Chinese porcelain painted in London

One of my favourite acquisitions is this little teabowl and saucer purchased from a house clearance sale shop in an old fire station in Lafayette Hill, PA, USA.  Don’t rush out there; the company is now defunct, not surprisingly as they only charged $45 for this little treasure.  But it’s not just a bargain; it’s a most engaging piece of painting on porcelain.

The tiny teabowl and saucer is of plain white Chinese porcelain made more than 250 years ago and imported and decorated in London, possibly in the studio of James Giles.  Left plain white, the fragile porcelain tea ware would probably have been well used and discarded long ago, but the exquisite decoration made it a luxurious possession to be saved and displayed through generations of lucky owners.

In the mid-18th century there were a number of specialist ceramic decorators with workshops and studios in London and other big cities.  James Giles is the one we know most about and certain styles of decoration are linked to his name. Established as early as 1743, Giles was in business for more than 30 years employing many competent painters, who painted on white porcelain from China and from a number of English factories.

They decorated ceramics using enamel which is a soft-melting coloured glass.  Each shade of enamel had to be prepared separately and the coloured glass ground to a fine powder. To apply the enamel, it was mixed with oil, painted onto the plain fired glazed surface and then secured by an additional firing.    The enamel firing is at a lower temperature than the glaze firing in order that the glaze is undisturbed while the oil evaporates and the colour fuses to the glazed surface.  In a ceramic context the terms enamel- onglaze- and overglaze-decoration, are synonymous.

Giles’ workshop appear to have used a wide range of decorative styles to meet the tastes of a diverse market.