Lot 31
  • 31

Two Meissen figures of gray parrots circa 1731-34

70,000 - 100,000 USD
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  • porcelain
  • heights 13 1/4 and 13 1/2 in.
  • 33.7 cm and 34.3 cm
each modelled, possibly by Johann Joachim Kändler, perched on a high tree stump issuing from rocks with patches of green foliage, each bird with slightly differently executed scale patterned and sgraffito plumage, in three shades of gray, gray-blue and red, with black beak and eye, now mounted on later gilt-bronze bases, crossed swords mark to back of each rockwork base.


The Lesley and Emma Sheafer Collection, Bequest of Emma A. Sheafer, 1973


Sotheby's Scientific Research department used noninvasive XRF for this lot to screen the green enamel for chromium, which was not detected. Bird with grey sgraffito wing feathers - Minor slightly discolored firing crack running partly across base and partly up into the rockwork base, with two associated patches of shallow chipping where it runs through a patch of green enamelled foliage. Minor firing tear on the opposite side of the base approx 1 inch long. Very minor 1 inch long fine firing crack running horizontally through the rockwork base below the stump. Shallow half inch chip to underside edge of tail feathers. Bird with red wing feathers - the porcelain body slight misfired as evidenced by small lumps under the glaze on the lower body and wings of the parrot and on the stump. The glaze is slightly yellowish in tone and is suffused with fine bubbles, noticeable where it pools in the recesses of the base. (The other bird has a much whiter appearance and the glaze and body are not bubbled) There are two long fine discolored firing haircracks to the base, one running beneath the bird's tail, the other below the claws. There is a short firing tear to the edge of the base on one side, with an associated 1 1/2 inch polished chip, and several other short firiing tears to the edge of the base, all covered by green painted foliage.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

There are no records in Kändler's taxa that appear to correspond to the present model. Samuel Wittwer in The Gallery of Meissen Animals, Augustus the Strong's Menagerie for the Japanese Palace in Dresden, pp 346-7, discusses the two models of parrot or parakeet that were ordered for the Japanese Palace from 1731-2 and the difficulties with distinguishing in the orders between the two extant models now referred to as ‘Gray Parrot’ and ‘Parakeet’ that correspond directly in size. The present birds are examples of the 34.5cm 'Papogey' [gray parrots] or 'Manninchen' referred to in the inventory lists and which Wittwer attributes to Kändler. Wittwer notes all the references to gray parrots in the various inventories of orders and production including a note that nine gray parrots were finished at the manufactory by December 1731, as well as five noted as ‘enamelled’ in the same year. The delivery lists are equally confusing and repetitive, but at least nine gray parrots appear to have actually been delivered to the Palace by 1734. None remain there today.

Four examples, including the present two, appear to have survived elsewhere. An example bearing an 'AR' mark in underglaze-blue, with densely painted gray-blue plumage and a colorful base, is in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (formerly in the Dr. Fritz Mannheimer Collection) and is illustrated and discussed by Abraham L. den Blaauwen in Meissen Porcelain in the Rijksmuseum, p. 400. Another, similarly decorated to the present examples, is in the Untermyer Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (formerly in the Ole Olsen Collection) and is illustrated in Yvonne Hackenbroch, Meissen and Other Continental Porcelain, Faience and Enamel in the Untermyer Collection, pl. 5, fig. 8.

In his note to the Rijksmuseum example, den Blaauwen, op. cit., p. 400, comments that the three Metropolitan Museum examples are "not old". There is no evidence given as to why this might be the case. Whilst the present examples and the Untermyer parrot are differently marked and decorated to the Rijksmuseum bird, their simple yet bold decoration, their paste, the execution of the crossed swords marks and the appearance of their bases are all consistent with other 1730s Meissen bird and animal figures. The decoration around the eyes of all four birds is identical, as are the details of the modelling and the green enameled foliage on the base.

It is possible the simplicity of the decoration on the Metropolitan Museum’s parrots, combined with their bases and marks partially being obscured by later gilt-metal mounts (now removed), led to their being considered later. Indeed Wittwer, op. cit., p. 238, comments on "great differences in the technical and artistic quality of the painting" of the models produced for the Japanese Palace between 1731 and 1736 and also that "the supposition that large animal figures that have strongly contrasting, broadly applied, unnatural colors were painted later and thus could be considered forgeries with respect to their decoration oversees the fact that these figures were decorated at a time when the great technical steps forward were only just being made." The apparent mis-firing of the paste and glaze on one of the present birds, as well as the numerous minor firing tears and fine cracks in the bases, attest to the fact of technical difficulties in the firing of these early models and also support the early 1730s dating.

Sotheby's Scientific Research department used noninvasive XRF for this lot to screen the green enamel for chromium, which was not detected.