at the most elegant and great Entertainments and now divided into proper Lots: Consisting of Domes, Temples, Triumphal Arches, Epargnes, etc., embellished with Trees, Arbors, Flowers, China Figures, Vauses, Girandols, Candlesticks, Branches and other Ornaments used at Desarts, with several sets of China Dishes, Plates and Tureens," awaiting purchasers; and that desirous customers may be accommodated with the "greatest choice of Branches with the best Flowers, such as were on the Chandelier at the last Sale; and upward of three thousand of those Flowers to be sold by themselves so that Ladies and Gentlemen may make use of them in Grottos, Branches, Epargnes, Flower-pots, etc., agreeable to their own taste." Nor were the foregoing by any means all. The catalogues include many other diverting conceits.
By 1754 the business was in a flourishing condition. There was a warehouse for sale of Chelsea china in Pall Mall, as well as the shop at the factory. Also, in the spring of that year occurred the first sale by auction of surplus and special stock and this sale lasted fourteen days. Again, in 1755 and 1756, sales were held lasting sixteen days. Then came a period when Sprimont was ill and the production of the factory was diminished. By 1757 the warehouse seems to have been moved to Piccadilly. After Sprimont's recovery, or partial recovery, the Chelsea factory took on a new lease of life, many new and rarely beautiful decorations were put forth, and the annual sales were resumed. Sir Everard Fawkener died in 17588 and, about that time, Sprimont became owner of the works.
But Sprimont's health was failing. At the end of the advertisement for the sale of 1761 appeared this notice:"The Proprietor, N. Sprimont, after many Years intense Application, has brought this Manufactory to its present Perfection; but as his Indisposition will not permit him to carry it on much longer, he takes the Liberty to assure the Nobility, Gentry, and others, that next Year will be the last Sale he will offer to the Public."
As a matter of fact, there were other sales for some years. Sprimont continued to make periodic farewells, like a prima donna, for eight years longer and did not retire till the summer of 1769, during all which time the beautiful Chelsea wares appeared for sale. Finally, in August 1769, he sold the factory and all its equipment to James Cox, and in February, 1770, Cox sold it to William Duesbury and John Heath of Derby. Thus ends the story of the Chelsea factory as an independent organisation.
Some years before this disposal of the Chelsea plant, despite the outward appearances of prosperity and the maintenance of brilliant achievement in the wares produced, it became evident that the financial affairs of the factory were going from bad to worse and that there was little likelihood of improvement. This was partly due, no doubt, to the keen competition of other china factories that had been established, partly to Sprimont's failing health. Consequently, he was glad to relinquish the business and, after the disposal of stock by the 1769 sale, Cox got "the kilns, mills, models in wax or lead, all the manufactured or unmanufactured porcelain," and "all the materials and utensils," as well as the lease, for £600.
Although the factory had ceased to be a profitable concern, Sprimont retired in comfortable circumstances. He had an house in town and a country place in Dorset, and kept his own carriage, But he was not long to enjoy release from the anxieties of the porcelain works. He died in 1770.
Duesbury continued work at the Chelsea factory, using it as a branch of the works he had established at Derby in 1756. Upon this status the Chelsea works were kept in operation until 1783, when Duesbury decided to concentrate all his activities at Derby. The china made during this period of close association is known as ChelseaDerby china. When the factory in Chelsea was finally given up, all the skilled workmen, along with the moulds, models and other trade appliances, were transferred to Derby. The kilns were demolished in 1784 and everything not deemed worth the cost of removal was destroyed.
THE BODY. The Chelsea body exhibited three distinct phases, the first from the beginning of the factory to about 1750, when Sprimont deemed it expedient to harden the paste. This second period lasted till about 1759,when renewed energy was manifested after Sprimont's illness. Then it was that the body was brought into closer conformity with the body produced at the other English factories.
The paste of the first period was soft, very translucent, of fine granular texture, warm creamy colour, and closely resembled the paste of Saint Cloud and Chantilly. The paste of the second period, introduced about 1750, was harder, less translucent, of a sandy, granular texture, but still of a mellow creamy tone. The earlier pieces of this period are apt to be heavy and thick and are occasionally warped in the firing; the surface, also, is sometimes uneven. It has been suggested that the change may have been due to introducing finely ground Oriental porcelain into the composition of the mixture. Whether this was the case or not, the so-called "moons" in the body are characteristic of this period-small, moon-like discs, more translucent than the rest of the paste, visible if the piece is examined by transmitted light. The paste of the third period was modified by the addition of bone-ash, of which a large percentage was introduced into the composition. This bone china paste was still harder, of smoother and closer texture, white, and easier to manage in the firing.
THE GLAZE. The glaze of the first period was rich, soft, , mellow, and waxy to the touch. It often showed minute pinhole flaws. The glaze of the second period was much more perfect in distribution, soft, mellow, and of pleasant waxy aspect. The glaze of the third period was harder and more brilliant.
ARTICLES MADE AND CONTOUR. As already mentioned, the articles made at Chelsea were of manifold diversity. Besides the table services, tea, coffee and chocolate services, the figures, the usual articles of household adornment, and the items mentioned in the catalogues quoted in the foregoing History, there were sundry pretty trifles such as buttons, bottle stoppers, trinkets for watch-chains, knobs for walking-sticks, thimbles, smelling bottles, snuff-boxes, patch-boxes, inkstands and divers other objects suggested by active inventive faculties.
