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Oriental Influences on
Derby Porcelain.

The beginnings of porcelain production.

The production of porcelain began in the Far East many centuries before Europeans finally learnt the secrets of its manufacture.  It is thought that it was during the period of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD) that firing ceramic materials to the correct temperature was first mastered.  2,000 years later some original pieces from this manufacture still retain their colour and translucency.


Eventually the secrets of porcelain production spread to other parts of Eastern Asia.  It's thought the Koreans started to make porcelain ceramics during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392AD) and it was the early 17th century before the Japanese finally mastered the art of its manufacture having captured some Korean potters during the wars of 1592-1598 who later discovered some raw materials in Japan.


Oriental porcelain was very highly prized in the Western world but it was not until the 18th century that European porcelain production began, with the first hard paste porcelain factory opening at Meissen in 1710.  Gradually porcelain production spread throughout Europe, reaching the UK during the 1740's with the Chelsea factory possibly the first to begin production.  Shortly afterwards porcelain manufacture began in Derby.

Early Derby porcelain production was influenced to a degree by the need to compete with the well established trade in Oriental wares imported by the East India Company.  For decades wealthy families had purchased imported porcelain products manufactured in the Far East and Derby, like the other early English factories, was aiming to take a share of this business.  It is therefore logical that they tried to copy the Chinese in style, shape and decoration.

The earliest porcelain figures were made to decorate the tables of dessert courses at grand dinners.  These often had allegorical themes such as the Seasons or the Senses.  The Derby figure group to the right is one such example and is representative of "Touch" from the set of the Five Senses.  It dates to c.1752-55 and was modelled by Agostino Carlini.  Made of white glazed, soft paste porcelain, the group consists of a Chinese man about to chastise a little boy.  The man is wearing a large hat and a long cloak thrown over a robe.  He has a very long moustache and the boy is clad in a long robe and pointed cap.

This figure actually demonstrates the beginning of Chinoiserie, a European way of looking at Chinese style.  It is unlikely the many pointed hat would be found in a Chinese piece!

This figure group is part of the Schreiber Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the image is reproduced here with their permission.

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For the remainder of this exhibition we'll be concentrating on pieces of porcelain from the collection of the late Dr John Freeman.  Dr Freeman was a founder member of the Derby Porcelain Society and in 1984 chaired the Steering Committee tasked with its set-up.  His collection was large and varied, but contained a substantial number of pieces with Oriental style decoration.  The Society is very grateful to Mellors & Kirk Fine Art Auctioneers who handled the sale of Dr Freeman's collection and for allowing us to use their images and descriptions from the sale catalogue.  The copywrite of all the following images belongs to them.

Birds and Animals.

We begin by looking at Oriental style decoration which includes birds and animals.  These are usually quite stylised and come in a variety of palates.  Some of the birds and animals have additional meanings, for example the crane which is quite a popular bird on Oriental porcelain is an emblem of longevity and is often shown with others such as a rock and a pine tree.  Its second role is as a symbol of wisdom.  A deer is also a symbol of longevity and represents success in study.  Both these can be found within the examples below.  Derby was not the only English factory producing these wares in Oriental styles, students of Worcester porcelain for example will recognise some of these patterns from that factories production.


A Derby heptagonal bowl, enamelled in Kakiemon style with a yellow breasted phoenix perched on a tree peony and with bamboo and chrysanthemum sprouting from rocks, the reverse with a similar bird in flight, the everted iron red inner border with a ribbon of berries.  26 cm diameter, c1780.

Chinese Figures.

Chinoiserie was in essence a European idea of Chinese style which transcended actual Chinese decoration and taste.  It is important that on useful wares, quite a few of Derby's polychrome examples were accurate copies, most based on imported Kangxi period (1672-1722) wares, with attempts even made to emulate the marks underneath.  Like most other factories they did produce chinoiserie too.  The following slide features a selection from Dr Freeman's collection.


A Derby coffee cup, painted in famille rose enamels with two panels of three Chinese figures in long turquoise or other robes in barbed gilt frames reserved on a solid underglaze blue ground, with flowers and tendrils reversed in the white and picked out with gilt, heightened in gilt, 6.5 cm high, collectors label for the Watney collection, c1765-70.

DPS Comment - Provenance: Dr Bernard Watney, sold at Phillips, Son and Neale Ltd, 22nd September 1999, lot 395 when bought by Dr Freeman.

Flowers and Plants.

Another style of decoration found frequently on Oriental themed porcelain is that of flowers and plants.  Symbolism is an integral part of Chinese decoration with different flowers and combinations of those flowers adding meaning to the porcelain.  It's not clear if this symbolism was recognised or followed by the Europeans who purchased this style of porcelain from China, in fact it's quite possible that to many the patterns were chosen simply because they looked pretty.  Some examples of flowers having symbolic meanings are :

Tree Peony - considered the 'King of Flowers' and associated with the imperial family.  It is known as the flower of 'wealth and honour' and was traditionally a token of love and exchanged as a farewell gift.

Hibiscus - symbolic for 'Wealth and Glory'.

Chinese Rose - famous for the fact that it blooms almost every month of the year and so is symbolic of longevity.

Chrysanthemum - symbolic for longevity and wealth

Lotus Flower - associated with Buddhism and is a symbol of feminine beauty.  It is also associated with purity because it arises unsullied from the mud.

Crab Apple - could be combined with other emblems to create auspicious rebuses.  For example when combined with peonies they create the phrase 'May the whole family achieve wealth and honour'. 

Prunus - the peach and cherry branch and blossom represents good luck and hapiness.


