Saturday, March 22, 2014

To Serve and Project: The Chelsea Chinaman Teapot, 1745-9

Chelsea Porcelain Factory
The Victoria & Albert Museum 

The Chelsea porcelain factory, in its early years, produced several examples of novelty teapots in unusual shapes.  Here’s a rather interesting example of these early pieces.  Dating to about 1745, this rare teapot takes the form of a squatting Asian gentleman which the factory insensitively called a “chinaman.”  He is clutching a parrot—as one does.  This model was actually an experimental form.  Only a few were produced.  The design just didn’t work out for a variety of reasons.  His hat formed the lid of the pot and it proved to be very cumbersome when used.  Furthermore, the twig handle—applied with soft-paste porcelain leaves and berries—was uncomfortable in the hand. 

Teapots like this one were Chelsea’s answer to the novelty figurines and teapots which were produced at the Staffordshire factory.  The Staffordshire pieces were quite popular and proved to be very fashionable, so Chelsea wanted in on the action.

Another influence was the range of Grotesque (fancifully decorated) porcelain teapots made in France at Saint-Cloud.  The then-manager of the Chelsea factory, Nicholas Sprimont (1716-1771), was very familiar with the Saint-Cloud Grotesques.  Those French examples were of the finest porcelains, bright white and very glossy.  The Chelsea porcelain paste of this era was much less refined and could not compete with the French and Staffordshire wares.  

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