The History of the Holburne Collection
The Collection: Ceramics
One of the most impressive parts of Sir William's collection must have been the ever-growing collection of porcelain, arranged in crowded and eclectic displays on every surface of the first-floor drawing rooms of Cavendish Crescent. Sir William seems to have been a passionate and generally accurate purchaser of eighteenth-century Chinese, German, French and English porcelain. The small size, delicacy, complex design and decoration and technical mastery of material enabled Sir William to display his interest and expertise in porcelain in hundreds of individual items in a relatively small space. His finest pieces of Meissen and Chelsea porcelain were displayed in the Front Drawing Room with lesser pieces in the Back Drawing Room. Sir William's remarkable collection of Wedgwood medallions and plaques was housed in a rosewood collector's cabinet in the Front Drawing Room, while his Wedgwood vases were kept in his second-floor bedroom. In total, by the end of his life, his ceramic collection amounted to approximately thirteen hundred pieces, nearly all of which were on display in three rooms that were in constant domestic use.
The Catalogue of the Holburne of Menstrie Art Museum, published in 1887 lists the pottery and porcelain in the following categories: Italian Maiolica, Wedgwood Ware, Oriental China, Sevres etc., Dresden, Chelsea, Crown Derby and Worcester. With the exception of the Chinese armorial service (C804), it is not known what pieces were inherited by Sir William from his parents and grandparents. Oriental porcelain considerably outnumbers the other categories: it ranges from extensive dinner services that were clearly intended for use, to rarer individual pieces of late seventeenth century Imari.
With the exception of the maiolica and Wedgwood, the majority of Holburne's ceramic collection consisted of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century porcelain. He collected both rococo and neoclassical pieces but seems particularly drawn to the productions of the Chelsea manufactory.