27 March 2021

Spode & the Royal Pavilion (Part 2): Porcelain Pagodas

This blogpost follows 'Spode & the Royal Pavilion (Part I): Oil Lamps & an Old Chinese Vase' which has my information on the background and introduction to the main players in this story. For more click here>
Antique Chinese Porcelain Pagodas.
Impressive... but are they really big enough?
Chinese porcelain pagodas seem to have been something of 'A Thing' in the early 1800s and several, some in sets, are in the Royal Collections (RCT). I confess to getting a bit confused early on in this research with so many similar porcelain pagodas!

In the top photo*** you can see 4 magnificent 518cm (17ft) high pagodas in situ at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton which was 'the seaside pleasure palace for HM King George IV'. They are also described by RCT as 'colossal Chinese towers' which I rather like. And they use the word 'pyramid' for other pagodas in their collections too. 
Pagoda 17ft high (RCT no.RCIN1)
To make the original pagodas, which were already pretty impressive, even taller and to fit in with the scale of rooms in the Royal Pavilion, bases were added. The 'blue scagliola double plinths' were by Henry Westmacott. Josiah Spode II (Potter to the King) was commissioned to make the 'Chinese' landscape panels for the main part of the new bases. These beautiful panels are decorated with transfer printed borders in a blue fretwork pattern which surrounds the handpainted Chinese scenes. They show the great technical skill of Spode's early 19th century ceramic manufacture. The gilded metal work was by Benjamin Vulliamy*. 
Detail of Spode panels for the base
Spode's ceramic panels are likely to have been made from their stone china body which was developed to imitate, and match, Chinese porcelain in look, feel and quality. It was in production by 1812 but the exact date of introduction is unknown. Certainly some of the other pagodas in the Royal Pavilion have bases which are marked with the Stone China backstamp (mark) which is in the style of a pseudo-Chinese seal.
Backstamp used on another set of pagodas (RCT no.RCIN2400)
Together with this set of four pagodas, two more pairs are in the RCT (RCIN812 and RCIN 2400) and were installed at the Royal Pavilion. These also had ceramic base panels made by Spode. The two other pairs of Chinese porcelain pagodas were of different designs and had different panels made by Spode for their bases.
Detail of Spode panels made for the base (RCT no.RCIN2400)

Pagoda, bottom 2 tiers by Spode (RCT no.RCIN812)

All these pagodas can be viewed in detail on the RCT website.**

Here you can also find other Spode items, as well as those made at a later date when the company was owned by the Copeland family, which are in the RCT. To view them use the link at the end of this post. Then use the search option and search on Spode, select the tab 'What' to find the details of the various Spode objects including the pagoda sets. Unfortunately it is not possible to link directly to the Spode pagodas.

If you would like to marvel at the skill of how to put a pagoda together from all its component parts, please click Assembling a Pagoda and page down to watch a time-lapse film which is great fun. 
_________________
Acknowledgments and notes:

Taken from my lecture 'The Josiah Spodes: Pottery Pioneers'

Thanks to Robert Copeland (1925-2010) who sparked my interest in and researched and wrote about this subject sharing his knowledge with me. In particular his article 'Jars for the King', published in the Spode Society's 'Recorder'. More about the 'Jars' will appear in the next instalment.

* Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780–1854), succeeded his father as head of the firm and Clockmaker to the King. Although his formal education is unknown, he evidently received a thorough training in both the theoretical and practical aspects of the business. By 1800 he was already helping to run the firm and after he became a partner in 1801 his involvement rapidly increased, so there was little immediate change in the firm's direction when he took over in 1811. 

The New Pocket Cyclopædia contains a report of the Prince's visit to Spode in 1806.

Terry Woolliscroft's Potbank Dictionary for explanation of words associated with the Pottery Industry.

Thanks to Pat Halfpenny with whom I swapped notes images, information and enthusiasm about this subject.

Royal Pavilion history - click HERE

**Royal Pavilion objects in the Royal Collection Trust (RCT) - click HERE>
***Thank you to Patricia Ferguson for the photo showing pagodas in situ at the Royal Pavilion. Patricia is on Instagram: @vasemadness 

HM King George IV (1762-1830): Regent (1811-1820); King (1820-1830)
HM King George IV by Thomas Lawrence

28 December 2020

Spode & the Royal Pavilion (Part I): Oil Lamps & an Old Chinese Vase

Duc d’Orléans Chinese vase, 3ft high, early 18thC

Antique Chinese Vases? Let's Make Them into Oil Lamps!

The Royal Pavilion in Brighton holds some remarkable objects. As 'the seaside pleasure palace for HM King George IV', it was decorated and furnished with the most amazing and exuberant objects of all sorts, including ceramics. Many items were specially commissioned. And many other objects, which most people would have swooned over in their original state, were altered, augmented and/or enlarged.

Spode (the pottery manufacturer), under Josiah Spode II, played an important part in the production of some of these magnificent and large objects. Josiah Spode II's important involvement rarely gets a mention... hence this blogpost.
Portrait of Spode II on a Spode ceramic plaque
Josiah Spode II had his pottery manufactory in Stoke and a fashionable 'warehouse' in London. He was skilled in all aspects of ceramic manufacture, a true Master Potter. He was also brilliant at marketing his products and supplied the well-to-do from royalty downwards. He was to become Potter to the King but prior to that had already been appointed 'Potter and English Porcelain Manufacturer to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales'. This took place in 1806 when the Prince had visited the Spode manufactory in Stoke and had been suitably impressed.

In this first part of this series here is the story of metamorphosis from 'old Chinese vase' to magnificent oil lamp.

