The reknowned 'Frog Service', commissioned by Catherine, Empress of Russia, was certainly the most important commission ever undertaken by Wedgwood, as well as a significant reflection of the important political and cultural links between Russia and Britain at that period.
Wedgwood and Bentley's intention to depict an entirely fresh topographical vision of Britain by commissioning a brand new set of views proved to be rather over-ambitious. The logistics of painting over one thousand two hundred different views over nine hundred pieces taxed the Wedgwood decorating studio in Chelsea, and they resorted to using old engravings alongside more contemporary sources. Hence, although painted in the early 1770s, we have this view of The South-West View of Sion-Abby, in the County of Middlesex, from an engraving dating from 1737, drawn from Samuel and Nathaniel Buck's 'Views of the Venerable Remains of Above Four Hundred Castles, Monasteries, Palaces, etc., in England and Wales' (published from the 1720s onwards). Syon is shown with its walled gardens and tree-lined alleys, which were to be swept away in the 1750s by 'Capability' Brown (the Wedgwood artist has also used a little dash of poetic licence by altering the composition slightly).
The iconography of The Frog Service embraced many themes; as well as modern, even industrial views, and landscapes, there was a 'Gothic' theme, and this old-fashioned view of Syon probably relates in some ways to that. There was also a theme of the depiction of the great houses of England, intended to display not only the wealth and power, but also the enlightened nature, of the British ruling classes. Wedgwood and Bentley sought the permission of many of the aristocracy to depict their homes on the service, and although it is not known whether they approached the Duke of Northumberland for permission and for source material, it is more than likely that they did. Another view of Syon, shown with Brown's landscaped parkland running down to the river, painted on a nineteen-inch-long serving-dish still with the rest of the service in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, is illustrated by Michael Raeburn, et. al, The Green Frog Service (London and St. Petersburg, 1995), p. 17, and discussed p. 311. Bentley wrote a catalogue specifically to explain the views on the service; the dish bears his inventory number 647. A view of Northumberland House, the family's now-demolished London seat, is painted on a compotier, see op. cit., p. 313 (Bentley inventory number 1003); and a view of the family seat in Northumberland, Alnwick Castle, on a triangular dish, see p. 319 (Bentley inventory number 644). The present lot, which bears Bentley's inventory number 49, does appear to not seem to be recorded in the literature.
The present lot was purchased on the Continent perhaps circa 1890 by the current owner's great grand-uncle, Karl Heinrich Fischer (1866-1928). A ceramics collector, he subsequently sold the bulk of the collection to finance the building of a new home and his other great passion, a glass-house for his collection of prize orchids. He did not however, sell his most treasured porcelain, which included items of Meissen and this Frog Service plate. Tragically, he died in an accident, shortly after the completion his project. As he was without issue, the porcelain collection was left to his brother, Rudolf Fischer and his wife, Eleonore, a member of the Händel family, and thereafter by descent to the present owner.
See also the example sold in these Rooms, 13th December 2001, lot 672.