This wig-bellows would have been used to powder Queen Maria Amalia’s wigs, and is part of an important porcelain service which was despatched from Dresden to Naples in November 1747. The service was part of a larger gift from Augustus III and his wife Maria Josepha to the Royal couple in Naples; King Charles was given fine horses and a phaeton (a type of open carriage) and the surviving correspondence reveals that the shipment was taken to Naples by a piqueur, M. Böhme, who travelled via Vienna and Venice. All the porcelain pieces were transported in leather-cases and the correspondence records that 'The Porcelain also arrived in good condition, without anything having been broken or damaged, with the exception of a broken saucer. Their Majesties greatly admired the porcelain’s beauty and everyone who saw it was astonished to see the heights of perfection to which our factory has taken this art'.¹
Archival evidence shows that production at Meissen was already underway in 1745, when the Queen was expecting her second child, Maria Luisa.² The scenes were painted almost entirely by Gottlob Siegmund Birckner, who used engravings after the paintings of Watteau, Lancret and others for inspiration. Birckner’s highly innovative rendering of the scenes in copper-green monochrome referred to the royal colour of Saxony, and ‘Green Watteau’ designs were subsequently kept as the prerogative of the Saxon Royal family. The service consisted of three to four dozen pieces, and arrived in Naples in February 1748, the year of The King and Queen’s tenth wedding anniversary.
See Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, 'Princes and Porcelain on the Grand Tour of Italy’ in Fragile Diplomacy, Exhibition Catalogue, Bard Graduate Center, New York, 2007, pp. 237-239, where diplomatic correspondence relating to the service is published along with illustrations of a number of pieces from the service. For a dish in the Museo Archeológico Nacional, Madrid, see Ulrich Pietsch and Claudia Banz, Triumph of the Blue Swords, Exhibition Catalogue, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden, 2010, p. 232, Cat. No. 143.
It is not known exactly when these wig-bellows arrived in England, or at Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire. It appears that they had been at Mentmore for some time when they were given to Sir Francis Watson in 1965 by Eva Countess of Rosebery in thanks for organising the first Mentmore sale. Watson recorded ‘I chose a few things from the house which hadn’t been seen for years, chiefly from the White Drawing room which the butler once told me had never been used since Harry’s coming of age party’. Mentmore Towers was built by the great art collector and banker Baron Mayer de Rothschild, and on his death it passed to his only daughter Hannah. When Hannah de Rothschild married Archibald 5th Earl of Rosebery four years later in 1878, Mentmore and Baron de Rothschild’s art collection passed to the Earls of Rosebery. Among other things, the Baron was a great collector of Italian works of art, and it seems most probable that the bellows came to Mentmore via him.
Sir Francis Watson was the Director of the Wallace Collection in London from 1963 until 1974, during which time he established his great reputation as a leading authority on the arts of France and Italy in the 18th century. His 1956 Catalogue of Furniture in the Wallace Collection received international acclaim and broke new ground in the field of serious catalogues of objects other than painting and sculpture. Between 1966 and 1970 he wrote the meticulous catalogue of the Wrightsman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum. He also wrote books on Canaletto, Tiepolo and Fragonard. He was Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art, Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford (1969-70), Wrightsman Professor at New York University (1970-71), Kress Professor at the National Gallery in Washington (1975-76), and was awarded the Gold Medal of New York University in 1966.
1. Cited by Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ibid., p. 237.
2. Maureen Cassidy-Geiger, ibid., p. 237.