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Live like a Rockefeller — A Derby porcelain dinner and dessert service

Doyenne of decor Martha Stewart discusses her pick from The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller — a service so beautiful that it deserves a room of its own — and shares her personal memories of David Rockefeller

‘The Rockefellers had a deep love of nature and it shows in this remarkable porcelain service, each piece of which is painted with a flower or fruit,’ says décor doyenne Martha Stewart, who stopped by Christie’s Rockefeller Centre warehouse to take a look through highlights from The Collection of Peggy and David  Rockefeller. Her eye was drawn to the couple’s Derby tableware, and specifically this service. ‘Each piece is unique and has such beautiful colouration,’ she says. ‘There’s so much to look at.’

Crafted circa 1815, this extensive service comprises two large soup tureens and covers; six sauce tureens, four covers and six stands; three cushion-shaped vegetable dishes and covers; four shell-shaped dishes; three quatrefoil dishes; two lobed lozenge-shaped dishes; a square salad bowl; a footed compote; 15 oval platters in six sizes; 20 soup plates; 47 dinner plates; and 22 dessert plates.

As David Rockefeller would later explain, his wife Peggy had spotted the Derby service in a shop window, and was immediately drawn to it. ‘But by the standards of those days it seemed quite expensive,’ David said. Eventually, however, he relented: ‘Since she admired it so much, I finally bought it for her for Christmas in 1954.’

A Derby porcelain botanical part dinner and dessert service, circa 1815. Iron-red crowned crossed batons and script D marks, the painting ascribed to Quaker Pegg. Estimate $25,000-35,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller English & European Furniture, Ceramics & Decorations, Part I on 9 May at Christie’s in New York

A Derby porcelain botanical part dinner and dessert service, circa 1815. Iron-red crowned crossed batons and script D marks, the painting ascribed to Quaker Pegg. Estimate: $25,000-35,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller: English & European Furniture, Ceramics & Decorations, Part I on 9 May at Christie’s in New York

The painting on the service is attributed to William 'Quaker' Pegg (1775-1851), a self-taught botanical draughtsman and china-painter. He first worked at the Derby factory from 1796 until 1801, at which point he destroyed all his sketchbooks and left the manufactory in order to lead a more devout life. In 1813 he returned to painting on porcelain, and began to rebuild the body of work he had destroyed.

‘It’s clear that William “Quaker” Pegg was an awfully studious botanist because each of his flowers is incredibly detailed, and there’s such a variety of specimens,’ says Stewart. ‘Among my favourites is the amaranthus, known in gardener's lingo as “Love-Lies-Bleeding”. I also particularly like the carnations.

‘The fact that David and Peggy Rockefeller actually owned this service, and housed it in one of their beautiful homes, counts for a lot’

‘These pieces are so beautiful that they should be showed off at all times,’ Stewart continues. ‘I might use them for a dessert, but they’re so rare — they’re really more like paintings than dishes. I think a room with all of them on display would be incredible.’

The service’s provenance further enhances its value, says Stewart: ‘The fact that Peggy and David Rockefeller actually owned this service, and housed it in one of their beautiful homes, counts for a lot.’

Stewart has fond personal memories of David Rockefeller, who was her neighbour in Seal Harbor, Maine. ‘I knew David for around 19 years,’ she says. ‘We spent long hours on his boat, Sea Smoke, and he was a frequent dinner guest. He especially liked unusual dishes, such as pigeon pie, and everything was always his “favourite”. He had a great enthusiasm for good living.’