It all begins in 1817 when 3 antique Chinese porcelain vases, dating from the early 1700s, were purchased in Paris for the Prince Regent. They had belonged to Philippe II (1674-1723), duc d’Orléans, Regent of France (1715-1723), and included his coat of arms. 

It was not sufficient that these 3 beautiful antique Chinese porcelain vases (top photo), each about 100cm (about 3ft) high, together with another 3 from a different provenance, were now destined for the palace but somebody had the thought: 'Let's make them into a set of 6 enormous, elaborate oil lamps'. 
Vase with added gilded bronze base and handles
Two men in particular, famous and skilled in their fields, were commissioned to collaborate and carry out the necessary work. Benjamin Vulliamy* (later Clockmaker to the King) was to make the gilded bronze adornments; and Josiah Spode II (later Potter to the King) was to make extra, almost architectural, matching porcelain parts. I have not seen these items 'in the flesh' and the ceramic parts may be bone china or stone china - both ceramic bodies were early 19th century inventions and/or developments of Josiah Spode II. Some of the Spode additions for the Brighton Pavilion interiors are definitely stone china and are backstamped (marked) as such. In some contemporary records** they are referred to as 'British China'.

How were the simple vases converted into huge, elaborate oil lamps?

I find it's easier to look at the changes in stages (although this is probably not the order they were made in).

Handles & Foot:
The handles (below) are elegant, swooping, winged dragons in gilded bronze. Plus a robust foot (image above) also in gilded bronze. This work was by Vulliamy.
Handle detail
Additions of Handles, Foot & Light Bowl
Light Bowl:
These vases are going to be working oil lamps, so some sort of light fitting is required. In the photo above you can now see that a 'light bowl' has been added to the top of the vase and more beautiful gilded bronze fittings. In the Spode archive this light bowl is recorded as the 'Orleans Light Bowl & Foot'. I always wondered where the Orleans name came from... now I know, as it was to be fitted atop the duc d'Orleans old vases.

The image below shows 'Orleans Light Bowl & Foot' with its manufacturing instructions from a shape book of c1820. These include the note 'NB The Bowl is made of a Mould and the Foot & Neck are Thrown'. The majority of the pieces in the Spode shape books of this period are for items solely made by throwing hence the note. The technical details included are for the Thrower (measurements on the left-hand page) and for the Turner (measurements on the right-hand page).

I have added an image of the light bowl on top of the shape book entry so you can see how the actual pieces fitted onto the lamps. The red oval red circle highlights the annotation 'for the King'. Nice!
Orleans Light Bowl & Foot
Base:
So, together with their conversion to lamps, was this enough extra ornamentation to these Chinese vases? Of course not. Let's make them taller, really tall!

A base was designed and, again, the Spode pottery manufactory made the ceramic panels and Vulliamy the gilded bronze. The Spode panels were handpainted and gilded following the Chinese style of the original vase. It's technically difficult to make ceramics absolutely flat and the Spode company always excelled at this. You can find out a bit more about this elsewhere on this blog - click here>
The rather wonderful lamp base

What did the finished oil lamps look like? Magnificent!
Completed oil lamp about 9ft high
What this story does not tell is the whole technical side of things, the communication between the Spode factory in Stoke and their London business, communication with Vulliamy and other experts, and with the agents of the HM King George IV.  

And, all the ceramic parts made by Spode, would have had to be fired in the bottle ovens several times, once for each stage of manufacture: biscuit firing, glost firing, firing for each colour, painted in stages; and after the gilding. Then the gold burnished by hand to bring out its natural glow. The Spode pieces would also have had to be exactly the right size. This is no mean feat and is what I really admire - Josiah Spode II at the forefront of ceramic technology.
Plate painted with Spode factory and its bottle ovens (detail)

The pieces passed through many, many hands from preparation of raw materials through to the finished pieces. 

Here are a few: mould makers and pressers, slab makers, makers of the moulded parts, the thrower and turners, glaze makers and dippers,**** hand painters, gilders and burnishers, the placers and, one of the most important men on the factory, the fireman. And don't forget clerks, bookkeepers, design, record keeping, accountants, packers and transport... 

The risk of damage, at any stage, to the original vases and the making of the new bits must have been a bit scary.

I am sure there is more to say about these lamps and one day I hope I will be able to see them 'in the flesh'.

Look out for part 2 of this series of Spode & the Royal Pavilion... where you will discover more of Spode's skills and the extravagance and the wonder Brighton Pavilion... from a ceramic point of view.

_________________
Acknowledgments and notes:

Taken from my lecture 'The Josiah Spodes: Pottery Pioneers'

* Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780–1854), succeeded his father as head of the firm and Clockmaker to the King. Although his formal education is unknown, he evidently received a thorough training in both the theoretical and practical aspects of the business. By 1800 he was already helping to run the firm and after he became a partner in 1801 his involvement rapidly increased, so there was little immediate change in the firm's direction when he took over in 1811. 

**Many thanks to Robert Copeland (1925-2010) who sparked my interest in and researched, wrote about this subject and shared his knowledge with me. In particular his article 'Jars for the King', published in the Spode Society's 'Recorder'.

***The New Pocket Cyclopædia contains a report of the Prince's visit to Spode in 1806.


**** Terry Woolliscroft's Potbank Dictionary for explanation of words associated with the Pottery Industry.

Thanks to Pat Halfpenny with whom I swapped notes images, information and enthusiasm about this subject.

Royal Pavilion history - click HERE

Royal Pavilion objects in the Royal Collection Trust - click HERE>

HM King George IV (1762-1830): Regent (1811-1820); King (1820-1830)
HM King George IV by Thomas Lawrence