When the decorators at the Worcester factory wanted to impress, they impressed! Some patterns were very popular for years, and Worcester often varied the decoration slightly from set to set, making subtle changes so that all the customers would know that their sets were unique. There is one family of such patterns that is named after the service owned by Lord Henry Thynne. That service featured a blue and gilt border like this, with fruit, leaf and flower decoration alternating with birds, and a circular panel in the center that held landscapes. (Henry Thynne was the second son of the third Marquis of Bath, and he died in 1904.) Many other services of similar but not quite matching patterns were made. A closely related design, with swags of fruit and insects instead of birds, was owned by the 10th Earl and Marquis of Dalhousie. A lot of research has been directed at establishing who painted which scenes on Worcester porcelain, particularly when it comes to animal scenes. (Painters were forbidden to sign their work.) A notable painter named Jeffreyes Hammet O’Neale did some very famous scenes of the animals from Aesop’s Fables while he was at Worcester, and presumably he did a number of services with a similar type of decoration. That would seem to suggest that he decorated this pair. However, he left Worcester in 1770 and these Thynne-type patterns continued to be made for some years after that, so there’s no guarantee that O’Neale painted this set. One unique aspect of this pair is the “marriage bow” included within the fruit groups. Cupid’s bow was often seen as a symbol of love, and that bow and arrow apparently show up here and on no other set. There are matching pieces, but they’re extremely rare so it’s almost certain there was only one service with the marriage bow. Geoffrey Godden illustrates a Worcester dessert dish from the same set as this pair in his reference book on Chamberlain’s porcelain, page 72. He makes a particular note of saying that the plate he illustrates was painted at Worcester when Robert Chamberlain was in charge of decorating at the factory. Then he mentions that “the same painter” was later employed at Chamberlain’s factory. Hmmm. Was he suggesting that Chamberlain himself was the decorator? Did he have a hunch but couldn’t prove it yet? Was it Chamberlain who carried on the decorating tradition of O’Neale at Worcester and then later at his own factory? Whatever the case, this rare Worcester set continues to amaze today as it must have amazed the people who saw it in the 18th century. Each dish is eight and a half inches across. One dish is nearly perfect except for some spots of gilding loss on the rim. The other has some glaze loss to one of the fruits and one of the birds, but the gilding is perfect. Neither dish has any chips or cracks. A tureen and stand from the same service was sold at Sotheby’s in 1997. It was decorated in the centers with foxes, dogs and a lion eating a bat (!) and they dated it to 1775.
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