Chocolate Mug with Cover, c.1800

One of a pair of chocolate cups in the Neo-classical style with scenes of a military encampment on “canary” yellow ground. The scenes have been attributed to John Brewer (1764-1816), a master of landscape, flowers and plants.

Teapot, c.1795

The Derby factory was famous for its “canary” yellow ground, and the shape of this teapot was a standard shape at the time of William Duesbury II. The views represent Breedon on the Hill, and (on the reverse) a distant view of All Saints’ Church, Derby.

The delicate gilding is by J.Blood.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Teapot, c.1795

This teapot is painted with views of Derbyshire by Zachariah Boreman, and flower garlands by William Billingsley. Boreman was not the first artist to decorate ceramics with topographical views. Josiah Wedgwood’s “Green Frog” service which was completed for the Empress Catherine II of Russia in 1774, was widely publicised and exhibited. But Boreman’s views are not of wealthy country houses and parks, or medieval castles, but mainly of the local Derbyshire dales. They are in tune with the romantic landscapes by Wright of Derby, who was a close friend of Boreman.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Coffee Can, c.1793-4

This elegant neo-classical coffee can is decorated with a “View from Cheltenham” by Zachariah Boreman (1737-1810). Possibly apprenticed at Chelsea, Boreman was one of the best artists employed by the Duesburys, and is known as “the father of landscape painting on china”.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Dessert Plate (Imari)

There was a great demand for Oriental patterns in the second half of the 18th century. The lavishly decorated Japanese, or Imari pattern was introduced at Derby factory in 1775. Imari is actually a harbour in the Hizen province of Japan, but in Europe it has become the trade name of a ware with a colourful stylized floral design, mainly in an underglaze cobalt blue with an overglaze of iron red and occasionally green enamels.

During the Bloor period, the lustrous Imari design gained a tremendous popularity still enjoyed today. It has become another characteristic feature of the Derby factory.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

A Dessert Plate from the Trotter Service, c.1825

A splendid service was made for Sir John Trotter of Dyrham Park, near Barnet in Hertfordshire. The rich flower decoration was painted by Moses Webster (1792-1870), one of the leading flower artists of the Bloor period. The Trotter service is his best known work. The pattern became popular, and other flower painters were engaged in the production of similar services. There is a variant of the pattern where Webster’s single flowers on the border alternate with small landscapes.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Dessert Dish, c.1790

This dessert dish was made as a Chelsea replacement, and painted by William Billingsley. The painting of insects was in part an extension of the technique of floral painting. Insects, particularly butterflies, were added to a more elaborate floral composition and often disguised flaws in the glaze. Chinese or Japanese examples were the prototypes for the earliest designs.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

William Billingsley’s Prentice Plate, 1790-1795

William Billingsley (1758-1828) was one of best flower painters at Derby together with William Pegg. Roses were his favourite subject, and china decorated with borders of his ‘running roses’ became a special feature of the Derby factory. Later Billingsley worked at Pinxton, Mansfield, Worcester, Nantgarw, Swansea and Coalport, and these factories also adopted his style. In the 1780s, Billingsley developed a new naturalistic style of flower painting on ceramics. His technique involved painting with a heavily loaded brush, and then wiping away much of the paint with an almost dry brush, to produce particularly delicate colours and highlights. The Prentice Plate was made by Billingsley especially for the instruction of apprentices at the Derby factory.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Dessert Plate, c.1813-1820

This plate was painted by William Pegg the Quaker, after his return to the factory in 1813. His style appreciably changed during his second term at the factory. Flowers now seem to have been intended to create a mood. They are still botanically accurate but now have been grouped and positioned for maximum visual impact.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Dish, c.1800

