Height: 14 cm approx., Width: 10 cm approx., Depth: 8 cm approx.
British Galleries, room 118a
Probably modelled by Joseph Willems (born in Brussels, 1715, died in Tornai, Belgium, 1766); made at the Chelsea porcelain factory, London
Following the example of the French, it became popular to arrange dinner tables in imitation of formal gardens. The theatrical effect was enhanced by porcelain table sculpture. Such figurines originated on the Continent as figures made of sugar paste. [27/03/2003]
The figure is one of a pair of male and female figures (C.166-1931) and represents a gardener. Both figures hold baskets for serving dry sweetmeats, such as sweets, chocolates, nuts, small biscuits, raisins or other dried fruit. They would have been set out on a dinner table during the dessert course of a meal. Porcelain figures were first made as table decorations for the dessert. Most were decorative, but others, such as these, carried shells or baskets and performed a useful function on the table. It was very fashionable in mid-18th-century Europe to decorate dessert tables with formal layouts of garden hedges and flowerbeds made in confectionery. Figures in the shape of gardeners would have been appropriate ornaments for such settings. Idealised representations of gardeners, shepherds and shepherdesses, often fashionably dressed, were very popular in this period.
The Chelsea factory aimed at the top end of the market. It sold its wares from the factory site, from factory-run warehouses in the West End of London, through London ceramic dealers, and at auctions held in London, Dublin in Ireland and probably elsewhere. These figures would have been bought only by the wealthy.