Art Fund saves Ashmolean Museum's bacon

  • 5 March 2007

The Art Fund has helped the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to purchase a masterpiece of 18th-century ceramic art. The 'Boar's Head Tureen' - one of the most ambitious objects ever made by the greatest English porcelain factory at Chelsea - was purchased for £237,565 with a £80,701 contribution from The Art Fund.

Additional funding came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF).

The Boar’s Head Tureen shatters preconceptions that 18th-century porcelain was always delicate and elegant. Presented with a hunting sword on a dish formed as a hunter’s waistcoat, the unfortunate boar looks as though his decapitation has only just taken place.

The Chelsea Porcelain Factory produced a range of elaborate tureens formed as vegetables and animals including swans, hens, and chicks, but the Boar’s Head Tureen was by far the most daring and spectacular. When the Tureen was made it had enormous shock value, and today people are still taken aback by its extraordinary appearance.

The Tureen represents the spectacular pinnacle of porcelain production during the mid-18th century when England was creating some of the best in the world. It was made by Nicholas Sprimont, a gifted silversmith, designer and porcelain manufacturer who led Chelsea Porcelain Factory to the forefront of fashion in English porcelain.

The boar’s long snout and the detailed modelling of its fur give the tureen an almost sculptural quality – an enormous feat in a notoriously difficult material. The object is incredibly rare; one of just three complete examples worldwide and the only complete example in a UK public collection.

The Boar’s Head Tureen would have contained a variety of mouth-watering soups, usually served during the first course of a meal. In eighteenth-century upper class society a single ‘course’ consisted of between five and twenty-five dishes, so the tureen would have been placed on the table with a spectacular array of main dishes, side dishes, creams and pastries.

A popular soup recipe from The Lady’s Companion, a fashionable recipe book at the time:

A Soop of Forced Green Geese

“Make a Force-Meat of Goose-Liver, a Piece of Bacon, a Calf’s Udder, or Beef-Sewet, some Crumbs of Bread soaked or boiled in Milk, and three or four Eggs; chop all together, and season with Pepper, Salt, sweet Herbs and Spices; when this is done, put your Force-Meat into your Goose’s Belly, then put it into a Pot with Some good Broth, and set it a doing gradually over the Fire; then take the Crusts of French Rolls as usual, and put them in a Stew-pan, with some of the same Broth your Goose is boiled in, and set your Crusts a simmering and soaking gently over a Stove; when they are tender, put them in your Soop Dish, and the Goose upon them; then put over your Goose a Cullis of Green Peas, if is Season, or else Asparagus Tops. Garnish the Rim of your Dish with middling Bacon, and serve it hot”

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