Early 20th Century
Measurements: Height 25cm (10in)
Modelled as Major Sir Nevile Rodwell Wilkinson, K.C.V.O.(1869-1940) in ceremonial dress of the senior Irish herald and registrar of the Order of St Patrick.
Sir Nevile Wilkinson was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, and commissioned into the Coldstream Guards in 1890. He served in the Boer War and retired from the Army in 1907. He was appointed Ulster King of Arms in 1908, succeeding the disgraced previous office-holder Sir Arthur Vicars after the theft of the St Patrick regalia. From 1915 he saw further military service as a staff officer during the First World War. As a Coldstream Guards officer is highly likely he knew Major E.G. Christie-Miller (1880-1967) who in the 1920s and 30’s acted as an import agent for Sachsische Porzellan Manufaktur Dresden (the Dresden factory) which produced a fine range of military themed figures for several London retailers.
In his role as a senior herald, Wilkinson spent most of his time in London despite most of the records relating to his post as overseer of Irish heraldry and genealogy being held at Dublin Castle. However, by 1923, Wilkinson had begun visiting the Irish office regularly, which caused a minor political problem for the fledging Irish government for sixteen years. It was discovered around 1923 that the office of Ulster King of Arms had not been legally transferred to the Irish government and since the office was created by Royal Prerogative in 1552, the British government said that they could not transfer the office to Ireland. Eventually, the Irish government decided in 1930 to let Wilkinson continue his work until his death, at which point the office would be considered by the Irish government to have lapsed.
Wilkinson was also the designer of two famous dollhouses, Tatiana’s Palace, completed and inaugurated in 1922 by Queen Mary) and Pembroke Palace (completed in 1907). He was married to Lady Beatrix Francis Gertrude Herbert, first daughter of the 14th Earl of Pembroke in 1903.
Of the numerous European porcelain factories that produced military figures during the 19th and 20th centuries, Sachsische Porzellan Manufaktur Dresden (the Dresden factory) stands out as the finest producer in terms of sculpting and painting.
The factory was founded in 1872 by Carl Thieme, an antiques dealer and porcelain retailer who employed porcelain workers from the bankrupt Buxdorf manufactory. By the 1890’s it was under the management of Karl August Kuntzsch, a talented modeller and employee of the Thieme family. Kuntzsch introduced the factory’s wares to foreign markets and it was under his tenure that the production of military figures began in 1912, with the series of French Napoleonic subjects, the first of these being an equestrian figure of Napoleon (an example of which may be seen at Winston Churchill's former home, Chartwell in Kent). However, owing to the antipathy between France and Germany arising from the war of 1870, these early pieces were often marked underneath with the signature of the French Imperial Sevres factory, presumably at the insistence of French retailers to disguise their German origins. In 1913 a series of Italian historical and military figures followed.
Between 1912 and 1914, with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo approaching, the London retailer Thomas Goode & Co., of Mayfair planned to offer a series of figures representing the British regiments of Wellington's allied army. A number of these specially marked, and now rare figures were imported from Saxony into England prior to the Waterloo centenary, but with the outbreak of war in August 1914 steps were taken by Goode and other retailers to disguise the German origins of these figures by covering Dresden factory marks or ascribing them to English porcelain manufacturers, such as the ceramic manufacturer Copeland Spode, which produced a parallel if marginally inferior series of British figures at that time.
At the start of the First World War, the Dresden factory continued its production of military porcelain figures with the introduction of German subjects to emphasize the Prussian martial tradition and the German contribution to the Grand Alliance against Napoleon.
There appear to have been no additions to the military figures until 1929 when the factory's chief sculptor, Reinhold Braunschmitt introduced the series representing the uniforms of the three senior regiments of British Foot Guards from 1660 to 1930. It has been suggested that these figures were the result of a collaboration between Major E.G. Christie-Miller (1880-1967) and Karl August Kuntzsch’s two sons who succeeded him in running the factory in 1920. Christie-Miller was a Coldstream Guards officer with a strong sense of regimental tradition. He was a prisoner of war from 1914 to 18 and upon his release had been commissioned to tour the country and report on conditions in Germany. Accordingly his command of German allowed him to fully communicate his ideas to Braunschmitt and his superiors. The results of their efforts were a fine range of Guards figures for retailer Fortnum & Mason, which may be seen as the high water mark of their military figure production.
The success of these figures resulted in the creation of a further range of figures for the British market designed by Braunschmitt and fellow sculptors Josef Dobner and Fritz Schlesinger (fl. 1928-38), and reflecting the history of the Royal Navy during the 18th and 19th centuries. The coronation of George VI in 1937 provided the Kuntzsch brothers with a substantial order from the British court for their traditional wares and corresponding additions to the existing range of military and ceremonial figures. These included officers of the Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards, Irish Guards, Welsh Guards, Ulster King of Arms, and members of the Honourable Corps of Gentleman-at-Arms and the Royal Company of Archers (Sovereign’s Bodyguard for Scotland). However state interference in all areas of economic production impacted on the factory in 1936 when the use of gold was disallowed on the edges of cups, bowls, boxes, vases and presumably all military figures. An inconspicuous gold-brown color was used as a substitute, which has been seen on French Napoleonic figures.
After 1945, Emil Alfred Kuntzsch slowly restarted production, but came under pressure from Communist officials to submit the business to state ownership. His resistance resulted in his arrest on trumped up charges of criminal economic activity in 1950. The factory was held in trust until 1971 when it became part of a group of state controlled manufacturers. Lack of direct contact with informed retailers in the U.K. and the passing of the skilled military figure painters who had worked at the factory in the heyday of the 1930's coincided with a general decline in the standards of production. In 1972 a number of British military figure moulds, including those of the Guards and Waterloo series' were dispersed to the neighbouring Sitzendorf factory. Sitzendorf's output, however, varied widely in quality and style of painting, in the cutting of details and fitting of accoutrements, such as sword blades, scabbards, and plumes.