Here is a very rare complete and original set of Derby figures of the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. These four antique porcelain figures have remained together since the mid-18th century when they were made. The Classical Elements are one way that ancient philosophers and scientists understood the composition of the universe. Interest in these and other ancient beliefs had a resurgence in the Neoclassical revival of the 18th century, and in particular in artistic and literary forms. (The situation is similar today, when superheroes and fantasy fiction make use of these and similar concepts.) Like most porcelain factories, Derby also made sets of allegorical figures to illustrate other classical personifications: the Four Seasons, the Four Quarters of the Globe, the Arts, the Muses, etc. The factory also created several different sets of the Four Elements to coincide with the various modes of fashionable taste. For this set, the decoration of the clothing is in the early Derby pastel palette with European flowers added in complementary colors. In the standard reference book on Derby figures, Peter Bradshaw’s “Derby Porcelain Figures,” this very set is illustrated in a black and white photograph (shown here) as the example for the Four Elements. The description in that book reads: “R17 The Four Elements (four figures) 9—9-1/2 inches tall. Air: a bareheaded lady holding a bird cage; Earth, a gardener leaning upon a spade with fruits and flowers; Fire, a youth standing beside a flaming urn beside a cannon—adapted from the figure representing War; Water, a bareheaded lady stands with a creel at her feet and holds a fish—[perhaps] adapted from a Bow model, Venus with Doves. Sotheby’s New York.”
Condition is excellent, with no major damage. Some leaf tips around the edges of the bocage have chips, several flower heads are chipped, and there is a little edge damage to the glaze. The figure of Fire has slight damage to the fingers on his right hand, and on Water the spout of his watering can apparently fell off during the first firing and is not present. That area was colored over later when the colors were fired on. Two of the custom-made mahogany bases still retain stickers from the Sotheby Parke-Burnet auction that is mentioned in Bradshaw‘s book.
Individual examples of the Four Elements are very scarce in themselves, and this extremely rare complete set is probably one of only a handful still in existence.

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Bone China, Ceramics, Porcelain, Pottery
Royal Crown Derby
Classical Greek, Classical Roman, George II , Georgian
England • English

Laureate Antiques

Derby 18th C. Porcelain Figures, the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire & Water. C.1765


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