Among the most unusual of Diane Lewis’ works is the series of porcelain and ormolu (gilt bronze) florals done in collaboration with Ronald Van Ruyckevelt. Diane and “Ronnie” were co-workers at Royal Worcester starting in the early 1950s. In the mid-1960s Van Ruyckevelt also established a small studio of his own on Portland Road in Malvern, with the goal of producing a series of floral studies combining porcelain flowers with gilded bronze stems, branches and leaves. He sought the help of Diane and Terry Lewis in launching the project. Because Van Ruyckevelt was still under contract to Royal Worcester, arrangements were made with the studio to provide the ‘metal’ part of the production process because they had the facilities in place to do so.
The timing of the project coincided with the departure of Diane Lewis from Royal Worcester in mid-1965, as she was then pregnant with her first child. This allowed her to devote her attention to the design and actual creation of the flowers for the next four years, which also saw the birth of the Lewis’ second child. The first pieces appeared for retail sale in 1968 and were marketed in the UK, Europe and the USA. Each was intended as a numbered limited edition of 500 although only one of the designs reached that production goal.
These are truly remarkable pieces in both design and execution. Each petal of the porcelain flowers is created entirely by hand. The arrangement between the Van Ruyckevelt studio and Royal Worcester – where Terry Lewis and Ronald Van Ruyckevelt continued to work until the 1970s — was that the bronze elements would be cast at their foundry and then gilded: i.e., covered with a traditional mixture of gold and mercury. When fired in a kiln the mercury component burns away, leaving behind a coating of gold. This technique is known as ormolu and also as bronze doré; in the UK it is often called simply “gilt bronze”, or “gilded bronze’ in America.
Another aspect of the Van Ruyckevelt/Royal Worcester agreement was that although the pieces themselves would bear only the van Ruyckevelt Studio name, they would be marketed and sold exclusively by Royal Worcester.
The certificate of authenticity also emanated from the Malvern studio: The RVR monogram at the top, as well as the text (“..produced in my studios in Malvern..) clearly indicates this. However, the lower portion showing the Royal Worcester name has given rise to the occasional misattribution of them having been physically made at Worcester in their entirety.
The studies are shown in chronological order by retail release date. The backstamps do not include the edition size or the sculpture number; those are shown only on the COA. The A-format number on the circular stamp, set into the felted underside of the base, is the design number.
Each of the designs was named after a town or region in France; Mennecy is located about 33 km south of Paris. This is one of two “companion” designs in the series, each being a different single stem of a white rose flushed yellow at each petal base.
Note that on one stem the third flower is a bud whilst on the other sculpture one sees the first stages of the formation of the “hip” after that flower has faded. A ladybug explores a leaf on the ‘rosebud’ stem. Each stands approximately 16.5″ (42 cm) high on its black Ashburton marble base.
It appears that despite being designed as a pair, the studies were sold separately. Both first appeared at retail in 1968 as design numbers A101 and A102. For some reason I have not yet seen a Mennecy stamp that includes the design number, although all of the later designs’ stamps do. According to one price guide, the A101 design had a final edition size of 338, and A102 stopped just short of that at 334.
For Honfleur the roses are pink, and if both of the above photos are accurate colorwise there may have been considerable variation. Certainly the lower single example appears to be more of a solid pink than the pink blushed pair above it. For these the bases are white Sicilian marble, and the design numbers are A105 and A106. I have conflicting sources as to the final edition size of this pair, but two out of three report both designs as having stopped at 290 out of the intended 500. These are slightly shorter than Mennecy, at just about 16″ (40 cm) high. Honfleur is a port township in northwestern France, on the banks of the Seine.
Honfleur was introduced in 1968. This December 1969 newspaper advertisement by the B. Altman department store in NY City describes it as “Honfleur, ormolu and china flowers by Ronald Van Ruyckevelt, for Royal Worcester, each $400” … thus evidence that these were sold individually rather than as a set. Unfortunately, ads such as this saying “for Royal Worcester” gave the misleading impression that they were Royal Worcester branded sculptures.