The fashion for botanically accurate painting of plants corresponded with the general interest in natural history and biology during the second half of the 18th century. Painters copied or adapted their designs from various publications on botanical subjects, such as Philip Miller’s <i>“Gardener’s Dictionary”</i> (1756) or William Curtis’ <i>“The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower Garden Displayed”</i> (edited from 1787). On the reverse of this dish the name of the plant is given in Latin and English: <i>Fumaria Cava/ Hollow-Toothed Fumitory</i>. English botanical decoration reached its peak at Derby in the late 18th century and has continued to be a very popular subject until today.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

William Pegg’s Thistle Dish, c.1800

William Pegg arrived at Derby in 1796, only to leave in 1800 when he became a Quaker. Following the doctrine of simplicity and lack of decoration, he considered his flower painting as “lust of the eyes” and destroyed many of his sketchbooks. However, he returned to the factory in 1813. His surviving sketchbooks have recently been discovered. This has helped to identify many of his works. Pegg’s flowers are often life-size, and cover the whole of a plate. Gilding is usually very restrained. William Pegg’s painting of a thistle is considered to be one of the finest depictions of plant ever made on porcelain.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Pot-Pourri, c.1800-1810

At the end of the 18th century, exuberant Rococo forms were supplanted by the more sober contours of the Neo-classical style. The new fashion is clearly reflected in the elegant yet simple body of this pot-pourri decorated with fine seascapes by George Robertson (1777-1833). On the base there is an inscription: “Before the Wind Forming the Line”. Robertson worked at Derby from 1797, and was one of the finest landscape and marine painters on ceramics. About 40 watercolours by Robertson are preserved at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Ice Pail, c.1796-1800

One of a pair of ice pails with intricate flower decoration by William Pegg (1775-1851). He was the son of a gardener and had worked in a pottery from the age of ten. By the age of thirteen he was already an accomplished self-taught flower painter on ceramics. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he always painted from life, never copying from botanical drawings, and kept numerous sketchbooks. The names of the flowers in English (not Latin) are inscribed on the reverse of the item: China Aster, Dwarf Double Poppy and Hyacinth, Eastern Poppy and Piquette Carnation. William Pegg is regarded as perhaps the finest British flower painter to have ever worked in china painting.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Blue & White Table Centre in two parts, c.1760

Unlike many other English porcelain factories, very little transfer printed blue & white china was produced at Derby. Transfer printing made the wares cheaper, and it was usually applied to ordinary wares for the middle-class market. But William Duesbury aimed at aristocratic clients, and preferred his artists to paint the design by hand. However, among the few Derby blue & white wares there are items of outstanding quality. The fashion for porcelain modelled as rockwork, seaweed and shells was first introduced in England in the early days of the Chelsea factory. Shapes were often taken from natural objects, and also from silverware of an ornate style.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Frill Vase and Cover, c.1760

One of a set of three frill vases lavishly decorated with applied flowers and a female mask, and painted by the artist known as the “Moth and Bird” painter. The cover with a bird finial is delicately perforated. This early example of Derby production clearly reflects a strong influence of the Meissen style.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Virgins Awakening Cupid, c.1780

Unglazed porcelain (biscuit) was originally developed at Sèvres. Its aesthetic and decorative merit was recognized in the second half of the 18th century, and highly valued. Sometimes unglazed items were more expensive than painted examples of the same design. The Derby factory was not slow to follow the new fashion and style, and the first biscuit items were made at Derby c.1770.

This group was modelled by Pierre Stephan. It is taken from an engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi after Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) who worked in England from 1766. Her fine and delicate works on classical and allegorical subjects were widely used in interior decoration. They also inspired the products of such entrepreneurs as Matthew Boulton and Josiah Wedgwood.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Edmund Kean as Richard III, c.1815

This figure of Richard III was first produced in 1773-5. It originally represented David Garrick and was modelled after the painting by Francis Hayman (1760). The Derby factory seems to have substituted the head of a currently popular actor on the figure of Richard III. A later model was made with the head of John Philip Camble (1790s), and finally in 1815 the figure was issued with the head of Edmund Kean.

