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Antiques and Fine Art Auctions Blog

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The Portland Vase: How Josiah Wedgwood Turned an Ancient Glass Masterpiece into a Ceramic Legacy

Wedgwood Numbered First Edition Copy of the Portland Vase, England, 18th century (Lot 365, Estimate $40,000-$60,000)

Wedgwood Numbered First Edition Copy of the Portland Vase, England, 18th century (Lot 365, Estimate $40,000-$60,000)

One of the most famous surviving Roman works of art, The Portland Vase, is a fused glass vase and was believed to have been made during the reign of Augustus, sometime between 27 BC and AD 14. It consists of two layers, a dark blue overlaid with a soft white. The relief was cameo cut by gem engravers of the highest order and is considered a masterpiece of its kind. At some point the base was damaged and an additional disc was added showing a portrait of a man wearing a Phrygian cap. The vase had been part of the collection of Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte (1549-1627). On the death of the Cardinal in 1627 the vase was purchased by Cardinal Barberini and remained within the family until it was sold in 1780. It’s believed that the buyer was a dealer, James Byer, who subsequently sold the vase to Sir William Hamilton, who a few years later sold it to the Duchess of Portland. Sadly the Duchess died shortly thereafter, the vase offered amongst her possessions at auction in 1786 and bought by her son, the third Duke of Portland.

Wedgwood Numbered First Edition Copy of the Portland Vase, England, 18th century (Lot 365, Estimate $40,000-$60,000)

Wedgwood Numbered First Edition Copy of the Portland Vase, England, 18th century (Lot 365, Estimate $40,000-$60,000)

John Flaxman, Jr., the outstanding 18th century sculptor, brought the vase to the attention of Josiah Wedgwood in 1784. Josiah borrowed the vase from the Duke of Portland with hopes of producing the piece in jasper. With classical figures believed to represent the myth of Peleus and Thetis, the challenge was replicating the relief ever so thinly in jasper that it still retained the depth and transparency of glass. This was achieved not only by modelers but additionally by the application of shading with a thin layer of liquid black slip. Much experimentation in Wedgwood’s attempt to perfect an imitation of the glass vase included many trials in the development of a pleasing black colored ground, a look and touch of the original and successful firings. Early obstacles with trials included heavy blistering to the body, cracking to the relief as well as a lack of refined undercutting. It was not under 1790 that Wedgwood had a truly successful copy of the Portland vase, and even then production was still very slow and difficult with much trouble with blistering during firing.

Wedgwood Numbered First Edition Copy of the Portland Vase, England, 18th century (Lot 365, Estimate $40,000-$60,000)

Wedgwood Numbered First Edition Copy of the Portland Vase, England, 18th century (Lot 365, Estimate $40,000-$60,000)

Wedgwood’s oven records list forty-three of these “first edition” vases fired between 1791 and 1796. Eleven were broken during the process with number of additional faulty vases unknown. It’s generally believed that somewhere around thirty of these black jasper vases were of first quality. Most, if not all, of these remaining vases bear a number inside the rim inscribed with manganese pencil. It’s important to note that none of these eighteenth century examples bears the impressed factory mark, but all share similar traits. They each have a very smooth, silk-like black surface, often silky like, with an equally silk-like relief, crisply modeled and tinted throughout. The modeling of the underside of the base runs edge-to-edge, where in later editions there is a slight gap or border between the edge of the disc and the relief.  The handles are set at a slight slant from upper left to lower right, opposite from the original Barberini vase. Additionally, it is evident that the base on these first vases were manufactured separately from the vase body and adhered prior to firing.

Over the span of the last 270 years Wedgwood has manufactured a wide array of Portland vases, in a variety of sizes, colors, body types and qualities. There are many of them in collections spanning the globe. Few, if any, compare in some way to these early first edition vases.

Paul Lauer purchased the number 22 first edition Portland vase at Sotheby & Co., London as Lot 112 of the Oster Collection, on November 30, 1971. This vase will be offered as Lot 365 in our European Furniture & Decorative Arts auction on July 15, in Marlborough included in The Estate of Paul Lauer, Part I. As noted in the Oster Collection catalog, “The vase was exhibited at the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology from 1951-53. This is the Beaufort-Codrington copy. The Dowager Duchess of Beaufort is mentioned in Byerley’s pocket book among those who has subscribed for a copy of the Portland Vase, but there is a note ‘Copy not received up to 1799’. It must have been delivered between then and her death in 1831. The vase likely entered the Codrington family of Dodington Park, Gloucestershire when the Dowager Duchess of Beaufort’s great grand-daughter, Lady Georgina Somerset, married Sir Christopher Codrington in 1836. It was bought by a dealer at the death of Lt. Gen. Alfred Codrington, G.C.V.O., K.C.B., in 1945. It was sold to Mr. Oster in 1953.”

WEDGWOOD, by Robin Reilly, volume 1, illus. 1036, shows a copy from Tom Byerley’s notebook from 1789 with list of subscribers clearly showing an entree for Dowager Duchess of Beaufort.

