From the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, a growing number of British factories arose with a single aim: to produce ceramics that would rival those being imported from the Far East, especially China and Japan. Asian ceramics had flooded the markets in England and Continental Europe and helped to build immense fortunes through importation by the likes of the East India Company. As the method for producing “true” porcelain, such as was made in China and revered for its pristine white translucence, was not known to many British factories, other ceramic bodies were created to mimic the appearance of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. Once decorated with Chinese figures, landscapes, and symbols, these ersatz porcelain bodies were, for the majority of British consumers, indistinguishable from authentic Asian imports.
Turner’s was one such British factory that invented a novel ceramic body known as ironstone. There remains uncertainty about whether ironstone contained slag, a by-product of the smelting of iron, or was simply made with an iron-rich stone from the Staffordshire region. In any case, Turner’s ironstone was patented in 1800 and the factory, and rights to the material, were sold to Spode in 1805, which continued to produce ceramics with the ironstone body. As a result of Turner’s brief existence, pieces from the factory—especially those in excellent condition, such as the present lot—are very rare.
Decoration in the style of Chinese and Japanese porcelain was widespread in British and Continental ceramics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—to varying degrees of success. The red, blue, and gold palette of these bowls is characteristic of the Imari style, used in both Chinese and Japanese ceramics. The roundel in the center of each bowl’s interior depicts an Asian-esque theme as seen through the eyes of a British painter: Asian figures near a quintessentially Chinese-style building, together with a hybridized, quasi-mythological-looking lion, a pine tree—typical in Chinese porcelain—and a bird, though not a phoenix as one might expect.
Chinese porcelain is replete with auspicious symbols, often meant to convey longevity, prosperity, enlightenment, love and fidelity, and other virtues. These include cranes, ducks, and bats, fish, fungi, bamboo, peony, lotus, and chrysanthemum. Although the Turner’s bowls feature an abundance of blossoms and leaves—as well as a maze motif, a common Chinese design trope—none are easily identifiable as Chinese symbols or species and instead represent a vague, anglicized representation of the typical auspicious symbols that would have been familiar, but essentially meaningless, to British consumers of imported Asian porcelain.
In the home of Mario Buatta, these bowls fit in perfectly amongst Chinese and Japanese porcelain and their British and Continental imitators, and they feature an aesthetic profusion ideally suited to the ebullience and abundance of Buatta and his style. Their rarity as survivors of the unique Turner’s factory only add to their considerable appeal.