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AN EXCEPTIONAL COLLECTION OF TIN-GLAZED EARTHENWARE
It would be hard to fault Simon Sainsbury's remarkable eye in any field of acquisition, but his collection of delftware is undoubtedly the finest to appear at auction for a generation.
Each piece was acquired not only with careful attention to its individual charm and appeal but also with a view to its historical importance, rarity or perhaps some minor nuance of detail that could be missed by a casual observer. The provenance of many pieces represents a roll call of the assiduous collectors of the past: Harland, Glenny, Lipski, Ragg and Thomas Burn of Rous Lench Court, but also the dealers, Gautier, Tilley, Mannheim, or more recently Jellinek, Sampson, Horne and Atkins; they all had their part to play in the formation of this fine collection.
The earliest pieces are among the most difficult to assign to a particular origin, but they are part of a well-known group made either in London or the Netherlands and are here represented by two exceptional examples. The earliest has a high-fired body with a thick greenish-brown glaze and is of mid-16th Century date and has an engraved silver-gilt mount and another, of so-called 'Malling' type is in typical Delft tradition with a powdered blue and manganese tin-glaze and a softer earthenware body and also with finely engraved mounts including animals and strapwork. Among the earliest dated pieces is the exceptional blue and white mug of 1638 attributed to Christian Wilhelm's workshop at Pickleherring Quay, Southwark. Also of this early group is an initialled large polychrome jug with grotesques in the Italian manner and an apparently unique charger with a warrior, taken from an engraved source, surrounded by a border of typical 'Birds-on-Rocks' design. As is so often the case, it is the earliest of wares that are among the most innovative of the potter's art of the period.
The concentration of dated pieces and those with royal association illustrates the development of the industry during the 17th century. The plain white severe forms of the Commonwealth period (for example the dated wine bottles simply inscribed with the wine and date above a flourish, the rare white Fecundity dish, the startlingly elegant 'dimpled' tankard and the exceptional metal form candlestick) give way to the more colourful and exuberant dishes from the second half of the 17th Century. The monarchs are all represented here, from the Restoration of Charles II to the accession of George I, ranging from the curiously plain, in the case of the small dish from Brislington with a portrait of James II, to the large and sophisticated royal equestrian charger of the 1680s.
Here too are pieces of exceptional charm and of a curious English quirkiness: the dated cat jug of 1659, an alert seated dog, a hand-warmer in the form of a book and the dated triangular 'Unicorn' salt of 1674. These, simple, charming domestic objects are balanced by a number of rare armorial pieces with the arms of City Livery Companies, a wine bottle with the arms of the Grocers' Company of 1649 and a dated jug of 1673 with the arms of the Cordwainers' and two exceptional pill tiles with the arms of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries.
Each piece here does indeed tell a story, yet it is more the extraordinary and perceptive eye of the collector in bringing these pieces together as a cohesive whole that illustrates so acutely the breadth and imagination of the potters' skill in 17th Century England.
Pimlico, April 2008