Very rare Chelsea porcelain head to feature in Bonhams auction

A Masterpiece of 18th Century English Porcelain re-discovered

An immensely important, rare and charming porcelain head, made in the Chelsea porcelain factory, is the highlight of the next British Pottery & Porcelain auction on April 18th at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London. Fergus Gambon, Department Director of British Ceramics at Bonhams, was moved to tears by his first sight of the work, and its significance cannot be underestimated. He comments, "My heart stopped. I knew that the only known example of the model was in The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, regarded as a jewel in the crown of the ceramics collection there. No other example was recorded. Yet here was another.... and somehow even better. I was immediately struck by its radiance and beauty."

Fergus continues, "In contrast to the coloured example at Oxford, the Bonhams head has been left in the white as the potter intended. The unknown child's smiling face and thick, curly hair are beautifully modelled, beneath a glaze as smooth as silk. The result is a piece of sculpture of great delicacy and pathos."

It is a product of the early period of the Chelsea factory, dating to 1748-50. Chelsea china is much collected and has always been expensive. The factory, situated just a stone's throw from the Kings Road, was amongst the earliest to produce porcelain in England and its products were aimed at the very highest levels of 18th century society.

The identity of the subject and the sculptor of this iconic model have been much discussed by scholars and collectors. The head is sometimes said to represent Sophie Roubiliac, daughter of the sculptor Louis Francois Roubiliac. Sophie was the goddaughter of Nicholas Sprimont, proprietor of the Chelsea porcelain factory.

Specialists believe that the head has the potential to break the world record price for early English porcelain at auction, which is currently £223,650 for another piece of Chelsea sold in London in 2003.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

  1. Fergus Gambon
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7468 8245
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 8252

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