This marvelous spray of cherry blossoms, Argenteuil, foreshadows one of Diane Lewis’ porcelain studies that would appear in 1985 as the limited edition Cherry seen in Flowers Part Two. Only 6.5″ (16.5 cm ) high on its black Ashburton marble base, it is 14.5″ (almost 37 cm) wide. Introduced in 1969 as design A108, the edition stopped at 338 pieces. The town of Argenteuil is located about 12 km northwest of Paris.
Of similar size, St. Denis displays both flower and fruit of the blackberry among the gilt stems and leaves. Issued in 1969 as design A109, this appears to be the only design that completed its goal of 500 pieces. The base is black Ashburton marble, and the overall dimensions are 6.5″ (16.5 cm) high and 10″ (25.5 cm) wide. One seller cited the weight of this piece as 5 lbs (XX). There are several communes in France named St. Denis and so I’m unsure which one this study was named after.
As yet this is the only photo I’ve found of the third 1969 introduction, titled Castelnau. It is described in Royal Worcester’s database as being a “pair of carnations (pink and yellow)” on white Sicilian marble bases, indicating that this — like Mennecy and Honfleur — was another two-design issue. This image appeared in a 1971 Bergdorf Goodman store advertisement for several Royal Worcester pieces. Dimensions were given as 14″ high and 8.5″ at the widest point (35.5 cm x 21.5 cm), the edition size as 500, and price as $750; that would have been per-study, not for two.
The color cited in the Royal Worcester list is confusing because four appear in the pictured example: white, yellow, red and what may be a dark pink; however, a different reference citing the final edition sizes says “pink, 429; yellow, 163” which indicates two colorways. But which one — the pink, or the yellow — is shown in the photo above? My guess would be the “yellow” even though only one of the five flowers acutally is that color. I hope to eventually find a photo of the other piece or, better yet, the two together.
The design numbers were not supplied by either source. Looking at the other design numbers only poses more questions, unless Castelnau was originally intended to be released in 1968 “between” the other two rose pairs, Mennecy (A101/A102) and Honfleur (A105/A106). If so, the Castelnau pair should be A103 and A104. Perhaps one or both will appear for sale online someday with photos of the stamp(s) that will solve this mini-mystery. If any reader has better photos of the Castelnau carnations and would like to share them, there is a direct-conact form on the About the Archive page.
As with St. Denis, there are multiple communes (towns) that incorporate “Castelnau” in their names and so it’s impossible to know if any one in particular was meant. The word roughly translates as “new castle”, nau meaning new in the Occitan dialect often used in that region.
Another Diane Lewis tour de force is this marvelous lilac spray called Languedoc. It is the largest of the horizontal studies, at almost 10″ (15 cm) high and 14″ (36 cm) wide. Assigned design number A111, this was the ninth and final piece in the series, and was released in 1971. It is also the second-smallest final edition size, with only 216 produced of the intended 500. The Languedoc region is one of the major wine-producing areas in the south of France.
Based on the 1969 pricing of $400 each for Honfleur, we can estimate that the more detailed single studies such as Argenteuil and Languedoc were probably in the $500-$600 range.
A second glance at the design numbers shows two ’empty slots’: A107 and A110, assuming that Languedoc at A111 was to be the last. It’s interesting to speculate about what those missing designs may have been, had they ever been produced. Could A110 have been a second, different flower-and-berry study such as a raspberry, sloe or quince, to follow St. Denis at A109? If so, perhaps A107 might have been a third flowering tree in the style of Argenteuil and Languedoc. And why the one-year gap between the 1969 and 1971 issues? Nevertheless, whatever these unreleased mystery designs were, they surely must have been yet more fine examples of the porcelain floral artistry of Diane Lewis.
[Ronald Van Ruyckevelt left Royal Worcester permanently in 1974, and moved to the USA a few years later where he began designing bronzes and collector plates for production by The Franklin Mint company in Pennsylvania. I have been unable to ascertain whether he operated his own porcelain studio as well. He died in the spring of 2016 at the age of 88 after relocating to New Mexico.]
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