This hitherto unrecorded set of Chelsea Continents, or 'The Four Quarters of the Globe', are the largest English porcelain figures known and must be considered among the finest and most startling undertakings in porcelain sculpture approaching this size. The soft-paste porcelain does not naturally lend itself to models of these proportions, as is clear from the extended firing cracks that can be clearly seen on these examples; indeed even at Meissen, with its more easily controlled hard- paste, large scale figures had similar firing difficulties. Although 'A beautiful groupe of figures representing Europe and Asia' and the same of 'Africa and America' are mentioned in both the 1755 and 1756 Chelsea auction sale catalogues, examples of which are extant, no single figures of a dramatically large size are recorded. However, the Christie and Ansell Catalogue of All the Remaining Finished and Unfinished Stock of the Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory... records on 13th December 1783 (Third Day's Sale) under the heading Fixtures in the Painting Rooms, Mill House, Ec. an un-numbered lot after lot 21 reads 'Moulds of the Quarters (3.15.0 to Mr. Hutchinson)'.
In comparing these with the gold anchor period models of Continents of conventional size, it seems likely that the present set are prototypes; the models were also copied at Derby. Although the present examples bear a red anchor mark, both in paste and glaze they are typically of the gold anchor period and a date between 1758 and 1760 seems probable.
Although no original source for these is known, a terracotta or bronze seems probable. As with most models from Chelsea at this period, the hand of the Flemish modeller Joseph Willems (c. 1715-66) is readily discernible. After Nicholas Sprimont had split with his partner Charles Gouyn in 1749, Willems arrived from Tournai to take control of the figure modelling that was to become an important part of the Chelsea output; he remained at Chelsea until the year of his death. The ceramic scholar Arthur Lane, writing for The Connoisseur in 1960 in 'Chelsea Porcelain Figures and the Modeller Joseph Willems' considers that '..many of these (models) are unusually large and ambitious for porcelain; they have a heavy-handed dignity, a leaning to the grandiose, that reveals Willems' personal temperament.' The later versions of these models show each Continent with its attribute complete: Africa standing before a lion, Asia beside a crouching camel, America standing on an alligator and Europe with her orb and sceptre, whereas the present set are partially bereft of such comforts. See Arthur Lane, English Porcelain Figures of the 18th Century (1961), pls. 22B and 23B for the related Chelsea models and Peter Bradshaw, Derby Porcelain Figures 1750-1848 (1990), pls. 249 and 298, for the related Derby models.
There are no other Chelsea figures of similar statuesque proportions apart from models of 'Una and the Lion', an example of which was recorded in the Bearsted Collection on a separate scroll-moulded stand, 27 inches high overall.
It seems that these figures were sold in London in the 1920s. An advertisement placed by Sidney Hand Ltd. of 16A Grafton Street, off Bond Street, illustrates them in The Connoisseur, April 1920, Vol. LVI, No. 224, p. 66 (LXVI). Beyond this, their history remains very little known, but there can be little doubt that they were originally a special commission, intended for dramatic display in some aristocratic or even Royal residence. Their magnificent proportions would have lent themselves to display in a great reception room or an entrance hall. However, we can only speculate as to their original location.