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A Classical Compromise

A Classical Compromise
glazed earthenware
17 3⁄8 x 10 7⁄8 x 10 7⁄8 in. (44 x 27.5 x 27.5 cm.)
Executed in 1989
Birch & Conran, London.
Private collection, UK (acquired from the above, 1989).
Anonymous. sale; Bloomsbury Auctions, London, 5 December 2013, lot 108.
Offer Waterman & Co, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2015.
M. Squire, J. Cahill and R. Allen (eds.), The Classical Now, exh. cat., London, King's College London, The Arcade at Bush House & Inigo Rooms at Somerset House, 2018 (illustrated in colour, p. 183).
M. Squire, 'A Passionate Collector' in Minerva, March/April 2018, fig. 9 (illustrated in colour, p. 19).
Musée d'Art Classique de Mougins, 2015-2023 (Inv. no. MMoCA174MA).
London, King's College London, The Arcade at Bush House & Inigo Rooms at Somerset House, The Classical Now, 2018.

Brought to you by

Claudio Corsi
Claudio Corsi Specialist, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Created in 1989, A Classical Compromise is a remarkable early example of Grayson Perry’s subversive ceramic practice. He had made his first pottery works in evening classes in 1983, and began to exhibit them in the mid-1980s. Perry would go on to forge an extraordinary career in the medium, revitalising what was then seen as a moribund, decorative artform as a vehicle for playful and probing commentary on society, culture and personal experience. In 2003, he became the first ceramic artist to win the Turner Prize. The present work exhibits the complex play with received ideas of taste, class and art history that defines Perry’s practice. Its shape is borrowed from 18th-century Staffordshire urns, which were themselves derived from Greek and Roman forms—a history evoked in the title, which is stamped on the pot like an epitaph. Perry used the hand-coiling method to build its basic shape, whose lumps and bumps are charmingly at odds with the perfection of Hellenistic ideals. Displayed alongside an Ancient Greek amphora in the 2010 exhibition ‘The Classical Now’ at Somerset House, the work reflects Perry’s enduring fascination with the art of the classical worlds, and its tangled relationship with the English aesthetic tradition.

A Classical Compromise is one of Perry’s first pots to feature sprig moulds. These small decorative reliefs were made by pressing found objects into soft clay, and then fixed to the pot with a dab of slip. Perry used the technique to create the edging at the pot’s shoulder, and the heads of English monarchs that are ringed around it. The body features more sprig moulds, including the head of Jesus and other ornamental emblems, while barbed rose stems and a winged skull—more evocative of biker or heavy metal regalia than of ornamental pottery—encircle the base. The work also incorporates the ready-made transfers that have been a hallmark of Perry’s work since the late 1980s, capturing his delight in marrying ‘the venerated and the throwaway’ (G. Perry in conversation with J. Klein, Grayson Perry, London, 2009, p. 10). Picturesque Victorian vignettes, including sailing ships and a sentimental scene of children skating on a frozen lake, meet garish yellow flowers and pagodas in ‘oriental’ blue and white. The transfers are fused to the pot among slapdash brushstrokes and dark glazes of pigment, creating a clash of kitsch and sombre tones. The work is a chorus of signals from disparate eras and contexts, creating a vessel of teeming, disharmonic and distinctly English contradiction.

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