Getting it wrong
We all get it wrong sometimes...
One of things I love about dealing with antique porcelain is that you never stop learning. I have assembled a large library of reference books and spend countless hours researching my pieces - and writing about them (watch the upcoming Homes & Antiques issues as I've been busy writing!). I have gotten to know many experts whose friendship and mentorship I treasure. I try to get things right, but sometimes get them wrong - and when I stand corrected by an expert I always dive in deeper. Sometimes I find out the person correcting me is wrong, and sometimes it is me who is on the wrong track. I always feel grateful as I get to learn more, and often gain new friends in the process!
A Chelsea piper?
Identifying Chelsea figures is tricky, as I learned the hard way last month. I was thrilled to find what seemed to be a genuine Chelsea figure of a piper. Look at this cheerful chap, piping away, beautifully dressed and stood on a tasteful Rococo scroll. I looked for documentation on this one but couldn't find any pictures - but then that is not so surprising as there are gaps in the available documentation on Chelsea. And as Chelsea items are so rare, you don't get to handle them that often, so it is hard to build up that all-important "gut-sense" that tells you when something is off.
No, not really!
This little chap had barely been up on my website for a few hours, or I got a message from a trusted expert: sorry but that's not Chelsea! Then another message. The porcelain body didn't seem right, and the flowers. Chelsea did the fingers differently. And as for the mark - well anyone can paint a gold anchor! I talked it over with yet another expert. And as you can imagine I felt quite silly - but even more grateful for the way my seniors generously shared their knowledge.
Fake or Tribute?
So who made this beautiful figure? It is of very high quality: the joy in his face, his refined features, the tasteful brushwork and subtle colours. Most likely, and so the experts agreed, it was made by the Edmé Samson factory in Paris.
Edmé Samson was founded in Paris in 1845 and specialised in making replacements for valuable items of the French gentry and museums. They became so good at this that they eventually grew out to be the "great imitators" - not necessarily to fool anyone, but more to fill in gaps in collections that had arisen through breakage and wear, and to offer the new French bourgeoisie an affordable way to obtain pieces of top quality. This is how they came to create many items in the style of Sèvres, Meissen, Bow, Chelsea and Derby. The good Samson pieces are now highly collectable in their own right as they rival the quality of the originals - you can see why with this little figure.
The question to ask here is: is an Edmé Samson piece a fake or a tribute? I'll leave it to you to decide, but I love many of the pieces I've seen and currently are in my shop, and they do nothing to cheapen the originals.
Repairs or Kintsugi?
There is one more thing that is interesting about this figure. Usually these figures have quite a bit of restoration. If done well, they restore an item to its original glory. But when done badly, it can completely ruin it. This one is very interesting: it has had some not-very-subtle restorations, but done so lovingly that I decided to leave it exactly as it is. The breaks are clearly visible and have been doodled over with gilt... but the original colours are intact and the character of the piece has not been affected.
The Japanese have a term for this: kintsugi. It means "golden joinery" or repairing a piece in a way that incorporates the repair into its beauty - a sense of having been loved and lived with for many years. I am certain this restorer had not meant to do just that, but the result is similar: these are repairs that don't bother me at all - unlike many other repairs that try to hide damage but don't quite make the mark.
Where to find things
This cheerful piper chap is now up in my shop with the correct attribution - and at an appropriately lower price. And you can still find several more beautiful 18th Century figures here in my shop. You can see all the Edmé Samson pieces here, and you can find all my available stock here. If you always want to see the latest additions, follow me on Instagram... I post pictures and a story every single day.
Wish List ❤️
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Happy weekend, and listen out for cheerful pipers! 🎷🎼
With thanks to Andrew Dando @andrewdando and Jonathan Purt @fineantiqueenglishporcelain
This week's new treasures:
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