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? Meissen Porcelain Factory

Transverse flute c.1760

Porcelain, gilt copper, wood, leather | RCIN 72173

Library, Kew Palace

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  • Transverse flute; white porcelain in five parts decorated with floral swags spiralling around body; ends and finger holes mounted with gilt copper: in wooden box covered with red leather and lined with black velvet.

    As well as the harpsichord and pianoforte, George III played the flute proficiently and clearly found it a consoling occupation; during his recovery at Kew in February 1789 he often played to himself.

    Frederick the Great of Prussia had earlier promoted the instrument and extended its repertoire with a number of his own compositions, and the 'transverse' flute, played horizontally rather than vertically, was known in the eighteenth century as the German flute. Around 1720, flutes began to be made in four sections, with interchangeable pieces known as corps de rechange which enabled the instrument to be played in a different key. Eighteenth-century flutes were almost invariably made of ebony, fruitwood or boxwood. In order to refine the tuning the maker could adjust the bore of the different sections (as is also possible with modern, metal instruments), whereas fired and glazed porcelain was not susceptible to such adjustment. This instrument must therefore have been made as something of a curiosity, although it produces a fine sound.

    An apparently identical instrument which must be by the same maker is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The porcelain and its decoration correspond with Meissen productions of around 1760, and the supposition that this instrument was made there is strengthened by a solitary reference in the work reports of the great Meissen modeller J.J. Kaendler (1706-75) to his having made a mould for a flute in February 1736.

    Catalogue entry adapted from George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste, London, 2004

    (?) George III; Thomas Warner; by whom presented to Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, 1881; King George V. Among the ‘Sundries’ in an inventory of jewellery and snuff boxes at Windsor made by Sir Henry Wheatley and John Bridge in 1838 ) are three flutes which had formerly belonged to George III, one of which - ‘a China Flute, belonged to his late Majesty, Geo. III’ - may be this one. When presented to Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (1844-1900) in 1881 by the Manchester collector Thomas Warner, it was described (impossibly) as having belonged to Charles II, and it may be that its former royal associations had simply been confused during its absence from the Royal Collection.

  • Medium and techniques

    Porcelain, gilt copper, wood, leather

  • Place of Production

    Saxony [Germany]