Rare and significant works of art from the Old World will just occasionally surface, unrecorded, in the New.
In January’s Americana auctions in New York, Christie’s featured a selection of pieces from the collection of Mrs J. Insley Blair.
Natalie Blair was one of the Grande Dames of Americana collecting but she acquired choice pieces of English pottery and porcelain to display alongside her rare 18th century American furniture.
They included this Worcester teapot of c.1770 decorated in the London workshop of James Giles – one of a rare sub group of four known pieces – that was heavily contested. It soared past its $20,000-30,000 estimate to sell to Brian Haughton Antiques for $110,000 (£64,705) hammer.
One might have thought something this expensive (after commission and import add-ons the final cost was nearer to £90,000) would have been bought for a client. Not so, the London firm bought the piece for stock and for the last six months the company’s Paul Crane has been researching the acquisition.
This quartet of Giles wares with an idiosyncratic range of patterns was thought to have been produced as a sample service but Mr Crane has come up with a whole new theory about their decoration based on allusions to the triumph of love.
“There is love all over the piece”. Giving just a flavour of his theory, the Sèvres-inspired turquoise ground is associated with love in the lapidary world. The Teniers-style couple painted to the side shown here are encased in a heart shaped cartouche and their accoutrements include roses and damsons (meaning true love and personal devotion) and a clay pipe (fertility and fecundity).
To the other side a lovebird pecks at a bough of fruit: pears (signifying affection), more damsons and rose hips – the fruit of love.
Such a wealth of symbolism begs the question, for whom was this amorous tea set commissioned?