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Orient, from Saxony and France. The porcelains gave them tenderness and illuminati know with their hearts the translucency beyond compare. Light, strange tale of that strife-how the transpiercing light, the glass-painter's Honorable East India Company kept ally, came to his aid. Held to the pouring "china" in from the East; how light, the form and tinting of any flowDresden and sèvres imposed upon us ers he painted in Wales can be seen their splendid wares; how crowds of through and through. Take even a merchants and collectors awaited the plate of his painting at Derby. ships and fought with their money. Though the chemical action of air and bags at the ports; how “Why should sunlight by now may have veined the not we make porcelain ?" said English glaze with a fine network of brown, potters, and how they began. Ro- it once was white and virginal, pregnamance encircles the record of their ble to the colors and wooing the brush. doings; against royal subsidies and At Meissen and Sèvres the artists patronage by kings of Saxony and worked on kaolinic stuff, like that of the France they pitted private enterprise Orient-stuff that was dure, refractory and petty capital; lacking the true ma- to pigments, almost impossible to stain terial, they invented substitutes, com- with gentle tints; so that the picture posts, imitative amalgams; and at last rests upon the surface wholly, kept hard they came upon a kind of china that in outline and not interfused with the differed as much from the wares of glaze, just as even the most deftly barMeissen and late Sèvres as a lyric of bered peruke declines to blend with the Shelley's contrasts with a page of Ra nape and the temples. But the Engcine's.
lish "soft" porcelains had a subsoil, so This English soft china was not true to speak; the surfaces were sympaporcelain, I know. It was “an inge- thetic and amorous of the brush, the nious and beautiful counterfeit," says paste and glaze were receptive and abProfessor Church; but he does not rate sorbent, and the colors became filtered the real thing the higher. No, it was and refined as they sank richly in. It something better than "true" porcelain; is this quality in the ware which causes it was something unique and apart, the French illuminati, tired of the hard something delicate and ephemeral, mechanical perfection of “Sèvres," to dainty and fragile, it compeer for the rifle the shops of Paris of every piece Louis Seize fan, a pastel of Vigée Leb- of pâte tendre anglaise to-day. run's, or a Cosway miniature. It has Yet tools and materials count for litleft the china cupboard and the kitchen tle in art, after all. Plenty of clever rack, to dwell in the realm of lost arts. brushes had played upon English china The paste and the glaze of it, delight before Billingsley's began-reluctant ful in themselves, to the painter fur- French limners had been bribed to nished a "canvas" opulently white, cross the Channel-but none had ever softly firm, and gently smooth, shot painted the rose so well as he was to through with light, receptive, better come to do. By the time he started off than ivory; and upon such pleasant sur- on his dramatic wanderings, the pilgrim faces the pencil of William Billingsley of perfection in porcelain, bis flowers began to play and create, at Derby, had become almost famous, and his circa 1775.
