Although we know of five pieces of English porcelain signed by Fidelle Duvivier, this is the only one decorated with an animal fable subject.(i) It appears to have been inspired by one of Aesop’s fables: The Fox and the Crane (also known as The Fox and the Stork in some published works), although no exact engraved source has been identified. Or, there may be a connection to the animal fables written by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) that appeared between 1668 and 1694 in France, where the fable is known as Le renard et la cigogne.
Aesop is traditionally believed to have been a slave from Phrygia who lived around 600 B.C. and is credited as the author of the world’s best known collection of morality tales. But, in truth, these numerous tales were gathered across the centuries and from many cultures. Popular in Europe by the fifteenth century, they were translated into many languages. These stories were told (not only to children) as a means of teaching a moral or lesson, with animals or insects representing humans and mimicking human-life situations. Jean de La Fontaine incorporated many of Aesop’s fables into his own, including The Fox and the Stork (5).
In the first etching (3) below we can see the entire story: in the foreground a crane is drinking from a jug with the fox helplessly licking the outside of the glass vessel for any stray drops. In the background we see what transpired at their first dinner rendezvous, with the fox lapping up his soup while the crane is unable to drink from the shallow plate. In (4) it is the stork that has turned the tables on the fox.
While living in Staffordshire, Duvivier might have encountered any number of English fable engravings – perhaps in children’s literature of that time. From a letter he wrote in 1790 to William Duesbury II in Derby, we know that during the time he was decorating for the New Hall factory (from 1785 to at least 1790) and doing freelance work for such factories as Turner’s and Ralph Wedgwood’s, he was also engaged as a drawing teacher in a local school in Stone and had similar employment at a boarding school in Newcastle under Lyme. (iii) Perhaps he used such material in his drawing lessons for the children.
6 Duvivier’s signature on the lower portion of a New Hall mug (C.128.1977) Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Photo by the author
The signature. The fact that Fidelle Duvivier was allowed to sign this cup and the other New Hall pieces could indicate that they were all commissioned works, done outside the factory. It may imply that Duvivier was employed and paid as an outside decorator at New Hall during the years 1785 to 1790 (and later), since he was apparently allowed to work for other nearby factories and have two days free to teach drawing to children.
His signature on the New Hall mug in the Victoria and Albert Museum (6) closely resembles the one seen on the base of the fable cup (2); the vertical line extending upward from the capital D is conspicuous. But what do the three dots after the F signify? Several authors have stated that it suggests Duvivier was a freemason, having joined a lodge in Tournai very early in his life; however, these masonic connections have not been confirmed.
Attribution history. In English ceramic literature this cup went through a few faulty attributions before being identified as New Hall. In 1941 the earliest Duvivier researcher Major William H. Tapp deemed it a Worcester example; in 1951 Franklin A Barrett considered it to be either Caughley or early Coalport. But by 1978 David Holgate had correctly identified it as New Hall.(iv)
(i) There is a twice-signed cylindrical New Hall mug in the Victoria and Albert Museum (C. 128.1977), one signature shown here (6); other pictures are shown online at their website. A second New Hall example is illustrated in In the Footsteps of Fidelle Duvivier (5 on p. 6) and presently on loan to the Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent. A third signed piece is the porcelain “Gerverot Beaker,” made at the John Turner factory, dated 1787, and now in the British Museum, London (inv. 2010,8013.1). The fourth signed piece is a Worcester teapot, dated 1772, in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (see p. 56, no. 62a, b in Footsteps).
(ii) V. S. Vernon Jones, Aesop’s Fables. Facsimile of the 1912 edition (Wordsworth Classics, 1994), available online at www.gutenberg.org.
(iii) David Holgate, “Fidelle Duvivier Paints New Hall,” ECC Transactions, Vol. 11, pt. 1, (1981), p. 19.
(iv) Geoffrey Godden discussed these attributions in his New Hall Porcelains (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2004), p. 161, 181.