Two figural groups of a conversing man and woman, glazed on the biscuit in blue and celadon enamels, with hair picked out in black. In one group the smiling woman, who is turned towards the man, is wearing a shorter blue coat over a longer pleated white robe. The man, dressed in a celadon robe and black scholars hat, is holding a ruyi scepter in one hand and a book in the other.
In the other group the man, also wearing a long celadon robe, is turning to look at the lady. One hand is behind his back, the other he is holding a ritual baton (Hu). The lady wears a blue and celadon coat over a white robe. The faces, hands and feet are left unglazed. Both groups stand on biscuit plinths and gilt-bronze mounts.
One of the bases carries a large label with the cipher of King George V of England (reigned 1910 – 1936). Though he himself was not known for his collecting, his consort Queen Mary) was a renowned collector of Chinese porcelains and jades. She would buy from the major dealer in London in the early 20th century, catalogue her finds and often display them in her newly appointed Chinoiserie rooms at Buckingham palace.
Queen Mary (1867–1953) had a lifelong interest in history and the arts, and was also an avid collector of furniture, paintings and objets d’art. But unlike previous royal collectors, she also loved to personally research, organise and display her finds. Nothing delighted her more than cataloguing and labelling her latest acquisitions or discussing them with fellow collectors. She also spent years improving the documentation and arrangement of the Royal Collection, identifying misplaced treasures and reunite pieces which were separated in the course of the years. She was known for buying back pieces that had been sold by previous generations of Royals. She even loaned objects to an important exhibition of Chinese art in the Royal Academy in 1936. This made Queen Mary Britain’s foremost curator queen.
Figural Groups Figures such as these in simple but bold glazes, also form a remarkable and unexpected group of porcelain wares. See C.Sheaf and R.Kilburn, The Hatcher Porcelain Cargoes: The Complete Record, London, 1988, p.156, where the authors discuss the possible origins of such simply decorated figural groups, noting that they were almost certainly made for the domestic market but also noting that whilst many of these small figures may have derived from earlier famille verte models, as there is a lack of other precedent for types of these groups.
It is possible that such figures originally had further unfired decoration on top of the blue, clear and celadon glazes. A figure of a dignitary also on a low, unglazed base and similarly dressed in a long blue-ground coat and white undergarment was recovered from the wreck of the Middleburg, a Dutch East Indiaman sunk in 1781 by the English fleet when at anchor in Saldanha Bay, off the Cape Town 'factory' site. The supercargoes report for 1780 complained that 'some of [the figures] are painted in watercolours which dissolve when damp'. This may explain the subtle colour washes used on these figures; the blue, clear and celadon glazes may have been further over-decorated with unfired paints and gilding, to create the sort of elaborately-patterned brocaded robes found on more spectacular famille rose figures for which these were an inexpensive alternative.