Pair of Sphinxes

Made by the Bow porcelain factory, London, c. 1748 - 1774

Made in London, England, Europe

c. 1750

Soft-paste porcelain

4 3/4 x 4 3/4 x 2 3/8 inches (12 x 12 x 6 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 279, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Morris Hawkes, 1942

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Additional information:
  • PublicationPorcelain

    Devoid of such traditional characteristics as wings, squared headdress, and hieratic pose, these sphinxes are fashionably attired and set almost rakishly on a sloping, scroll base. The ruff around the neck and the soft cap are typical features of mid-eighteenth-century costume, while the heavy pearl necklace and earrings and the coiffure pulled away from the face in rolls whimsically suggest a return to late-seventeenth-century styles. Decorative hair styles and jewelry borrowed from earlier sources are frequent characteristics of portraits by Thomas Frye (1710 - 1762), and Irish painter and engraver who about 1744 participated in the founding of the Bow China Works in Stratford Langthorne (East London) and served as its manager until 1759.

    These sphinxes have often been said to represent the popular British actress Peg Woffington, and although Bow did produce theatrical figures (for example, a Kitty Clive in white, dated 1750, to which this sphinx has also been compared), they seem, as in a series of later Frye mezzotints, not real portraits but fanciful works created for their diverse poses. Designed for table or mantelpiece ornament, the sphinxes are probably derived from reclining sphinx figures that appear in contemporary French decorative designs (notably those of Jacques-Francois Blondel). Similar figures were also produced in white at the Chelsea factory, and those in fact may pre-date, and hence have inspired, these sphinxes made at Bow. Kathryn B. Hiesinger, from Guides to European Decorative Arts: Porcelain (1984), p. 32.

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