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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 53a

Head

ca. 1746-49 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

The Head of a Laughing Child is one of the most fluently modelled and aesthetically pleasing examples of English sculptural porcelain ever to have been produced, and must be considered of national importance. Made during the early years of the Chelsea porcelain factory, it is a testament to the artistic quality and sculptural ambition expressed in the early days of this brand-new material. It is on a par with the best work made at Meissen at that time.
The Head can be firmly attributed to the Chelsea porcelain factory on the basis of its material. The glassy body and glaze, without added tin-oxide, as well as the surface pitting, are typical for the early, experimental period at Chelsea. This experimental period and this early soft-paste porcelain are often referred to as triangle period and triangle paste, named after the earliest mark used by the Chelsea porcelain factory.
The secure, detailed and vivid modelling and the fact that there is no direct sculptural source for the Laughing Child, indicate that it was specifically modelled to be produced in Chelsea porcelain and Louis-François Roubiliac is the obvious candidate for the attribution of this work. He would have modelled the head directly in clay, and the resulting model was then used to create the plaster moulds which could be used to make multiple copies in porcelain. The subject is elusively enigmatic: does it represent a boy or a girl, or possibly an angel? Is it a portrait or an ideal head? It has Italianate qualities, and is reminiscent of the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), as well as recalling French and even Dresden sculpture. Roubiliac’s roots and training on the Continent, in both France and Dresden, as well as his knowledge of Roman baroque sculpture, mean that he is the most probable author.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Soft-paste porcelain, slip-cast
Brief Description
A sculpted head, 'Head of a Laughing Child', soft-paste porcelain, Chelsea, London, ca. 1746-1749
Physical Description
Head of a laughing child in white, glazed, soft-paste porcelain.
Dimensions
  • Height: 19.7cm
  • Width: 16.7cm
Credit line
Purchased with support from the Art Fund and V&A Members and with funds from the Hugh Phillips and the Murray Bequest
Object history
This head was previously unrecorded and discovered at a French local flea market in 2011. It was offered at auction at Bonhams, London on 18 April 2012 but unsold. It was on loan to the Holburne Museum in Bath until 2019.
Production
The only other surviving version of this model is a polychrome head in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. This was first published in the Connoisseur in 1938, soon after its discovery. It was subsequently included in Elizabeth Adams’ Chelsea Porcelain (London 1988), with only a few lines of text and a small illustration. Nicholas Penny included it in his Catalogue if European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum. Subsequently Malcolm Baker published it in the English Ceramics Circle Transactions of 1997, with a proposed attribution to Roubiliac.
Summary
The Head of a Laughing Child is one of the most fluently modelled and aesthetically pleasing examples of English sculptural porcelain ever to have been produced, and must be considered of national importance. Made during the early years of the Chelsea porcelain factory, it is a testament to the artistic quality and sculptural ambition expressed in the early days of this brand-new material. It is on a par with the best work made at Meissen at that time.

The Head can be firmly attributed to the Chelsea porcelain factory on the basis of its material. The glassy body and glaze, without added tin-oxide, as well as the surface pitting, are typical for the early, experimental period at Chelsea. This experimental period and this early soft-paste porcelain are often referred to as triangle period and triangle paste, named after the earliest mark used by the Chelsea porcelain factory.

The secure, detailed and vivid modelling and the fact that there is no direct sculptural source for the Laughing Child, indicate that it was specifically modelled to be produced in Chelsea porcelain and Louis-François Roubiliac is the obvious candidate for the attribution of this work. He would have modelled the head directly in clay, and the resulting model was then used to create the plaster moulds which could be used to make multiple copies in porcelain. The subject is elusively enigmatic: does it represent a boy or a girl, or possibly an angel? Is it a portrait or an ideal head? It has Italianate qualities, and is reminiscent of the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), as well as recalling French and even Dresden sculpture. Roubiliac’s roots and training on the Continent, in both France and Dresden, as well as his knowledge of Roman baroque sculpture, mean that he is the most probable author.

Bibliographic Reference
Only one other version of this model exists, in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The Ashmolean model has additional painted detail in coloured enamels. Published in: Malcolm Baker, ‘Roubiliac and Chelsea in 1745’, in: English Ceramic Circle Transactions, Vol 16, part II (1997)
Collection
Accession Number
C.37-2019

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record createdJuly 1, 2019
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