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This is a stunning porcelain figure of Neptune with a dolphin standing on a sea shell, made by Derby around the year 1785. The figure is in beautiful original condition.


We have one other Neptune figure from 1765, please see separate listing.


The Derby Porcelain factory has its roots in the late 1740s, when Andrew Planché, a Walloon Huguenot refugee, started making simple porcelain toys shaped like animals in his back yard. In 1756 Staffordshire enameller William Duysbury and banker John Heath started a new porcelain factory with Planché and this was to grow out to the largest factory of its time, buying up the bankrupted Chelsea and Bow factories, as well as the stock of several other workshops including that of James Giles. The combination of various traditions, porcelain making skills and sophisticated clients enabled Duesbury to create one of the best porcelain factories of the 18th and 19th Centuries, which after many ups and downs is still operative today.


The Neptune figure was first brought out in about 1752, and then in various versions but never very different. This version has the number 300 and was made around 1785. It is a rare one as most Neptunes of this era were either standing on rocky shell encrusted mounds or on a shallow mound, but this one stands on the large shell that its original creator, Agostino Carlini, had given it. The original Neptune by Carlini was recently sold in the white at Bonhams for more than £8,000.


The bearded Neptune, crowned with an ochre and gilt crown, is standing naked except a large fluttering cape, pink on the inside and pale yellow with blue and red floral sprays on the outside; his left hand reached up to hold a trident, which has gone missing. The dolphin is scaled in deep green with huge yellow and red rings around its eyes; water spouting out of his toothy mouth. Both Neptune and the dolphin are placed upon a white shell with gilt icicle rims.

Figures like these were used to adorn the dinner table when dessert was served; groups of figures could serve to express something about the host, the guests, or to direct the conversation. Allegory was a popular pastime and every well-respected society figure was expected to be able to identify the seasons, trades, elements, senses or Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.


The item is marked with an inscribed "D"; "No 300"; "Second", which indicates that this was the middle of three available sizes; and some illegible initials, possibly a workman's cypher. It also has three vague "patch marks".


This figure is described on page 348 in Peter Bradshaw's "Derby Porcelain Figures 1750-1848", although he indicates that it usually had a shallow mound base.

CONDITION REPORT: The figure is mostly in beautiful original condition with some very minor age related wear. It has slight restoration to right foot toes, the hem of the cape in the centre back. It has some firing cracks in the tail of the dolphin and left leg of Neptune; these are from production and not damage.

Antique British porcelain is never perfect. Kilns were fired on wood or coal in the 1700s, and this meant that china from that period can have some firing specks from flying particles. British makers were also known for their experimentation, and sometimes this resulted in technically imperfect results. Due to the shrinkage in the kiln, items can have small firing lines or develop crazing over time, which should not be seen as damage but as an imperfection of the maker's recipes, probably unknown at the time of making. Items have often been used for many years and can have normal signs of wear, and gilt can have signs of slight disintegration even if never handled. I will reflect any damage, repairs, obvious stress marks, crazing or heavy wear in the item description but some minor scratches, nicks, stains and gilt disintegration can be normal for vintage items and need to be taken into account.
There is widespread confusion on the internet about the difference between chips and nicks, or hairlines and cracks. I will reflect any damage as truthfully as I can, i.e. a nick is a tiny bit of damage smaller than 1mm and a chip is something you can easily see with the eye; a glazing line is a break in the glazing only; hairline is extremely tight and/or superficial and not picked up by the finger; and a crack is obvious both to the eye and the finger.
DIMENSIONS: Height 16cm (6.25").

Derby figure of Neptune and dolphin on a shell, ca 1785



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