There really is only one name associated with the equine sculptures by Connoisseur of Malvern, and that is Richard Sefton. In particular his horse-and-rider sculptures truly capture the essence of the partnership between rider and steed. Originally an architect and builder, Mr. Sefton became a sculptor in the mid-1970s and launched a successful artistic career that spanned almost four decades.
The sculptures below are arranged chronologically by introduction year.
Created in 1983 as a limited edition of 25, this sculpture Sefton has an interesting backstory. During the terrorist bombing at Hyde Park in July 1982 several men and horses of the Queen’s Royal Household Cavalry were killed. One of the most critically injured was the veteran horse Sefton who had served for 17 years as a Cavalry mount. Although not expected to survive, against all odds he did recover after extensive and repeated surgeries and returned to duty amidst great public honor (a more detailed account of his history can be found on Wiki). The commander of the Household Cavalry at that time was Lt. Col. Andrew H. Parker-Bowles (whose wife Camilla later married Charles, Prince of Wales, in 2005) and each accompanying certificate of authenticity for this piece was also hand-signed by him. This Connoisseur sculpture is affectionately referred to by collectors as “Sefton by Sefton”. It is an impressive 21” h x 17.5” long. The wood base increases the overall height to 23 inches.
Clive Willets, jeweler/goldsmith in Kinver (Staffordshire), created the sword, scabbard, stirrups, bit and curb chains for Sefton. This was his first commission for Connoisseur; he later went on to create the silver decorations for the Trumpeter of the Life Guards and for Drummer on Coriolanus, both of which are shown below.
The level of complexity required to create this sculpture is truly amazing. It is composed of 35 individual molds, in addition to the non-porcelain elements. Each piece consumed a total of 20 hours for casting and assembling – and that does not include the time required for the five separate firings of at least 12 hours each. Painting alone consumed 40 hours of artist work time per sculpture.
The absolutely magnificent Shogun was introduced in 1983 and was a limited edition of only 10 sculptures. It is 27″ high and 29″ wide. Some of these were made with custom wood bases. The standard base was of dark cherry in a wide polygon shape. This example has been removed from the large custom base shown below, for photography purposes.
This special base was an option for those who purchased Shogun from Brielle Galleries. The overall height upon this plinth was 57″ (almost six feet)! The holes in the top accommodate the ‘feet’ of the porcelain’s base.
The local newspaper Asbury Park Press published this account in October 1984 of the Brielle introduction party:
Last year’s spring show introduced the Shogun porcelain from Connoisseur of Malvern. All 10 limited editions were sold… [It] was a two-day affair and guests who bought the new Peony porcelain (240 people) were treated to their hotel accommodations and a black-tie dinner dance Saturday night. After breakfast the next day, they joined the throng jamming the tent behind the Galleries to participate in a Japanese extravaganza. The entire area inside the tent and out was transformed into a Japanese garden complete with trees filled with porcelain birds and a little bridge. Guests were entertained by a Japanese dancer. Yura, a well-known caterer and Sumo wrestler, provided the food: a Sushi bar and other authentic Japanese dishes. The food was served in Bento boxes and later guests got to take the boxes home.
Shogun was not the only Asian equestrian study. This is Child of the East, also introduced in 1983 as a limited edition of 10. This too was sold out at its American introduction at Brielle Galleries. Depicting a 10th-Century Heian boy riding his pony to the Gion Festival, it is another large study at 20″ high and 22″ wide. The base is made of rosewood.
Trumpeter of the Life Guards (on Delilah) was introduced the following year (1984) and was an edition of only 10 pieces. The Life Guards are part of the Household Cavalry which contains the only mounted band in the British Army. Here the trumpeter wears the elaborate State Livery which is worn on occasions when the Royal Family is present. The coat bears the Royal insignia and the helmet and plume are replaced by a velvet jockey cap. Dimensions including the recessed cherry plinth are 22″ h and 21″ wide.
Drummer on Coriolanus was an issue of 10 in 1984. On its recessed cherry wood base, this study is 27″ high and 30.5″ wide. The workmanship on the silver kettledrums is simply astounding.
For the Household Cavalry studies, the Connoisseur backstamp appears on a round medallion recessed into the underside of the porcelain base.
Drum horses are specifically selected for their ability to carry not only their rider but the very heavy kettledrums, which is why they are almost invariably either Clydesdales or Shires. The drum horses are thus larger (at about 19 hands) than the rest of the regimental mounts which average about 16 hands high. Drum horses are traditionally named after heroes of Greek myth and legend – the ‘star’ of the current troop is named Achilles – but Coriolanus was named after a Roman general.
The photo above shows MUS Robert Newnham on Coriolanus in Hyde Park in January 1985, and he was kind enough to share some background about his mount, who was in the regiment from 1977-1986. Coriolanus’ nickname was “Bumble”; he was especially fond of Polo mints and would be quite persistent about being provided one as a daily treat. Although a bit choosy about which adults he liked, he was extremely gentle and tolerant with children while also having a distinctive sense of humor!
The wonderful Free Spirit embodies the grace and pride of the Arabian horse. An issue of only 100 sculptures in 1985, it is 14” high and 18” wide on its recessed cherry plinth. (Any other colorways of this study, such as a dapple grey, were not produced by the original Connoisseur of Malvern studio.)
