The realistic depiction of birds and flowers in fine art porcelain began in the early 1930s with the work of Dorothy Doughty. The idea originated with Alex Dickens, a publisher who had worked with the Royal Worcester porcelain factory to produce a series of decorative plates based on Audubon’s Birds of America. Dickens’ new proposal was a series of bird-and-flower studies of American birds produced in bisque (matte) porcelain rather than the traditional glazed finish, to make them more realistic. Somewhat skeptical but nevertheless willing, Royal Worcester agreed to the project and approached Freda Doughty, one of their in-house artists, about it. Freda suggested instead that her sister Dorothy would be more suitable because of her greater knowledge of ornithology and botany.
At that time Royal Worcester was using the slipcasting (mold) method to create all of their wares, including the figurines, but this simply could not provide the fine detail required to realistically portray flowers and leaves. However, there was one artist (Antonio Vassallo) at the studio who was able to create such elements entirely by hand. Dorothy Doughty convinced the Royal Worcester management to allow Vassalo to train and oversee a small group of artists who would create all of the flowers and foliage for Doughty’s bird studies.
The concept of “limited edition” porcelain studies had recently been introduced at the Worcester studio and they decided to put the Doughty bird series into that format as well. The first in the new “American Birds” series was the Redstarts and Hemlock pair (male and female) designed and released in 1935. The series would eventually expand to 36 “pair” and three individual-bird studies; there are also four flowers-only studies which are considered part of the same series. The final study was released in 1968, eleven years after it was originally designed by Dorothy Doughty.
The Doughty birds were so successful that during the post-WWII years Royal Worcester needed more people on the “team” so that the design/production process could proceed at an acceptable pace. Two of the new artists were Ronald van Ruyckevelt and Diane Lewis, both of whom worked closely with Dorothy during the 1950s and went on to worldwide acclaim on their own after leaving Royal Worcester in the 1960s.
In addition to her American Birds, Doughty also began a series of British birds which were not released by Royal Worcester until after her death in 1962 at the age of 70.
This photo of a pair of Lazuli Buntings shows how Royal Worcester meticulously packed these fragile sculptures for shipment in wood crates. (for more on this subject, see my post about how to pack porcelain sculptures)
Doughty’s American Birds and British Birds are illustrated below, listed according to retail release date. The captions show the sculpture name, introduction year, final edition size (“ed”), and height of the taller piece of the pairs. Four of the American and one of the British studies were available in both color and plain white bisque. The four flowers-only studies are shown separately following the “American Birds” section.
AMERICAN BIRDS series
All of the Doughty birds were supplied with an accompanying wood base into which the sculpture would snugly fit. The appearance of the bases varied even within a single issue; it’s not unusual to see two or three different bases on examples within a single series.
This is a typical backstamp. The format of the sculpture name varied between designs; for example, although this one is usually referred to as Scarlet Tanagers and White Oak, the individual stamp says simply Scarlet Tanager and pirangea olivacea which is the bird’s Latin name. To the right of the Royal Worcester logo is an icon showing the year 1954; according to the Museum of Royal Worcester’s list of these studies, that was the year of design (copyright?) as opposed to the year released at retail (1955.) Dorothy Doughty’s facsimile signature also appears.
She also designed a series of a dozen coordinating dessert plates which were issued by Royal Worcester annually beginning in 1972. The plates do not duplicate the designs of the porcelain sculptures; they will be shown in a future post.
This photo shows two of the floral pairs. In the background are the Crab Apple Sprays and Butterfly, issued in 1940 as an edition of 250. The taller is 10″ high.
In the foreground are the Mexican Feijoa and Ladybirds which appeared a decade later, in 1950. This was an edition of only 125. They are 10.25″ high. The ladybird beetle (“ladybug”) appears on a leaf.
Apple Blossom Spray and Bee, 1941, edition of 250, 6.5″
Orange Blossom Sprays, 1947, edition of 175, 7.25″
BRITISH BIRDS series
Dorothy Doughty designed a number of British birds before her death, but I have been unable to determine how many were actually released by Royal Worcester at retail. Sources differ, some saying there were 21 in the series but I have only been able to find photographs of 16 designs. The first issue in the retail edition was the Lesser Whitethroats in 1964, two years after Doughty’s death. At least six of the British birds were in the pair format; there may have been more.
The backstamp on the British Birds series differs from the American Birds in two ways: it also contains the name of the plant depicted, and the words “Est. of” (estate of) are added. The common and Latin names of the bird still appear.
Like the American Birds, these were not numbered in the stamp but had an accompanying Certificate of Authenticity. Without the certificate these is no way to know what number an individual Doughty bird is, within its edition.
Nightingale and Honeysuckle is an especially fragile piece which is rarely found in mint condition; even the Royal Worcester website shows a damaged one. Many thanks to Stuart Valentine for sending these photos of his absolutely perfect mint-condition sculpture!
I wonder if Dorothy Doughty could ever have envisioned, as she was designing her first bird sculptures eighty years ago, the number of talented artists and marvelous porcelain bird studies that she would ultimately inspire?