The year 2024 marks the 250th anniversary of William Billingsley beginning his career as a decorator of porcelain. He was apprenticed by his mother Mary at the Derby porcelain factory in September 1774, at the age of 16. This was for a term of five years, during which time he received a wage of five shillings per week.
(See the book "William Billingsley, 1758-1828" by W. D. John.)
Once his apprenticeship was completed, Billingsley began his illustrious, though at times controversial career. Many would argue that he was the finest decorator of 18th and early 19th century porcelain and he was certainly one of the "greats". We can only cover his life and career quite briefly here, but will include in this exhibition some wonderfully decorated porcelain from all the factories he was involved with. However the main focus will be on his work on Derby porcelain.
The style of decoration produced by Billingsley in those early years was unremarkable, he'd have worked as instructed by his superiors. The same would have applied after completing his apprenticeship and pieces decorated by him during the Chelsea Derby period are almost impossible to identify. The first time we start to get a clue of his own style was from the start of the puce marked period, which began in 1784 when some of the workmen were allotted numbers to identify their work. Unusually for a painter, Billingsley was also a gilder and was allotted 7 as his gilder's number. Therefore from this time the so called "long-tailed 7" can be found on his work.
From the start of the puce marked period in 1784, Billingsley was still following the style he was taught and his work is unremarkable. Some of the early pieces would not be attributed to him were it not for the long-tailed 7 to the reverse. Some examples of those pieces follow here, all have the long-tailed 7 identifying them as by Billingsley.