Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hello Kitty!

As some of my readers may recall, this past January I chanced upon a porcelain figure of a white leopard (or is it a white cheetah?) at an antiques show during New York Antiques Week.  I bought the figure because—in addition to liking it (my primary reason for buying it)—its form was nearly identical to one of a lioness that I already owned, purchased when I was still in my twenties.  Although both of these diminutive porcelain great cats (they measure a mere four-and-a-half inches long) appeared to me to have been made from the same mold, they are decorated differently: one is painted as a white and black leopard (or cheetah) and the other as a tawny lioness.  There was no question in my mind when I chanced upon the figure of the leopard/cheetah at the show—I had to have it!

Upon close examination and side-by-side comparison of the figures once I brought my leopard/cheetah home, I determined that my latest acquisition was made from a near-identical mold to the lioness, albeit slightly cruder in its crispness, and the quality of the figure's painted decoration—while charming—is not as refined as that of the lioness.  I deduce, therefore, that the lioness is most likely an earlier example made during the figure's first period of production, the latter eighteenth century, and the leopard/cheetah is later, likely produced sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century.

I believe both of the figures are Continental, and probably German.  Neither are marked.  As was the case with many figures originally produced in the eighteenth century, popular ones were often produced (or outright copied) over and over again, long after their initial production.  This, I believe, is the case with the leopard/cheetah.

You can see that the lioness is a superior figure to the leopard/cheetah by comparing their heads in the preceding photograph.  The lioness' modeling (and painted decoration) is clearly finer and more carefully done.

But this does not mean I am unhappy with my white leopard/cheetah figure, Dear Reader.  No, not at all!  I find it to be a very handsome figure, indeed, and I am quite happy to have it.  It is just not quite up to the quality of the earlier lioness . . .

The base of the leopard/cheetah is shown on the left
and that of the earlier lioness is on the right

Some of my more perspicacious readers may recall that this is not the first essay I have posted about a nearly identical pair of figures in our collection.  I published a related story a year or so ago about a near-pair of early Staffordshire pearlware figures of goddesses in classical dress, circa 1800-1815.

The two pearlware figures of goddesses
shown in my earlier post

It was only after we brought home the figure of the goddess shown on the left in the preceding photograph that we realized it was made from the same mold as one we already possessed (albeit slightly modified), shown on the right.  What a happy coincidence that was!

What a handsome kitty!

In addition to owning the near-pair of cats and goddesses featured in this post we have several more examples of nearly identical figures in our collection at Darlington House, that we have serendipitously united over the years.  I look forward to posting additional essays about their stories here over time.

Tell me, Dear Reader, have you ever bought something and brought it home with you only to find you already own an example of it?

Photographs by Boy Fenwick


  1. Hello Reggie, It goes without saying how much I like this pair. Maybe the tiger will be next. By the way, did you measure the pieces to see if there are small differences? If a mold is made from an original piece, aside from loss of detail, the dimensions will change slightly.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hello Parnassas: Thank you for your comment. After measuring the figures and comparing them closely, I believe that the figures were either made from the same mold (that degraded somewhat from when the lioness was cast to when the later leopard/cheetah was cast), OR -- as was sometimes the case -- the later figure was a direct copy made by another porcelain factory, taking a cast directly from one of the figures originally produced. Reggie

  2. They are remarkably alike, and make a handsome pair. I think your spotted version is much more of a leopard than a cheetah.

    1. Thank you Columnist: the form of the cat would certainly suggest a leopard over a cheetah, but the spots more closely resemble those of a white cheetah than a white leopard, hence my uncertainty. I suspect you are correct, though. Reggie

  3. They certainly are a splendid pair. You must've done a double take when you saw the leopard! (I will say it's definitely a leopard, given the muzzle and the stockiness of the body. Cheetahs are a lot more delicate, with longer legs.)

  4. "have you ever bought something and brought it home with you only to find you already own an example of it?"

    Um, yeah. Try every lipstick or boatneck t-shirt I ever bought!

  5. Do you think it may have not been painted by the factory but at a later date - a ladies hobby perhaps?

  6. Is it not true that the arts and crafts movement in the early 20th century spawned an interest in crafts. No doubt there were ceramic studios in larger metropolitan areas where one could purchase bisque pieces ready to be glazed as the owner saw fit --then fired to the proper cone . As I beginning pottery student ( find your center) ha -- I have visited a shop filled with snow white bisque figurines of all shapes and sizes for me to select from then glaze as I see fit and bring back to the shop to be fired for a slight fee. Having said this, only to remind your gentle readers that if they seek a decorative piece -- they could perhaps draw from the font of their creativity and support a local ceramic studio... poring slip into a mold alowing it to dry out and harden then fire to bisque and then glaze the item puts you in touch with your early man and who know crazy asian ceramic studios may realize western buyer want both unrefined and refined item so they generate pieces that active western minds construct a narrative -- as they the asian business man laff all way to bank

  7. I like that they are not "cute"- they look as though they would bite you-

  8. Reggie, both of your beautiful porcelain pairs are important because You love them so much.

    The goddesses and the cats are wonderful in their detail.

    Art by Karena

  9. so happy for your cat couple, may they live happily ever after at Darlington House. I know I would! Y'all certainly have radar for quality

  10. I too am on the side of the leopard. The lion has the look of a thylacine, which doesnt detract from it at all.

  11. Dear Reggie - At the Smithsonian Institution, there's a wonderful display in the china section of comparisons, copies and even copies of copies. I think your felines are not only charming, but of historic value.

  12. It is a SNOW leopard .zzzz

  13. ABSOLUTELY!Just did it yesterday!When I like something I like it and have to have my case yesterday was an old tarnished copper vase.A bit bigger then the one I already own.Its the pedestal that attracts me!It will be a wonderful vase for branches.............


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