During the lockdown period, we are all urged to stay home across New South Wales and Victoria, so in a clearing out frenzy, I pulled out a tea set I had bought in the 1980s. The set is comprised of four cups and saucers, creamer, a sugar bowl, a large Teapot and also two well-loved large breakfast cups and saucers. Except for use in a few photos for other posts, I have not used the main tea set for some time, preferring instead to use older fine china teacups, like Shelley or Ansley. Even though my tea set is in perfect condition it is most likely considered vintage by now.
The real inspiration for pulling out my old tea set was on rediscovering a cherished book of my Mothers- ‘The Man Who Painted Flowers by Antonia Ridge. A perfect read for anyone who loves France and roses as it tells the story of Pierre Joseph Redoute, 1790-1840, called ‘the greatest botanical illustrator of all time’.
Pierre-Joseph Redouté was a Belgium painter and botanist born in 1759 and known for his beautiful watercolour paintings of roses, lilies and other flowers. Pierre Redoute due to his likeable personality had rich and influential patrons and became the official court artist of Marie Antoinette and Empress Josephine Bonaparte. He was nicknamed the Raphael of flowers and his paintings of plants and flowers, particularly roses, remain today as vibrant and relevant as when first painted.
During Redoute’s life, he painted over 2000, plates of 1800 species of plants and flowers and dominated botanical painting between 1790-1830. Redouté received the title of “Draughtsman and Painter to the Queen’s Cabinet” and he was appointed to paint the flowers in the garden of Malmaison. Between 1817 and 1824, Redouté’s most famous work, Les Roses, was published with stipple engravings of the roses at Malmaison and other gardens around Paris. Some of the rose cultivars evidently no longer exist. In 1825, Charles X the king of France made Redouté a member of the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest order of merit and Leopold I, the king of the Belgian, made him a knight of the Order of Leopold, however, Redouté spent his later life in debt and thus worked right until his death. Fortunately, his familiar work is often seen on everyday objects, books, stationery and art prints today such as my tea set.
My tea set is a Roy Kirkham in white and adorned with images of Redoute pink roses. Roy Kirkham is a fine bone china manufacturer in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire in the UK. He was a highly skilled artisan copper plate engraver, who founded the business in the 1970s making figurines and jugs. Since those early years, Roy Kirkham went on to produce world-renowned English fine bone china tableware. Along with placemats, calendars, fabric and diaries the Redoute roses depict the essence of the 1980s to me- a time of excess and opulence.
English Fine Bone China was historically developed by Josiah Spode in the early 1790s to make products that exceeded the highest quality porcelain imported from China. His fine bone china clay was made with 44% bone ash, 30% feldspar and 26% kaolin clay. This gave the products an exquisite translucent appearance and was found to be stronger and more chip-resistant than all other porcelain products available at the time
Many fine bone china companies still use this original principle when making ceramic products. Perhaps today not as popular with Vegans, but nonetheless, fine bone china is the strongest of all porcelain or ceramics. It has very high mechanical and physical strength, is chip resistant and also renowned for its whiteness and translucency.
“Life is like a cup of tea. It’s all in how you make it.”
Have you heard the term “New Bone China” or “Low Bone China”? New Bone China means the content of the porcelain has less bone ash – only 8-14%. The products are cheaper than fine bone china, and the clay is easier to handle in production. The finished products are significantly different aesthetically; they are less translucent and although not as strong, they are much heavier and not resistant to chipping.
A day inside out of the rain ended well today, and I gained far more than I anticipated; a delicious morning tea, a nostalgic look back at a treasured book complete with an inscription inside from 1983 to my Mum as I had given it to her for Christmas that year. And the re-acquaintance with an old favourite tea set, neglected for decades at the back of the cupboard yet in perfect, almost unused condition. My Teapots are never out of use, though, and this one is terrific as it is large enough for a crowd with a bit of help from a pot of hot water.
Title quote Agatha Christie
Content Di Baker 2021
Images Di Baker or as cited
Title Image painting Dennis Perrin ‘ Reading by the edge of the marsh’