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Chelsea Porcelain Works [London] (c. 1745-69)

John Coan (c.1728 - 1764) 1760

28.5 x 12.5 x 12.5 cm (whole object) | RCIN 53113

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  • porcelain figure of John Coan, who was known during his lifetime as the 'Norfolk Dwarf', wearing a beefeater costume and holding a spear in his left hand, with a dog standing at his side. Surrounded by flowers and foliage, on a white and gilt scroll base.

    During the first half of the eighteenth century people of short stature were in vogue with royalty and aristocracy.  John Coan was first ‘exhibited’ at the Lower Half Moon, Market Place, Norwich, in 1744 at the age of sixteen. He moved to London and is recorded being presented to Frederick, Prince of Wales at a party in Leicester House in January 1751. 

    Known for his sharp wit and intelligence, Coan appeared at a number of London fairs and tavern venues. At the age of twenty-three he appeared at the Swan in Smithfield during the Bartholomew Fair in 1751 in a show which was described as containing ‘two dwarfs, a remarkable negro, a female one-horned rhinoceros, and a crocodile’. This is just one demonstration of how poorly people with disability and those from non white backgrounds were treated in the eighteenth century.

    Following this performance, Coan featured much more as an individual performer. He appeared in taverns such as the Ship, the Anchor, and the Windmill near Temple Bar and at the famous Star and Garter where Coan’s humorous entertainments over dinner would be followed by firework displays. For a short time John Coan kept a house called The Dwarf’s Tavern in Chelsea Fields. Regarded as an oddity, the tavern attracted large numbers of curious customers. Coan died at the Tavern in 1764.

    In 1767 a large portion of the stock in trade of Mr. Thos. Turner, Chinaman, was sold by the auctioneer Mr James Christie. Included in the lots were 'Two Chelsea figures of the English and Prussian dwarf'.
    This example entered the Royal Collection from the Lady Ludlow collection which was dispersed following her death in 1945, along with an example of the Prussian 'dwarf' (RCIN 53112).

  • Medium and techniques

    28.5 x 12.5 x 12.5 cm (whole object)