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

The porcelain factory at Chelsea was among the first and most significant established in England after the European discovery of soft-paste porcelain. Made for the wealthiest clients, its primary outputs were sumptuous ornaments and tableware influenced by the Meissen and Sèvres porcelain of the continent. Notable Chelsea pieces in the Collection today are the 'Mecklenburg Service' commissioned by George III (1738–1820) and the extensive botanical tableware acquired by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1900–2002) after 1947.

The Chelsea porcelain factory formed part of an early wave of British porcelain manufactories which sprang up after English porcelain was first showcased at the Royal Society in 1743. Ceramics at this time were becoming increasingly acceptable for use as dining ware, and the successful creation of porcelain in Germany in 1709 had prompted entrepreneurs and chemists across Europe to compete to produce their own versions. In 1745 a silversmith and entrepreneur, Nicholas Sprimont (bapt.1715, d.1771), established a works at Chelsea.

Based in Lawrence Street and staffed by craftsmen of mostly French or Flemish origin, the factory produced porcelain figures, tea services, clock cases and tableware, as well as novelty fruit and vegetable forms for use on the dining table. Sprimont adapted familiar silver designs for his new and highly fashionable porcelain pieces for the table. Other pieces inspired by Meissen porcelain were decorated by contracted artists with so-called 'Indian' and chinoiserie flowers.

Unlike European porcelain factories, British enterprises like Chelsea were run by craftsmen and entrepreneurs independent of royal patronage. However, it is possible that the George III's uncle, the Duke of Cumberland (1721–65), was a client. One contemporary described him as a 'great encourager of Chelsea porcelain' who owned 'a bespoke set for his own Table' – possibly the dessert service RCIN 58781, 58784 and 58785. The factory's most significant commission was nevertheless the 'Mecklenburg Service' (RCIN 5000031), given in 1764 by George III to his brother-in-law, Adolphus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1738–94). The order enabled the manufactory to associate its productions with royalty, referring to wares produced with the same 'mazarine' blue and floral decorations as 'of the pattern of the royal service'.

In 1769 Sprimont sold the Chelsea enterprise to William Duesbury, who combined production with that of his Derby porcelain factory. The Chelsea factory was closed in 1784 and its materials and craftsmen transferred to Derby.

Much of the Chelsea porcelain in the Collection today was acquired by Queen Mary (1867–1953) or by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (1900–2002). Among them are a large number of pieces decorated with botanically accurate illustrations based on the plants growing in the Chelsea Physic Gardens near the factory (for example, RCIN 102351). Today, the Mecklenburg Service is on display in the Bow Room in Buckingham Palace.


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