Although Peggy and I very much enjoyed visiting the Antique Porcelain Company, both in London and New York, we did not buy a great many things from them because their prices always seemed so high. However, when Peggy saw this pair of Chelsea plaice sauceboats she felt that they were truly outstanding. As a result, I bought them for her as a surprise Christmas present... we feel they are among the finest pieces of porcelain we own.
An obsession with rendering natural subjects in a particularly naturalistic way was an important aspect of British mid-18th Century taste. The upper-class dining table of the period would have been a heady visual mix, a literal feast for the eyes, a game of trompe l'oeil. Dishes were served in elaborate silver tureens formed as fish or turtles, and, from the early 18th Century onwards, European, as opposed to Chinese, porcelain was available for the very finest tables. The intention was to arouse the senses of the honored guest, both visual and gustatory, as well as providing amusement, and the medium of porcelain was ideal for the purpose. In skilled hands, such as those at the Chelsea manufactory, it could be crisply and realistically modeled, and the enamel colors could closely simulate nature, creating a convincing illusion.
The Chelsea sale catalogue of 1756, day 5, lot 79 describes "two fine plaice sauceboats with curious plates and spoons," see F. Severne MacKenna, Chelsea Porcelain, The Red Anchor Wares, 1951, p. 55. Other examples of this curious form include one without its stand or ladle in the British Museum (museum no. 1928,0522.4.CR), illustrated by F. Severne MacKenna, op. cit., pl. 40, fig. 82. Also see the pair with stands but without spoons in the collection at Errdig, in Wales, probably the pieces described in that home's 1789 inventory as "2 Stands and two Carp Sauce Boats 6 pieces in all." An example with its stand in the Victoria & Albert Museum (museum no. C.1451 to B-1924) is illustrated and described in Rococo: Art and Design in Hogarth's England, 16 May - 30 September 1984, p. 247, where John Mallett mentions that "the only examples still with their ladles appear to be a pair at present on loan at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff." The Rockefeller pair seems to be the exception to this statement, both having their ladles.
In an interesting aside, plaice are known to live over 40 years. They are able to camouflage themselves to some degree but their distinctive orange spots remain ever visible.