Edmund Kean (1787-1833) appeared at Drury Lane, London in 1814 as Shylock. The role of Richard III followed, and Kean demonstrated a fine ability to express the whole range of tragic emotions. A Derby figure of Kean was produced immediately after his triumphal performance.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

James Quin as Falstaff, c. 1825

Images of popular actors were always in great demand, and were reproduced in various techniques, such as engravings, enamels and porcelain figures.

James Quin (1693-1766) was the last great actor of the declamatory school. From 1718 onwards he appeared at Lincoln’s Inn Fields’ theatre, Drury Lane and Covent Garden in a wide range of Shakespearian roles. Quin’s Falstaff was considered as the best of his time. The figure was first modelled at the Bow factory in 1749. The original source of the figure was supposed to be a mezzotint by McArdell. The influence of an accomplished Rococo style is seen in the finely curved base and rich painting and gilding. The figure was later re-modelled and re-issued several times, and this one is a later adaptation of the first Derby model.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

The “Welsh” Tailor, c.1770

One of a pair of very popular satirical figures depicting a Tailor and his Wife. They were copied from figures first modelled in 1740 by the leading Meissen sculptor J.-J.Kaendler (1706-1775). According to a Meissen tradition, it was made in a mockery of the tailor of Count Heinrich von Brühl, the chancellor of Saxony. The tailor wanted to attend a court banquet but instead was represented in the form of a table decoration. The name of the figure means not the Welsh nationality, but rather the misunderstood German title: “Ein Schneider welcher auf einem Ziegenbock reutet” (A Tailor which rides a goat…). The group remained popular until the mid-19th century.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Tithe Pig Group, c.1765-70

This popular group consists of three figures: the Rector, the Farmer (holding a pig) and the Farmer’s Wife with a baby. This group rarely appears as a set of three independent figures. The subject reflects an old joke about the clergy. It is based on the medieval fable about the farmer’s wife who determined not to part with her tenth pig unless the parson takes her tenth child.

The Parson comes, the Pig he claims,
And the good Wife with Taunts inflames,
But she quite Arch bow’d low and smil’d –
Kept back the Pig and held the Child,
The Priest look’d gruff, the wife look’d big,
Zounds, Sir, quoth she, no Child, no Pig.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

The Four Quarters (Continents), c.1775

Symbols of the continents, the senses, the seasons, virtues and vices, etc., are a common subject in different media, including porcelain. In this set of four “continents”, a black boy with cornucopia kneeling on a lion represents Africa; Asia is shown as a child standing before a camel; America is represented as a Red Indian with an alligator, and Europe as girl with a globe.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Candelabrum, c. 1755-60

Rococo double candelabrum in form of a flowering tree crowned with a nesting bird. The applied flowers and delicately painted figures clearly demonstrate the ambitions of early Derby to be a “second Meissen”.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Pastoral Group, c.1770

The group with a shepherd playing his pipe to a sleeping shepherdess is a good example of the influence of French Rococo on early Derby ware. It derives from a painting by François Boucher (1703-1770), and may have been modelled by the sculptor Pierre Stephan from Tournai. He worked at Chelsea, and moved to Derby about 1770.

Image from: Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Derby Porcelain: William Duesbury II and Robert Bloor

Image: Old China Works, Derby, showing kilns for firing the porcelain. John Keys, Sketches of Old Derby and Neighbourhood (London and Derby, 1895).

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library

Following the death of William Duesbury, his son William Duesbury II (1763-1797) took control of Crown Derby. His period is now recognised as the Golden Age of the Derby factory. William Duesbury II possessed both managerial skills and artistic appreciation, and he built up a formidable team of artists, modellers and gilders. It included Zachariah Boreman and John Brewer, who were masters of landscape; William Pegg and William Billingsley, two outstanding flower painters; George Robertson, who is noted for his fine marine scenes; and the modellers Pierre Stephan and William Coffee. Significant improvements were made in the porcelain body, its glaze and decoration. When William Duesbury II died at the early age of 34, the factory was ranked as amongst the finest in Europe.

