'Lady Craveing's Teapot', a very important English porcelain teapot Circa 1779-1783.

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Lot 146
'Lady Craveing's Teapot', a very important English porcelain teapot
Circa 1779-1783.

Sold for £ 22,800 (US$ 31,463) inc. premium
'Lady Craveing's Teapot', a very important English porcelain teapot
Circa 1779-1783.
Possibly Derby or Chelsea-Derby, finely modelled in the form of Lady Elizabeth Craven, her head forming the cover, dressed in an officer's uniform wearing a sword and Garter star and a sash inscribed in gold with a quotation from the prologue to The Sleep Walker 'performed at Newbury Written by Lady C', borders of stiff leaves in turquoise and gold around the base beneath neat, formal bands, 16.5cm high (restoration to cracks and breaks in cover, body and base) (2)


  • Lady Elizabeth Craven (1750-1828) was a socialite whose life was full of scandal. She was reported to have had many affairs during her tumultuous marriage to Lord William Craven, a cousin of King George III. In 1775 she had a much-publicised affair with M. Le comte de Guines, the French Ambassador. Her husband Lord Craven found out and on that occasion he forgave her, but other liaisons followed, centred around Lady Craven’s luxurious cottage on the banks of the Thames at Fulham (The location now known as Craven Cottage, the site of Fulham Football Club). Lady Craven’s tea parties were the talk of London society.

    During her marriage Lady Craven dabbled as a playwright. This teapot records the very short run of her first play 'The Sleep Walker', which was performed at Newbury in March 1778. In reality she had merely translated a French original by Pond de Vile and had written her own Prologue. According to this teapot, Lady Craven’s prologue mentioned a character who …’like a Tea-pot stand’s exactly thus’. Her close friend, Horace Walpole published The Sleep Walker in August 1778 at his printing press at Strawberry Hill, as a favour to Lady Craven, although privately he made fun of her work. Walpole wrote to the Rev Cole, sending him…

    '…a translation of a French play, that I have just printed there. It is not for your
    reading, but as one of the Strawberry editions, and one of the rarest; for I have
    printed but seventy-five copies. It was to oblige Lady Craven, the translatress.'

    In another note Horace Walpole added a verse of his own…

    'Translation does to genius not belong;
    But its own modesty repairs the wrong
    And while it waves th’ invention it could boast
    It gains a virtue for a talent lost.

    Later in 1778 Lady Craven’s first real play, The Miniature Picture was also performed at the town hall in Newbury for the benefit of the poor of the town. This was subsequently performed for four days at Drury Lane. In July 1781 her musical play The Silver Tankard was also performed in The Haymarket. Lady Craven is reported to have sat in the front row during the performances in order to receive maximum adulation from her society friends.

    Lord Craven tired of his wife’s very public affairs. They separated in 1780 and in 1783 he effectively banished her abroad. She moved to France taking her youngest son with her and for some years she stayed very much in exile. She became close to the Margrave of Anspach, a nephew of George II’s wife Queen Caroline and also a nephew of Frederick the Great. Lady Craven embarked on a series of adventurous journeys, travelling all over Europe, into Russia and Turkey. Her letters to the Margrave, detailing her adventures, were published. One travelling companion was Henry Vernon, a soldier and nephew of Admiral Vernon. Lady Craven’s travelogue, A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople was published in 1789.

    Between 1785 and 1790 Lady Craven wrote repeatedly to influential friends in England petitioning on behalf of the Margrave of Anspach to help him obtain the Blue Ribbon of the order of the Garter. Her petitioning became something of an obsession. After the death of the Margrave’s wife in 1791, Lady Craven came with him to England but they were not universally welcomed as she was still married to the ailing Lord Craven. The couple returned to France to bide their time. Lord Craven died in September 1791. His widow married the Margrave of Anspach the following month. Her former friend, Horace Walpole, commented on the hasty union…

    "Lady Craven received the news of her Lord’s death on a Friday, went into weeds on
    Saturday, and into white satin and many diamonds on Sunday…"

    She was now the Margravine of Anspach and she returned to London with her new husband, occupying a grand house, Brandenburgh House in Hammersmith. She was determined to entertain on a lavish scale, but society was not prepared to forgive and forget and generally gave her the cold shoulder. Even though he was the Margrave’s cousin, King George III very publicly snubbed the newly-weds and refused their invitations. Instead the Margravine bought favour by lavish spending. She built her own theatre alongside her house and put on performances of her own plays. The Margravine and her son mostly took the lead roles. For the opening of her theatre in April 1793 the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Clarence attended her performance, which was followed by a grand masquerade ball. The Margravine surprised all the guests by handing out outrageous costumes and even the Princes changed clothes several times.

    The following month the Margrave and Margravine breakfasted with the Prince of Wales at Carlton House. Her theatre performances continued—in June 1795 The Sleep Walker was performed—but gradually her friends lost interest and audiences were often pitiful, particularly as the Margrave’s financial position could not keep up with his wife’s pretensions. After the Margrave's death in 1806, his widow moved back to the Continent, settling in Naples where she died at Craven Villa in 1828. Her memoirs were published in London in 1826.

    So, what of the teapot itself. Since it first appeared for sale in 1875 it has been described as a likeness of Lady Craven herself. The portrait on the cover certainly has feminine features, albeit on a gentleman’s body. On the subject’s blue ribbon sash is the gilded title ‘LADY CRAVEING’S Tea-Pot’, a pun on her name and presumably her appetite for love. On stylistic grounds the pot dates from the late 1770s or 1780s. It refers to an obscure production of a play in Newbury in 1778 when a character was described as looking like a teapot. The choice of a teapot shape may also be a reference to Lady Craven’s notorious tea parties at Craven Cottage between 1780-83.

    The pot is unlikely to have been made during Lady Craven’s exile abroad between 1783 and 1791, unless there is some significance in the blue garter sash wrapped around the teapot. This could be a hidden reference to another of her 'cravings'- the desire to obtain the Blue Ribbon of The Garter for her lover, the Margrave. It is also possible that the officer's uniform could relate to her travelling companion, Henry Vernon. Once she returned to England after her marriage in 1791, she was no longer Lady Craven and was known as the Margravine of Anspach. The inscription on the teapot would not have been appropriate.

    A date of 1783 or earlier leaves few possible makers. Although it was once believed to be Worcester, the neo-classical style is of course associated with Derby and Chelsea Derby. When the teapot was sold at Christie’s in 1979 it was understandably catalogued as Derby. The modelling is very sophisticated and it is worth noting a curious link to a very well-known Derby figure. The handle of Lady Craven’s teapot is very close indeed to the shape of the left arm of the female 'Ranelagh Dancer'.

    One other possible maker needs to be to be considered. James Neale made phosphatic porcelain of high quality and as a superior pottery manufacturer certainly had modellers capable of creating this teapot. The earliest certain date for Neale & Co. porcelain is 1784, however. If this is a Neale porcelain teapot it must date from the period when Lady Craven was in exile travelling around Europe. This seems less likely.

    This teapot was reputed to have belonged to King George IV but there is no evidence surviving to support this. It entered the collection of John F Sharpin of Scarborough and was sold at Sotheby’s on May 15 1875. It was purchased by the then Earl of Craven whose descendants sold it at Christie’s on 14 May 1979, lot 62.
'Lady Craveing's Teapot', a very important English porcelain teapot Circa 1779-1783.
'Lady Craveing's Teapot', a very important English porcelain teapot Circa 1779-1783.
'Lady Craveing's Teapot', a very important English porcelain teapot Circa 1779-1783.
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