style had begun to found a school. He The man was blest in the ware on was a deviser and inventor. All his which he wrought, for the glassy and days he showed himself a restless cbalky amalgams which made up the seeker and innovator, never conpaste and glaze of the old English tent with the usual and accepted. Perhaps the tragedy of his ca. He was a workman, a craftsman, one reer arose from that. He was of the good old kind of steady, rather just the man to reverse a tradition, silent, dour English artisans, better and he upset-in England at least-the paid than most workmen at that date, rules of flower-painting on china which but painting stolidly for daily bread, had come down from Royal fabrik and and drawing his thirty-five or forty établissement abroad to humble pot. shillings a week in quite a non-romantic teries here. Billingsley forsook the and businesslike way. Romance was convention; he painted flowers as he to come as a "high light" upon him, saw them, and not as by the older however, and his career, his mysterimasters in his art they had been seen. ous law-breaking, his flight and exile, In his way and scope he too repudiated the pride of his achievements and the the wbite horse and the brown tree. pathos of his failures were to afford a England in him may claim the first topic for biographers and novelists in Impressionist. He worked in the small the end. For in the first year of the and upon still-life subjects, it is true; nineteenth century he ceased to be the but all the same he was the first, I steady artisan of the pot-works at think, to "bring the picture out of the Derby. He took to the road, and beblur" to the momentary glance,
came a Romany of art; he wandered in The outline of the Billingsley rose, Sherwood Forest and Cannock Chase, and its lights and shadows too, are im- Salop, Worcestershire, and Wales; and precise. Under the momentary glance wherever he went he drew, or taught the flower seems to float and quiver, al- to draw, the Billingsley rose. most to form itself and move, and the He left peace and comfort behind richly enamelled deep heart of it, like him at Derby, but he went towards rethe drooping and blowing petals, makes nown. In his way he was famous ala rounding contrast with the high light ready, and in his own country. “To be upon the swell. By older china-paint painted with Billingsley's flowers" is ers "the lights were simply left un- written on many pages of the patterntouched," writes Mr. John Ward, books which used to be kept in the keeper of the Billingsley china at Car Derby China Works until a generation difr—that is, the "lights" were parts of ago. His “prentice-plate" is treasured the white uncolored glaze. But by the in the Derby Art Gallery, though someBillingsley method “the whole surface what the worse for wear. It is deof the flower was covered with color, scribed as "bordered with roses in and the lights were then swept out with every conceivable position. The stems a half-charged brush.” No great dis- are wonderfully graceful and elastic, covery, perhaps simply an artist's de- and suggest that they are allve, the vice; but it was Billingsley's first, and weight of the flower giving a curve it is this, together with a special "feel- which one can fancy changing with ing" for flowers and a knack in group- the flutter of the breeze.” It was by ing them, which makes it just to say, examples such as this that the craftsas a votary does, that "no other man in man taught at the Derby, Pinxton, all the history of porcelain painted Worcester, Nantgarw, Swansea, and roses as this man did"; for upon the Coalport potteries the art and mystery most fitting of material his brushes of painting flowers to the life. played in the most natural and liber- Not every Billingsley rose is by Bilated of styles.
lingsley, therefore, and he seldom Yet Billingsley would never speak of signed his work, though the figure "7" himself as an artist, one may be sure. on the back of a piece of "old Derby" is said to authenticate the painting mixing-room and the kilns at Derby; he as his own. But his work is signed sought after a ware which should posall over to the instructed eye. Always sess the translucency and porousness the lights are "swept out with a half- of "soft" china, be exquisitely thin, and charged brush." But that is not all; yet be durably "hard" like the porcehe could group flowers more harmonilain from Dresden-perhaps an imposously and set them in truer perspec- sible ideal. The "band" was no chemtive than his copiers. Not only did he ist, and had been only scantily schooled, blot them in more masterly, but he but he was tireless and inventive, and treated the shadows and developed val- he came at last, after heart-breaking nes in an inimitable way. If you find failure, to something like achievement; these qualities in a flower-piece painted for in Wales he produced from his recion "soft" English china, look again. pes "a porcelain which, as an artificial What are the flowers? What are the felspar, approaches the nearest to real prevalent hues? For Billingsley loved felspar” of any imitative china ever the auricula and the tulip, as well as concocted. This was the famous ware the rose; he had a fondness for yellows of Nantgarw. But it did not wholly and purples, and would bind in each realize the aim, for it was brittle, not nosegay at least one flower of a dove "hard." Billingsley never quite saw color gray. Then, also, his bouquets success. throw out loose sprays, and the leaves He began his search for the perfect are darkish, little-veined, often vaguely porcelain in 1796 at Pinxton. A cerwashed-in.
