25 May 2016

Spode and a Dessert Plate

Dessert plate, painted by Charles Ferdinand Hürten
I have written about the famous Copeland artist and designer, Charles Ferdinand Hürten, elsewhere on this blog. Recently I was sent images of this stunning dessert plate from a private collection. It is a lovely piece in every way so gets a blogpost of its own.

This is one plate, about 9 inches in diameter, probably from a large and elaborate dessert service which may have comprised hundreds of pieces which would also have included serving and centre pieces. Each item in the service almost certainly featured a different painting of flowers by Hürten. It was made around 1887.
Difficult to read backstamp: Spode at the top and Copeland at the bottom
Apart from the company of manufacture (Spode under the Copelands), and the artist who painted the centre, all the other people who worked on this piece remain anonymous.

How many times this was fired in the different types of bottle ovens at Spode cannot be known exactly but at least 6.
The shape of the piece is recorded in the Spode archive as 'Madrid shape, fully pierced'. Pierced ware was cut by hand, after the piece was made from the clay, but before it was fired and was still the right softness to be cut without crumbling. The hand pierced borders would have been vulnerable throughout the whole of the manufacturing process.

The quality of Spode's bone china really shines through with this technique. It combines strength with delicacy.

The pierced border itself is very attractive but it is elaborated with touches of handpainted colour combined with the white of the bone china left undecorated. It is also gilded to a very high standard using the techniques of raised gold and chasing.

Gold* is usually applied last to a piece of ware which is then fired for the final time. After firing the gold is dull so is brought up by sanding. At some factories, like Spode, the gold was then burnished using tools tipped with bloodstones and agates of different shapes to reach the different awkward places on a pot such as round a handle. Remarkable patterns and effects could be achieved.
Spode oil lamp, decorated with gold treated in different ways c1815
Burnishing brought out the beautiful glow of the gold. This work was carried out by the burnishers, usually women.
Burnishing 1902 (Note the open flame gas light)
The raised work and the chasing was done by the artists or gilders, usually men. Occasionally at Spode some gilders were sometimes allowed to sign their work. The spots are applied by hand on a raised paste - click the 'raised gold' link above for more explanation.
Detail of the raised gold with the shiny pattern produced by chasing
The chasing pattern was produced by drawing the design with a pointed agate stone. On this piece it is tiny angled lines. Robert Copeland describes it as a 'very sophisticated form of burnishing in which the agate burnishes lines to form a shiny design on the matt gold'.
The real star of this piece though is the design of poppies in the centre of the plate painted by Hürten. So here are a few more of the lovely images of this amazing plate.

*Gold - real gold was used. At Spode there was a gold safe. Up to the 1960s gold preparation was undertaken by one of the Directors of the firm in a room adjoining the Master's Office which is where the safe was kept. Here there were also the scales for weighing gold out and a pestle and mortar for grinding gold - the latter is in the Spode Museum object collection. There would be tight control of gold on the factory and facilities to reclaim gold when things didn't go right. Various members of the Copeland family were members of The Goldsmiths' Company and W. T. Copeland was Prime Warden.