ca.1822 (made)

Height: 16.2 cm, Width: 7.0 cm, Depth: 4.6 cm

S.1652-2014 T&P

Lucy Eliza Vestris (1797-1856) or Madame Vestris as Paul in the 'musical drama' Paul and Virginia by James Cobb (1756-1818) based on the 1788 novel by Jacques-Henri Bernadin de Saint-Pierre (1737-1814), composed by Joseph Mazzinghi (1765-1844) and William Reeve (1757-1815), Drury Lane Theatre, 26 January 1822. Glazed earthenware, Staffordshire, ca.1822

Glazed earthenware figurine representing Lucy Eliza Vestris as Paul in James Cobb's 'musical drama' Paul and Virginia, sitting on rocks or a tree stump, wearing white trousers and a white shirt with black spots and a black kerchief. His hands are clasped in prayer, and his blue jacket is draped over the rocks or stump to his right. The white base is decorated with a gilt line.

Simply-modelled Staffordshire figurines like this were popular mass-produced items in the mid 19th-century, made from moulds and based on contemporary prints. Intended as mantelpiece decoration for display against a wall there was rarely any detail or colouring on the backs, which gave rise to the soubriquet of some of them as 'flat-backs'. This figurine is uncoloured at the back but decorated with radiating lines etched in the clay. The English actress, singer and theatre manager Madame Vestris, the daughter of Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi and his wife, Theresa Jansen was born Lucy Eliza Bartolozzi in January 1797 at 72 Dean Street, Soho, London. In 1813 aged sixteen she embarked on an unsuccessful marriage with Auguste Armand Vestris, the dancing master at the King's Theatre who left her in 1821. She made her first professional appearance on the London stage aged eighteen on 20 July 1815, at the King's Theatre, as Proserpina in Peter Winter's Il Ratto di Proserpina, and her first appearance in English opera at Drury Lane Theatre, 19 Feb. 1820, as Lilla in Cobb's Siege of Belgrade. She was praised for her fine contralto voice and could have made her name in opera but instead became a great success in Drury Lane's production of Moncrieff's Giovanni in London, 30 May 1820, a burlesque of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Her role as Paul in Paul and Virgina was one of her most famous 'breeches' roles, and she became as well known for her beauty and her shapely legs in parts such as these, as for her acting ability. In 1830 she took over the Olympic Theatre where she engaged the actor Charles Mathews who became her second husband in 1838. She went on to manage both Covent Garden and the Lyceum theatres. The 'musical drama' Paul and Virginia was based upon the original French novel by Jacques-Henri Bernadin de Saint-Pierre and concerned two French children Paul and Virginia who grew up together in the French colony of Mauritius, where their mothers had been respectively abandoned and widowed. When Virginia's noble background was discovered she returned to France. Paul prayed for her return throughout their separation, and while in the book she was killed in a shipwreck during her return, the stage adaptation had a happier outcome. Paul is seen in this figurine praying for her return, whilst in a companion piece produced at the time he is on his knees thanking God for her safe return.

Another variant of this figurine exists in which Paul is clasping his hands but isn't praying, and doesn't have his jacket draped on the rocks beside him.

Gasson Collection

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website