In general, the contours of the articles produced were influenced by three chief sources of inspiration-Oriental forms , types characteristic of Dresden manufactures, and the shapes in use at Sevres. Just how and when these types were manifested, we shall see in the section on Types of Decoration. The Rococo influence, as might be imagined from the date of Chelsea manufacture, was most conspicuously in evidence.
TYPES OF DECORATION. While the types of decoration followed at Chelsea plainly point to the Orient, Dresden and, and Sevres as the three main springs of influence, the themes drawn thence were either imitated outright or else used as a basis for adaptation. Models of all three were carefully studied whenever the Chelsea designers could gain access to them. Pieces were sometimes borrowed from friends and patrons, as pointed out in the account of Bow, or sometimes the factory tried to buy good things outright for its own permanent collection. Of the latter course we have an instance on record in a letter written by Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, June 9th, 1751, to Henry Fox. Sir Charles Williams was then British Plenipotentiary at Dresden and while he was absent from England Fox was keeping his china at Holland House. This enlightening bit of correspondence was published in the Burlington Magazine.
The writer of the letter says: "I received a letter about ten days ago from Sr. Everard Fawkner who is I believe concerned in the manufacture of China at Chelsea. He desired me to send over models for different Pieces from hence in order to furnish the undertakers with good designs; and would have me send over fifty or three-score pounds worth. But I thought it better and cheaper for the manufacturers to give them leave to take any of my China from Holland House and to copy what they like. I have therefore told Sr. Everard that if he will go to your house you will permit him and anybody he brings with him to see my China and to take away such pieces as they may have a mind to copy."
This letter not only indicates clearly the manner in which many of the best Chelsea designs were obtained, but also throws valuable light on Sir Everard's close connex tion with the Chelsea factory. Sir Charles Williams had a valuable collection of china and that part of it to which his letter doubtless had special reference was a dinner set presented to him in 1748 by Augustus III, Elector of Saxony. It included "a dessert service with sweetmeat dishes in the form of artichokes, laurel leaves, sunflowers and double leaves, as well as tea and coffee sets, spoons and knife and fork dishes."
Vegetable-shaped dishes, leaf-shaped dishes and dishes made in the semblance of animals and birds were common in Dresden china of the period and the strong Dresden influence can be seen in such articles produced at Chelsea as well as in the figures and groups-some of which were direct copies-and in the extensive use of patterns moulded or impressed in low relief upon the paste in the form of basket-work, ribbing, flowers,Rococo scrolls and ornaments.
The direct Oriental influence was not extensive and,with few exceptions, was Japanese rather than Chinese. The most conspicuous Japanese influence is seen in the Kakiyemon and Imari designs of which much use was made. There is constant reference to the Kakiyemon styles under such names as "tyger and rock" pattern, "old Japan," "wheatsheaf and pheasant," "pheasant and border," and "lady pattern."
The Sevres influence came later and was clearly indicated by the florid Rococo shapes, especially in the case of vases and other decorative pieces, the use of ground colors and reserved panels, the manner of gilding, and the motifs employed for the painted decoration. The ground colours included a rich Mazarine blue, turquoise blue, pea-green, sea-green, red, yellow and a rich claret color , the last being quite dis tinctive of Chelsea and never produced anywhere else. With these ground colors there were reserved panels in which appeared well painted naturalistic flowers, birds with gay plumage, fruits, landscapes, figures, pastoral scenes and scenes of gallantry after the manner of Watteau and Boucher. Besides these painted decorations in reserved panels, there were endless flower motifs-scattered flowers, flowers in organised compositions, garlands, wreaths and festoons.
There were also landscapes detached from any panel setting and to some extent both landscapes and flowers were rendered in monochrome, at a certain period a green camaieu being much favoured for this purpose. After William Duesbury bought the Chelsea factory and all its equipment in 1770 the Chelsea manner of decoration was continued, but certain changes became evident in this Chelsea-Derby period. For one thing, the elaborate Rococo shapes of vases and ornamental jars were discontinued and in their place appeared the more austere and simpler shapes inspired by Neo-Classic taste. Motifs from the "antique" were employed and all the painted decoration became much "tighter" and laboured. Also there was a tendency to over-decorate and load ornament on to excess. The rich claret-colored ground, so distinctive of Chelsea, was discontinued, or when attempts were made to produce it it appeared diluted and washed out. The beautiful pea-green and turquoise grounds also experienced much the same sort of dilution.
THE MARKS. A very early mark, seldom met with, is an incised triangle. The usual early Chelsea mark is an embossed oval with an anchor in low relief. Occasionally the embossed anchor was touched with red enamel color. Later it was customary for the anchor to be drawn by the painter or gilder when he had finished the decoration, and although it sometimes occurs in blue, it is generally to be found in red or a reddish brown. The gold anchor is generally found on the later pieces when very elaborate zilding was in fashion at the works. In a few cases, two old anchors are found side by side.
In the Chelsea-Derby period, from 1770 to 1784, the mark consisted of the anchor of Chelsea in conjunction with the D of Derby. This combination of marks seems to have been used indifferently for the pieces produced both at Chelsea and at Derby during this period when both establishments were under the same ownership.