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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)


Photo: E & H Manners



European porcelain, such as this centerpiece, embodied the essence of taste for Europeans of the mid-18th century. At that time, porcelain was costly and a European formula had only recently been attained through scientific and technological struggle. Because its white translucent ceramic body could be molded or cast in wonderful, light, airy, sculptural forms--such as this basket-shaped bowl supported by a swirl of foliage and cavorting, fanciful putti--it was the perfect medium for the new European modern style. It was called genre pittoresque at the time, which later became known as “rococo.”

Only two other examples of this form are known; one is in the Freeman Collection in England, the other in the British Museum. They are both unmarked. The year 1750 is the earliest date to appear on Bow porcelain, which is rarely marked. Previously unrecorded, this piece brings the known Bow pieces with the documented date of 1750 to ten.

Not only is it a rare documented work, but it is also unusually well-fired for early Bow. It is highly vitrified and translucent. Too high a firing temperature would make the work collapse in the kiln, and early under-fired Bow appears chalky and dull. Just prior to this production, the founders of Bow were experimenting with porcelain created from a clay transported from the Carolinas, “the Chirokee nation in America,” to the docks of London. About 40 wares that fit the description of the porcelain patent containing this clay are known; the Seattle Art Museum has three cups (87.142.127, 87.142.128, 87.142.129). At the time that this centerpiece was made, Bow was working with a new porcelain paste. This centerpiece, produced shortly after the earlier patent was abandoned, brings a great rarity to the collection.

Soft-paste porcelain
7 × 9 1/2in. (17.8 × 24.1cm)
Kenneth and Priscilla Klepser Fund in honor of Julie Emerson
Provenance: Private collection, France (according to information provided to Errol Manners verbally); Piasa sale at Hôtel Drouot, 30 May 2012, lot 101 (as St. Cloud; no one had noticed the incised Bow date); [Errol Manners, E&H Manners Ceramics & Works of Art, London, England]
Photo: E & H Manners
Not currently on view


Published ReferencesCf., Gabszewicz, Anton. Bow Porcelain, the collection formed by Geoffrey Freeman. London: Lund Humphries, 1982, pp. 183, 121 (example of the form from the Freeman Collection, Pallant House, Chichester)

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