A Derby coffee cup with unusual S shaped handle with support, finely painted in famille rose enamels with three groups of flowers, one with fruit alternating with elaborate gilt lotus meander beneath the panelled puce diaper border, the interior with a moth and gilt border, 6cm high, c.1765.

The finely executed and unusual decoration is in Yongzheng/early Qialong style.  The cup could have been made as a replacement for a Chinese export set.

Provenance: Dr Bernard Watney collection, sold Phillips, Son and Neale Ltd, (II) 10th May 2000, lot 763.

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A Derby plate and an earlier Chinese plate of the same pattern, painted in famille rose enamels and gilt with a willow and peony growing from a blue rock or fence, the undulating foreground washed in pale green, in gilt or brown edged rim, 23cm diameter, puce painted mark and collectors label to the Derby plate, c1790-95 and mid 18th century respectively.

The Derby plate to the left. Provenance: Mary Field collection.

DPS Comment: An interesting comparison between an early Chinese plate and a later Derby copy.

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Blue and White.

Decoration of useful wares in underglaze blue was not adopted at Derby until c1760.  The exact date is not known but we do know that it was being produced in 1762 (see our Blue & White Porcelain Exhibition on this website).  The production was mainly hand decorated, though there are some transfer printed examples.  Many of the pieces produced at Derby were following the style of the Oriental porcelain which was being imported into the United Kingdom from China, and to a lesser extent from Japan.  The decoration usually followed traditional Oriental styles with temples, pagodas, Chinese figures, prunus and lotus blossom, etc.

Production of blue and white decorated pieces at Derby was only carried out to a modest level, Derby's main target clientele was that at the top end of the social scale.  An interesting cross section of pieces survive and were well represented in Dr Freeman's collection.


A rare Derby coffee cup of reeded form with strap handle, painted in underglaze blue with plantain and tendrils, a subsidiary tendril to the reverse, 5.5cm high, c1760.


Provenance: Dr Bernard Watney collection, sold Phillips, Son and Neale Ltd, (III) 1 November 2000, lot 1163.

DPS Comment: Derby tea and coffee wares in blue and white are quite rare.  A pair in this same pattern are in Derby Museum and are illustrated in "Ceramics of Derbyshire 1750-1975 by H. G. Bradley, fig. 143, one showing the reverse pattern.

Imari decoration.

As the 18th century drew to a close, so the influence of the orient on the style of decoration added to our porcelain wares diminished.  It was now the age of the "Grand Tour" and with European travel came an increasing interest in European styles, fashions and heritage.  However interest in oriental tastes didn't completely come to a close and of the major English porcelain factories, Derby in particular was still able to capitalise on this market.


There was a growing interest in porcelain decorated in "Imari" colours, a style that had originated in Japan and imported into the United Kingdom from the 17th century. 


So what is Imari decoration?  In its purest form, Imari decorated wares must include underglaze blue, iron red and gold although the Imari palette can still include other colours such as yellows, greens aubergine and black.  The term "Imari" came from the name of the port on the island of Kyushu from where the early Japanese porcelain was exported.  The port of Imari is today known as Nagasaki.


Both the Chelsea and Bow factories produced wares with Imari-inspired patterns during the 1750's and 60's and when Derby took over both these factories it may well have inspired William Duesbury to introduce similar designs at Nottingham Road.  By the early 1800's these Imari patterns were an important part of factory production, the richness of the decoration being ideally suited to opulent Regency tastes.  Their popularity continued through the 19th and 20th centuries, becoming one of the foundations for the success of the Osmaston Road factory.

Dr Freeman's collection contained a number of pieces decorated in the Imari style from all three Derby factories and a selection is included below.


A Derby fluted coffee cup and saucer enamelled and richly gilt with the Old Japan Fan pattern, the rim and handle gilt, saucer 12.5cm diameter, painted pseudo Chinese mark in concentric circles, c1775-80.

Illustrated in Twitchett, "Derby Porcelain, An Illustrated Guide" page 190.

DPS Comment: This pattern is most usually associated with Worcester porcelain as well as Japanese original pieces, this Derby example may have been made as a replacement for, or addition to such a service.  


The colours are typical Imari with the addition of green. 

A Harlequin set of six Royal Crown Derby coffee cans and stands, decorated in different Japan patterns, saucer 14cm diameter, printed mark and date, 1988.

DPS Comment: This Harlequin set of coffee cans and stands quite clearly demonstrates how Royal Crown Derby continues to draw on its 260+ years of heritage as it competes in a modern world.


The origins of these six patterns can be traced back to the 18th century yet they still finds relevance with collectors of fine porcelain.

Together these six cans represent the "Curator's Collection" and are the named patterns Acanthus, Derby Garden, Derby Old Japan (also known as Kings), Pardoe, Rich Japan and Tree of Life.


Having started the exhibition with a very fine 18th century Derby figure of an Oriental gentleman it would seem appropriate to end with a 20th century figure of a Japanese lady.  Also from the collection of Dr John Freeman and dating to the 1930's, this figure of a Geisha stands 16cm high.

Suggested Reading.

The following literature provides useful information on Derby porcelain decorated in Oriental style.

"Oriental Influences on Derby Porcelain" by Robin French (DPIS Newsletter No. 72 pages 10 - 12)

"Oriental Influences on the Porcelain of Nottingham Road" by Olivia Dean (DPIS Newsletter No. 75 pages 28 - 32)

"Royal Crown Derby Imari Wares" by Ian Cox


"Ceramics of Derbyshire, 1750-1975" by H G Bradley

The Society would like to express its appreciation to Mellors and Kirk Fine Art Auctioneers for allowing the use of its images and descriptions of the lots from the sale of the Dr John Freeman collection, and for their continued support of this Society.






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