A short period of decline followed, and many artists had to leave Derby. But in 1811 Robert Bloor, a former clerk to the Duesburys, took control of the factory. Under him Derby welcomed the return of some of the talented and creative artists. Early traditions were recaptured and enriched. Bone china was developed, and elaborate new shapes were introduced. Lustrous and ornate adaptations of Oriental patterns were added to the traditional Derby style. Many aristocratic clients were attracted, including the Earl of Shrewsbury, Earl Ferrers, and later Queen Victoria herself.

Soon after Bloor’s death in 1846, the factory was closed, but a small group of artists and potters jointly established a new factory in King Street, Derby. They managed to preserve the firm’s artistic traditions, and handed on the skills and experience of early Derby artists and craftsmen to modern times.

The Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company in Osmaston Road is now in the third century of its history. A rich and varied heritage of artistry and craftsmanship which originated with William Duesbury still lives on in the remarkable range of Derby products, with their elaborate shapes, flamboyant colours and intricate gilding.

Derby Porcelain: André Planche and William Duesbury

Image: Plan of the Town of Derby showing the silk mill and china works in the top right-hand portion of the map. Rev Daniel Lysons and Samuel Lysons, Magna Britannia, being a Concise Topographical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain, Volume the Fifth containing Derbyshire, (London, T Cadell and W Davies, 1817)

Image from: Local Studies and History, Birmingham Central Library

Making porcelain at Derby began as early as the 1730s, but the start of the Derby factory is associated with the “china maker” André Planche (1727-1805), the son of a Huguenot immigrant. Planche established his first china workshop in 1748. Little is known about his life, but his artistic talent is to be seen in several figures and jugs which are preserved at Derby Museum and Art Gallery, and at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
In 1756, Planche entered into partnership with William Duesbury, (1725-1786), an enameller from Staffordshire, who became manager of the factory in Nottingham Road. Under his leadership the factory started to produce china of outstanding quality. Unlike other local establishments, the Derby factory made little tableware and almost entirely produced ornamental vases and figurines, which were strongly influenced by continental porcelain, mainly of Sèvres and Meissen. Duesbury even proudly claimed to have created at Derby a “second Meissen”. Special features of Derby porcelain were its intricate shapes, rich polychrome painting and sophisticated decoration, which would later be also enriched by generous gilding.
Being well aware of the competition, Duesbury purchased several potteries near London, including the famous Bow and Chelsea Works, and eventually closed them down. Craftsmen from Chelsea were brought to Derby.

In 1775, George III authorised the use of the crown in the factory mark. In 1890, Queen Victoria would confirm the prestige of the Derby factory by granting it the use of the Royal Arms and the title “Royal”.

Derby Porcelain in the 18th and early 19th centuries

Image: Derby Oval Dish, c 1760. The dish has a moulded trellis border painted with butterflies. The centre is painted with fruit and insects.

Image from: Bantock House, Wolverhampton

Text: Olga Baird


Derby, like Worcester and the Potteries district of North Staffordshire was home to an important centre of ceramics manufacture during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Under its first “china maker” André Planche, the Nottingham Road factory produced ornamental ware such as vases and figures because the soft paste that was used could not withstand boiling water and was therefore unsuitable for tableware. The paste, though, was ideal for delicate modelling and the Derby factory produced highly decorated pieces imitating French Rococo and other continental styles as well as scenes which reflected British rural and theatrical life. In the 1756, Planche entered a partnership with William Duesbury and the business developed a new paste which contained glass, soaprock and calcined animal bone. This enabled the factory to produce high-quality tableware.

This article by Olga Baird explores the origins of Crown Derby Porcelain and presents several examples of the ornamental products and tableware produced by the factory from the 1750s until the 1820s. The images in the exhibition are taken from slides of items held by Derby Museum & Art Gallery (