Art and Industry in the Work of James Giles

A Worcester porcelain plate, circa 1770, painted in the London workshop of James Giles © Toovey’s 2021

As I write this week’s column I can still see a light dusting of snow covering the garden borders. The snowdrops are bravely out and the primroses are flowering. As the bulbs poke their heads up I am reminded that spring is not far away and the abundance of summer will soon follow.

These thoughts bring to mind the extraordinary work of the English ceramic decorator James Giles.

In the 18th century scientists and collectors sought to catalogue the natural world influencing society’s awareness and engagement with nature. In response to this, naturalistic and botanical styles of decoration became increasingly popular on porcelain.

In the 18th-century Britain’s porcelain industry flourished. Unlike its continental competition our famous porcelain manufacturers were not subsidised by royal patrons. Rather, it was our inventiveness, artistry and entrepreneurial skill which created such a flourishing industry and expression of decorative art.

James Giles was an outside decorator and a leading proponent of painting and enamelling on porcelain. Giles produced some of the most richly decorated of all Worcester porcelain. It was painted in his independent London studios. I am unaware of any Worcester porcelain decorated by Giles prior to 1760. An advertisement for his studio in January 1768 states that a large stock of white goods were available for enamelling ‘to any patterns his patrons might chuse’.
His ledgers and company records suggest that much of the painted porcelain from his works was actually decorated by Giles himself. He purchased ‘white’ china not only from Worcester but also Philip Christian of Liverpool, Thomas Turner at Caughley, and William Duesbury of Derby.

James Giles is noted for his botanical and armorial wares. The dessert plate and tankard illustrated are thought to have been decorated by James Giles in his London studios. The exceptional quality of his work is still prized by collectors today and they each made £1600 at Toovey’s.

There is an abundance to his decoration of the Worcester porcelain dessert plate which dates from around 1770. It is beautifully enamelled with fruit and insect decoration framed by the blue and gilt border. Its crack is repaired with rivets, a favoured method in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A Worcester armorial porcelain tankard, circa 1765, finely painted in the workshops of James Giles © Toovey’s 2021

The Worcester porcelain tankard provides an example of Giles’ armorial ware and dates from around 1765. Its slightly tapered cylindrical body is finely enamelled with a coronet enclosing a broken spear above a floral ‘RS’ cypher between two delicately articulated broad sprays of fruit and flowers.

The spirit of industry, inventiveness and entrepreneurial skill expressed in the nation’s 18th and 19th century porcelain manufacturers and decorators is still to be found across the United Kingdom.

We have always brought together science, art, design, manufacturing and industry and I feel confident about the positive contribution we will continue to make in the world.

Outstanding Porcelain from Worcester

A Barr, Flight & Barr Worcester porcelain chocolate cup, cover with gilt loop finial and stand, circa 1807-1813
A Barr, Flight & Barr Worcester porcelain chocolate cup, cover with gilt loop finial and stand, circa 1807-1813

The Worcester porcelain factory is amongst the finest and longest lived of the English porcelain manufacturers. The pieces made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries are outstanding.

The first period of Worcester porcelain manufacture is known as the ‘Dr Wall Period’ (1751-1776) after one of its founding shareholders John Wall. In 1783 the firm’s London agent, Thomas Flight, bought the Worcester factory for his sons Joseph and John. This new period was marked by a new paste which produced a more pearly white body. The style changed too reflecting the fashion for the Neo-Classical in both decoration and form. John Flight travelled in France to study the latest French porcelain designs. In 1788 King George III and Queen Charlotte toured Flight’s Worcester Porcelain factory and ordered a breakfast service.

After his father’s death in 1792 Joseph Flight formed a partnership with Martin Barr. The firm traded as Flight & Barr between 1792 and 1804, then as the partnership between the families changed it became Barr, Flight & Barr until 1813 when Martin Barr died and the company became Flight, Barr and Barr.

After 1780 the gilding was applied with mercury and burnished to a bright finish. This can be seen in the examples illustrated from Toovey’s auctions.

I adore the richness of the japanesery decoration on the Barr, Flight & Barr Worcester porcelain chocolate cup, cover and stand which dates from between 1807 and 1813. The tapering cup, flanked by its angular gilt handles, is painted with a pagoda, exotic birds and flowers in a fenced garden scene. It sold for £500.

It was during the later Flight, Barr and Barr period (1813-1840) that some of the finest quality wares were produced.

The wares from this period were often decorated with finely enamelled panels on coloured grounds. These grounds were applied by the oil and dusting process which gave a smoother, deeper finish than those achieved with a brush.

Unusually the painters at Worcester were paid by the hour, not by the number of pieces decorated. The factory employed some of the leading ceramic painters of the period including Charles Stinton. Charles was celebrated for his depictions of exotic birds and flowers.

