Skip To Content



Your privacy is important. Our Cookies Statement explains how we use cookies on this site. You can change their use at any time. You accept them by continuing to use this site. Our Privacy Statement explains how we use and protect your data.

Is Imitation the Greatest Form of Flattery?

Nic Saintey discusses an enigmatic piece of Torquay Pottery depicting Alexandra, Princess of Wales (who was the longest serving Princess of Wales). Was it a pretentious start for a provincial pottery or a risky strategy by a fledgling business?

A Copeland parian bust of Alexandra Princess of Wales.

A Copeland parian bust of Alexandra Princess of Wales.

A Watcombe terracotta bust of Alexandra Princess of Wales.

A Watcombe terracotta bust of Alexandra Princess of Wales.

At the beginning of the week, I was cataloguing a bust of Alexandra Princess of Wales produced as one of a pair to celebrate her engagement to Edward (the future Edward VII). The original was sculpted in white marble by Felix Miller, but this example was copied by Copeland in 1863, in simulation of the prototype in a dry bodied porcelain known as Parian. Alexandra, originally from Denmark, was considered a beauty, whose habits and fashions were closely followed (sounds familiar doesn't it), she was also the longest serving Princess of Wales, becoming queen in 1901.

A comparison of the Copeland and Watcombe busts.

A comparison of the Copeland and Watcombe busts.

There is nothing unusual about Parian 'sculptures', which were very popular during the middle decades of the 19th century following the invention of Cheverton's reducing machine – a sort of jumbo etch-a-sketch that allowed modellers, under licence, to make identical smaller copies of existing sculptures. It was also not surprising that this example was made as one of a number for the Crystal Palace Art Union. Art Unions acted as a sort of local cultural lottery wherein each member purchased a ticket that was drawn at an annual ballot giving the winners an opportunity to own costly pieces by contemporary artists.

Art Union and sculptor's name on the parian bust.

Art Union and sculptor's name on the parian bust.

Just legible Art Union and sculptor's name on the Watcombe bust.

Just legible Art Union and sculptor's name on the Watcombe bust.

Several days later another example crossed my path, but this one was made in terracotta and although unmarked is certainly the work of Watcombe, or possibly the Torquay Terracotta Company. The red bodied clay has none of the Parian qualities of 'faux marble' and doesn't allow for crisp detailing, though it is still quite well modelled. However what seems more intriguing is that the first of the Torquay Potteries wasn't really up and running till 1869, some six years after the engagement of Princess Alexandra and further still the Torquay version of Alexandra is about 20% smaller.

Copeland's mark and date on the parian.

Copeland's mark and date on the parian.

Invisible or erased - you decide!

Invisible or erased - you decide!

So what you might say? Well it does suggest the Torquay potters have taken an 'unlicensed' mould from the Copeland Parian original. It is identically modelled and the difference in size could be accounted for by post firing clay shrinkage. There are no marks to attribute the piece and only the ghostly remains of the sculptors name and that of the Crystal Palace Art Union on the reverse, fine detail which 'might' have been 'partially' lost in the moulding or maybe the marks are intentionally vague. It also seems quite unlikely that the Crystal Palace Art Union having commissioned a Parian bust from Copeland would then request a poorer quality (no offence Torquay) Watcombe example several years later.

It does rather make it an enigmatic piece which may represent a pretentious start to a provincial concern that had some friends in high places. Or it may have been a risky strategy that a fledgling company made to aid sales and get off the ground. I really don't know. There are many far more knowledgeable than I when it comes to the Torquay potteries or the Art Unions so if you think you have the answer, I'd love hear from you.

Tags

  • Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood
  • Parian
  • Copeland
  • Watcombe
  • Torquay Terracotta Company

Social Bookmarks

Please click the following links to flag this article to other people on the Internet.

About the Author

Nic SainteyNic Saintey
Ceramics and Glass

Nic Saintey is a Director of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood, with responsibility for marketing and advertising. He is also Head of the Ceramics and Glass Department.

Nic Saintey's first career was in the Armed Forces where he served both as a military parachutist and paramedic in Europe, North America, East Africa and the Middle East.

He joined Lawrence’s of Crewkerne in early 1995 before moving to their Taunton branch as a general valuer and saleroom manager.

Nic joined Bearne’s in June 2000 to head up the expanding ceramic department, before joining the Board in 2003. His effervescent nature and wide experience has seen him regularly appear as an expert on the BBC’s Bargain Hunt and Flog It programmes.

He undertakes regular talks and contributes articles to both Devon and Cornwall Life magazines. His interests particularly include pottery in general, but especially that produced in Donyatt and North Devon, he is a keen runner and has recently taken up motor sport at a local circuit.