At Thrubworth, after Erridge’s funeral, Pamela Widmerpool is going to be sick and looks about her: “She glanced round about, her eyes coming to rest on the two tall oriental vessels, which Lord Huntercomb had disparaged as nineteenth-century copies. Standing about five foot high, patterned in blue, boats sailed across their surface on calm sheets of water out of which rose houses on stilts, in the distance a range of jagged mountain peaks. It was a peaceful scene, very different from the emergency in the passage . . . .” [BDFR 90/83]
We cannot know the true identity or provenance of these ill-fated vessels, one of which is to become the victim of Pamela’s malevolent malaise, but their type is not hard to imagine. Since the sixteenth century, the refinement of Chinese porcelain was prized by European collectors and its popularity stimulated the production of decorative styles in China meant for export to Europe. Among these was the blue and white pictorial style made with hand-painted cobalt oxide pigments in floral/geometric patterns and landscape motifs of the sort Nick describes at Thrubworth. By the eighteenth century these Chinese exports were so valued by Europeans that several European imitations were introduced, most notably Meissen, Delft and Worcester.
Today, these eighteenth-century European homages to Chinese artistry are themselves highly valued antiques, to be distinguished from successively degraded versions of Chinoiserie that followed from them, ultimately to the ubiquitous willow pattern china to be found in every Chinese restaurant in the land.
No doubt Erridge’s huge urns were distinguished enough in design and manufacture to be taken as eighteenth-century Chinese by all but the eagle eyes of Lord Huntercomb on his visit to Thrubworth [BDFR 74/67]. The vases that we show above are neither floor standing nor as huge as those at Thrubworth, but their landscape decoration nearly matches Nick’s description. Whether they are authentically eighteen-century Chinese as described, or lesser knock-offs of a later era, we leave to the Lord Huntercombs among our readership.