A group of early 19th century Flight Barr & Barr Worcester porcelain including two dessert bowls and a dish attributed to Charles Stinton decorated with exotic birds
A group of early 19th century Flight Barr & Barr Worcester porcelain including two dessert bowls and a dish attributed to Charles Stinton decorated with exotic birds

His fine enamel work can be seen in the panels of birds and flowers on the Flight, Barr and Barr dessert dishes. Each is framed with gilded decoration in a stylized seaweed design against a white ground. The collection made £380.

A Flight Barr & Barr Worcester porcelain part tea and coffee service, circa 1820
A Flight Barr & Barr Worcester porcelain part tea and coffee service, circa 1820

The autumnal colours of the painted bands of brown and gilt leaf sprays and small red flowers on the Flight Barr & Barr Worcester porcelain tea and coffee service are beautifully conceived and executed. It dates from around 1820 and was remarkably complete comprising of twenty tea cups, sixteen coffee cans, twenty-eight saucers, milk jug, sugar basin, two slop bowls and two saucer dishes. The part set realised £1900.

It is the finest pieces which attract strong competition from collectors, and condition is important. However, single cups and saucers, coffee cans, dishes and bowls can be found at auction very reasonably and provide a great way to begin to collect George III and Regency English porcelain from the late 18th and early 19th centuries with its rich variety of designs and beautiful decoration.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Anyone for Tea?

Rupert in the Toovey’s silver department
Rupert in the Toovey’s silver department with an Art Deco silver teapot

I have to own that I am passionate about tea. It is not just the diverse varieties of tea, or that it restores and revives, it is also the ritual. Each morning I delight in warming and filling my silver tea pot, allowing the tea to steep beneath its cosy before pouring the first cup of the day and preparing my thermos. Nothing beats the flavour of tea made in a silver teapot!

Tea has been drunk in China for some 4000 years. However, it was not introduced to Britain and Europe until the 17th century.

On the 25th September 1660 Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary that he ‘did send for a cupp of tee (a China drink) of which I never drank before’. It is thought Thomas Garroway of Exchange Alley, London, first sold tea in England in 1657. It was made fashionable by Charles II’s Portuguese queen, Catherine of Braganza who brought her love of tea to the English court.

Early English teapots from the 17th and the early 18th centuries are rare and tend to be small as tea was very expensive. By the later 18th and early 19th centuries tea had become a little more affordable whilst maintaining its fashionable status.

A Flight Barr & Barr Worcester porcelain part tea and coffee service
A Flight Barr & Barr Worcester porcelain part tea and coffee service, circa 1820
A George III Scottish silver of inverted pear form
A George III Scottish silver of inverted pear form, Edinburgh 1777

Tea related objects proliferated including porcelain. Take for example the Flight, Barr & Barr Worcester porcelain part tea service illustrated here. The Worcester factory had been formed in 1752 when the factories of Benjamin Lund and Dr John Wall had been united. Dr Wall retired in 1774 and in 1783 the factory was purchased by the firm’s London agent, John Flight. His son, Joseph, would enter into partnership with Martin Barr in 1792 and the company became Flight & Barr. As the partnership evolved so did the name and after Martin’s death in 1813 the company became Flight, Barr & Barr. During this last period the quality of the wares was outstanding and included tea services typified by fine, restrained decoration. This tea service dates from around 1820. The bands of brown and gilt leaf sprays are united with the form of the pieces, the design brought alive by the small red flowers. It realised £1900 at a recent Toovey’s specialist auction.

Tea related objects were often made in silver. In the later 18th century the rococo taste was fashionable. The George III Scottish silver tea pot is of inverted pear form and was assayed in Edinburgh in 1777. The chased decoration reflects the fashion for the rococo at this date with its opposing scroll cartouche and flower festoons. It sold for £950.

A set of three George III silver graduated tea caddies
A set of three George III silver graduated tea caddies, London 1766 by Thomas Foster

The three early George III silver tea caddies reflect the value of tea in the mid-18th century and are also in the rococo taste. Their flower finials and rectangular bombé outline are decorated with chased, spiral reeded bands and cornered foliate borders. The scroll and scallop aprons incorporate scalloped feet. Made by the silversmith John Foster and assayed in London in 1766, with their contemporary walnut case they realised £5100 at Toovey’s.

The fashion for tea related objects is once again in revival. Silver tea pots can still be bought reasonably at auction but prices have risen. Perhaps it’s time you treated yourself to tea and enjoyed the delight in silver and porcelain. After all tea always tastes better when it has been made in a silver teapot and is savoured in porcelain cups!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 25th February 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.