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WORCESTER PORCELAIN: THE FIRST PERIOD, 1751-1783

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Views: 3703 Added: 04/14/2009 Updated: 04/14/2009
The Worcester porcelain factory was founded in 1751 by a group of fifteen mostly local Worcester businessmen including Dr. John Wall, whose name has long been associated with the factory's initial period of production. It is usual now to call the era from 1751 to 1783 First Period rather than Dr. Wall Period since John Wall retired in 1774 and died in 1776. Another partner, William Davis, remained until 1783 when Thomas Flight bought the company. During the succeeding Flight and Barr Period, which after 1792 included Martin Barr, the factory turned in a new direction.

Hard paste porcelain, invented in China, had been known and greatly admired in Europe for two hundred years when the Meissen factory in Germany discovered the secret, and by 1710 had begun production. During the next forty years, other factories in Germany and Austria acquired the formula. In contrast, a soft paste or artificial porcelain body, in which various other ingredients were substituted for the essential kaolin, was in use in England and France prior to the 1770's. A version of this soft paste body was produced by the Worcester factory from the beginning. Although this formula was less suitable for figures than hard paste and some other soft paste, and like all soft paste was more liable to damage during firing, it had the advantage of great beauty and superior resistance to cracking from hot water.

During the earliest years at Worcester a wholly individual style emerged which frequently combined decoration using oriental motifs and European forms. Both oriental-inspired patterns and European patterns were produced through the mid-1760's. After this time, oriental patterns tended to be copies of oriental originals rather than free adaptations. This period also sawthe use of many colored grounds including the popular blue scale ground which incorporated an overlapping scale pattern with underglaze blue. By the 1770's, decoration was also influenced by the Sevres factory in France . A few figures were made at Worcester about 1770, but these are rare. The bulk of the production consisted of utilitarian wares and decorative objects such as vases and wall pockets. Objects decorated solely in underglaze blue, at first painted, then printed or painted, sometimes with a combination of both techniques, were a staple of the factory throughout the first period.

The two examples of First Period Worcester porcelain illustrated here were both decorated outside the factory in the London workshop of James Giles. There had been independent German and Dutch decorators of oriental and European porcelain working for fifty years prior to such work on Worcester wares, so this was certainly nothing new by the 1760's. Giles' work is known to us from six documentary pieces, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which had been in the possession of Giles' descendants. The lozenge-shaped dish, one of a pair from a deep dessert service, has a deep pink enamel scale border centering different arrangements of polychrome flowers and fruit, and dates about 1770. The armorial plate, also one of a pair, bears the arms of Calmady, and dates about 1772.

There are excellent public and private collections of First Period Worcester porcelain both in Europe and the United States . The Marshall collection is the most comprehensive existing assemblage of colored Worcester, and is now in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford . Other substantial public collections are in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London , incorporating, with additions, the Frank Lloyd collection, and in the Dyson Perrins Museum in Worcester .

In the United States, a large and comprehensive private collection has been assembled by Milton and Jeanne Zorensky in St. Louis, while a smaller and more specialized collection has been formed by Kenneth Klepser in Seattle. Superb catalogues illustrating both collections are included in the bibliography. Among important museum collections may be mentioned those at the Wallace Gallery at Colonial Williamsburg; at Rienzi, part of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and at Cheekwood Museum of Art in Nashville.

First Period Worcester has been enthusiastically collected throughout the twentieth century. As a result, there is a substantial literature devoted to this subject. A few works are listed below. They either catalogue collections mentioned above, or help the beginning collector to get started. Some, such as the Spero and Sandon study of the Zorensky collection, contain an extensive bibliography to guide further study.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Branyan, Lawrence, Neal French, and John Sandon. Worcester Blue and White Porcelain 1751-1790. London, 1989.

Coke, Gerald. In Search of James Giles. Wingham, 198:3.

Hobson, R.L. Catalogue of the Frank Lloyd Collection of Worcester Porcelain ofthe Wall Period. London, 1923.

Marshall, H. Rissik. Coloured Worcester Porcelain of the First Period . Newport, 1954.

Sandon, Henry. The Illustrated Guide to Worcester Porcelain 1751-1793 . London, 1980.

Sandon, John. The Dictionary of Worcester Porcelain Volume I, 1751-1851 . Woodbridge, 1993.

Spero, Simon. Worcester Porcelain The Klepser Collection . London, 1984.

Spero, Simon, and John Sandon. Worcester Porcelain 1751-1790 The Zorensky Collection. Woodbridge, 1996.
Author:   Jim Labaugh and John Tirone
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