Derby porcelain was manufactured in the town of that name from around 1750. It was known for its high-quality bone china, producing primarily tableware and ornamental items. The factory underwent several changes in ownership, but from 1890, more than a century after this piece was made, the Derby factory became known as the Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company and it still exists.
In the homes of the aristocracy and the upper classes in the 18th century, dining was often an opportunity for the wealthy to impress their guests. As a decorative arts expert at the Carnegie Museum of Art has written, “…for the first time the dining room became a clearly defined space with a house dedicated to one particular purpose: the service and enjoyment of food and all the pomp and circumstance that can surround it.” Grand centerpieces, vases, and porcelain pieces were sought to go with the elaborate dinner services; so much food and art was put out that a long centerpiece usually with a mirrored surface, called a surtout-de-table, was invented to cover the large formal dining tables to hold and better display it all.
It is believed that such charming, delicate figures as this ram (and its long-lost mate), were put out at dinner during the dessert service to impress one’s guests, especially if the host’s wealth was somehow dependent on England’s increasingly important agricultural products, including sheep.
In this fine example of a regal-looking ram made in the late 18th century, the large bocage background captivates your attention with its over 50 small flowers with individual petals and yellow centers. Many of these have an orange or magenta ring around the yellow, while others are edged in blue or purple. It is as if one stumbled upon a field of fanciful flowers held effortlessly by a tree whose leaves extend upwards behind the ram. For extra decoration, there are three clusters of blue, white and yellow flowers on the oval base.
The ram himself has several blotches of orange tinged with brown in its fur. His elongated and very detailed face is elegant. The detail of the fur was exquisitely done; individual clumps of fur can be seen. This is fine modeling in porcelain at its best.
The colors are soft and appealing. The green of the bocage combines perfectly with the blues, oranges, yellows and purples of the flowers. The distinct soft but shiny glaze has helped protect the fine features of the ram.
The back of the figure shows the same detail in the tree and the sheep as the front, rather than the flat backs of the much later 19th century Victorian Staffordshire pottery models that were more mass-produced factory products of the Industrial Revolution.
The leaves on the back are very pronounced, showing off the detailed shape of each as one rests against another. The third-dimensional quality of the bocage with its many flowers is absolutely delightful and mesmerizing.
This piece has provenance as it comes from the collection of the English porcelain expert, Dennis Rice. He wrote the books, “English Porcelain Animals of the 19th Century” and “Dogs and English Porcelain of the 19th Century.”
The condition is excellent, considering its age and type. The ram itself has no faults whatsoever. The flowers of the intricate bocage have a few rough edges here and there, and a few losses on the flower petals. Several of the soft green leaves are missing their tips; however, this is not unusual for antique pieces with such elaborate bocages. Again, the glaze on the bocage help protect the paintwork from further losses. The paintwork is still quite strong and vivid. Other than a few losses of bits to the bocage, there is nothing more to remark upon.
It measures about 3-3/8 inches wide and 4-1/8 inches high.
Late 18th Century Derby Ram with Encrusted Flowers