Special Collections of Fine English Ceramics Lead Skinner’s Auction of European Furniture & Decorative Arts in Marlborough, MA on July 15

Wedgwood Numbered First Edition Copy of the Portland Vase, England, 18th century (Estimate $40,000-$60,000)

Wedgwood Numbered First Edition Copy of the Portland Vase, England, 18th century (Estimate $40,000-$60,000)

MARLBOROUGH, MA – Skinner, Inc. will present a summer auction of European Furniture & Decorative Arts in its Marlborough Gallery on Friday, July 15 at 10AM. With over 750 lots on offer, the auction will feature Part II of the Troy Dawson Chappell Collection of 17th and 18th century English Pottery and Part I of the Paul Lauer Collection of Wedgwood, as well as an expansive selection of fine silver and European fine and decorative arts of the 16th through early 20th centuries.… Read More

Vintage Motor Vehicles, Calder Maquette Lead Skinner’s 20th Century Design Auction in Marlborough, MA on June 23

1937 Cord Phaeton 812 (Lot 11, Estimate $130,000-$140,000)

1937 Cord Phaeton 812 (Lot 11, Estimate $130,000-$140,000)

MARLBOROUGH, MA – June 10, 2016 – Skinner, Inc. presents its first 20th Century Design auction of 2016, at noon on June 23 in Marlborough, MA. In addition to a carefully curated selection of vintage Motor Vehicles, the auction will feature over 500 lots of fine and decorative art, including seating, sculpture, lighting, art glass, pottery, wall art, metalwork and jewelry, with highlights from some of the best designers of the 20th century.… Read More

A Collection Built Over Eight Generations: Historic Maritime Online

Carved Mug from the Maststep of the America, and an Early Blown Glass Bottle, early and mid-19th century (Lot 1142, Estimate $1,500-$2,500)

Carved Mug from the Maststep of the America, and an Early Blown Glass Bottle, early and mid-19th century (Lot 1142, Estimate $1,500-$2,500)

From the owner of a one-of-a-kind collection of Nautical Antiques that we are proud to offer in the single-owner auction Historic Maritime Online through June 9th:

“This collection of nautical antiques represents the contributions of eight generations of my family’s history. My ancestors came to Jamestown, Virginia, in the 17th century, and later settled in Isle of Wight County.… Read More

Unique Gifts for Grads and Dads on Offer at Skinner’s Gentleman’s Auction, June 3 – June 9

Stainless Steel 'Bulgari Bulgari' Wristwatch (Lot 1083, Estimate $400-$600)

Stainless Steel ‘Bulgari Bulgari’ Wristwatch (Lot 1083, Estimate $400-$600)

Boston, MA  – Skinner, Inc. is pleased to offer its 4th bi-annual Gentleman’s Auction Online, open for bidding from June 3 through June 9. The sale’s 150 lots of Antiques, Decorative Arts, Sporting Items, Men’s Jewelry and Accessories, Barware, and Whiskey offer gentlemen of all types the chance to acquire something unique that they can’t live without.… Read More

Skinner Presents Online Auction of Nautical Artifacts & Maritime Art, June 1 – June 9

Wooden Model of the HMS Victory, Jim Martin, 1990 (Lot 1316, Estimate $1,000-$1,500)

Wooden Model of the HMS Victory, Jim Martin, 1990 (Lot 1316, Estimate $1,000-$1,500)

Boston, MA – Skinner’s Historic Maritime Online Auction offers a rare opportunity to acquire 17th through 20th century nautical artifacts, decorative arts, logbooks, manuscripts, maps, charts, navigational tools, half-hull models, highly detailed and impeccably built and rigged ship models, scrimshaw and other sailor-made objects, New York Yacht Club and America’s cup memorabilia, all from a single collection built over the course of eight generations in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.… Read More

The Arts & Crafts Movement: Making It Irish

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Harry Clarke (1889–1931), The Baptism of St. Patrick, 1912. National College of Art and Design, Dublin

The Irish Arts & Crafts movement often does not get the attention it deserves in publications and exhibitions. That is why it was particularly exciting to visit the Making It Irish exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College over the weekend. The curators have brought together over 150 objects, including textiles, metalwork, glass, furniture, books, and jewelry, to examine the movement in the context of the enormous social and political upheavals that characterized Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.… Read More

Edwardian Jewelry, Diamonds, and Colored Stones Featured at Skinner Fine Jewelry Auction, June 7

Edwardian Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace (Estimate $80,000-$100,000)

Edwardian Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace (Lot 559, Estimate $80,000-$100,000)

BOSTON, MA – May 25, 2016 – Skinner, Inc. presents its second Fine Jewelry auction of 2016 on June 7 in Boston. The auction will feature over 500 lots of diamonds, colored stones, and antique and period jewelry.

Exceptional Edwardian Jewelry

The standout of this auction is an extraordinary Edwardian Natural Pearl and Diamond Necklace (Lot 559, estimated between $80,000 and $120,000) from an important Massachusetts estate.… Read More

Single-Owner Collection Leads Skinner’s June Shaker Auction

Shaker Yellow-painted Oval Fixed Handle Carrier, Canterbury, New Hampshire, 19th century (Lot 68, $15,000-$25,000)

Shaker Yellow-painted Oval Fixed Handle Carrier, Canterbury, New Hampshire, 19th century (Lot 68, $15,000-$25,000)

MARLBOROUGH, MA – May 25, 2016 On Saturday, June 4 at 10 AM, Skinner, Inc. will present at auction The Shaker Collection of Erhart Muller in its Marlborough, MA gallery. The auction will showcase the last of the pioneering Shaker collections to be offered to the public, along with additional Shaker objects from other private collections.… Read More

Erhart Muller: The Man Behind the Collection

Eldresses Bertha Lindsay and Gertrude Soule with Erhart Muller at the dedication of the Holy Hill Project

Eldresses Bertha Lindsay and Gertrude Soule with Erhart Muller at the dedication of the Holy Hill Project

Erhart Muller: The Man Behind the Collection

A Lecture by Maggie Stier, New Hampshire Preservation Alliance

Friday, June 3 | 6PM | Marlborough

RSVP

Maggie Stier met Erhart Muller in the late 1980’s when she was curator at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts. Their shared interest in the Shakers led to a friendship based first on explorations around the Harvard Shaker Village, where Mr.… Read More

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