An immensely important, rare and charming porcelain head, made in the Chelsea porcelain factory, is the highlight of the next British Pottery & Porcelain auction on April 18th at Bonhams
, 101 New Bond Street, London. Fergus Gambon, Department Director of British Ceramics at Bonhams, was moved to tears by his first sight of the work, and its significance cannot be underestimated. He comments, My heart stopped. I knew that the only known example of the model was in The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, regarded as a jewel in the crown of the ceramics collection there. No other example was recorded. Yet here was another.... and somehow even better. I was immediately struck by its radiance and beauty.
Fergus continues, In contrast to the coloured example at Oxford, the Bonhams head has been left in the white as the potter intended. The unknown childs smiling face and thick, curly hair are beautifully modelled, beneath a glaze as smooth as silk. The result is a piece of sculpture of great delicacy and pathos.
It is a product of the early period of the Chelsea factory, dating to 1748-50. Chelsea china is much collected and has always been expensive. The factory, situated just a stones throw from the Kings Road, was amongst the earliest to produce porcelain in England and its products were aimed at the very highest levels of 18th century society.
The identity of the subject and the sculptor of this iconic model have been much discussed by scholars and collectors. The head is sometimes said to represent Sophie Roubiliac, daughter of the sculptor Louis Francois Roubiliac. Sophie was the goddaughter of Nicholas Sprimont, proprietor of the Chelsea porcelain factory.
Specialists believe that the head has the potential to break the world record price for early English porcelain at auction, which is currently £223,650 for another piece of Chelsea sold in London in 2003.