tain Mr. Coke, who had lived at Dres"Make a bargain with Mr. Billings den and knew the qualities of the ley for him to continue with you,” the Saxon ware, undertook to build and London agent of the Derby China equip a small pottery if Billingsley Works wrote to the proprietor of them would act as managing partner in urgently, in 1796. "For it will be a the concern. The thick white Pinxton great loss to lose such a hand, and not china was the result, but it seldom only that, but his going into another flowered with the Billingsley rose; the factory will put them into the way of potter had absorbed the painter, the doing flowers in the same way, which artist had become a man of affairs. they at present are entirely ignorant Yet the partnership lasted no longer of.” I daresay Mr. Duesbury would of- than four years. Billingsley's wife fer as much as fifty shillings a week used to say of him that he was "never for his "hand" to remain, but he offered satisfied with what he did, always in vain. Billingsley quitted Derby to wishing to produce something better.” become a master-man. But that was Probably Mr. Coke had curbed experinot his chief motive; he had a stronger ment with his purse-strings. At any incentive and a higher aim.
rate, in 1800, the inveterate experiHe was potter as well as painter, menter carried away his recipes, and and he longed to produce a perfect left the Pinxton pottery to fumble with porcelain. Mr. Duesbury's rules pro- • inferior ware. Adversity drove the bibited the painters from entering the "band" to his art again, and then bepotters' rooms at Derby, and the pot fell a period of painting other people's ters from visiting the painting-rooms; china and of scheming for new capital. but he failed to limit Billingsley's tech- Then something mysterious and catasnical knowledge, just as he did to re- trophical occurred. In the winter of tain the advantages of his brush. The 1808 we see him scurrying south, espainter-potter had experimented in the caping, a scared and quaking fugitive,
his name concealed, his wife left be- mentioning no names, using initials hind, his daughter Sarah and her lover, only, and both wafering down and sealSamuel Walker, accompanying him, ing what she wrote. Expressed in the and Lavinia Billingsley, a small weakly style of a period older than 1808, the child of thirteen, wearily trudging be letter reads quaintly to-day. The four side them or lifted by turns in their inlanders, far from their mountainous arms. The quest for the perfect porce- Midland shire, had come very near real lain had been interrupted, even the shipwreck, it appears. "Your prayers, brushes lay idle; it was winter with my Dear Mother, are heard," the letter the Billingsley rose.
says, “and we are again in our Native Something evil had come into the Country after experiencing very great man's life-some act of crime, maybe, hardships which would fill pages to rebut most probably some misdealing count. I don't recollect whether I told with money; enthusiasts and inventors you that after the Storm and we got are seldom nicely particular about into Harbor I durst not venture on other people's capital. Whatever his Shipboard again but preferred walking sin or fault had been, it drove him between 50 and 60 miles. I thought into sudden exile. Earlier than this, your last words were prophetic when his wife had separated herself from you said you should never see us more. him, and for that there may have been I had a thousand anxious fears for you. serious cause. But his children fol- I was doubtful whether you would lowed him through all, to their death; ever hear of our fate, on account of Samuel Walker stood by him; and “of the name we went by”-the alias of this man's failings or indiscretions we these pilgrims of porcelain and love. have no direct evidence," his first biog- It is impossible to be sure of what rapher, Mr. Haslem, of Derby, wrote bad happened to the Billingsleys in gently. “But that they must have their exodus so far. But I think they been greatly redeemed by paternal love would have struck south from Derby is proved by the fact that his daugh- through Cannock Chase to the Staffordters, who maintained the most affec- shire potteries, where the Davenports. tionate correspondence with their were making china at that date. Then, mother, clung to him with so much disappointed of employment, they tenderness." "I shall never see you would make for the porcelain potteries again," the mother had said. Pathos, of the West, going to Worcester first, as well as mystery and danger, had and at first almost fruitlessly, no entered into the fugitive's life, and in doubt. So, coming to the Severn mouth, those days, when "sensibility” and they would take a coaster bound for "sentiment” were a duty as well as a Swansea, where porcelain of a kind luxury, I think he would mark with was then being made. The storm tears his "dim and perilous way."
