Andy McConnell is one of Britain’s leading authorities on glassware of all types with his books covering from 1650 to the present, and is a regular expert on the BBC TV Antiques Roadshow. He came to the February Meeting of the Haywards Heath Ceramics Group, and gave a witty, illuminating and instructive talk entitled “James Giles – well known as a decorator of Worcester porcelain”
Andy has great enthusiasm for sharing his subject with everyone who will listen. His talk exposed the amount of detective work required, in particular with glass, to enable the item to be correctly attributed to the engraver and the manufacturer of the items, because of the absence of signatures or marks. Andy touched briefly on the earlier decorators of glassware, explaining that this was an expensive process and only available to the wealthy. This craft had a very limited number of experts and one of the foremost was James Giles (1718 – 80), who had very extensive client list including Clive of India, Princess Amelia, the Duke of Richmond to name but a few.
James Giles was of Huguenot descent, formerly “Gilles” from Nimes in France, and his father also James was a “China Painter” living in London. James junior was apprenticed to a jeweller at St. Martin-in-the-Fields and it was from this experience that his expertise in engraving developed to the high standard seen on examples of his work.
Andy showed slides displaying elaborately decorated glassware, ranging from decanters for men to the more delicate ones for ladies, perfume bottles and enamelled glass boxes. These slides indicated the amount of investigation required to enable the attribution to James Giles by following the profiles on the porcelain which he decorated for the Worcester factory to that of the glassware, such as the arrowheads, fruit vines, flowers, acanthus scrolls – linking the splendid designs on the decanters and small indicators on such items as condiment bottles.
The designs which James Giles engraved and enamelled with gold were amazing and in most cases very elaborate. He even depicted a variety of pheasants which at the time were not indigenous to the United Kingdom but he copied from the designs in books on Chinese porcelain. Some of the designs are quite extraordinary with strange versions of the birds.
Despite being such an important player in the decoration of glassware, James Giles died a pauper and his last known descendant, Dora Grubbe, left his ledger, giving details of his Sales and Purchases along with four pieces of china and two tea canisters to the V & A, which have provided clues to his designs. Also, in 1774 Mr Christie, the Auctioneer, sold all the stock of Giles’s workshops and only the catalogues remain, although sadly with no illustrations, but the descriptions assist in the identification of pieces.
In addition to the V&A collection, which is glass and porcelain, there is a porcelain collection at the Worcester Porcelain Museum.