This charming study of a mare and foal is called Windborn and was an edition of 100 in 1985. It is 15” high and 21” long overall including the cherry wood base. (Any other colorways of this study, or any in the same colors but named “Flight and Fancy” instead, were not produced by the original Connoisseur of Malvern studio.)
The foal was issued as a separate study called Arab foal ‘Freedom’ as an edition of 100 on a recessed cherry wood plinth; the height is given in Connoisseur’s 1986 catalog as 11.75″. It is important to note that the three other colorways of ‘Freedom’ (a slightly darker light bay with black points, a dark chestnut with a white blaze, and a pinto) are sometimes seen for sale but those versions were not produced by the original Connoisseur of Malvern studio even though they bear a backstamp that includes the Connoisseur name. The only original 1985 Connoisseur of Malvern ‘Freedom’ foal is the colorway that is shown in the photos above.
The sense of speed and movement present in Khan is simply breathtaking. This is a large piece, measuring over 2 ft tall, 14” long, and 11” deep on its recessed cherry plinth as shown in the first photograph. Issued in 1985 as an edition of 10. The standard production base is shown in the first photo. Brielle Galleries, which was one of Connoisseur’s premier USA retailers, also offered a custom vitrine for an additional $2500; they also offered custom wood bases. An example of the custom bases is the octagonal one seen in the second photograph.
Additional views of this extremely detailed sculpture. The bowstring is fine wire and the horse’s reins are metal.
One of the most technically ambitious pieces that the Connoisseur of Malvern studio produced was the racing study Win, Place and Show. An edition of 10 in 1985, it is shown on the final page of their 1986 catalog and was, of course, designed by Richard Sefton. It was commissioned by Brielle Galleries to celebrate the April 1985 re-opening of the Garden State Park racecourse after the grandstand had been completely destroyed by a massive fire in 1977. In the words of reporter William Roswell who was at the track at that time,
In just 10 short minutes, I watched the flames spread from one end of the old wooden grandstand to the other. Thick, black smoke was now rising thousands of feet in the air. As I tried to get closer to the front gate of the track, I was pushed back by hot, glowing embers raining down from the clouds of smoke over my head…I noticed the flames leaping from the statue of a horse and rider atop the roof of the grandstand. The sculpture looked almost alive, running in and out of the dark, chunky smoke.
The Connoisseur sculpture is 18” high, 25.5″ wide and 13.25″ deep on its accompanying solid wood base. The surface texture of the porcelain base mimics a dirt track and the shape of the base itself approximates that of a horseshoe or horse’s hoof – a “solid hippocrepiform” shape, for the technically minded!
Perhaps not apparent at first glance is the technical expertise that went into the design of this piece: Each of the three horses is delicately balanced on a very small area of contact with the base, and the grouping-together presented a huge challenge in the initial firing process. Every multi-mold piece of porcelain must have sufficient extraneous clay ‘support pieces’ placed around it so that the firing process results in everything ending up at the correct place despite the inevitable movement and shrinkage. In the case of Win, Place and Show, a full two-thirds more support material was needed for the firing process than was actually contained in the study itself!
Brielle Galleries placed this ad in the May 10, 1986 issue of the Thoroughbred Record. The price is given at $14,500 and includes this option:
Sculptures will be individually created, providing you with the opportunity to have jockey silks hand-decorated in the stable racing colors of your preference.
I’m surprised that this line was so awkwardly worded; it’s actually a bit of a grammatical mess. A better option would have been “…the opportunity to have the jockey silks painted in your choice of racing-stable colors.”
Unfortunately, these are the only images I have found of this study; if anyone has additional views to share, there is a contact form on the About the Chatsworth Lady page.
Chigo was a limited edition of 25, issued in 1986, and is 20″ high on its recessed cherry base, and 19″ wide. It retailed for $11,250 at introduction. The Gion Festival, celebrated during the entire month of July, is the most famous in Japan. “The Chigo” represents the pageboy of the gods and is an integral part of one of the rituals because he acts as the intermediary between the people and the gods. The sword he carries will be used to cut a sacred straw during the ceremonies at the shrine to which he rides in procession.
Another massive and incredibly detailed sculpture is Guardian Spirit, a 1988 edition of 15. It measures 24” x 20”.
Sadly, the example shown in these three detail photos has damage to the reins and various other delicate components. It was also missing its wood base.
The studio produced this study of Bellerophon and Pegasus as an exclusive edition for Brielle Galleries. Bellerophon’s sword and helmet plume are sterling silver. I hope to eventually obtain a better photo of this piece and its backstamp showing the details and actual title.
Not quite a horse, but nevertheless an equine, is Fiesta, an issue of 25 dating from 1988 and 19” high. Notice the fine detail and shading in the burro’s coat, the panniers and sombrero, the poncho fabric, and even the decoration on the rider’s guitar. And those melons look almost good enough to eat!
[A sculpture of a rider astride a bucking bronco – known variously as ‘Bronco Buster’ and/or ‘Get Off My Back’ – was originally created by Richard Sefton during his time at the original Connoisseur of Malvern studio; however, it was never produced for retail by them. The full story of the eventual retail offering of that piece is told in The Curious Case of the Connoisseur Cowboy.]
Mr. Sefton, who died of cancer in 2008, is shown in this 2005 photograph taken by Douglas Jackson. His artistry is sorely missed.
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