which scared Sarah Billingsley would Palissy stands the great tragical fig- come upon them in the Bristol Channel, ure in the history of ceramics, but Bil- and the little ship would run for Newlingsley seems the more pathetical to port or Cardiff; whence the four would me. When he fled he changed his trudge the “50 or 60 miles" to Swansea, name, and, as "Mr. Beeley" he was to only to be disappointed again. Bilknow every kind of privation and lingsley would then write to the fasorrow. Late in the year 1808 Sarab mous firm of Barr, Flight and Barr, at Billingsley, then twenty-five years old, Worcester, accepting the wages—"very wrote to her mother with great secrecy, low for a good band" as his daughter addressing the letter to a third hand, said-which he had at first refused; he certainly did write to the firm to beg the most world-shaking events were oc"a little Money" for the journey to curring; but Billingsley sat absorbed in Worcester. The wanderers made that plans for the perfect porcelain, and aljourney afoot, "all the way Back, which most inconsciently painting the rose. in the whole amounted to near 400 The Reign of Terror had raged while iniles,” Sarah Billingsley informed her he was trying bis first recipe for a mother. It need not be "near 400 hard, white, translucent paste, at miles" from Swansea to Worcester, of Derby, and about the time he took ship course, but dread of arrest would cause for Swansea Napoleon had entered the wanderers to avoid the more direct Spain. So now, while the Army of and public highways; and thus one sees Moscow in rags and jags drifts westthem toiling northward from Cardiff, ward, the potter-painter (like Napoleon) up the Taff valley, past the bamlet of plans a new effort, a fresh start. In Nantgarw, and so rounding to Worces- 1813 the Billingsleys and Samuel ter and their “Native Country" through Walker took to the road clandestinely the wild glens of midland Wales.
again; they had a new reason for seAt Worcester the Billingsley rose be- crecy, and they made for lonely Nantgan to flower again, and the collector garw. finds it on Barr, Flight and Barr ware, Nantgarw was then a hamlet of five or on tea-things and dessert-services six houses, solitary amidst bills. They chiefly, often in floriated panels or "re- were coaly hills, and I daresay Billingsserves" set in borders of blurred and ley's imagination saw them all conblackish blue, or nestling inside the sumed in huge kilns, which were to cups. But the rose is not in its full rise for the firing of a world-pervasive glory; there was a lack of heart in Bil. perfect porcelain, that should penetrate lingsley's art at this period; the free to Pekin itself; for Nantgarw stood and impressionist style persisted, but conveniently placed for water-carriage, the zest and zeal for perfection had on a canal that reached to a port, the waned. Yet the flowers which fell port of Cardiff, some seven or eight from his brush so took the eye of the miles away. During his first journey other painters that even at Worcester in Wales, Billingsley had noted the fithe founded a school. But he was onlyness of Nantgarw for concealing yet a “band” again, his pay at first "little aiding the enterprise of an outlawed potbetter than that of the common hands,” ter, and he would approach the place in and the cost of living at Worcester was high hope the second time. For he found to be “so extremely high, that was now in funds again. Somehow with every frugality," Sarah Billings- or other, in part, perhaps, by revealing ley wrote, she could lay by no money to the Chamberlains of Worcester-rito send to her mother. "I wish, my vals of Flight and Barr-suggestions Dear Mother, I had it in my power, which enabled them later to mix the but I hope, when our wages come to be compost for their beautiful "Regent" settled and Mr. W. gets work, I shall china; in part almost certainly by conbe able to send you something to come veying hints to Mr. Rose, of the Coalto us." The two girls had found work port China Works; and in part, beyond in the factory, “Mr. W." was Samuel doubt, by building two kilns. "on the Walker, whom Sarah was to marry; he, new or reverberating principle," Biltoo, had followed Billingsley through lingsley and Walker had got together all, with devotion that speaks well for capital with which to build kilns of both,
their own. For that purpose they went Background to these humble affairs, to Nantgarw.