One of the several fascinating design genres produced by the Connoisseur of Malvern studio was their human studies. Richard Sefton in particular created incredibly realistic porcelain portraits that were often based on dance, literature, and other cultures.
Bugaku stands 20” (about 51 cm) tall on its cherry wood base and was a limited edition of 25 issued in 1983, designed by Richard Sefton. It retailed for $8250 in 1987. The highly detailed porcelain mask is removeable. It should be noted that this study came with a recessed cherry wood base as shown; any that may be offered for sale without the base are not in original condition.
Bugaku is the name of a traditional Japanese dance form noted for its precise movements performed at a slow tempo. The word bugaku actually refers to the dance itself; another word, gagaku, refers to the music that accompanies it. The bugaku costume was often specific to the dance being performed. The costume shown in this sculpture was used for the Ryo-o (“King Lion”) dance. Each part of the costume had a specific name; for instance, this mask is called the ryooh no men. The elaborate piece covering the chest and abdomen is the ryoto and the long train/panel in back is the ho no kyo.
The ‘King Lion’ dance and costume date from the Heian Period (784-1185), so named after the then-capital city of Japan which was Heian-kyo; we know it today as Kyoto. Coincidentally this is not the only Connoisseur sculpture to reference the Heian period; another was a horse and rider study named ‘Child of the East’. Additional details about that sculpture can be found in The Sefton Equines.
The Thai Dancer stands about 20” (51 cm) tall. This was an issue of 50 in 1987, also by Sefton. She is shown in one of the traditional theatre dance costumes of Thailand and wearing the magnificent crown headdress known as Chada.
Black Watch Piper, from 1988, is an issue of 25. It is 21.5” (54.6 cm) high and was probably by Richard Sefton although this is not yet confirmed. The activities of the real Black Watch date back to 1725 but the official forming of the four companies took place in 1739. Their original uniforms included a twelve-yard-long length of tartan. The “black” part of the name refers to the dark color of that tartan, and the “watch” to the companies’ duty – i.e., to watch over the Highlands.
The Last Warrior, also from 1988, by Richard Sefton. Like the Piper, he is also 21” (54.6 cm) high and an edition of 25. The narrow, almost Roman-like, feather headdress is called a roach or porcupine headdress. They were made of stiff animal hair such as porcupine, moose, or deer tail. Much more common than the popular conception of “war bonnets”, these headdresses were worn by Native American warriors. (It is likely that this study originally came on a wood base, which is missing from the example shown above.)
‘Brothers’ Evenki Child on Reindeer measures 19” high x 15” wide (48 cm x 38 cm) on its walnut plinth, and was an edition of 25 in 1984 at $5500. The Evenk is an ethnic group native to Siberia which includes two separate cultures: the farmers who live mostly in Mongolia and northeastern China, and the hunters of the boreal forests who also breed reindeer. Connoisseur’s sculpture clearly portrays a young boy from the latter group. Interestingly, the widely used descriptive “shaman” is actually an Evenki word.
This graceful geisha by Sefton was issued in two different colorways of her cranes robe: red and pink. She stands 17” (43 cm) high on her wood base. The red-robe version is Flower Song and the name of the pink version may have been Kyoto (this is not yet confirmed by a backstamp photo.) Both colorways were editions of 50 although it’s not known yet whether they were issued simultaneously or whether one color was first. It has been claimed that the pink version may have been first but until I find a backstamp photo of ‘Kyoto’ this is unconfirmed. Flower Song was definitely issued in 1988. (The Kyoto shown above is missing her fan and the lower parts of the wisteria sprays in her hair are broken off; the Flower Song example is intact.)
Be aware that the red version may have been re-issued under a different name during the early 2000s by the non-original studio. As explained in Identifying Original Studio Connoisseur, later replicas of closed 1980s and early 1990s sculptures will not have any artist icons in the backstamp.
This charming group is called Happiness and is 11” (28 cm) high on its walnut base. This was an edition of only 50, issued in 1985; its 1987 retail price was $2650.
Tai Pan is a 1984 Sefton portrait based on the James Clavell novel of the same name and depicts the main character Dirk Straun. A limited edition of only 10, he is approximately 22” (56 cm) high and retailed for $5250 in 1987. This sculpture was sold only at Brielle Galleries in New Jersey. The stamp on the underside includes a reproduction of James Clavell’s signature and also the word “taipan” in Chinese, meaning the owner or head of a foreign business.
The photo above shows only the upper part of the very heavy crystal-and-walnut base that accompanied this sculpture; for some reason this base seems to always be missing when the occasional example is offered for sale nowadays! Another Clavell character study can be seen in Thrump-O-Moto by Connoisseur.
The faery sculpture Fantasia was an edition of only 10 in 1985, priced at $5500. She is 18″ (46 cm) high and 13″ (33 cm) wide and deep. The Connoiseur catalog photo caption mentions a recessed cherry plinth although it is not shown in their photograph.
Another sculpture which may well have been by Richard Sefton was mentioned in a 1988 magazine article as a new release for that year: a sled dog team “led by an Eskimo” and named Hard Lesson. It was an edition of 15 and the USA retail at introduction was $13,500. No dimensions were given but I assume it must have been commensurate in size with the other large Sefton groups. I’m hoping to eventually locate a photograph of this undoubtedly-impressive piece!
The Connoisseur of Malvern ballet sculptures are shown here.
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