“Beasts from the White Collection” by Mary White


At our most recent meeting the group welcomed back Mary White, along with her husband Peter.  This time to hear about their extensive collection of porcelain and ceramic animals. Mary explained that the collection encompasses animals, birds, fish and insects with pieces ranging from a bird feeder from China dating back to 1750BC through to a late 19th century plate from Japan. Conversely the European pieces

So where to begin in describing what was a wide ranging and extremely interesting talk? The animals were listed from bears through to wolves with pretty much every other animal in between, depicted as sculpture or painted on porcelain.   The European pieces predominately date from the 17th and 18th century mirroring the development of the porcelain and ceramics industries in Europe. They are more delicate and largely designed to be decorative with many of the English pieces painted by Jeffrey Hamet O’Neal. The common denominator of the European examples shown is that all the major producers are represented, from a Chelsea plate with bears to the Meissen figurine of seals. Conversely while Japanese porcelain is refined the pieces from China, Iran and elsewhere in the East are generally more robust. Fine examples are two warriors on horseback designed to defend a Chinese tomb or a cat which could be used as a nightlight, the idea being that the light emanating from the eyes would scare the rats and mice. We enjoyed seeing elephants, dogs, sheep and rats and whales; indeed it is hard to think of an animal on the planet that wasn’t represented.

Birds were also a popular subject for the decorators but were much more reflective of the geography with lots of owls in England and cranes in China and Japan. Fish have been universally depicted both on plates and dishes as well as decorative pieces and again the geographic differences are shown with carp being particularly popular in China and Japan. Finally we got to bugs. Beautiful butterflies on decorative pieces but more interestingly ladybirds and smaller insects appearing, sometimes at random to mask imperfections in the firing of the pieces.