Boer War Discovery Page 92j

Rare Boer War Discoveries

Below are some of the items the Canadian Boer War Museum has added to its collections in its ongoing efforts to preserve important Canadian heritage memorabilia from this period.

Great Boer War Discoveries ( Aug. 2005)

The Staffordshire Boer War Generals
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Staffordshire Figure, General Sir Redvers Buller 1899
Orig. ceramic statue - Size - 12"
Found - Glasgow, UK
Without doubt, the Staffordshire figures of Boer War generals, that came out in 1900, were the worst likenesses ever to be produced in ceramics.

The first was probably General Buller, left and below, the first Boer War commander-in-chief in South Africa. These figures, universally manufactured in white, are popular because of their uniqueness and appeal as "camp art," not as great portraits.

We show two different figures of General Buller so that you can see that the painting has not really faded with the years, but is part of the deliberate lack of colouring original to the time.

The rear view is also typical of these figures; since they were expected to be placed on the mantel, against the wall, you would not be able to see the rear. It would be a waste to paint it then; no?

The venting hole, to let off pressure during the firing, is visible, on all these figures.

Guess Who's Who!

The potteries, seeing a new marketing initiative, joined the war effort early on, producing these huge 12 to 14" high mounted flatback figures of the major generals.

Staffordshire trundled out its older mounted figures of princes and kings, which it had been producing for decades, and mostly painted on new faces - all got red cheeks and mustaches - in the traditional Staffordshire style, leaving the rest of the figure mostly a white glaze.

(Though there has been some paint loss, they look essentially the way they were issued in 1900, with minimal colour added. At antique malls and shows, you can spot the white Staffordshire figures a mile away, specially the god-awful dogs. But they are tremendously popular.)

Below are the Staffordshire versions of Lord Kitchener, left, and General French.

What, you didn't recognize them right away?

Just in case you didn't see the obvious resemblance, the names were written on the base.
Above is a magic lantern slide of General French that you can compare with the figure on the right and with two more versions by different painters below.
Immediately below is a good example how Staffordshire used a typical Prussian general statue they had been making for decades, and just added Lord Kitchener's name on the bottom.

This is supposed to be the same Lord Kitchener featured in the statue above.

Where these painters working from photographs?

Compare this Staffordshire Kitchener (above) and the close up one right from above - the picture of rosy-cheeked health, with the Magic Lantern slide left.

How's that for a match!

Right he wears the World War I type forage cap that was already worn by generals during the Boer War.

It also gives you a close up view of the way the colour was applied - exceedingly sparingly and very quickly, even carelessly; except on the face. Well maybe the face?

Clearly Staffordshire had devised an "artistic" style, specially created for a modern mass market, that could have an assembly line of "no talents" make a living as painters.

General Baden-Powell (two above and below.) He was the most popular British hero of the war and so Staffordshire issued various versions of him (six in all shown on this page), one with more colour added (left).

This figure is very rare in that is has so much khaki colouring... Was this originally an all white figure like the others, and then was repainted and refired by someone else, perhaps even as late as a few years ago, to give a boring white statue a special antique appeal for the unwary collector?

Compare the Staffordshire Baden-Powell (left, right, and below), with the Magic Lantern slide photo...

Well the hat's not bad...

(Repaints of white bisque parian busts were commonly done, a century ago, just to make them more appealing, or for someone to while away a rainy afternoon.)

The one left, may be a latter day tarting up of an original done in white.

The three Baden-Powell equestrians, above and below, are especially sought after by collectors because of the antique craze for Boy Scout memorabilia.

The one right is more valuable because it is in better shape. The one below does not have a necklace; it is in fact a badly done repair. Staffordshire generals are rarely in good shape because they have so many fragile protrusions: heads, feet, tails. Heads are frequently broken off and reattached, like on the one below.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Staffordshire Figures, Generals Baden-Powell & Macdonald, 1900
Orig. ceramic statues - Size - 12"
Found - Spalding, UK
A rarely found, matched set of Boer War Generals Robert Baden-Powell and Hector Macdonald in fine condition without previous breaks or repairs. These were obviously highly prized and came from a very well kept estate.
Right, another BP on the left, is featured in another copy of the one just above, but obviously done by a different colourist.

Beside him is General Hector Macdonald, in one of the versions produced of him, this one with his highland hat.

Matched sets like these were sometimes preferred for display among the more wealthy but are very hard to find after 105 years, especially without having heads or legs previously broken off.

Below is another version of the figure of General Hector "Fighting Mac" Macdonald with his silk Stevengraph (below) for comparison. Macdonald was a hero of the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan and in the Boer War took over the Highland Brigade after General Wauchope was killed at Magersfontein.

Very probably the portrait painter did not use this image to work from... Possibly the horse is a better likeness to the steed Fighting Mac had to ride...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Staffordshire Figure, Lord Roberts 1900
Orig. ceramic statue - Size - 14"
Found - Pittsburgh, Pa
Left, the non-equestrian statue of Lord Roberts shows again why Staffordshire painters were not expected to be expert portrait painters - just be able to hold a brush steady enough to make a few strokes without shaking... This could almost pass for a Japanese general...
The painting of the face was the only place any care was taken. It gives us a clue about the painting on the rest of the figure. A facial "wash" was applied, with cheek highlights added. Formula eyes and eyebrows were carefully laid in and some colour applied to the moustache. The whole thing was then fired.

Why did the colour hold so well here and rub off elsewhere is a mystery? Perhaps the faces were put on by a different set of painters, and fired separately from the other colourations.

Lord Roberts featured in an equestrian version above and right, this time also wearing a sort of pith helmet.

Does this face resemble, at all, Bobs himself, or any other Staffordshire version of the general?

The war dragged on to such a terrible finish that these were the last Staffordshire figures of generals ever produced.

One suspects the public abandoned them first, encouraging the firm to make instead, the awful dogs that today flood antique markets everywhere. (below left)

Judge for yourself....

Now, what would you rather have, gracing your mantle, the gallant Hector Macdonald, below, or this mangy mutt with the golden collar?

Have got to admit with those darling little eyelashes, and endearing little nose, this dog is cute.....

Goodbye Hector....

Staffordshire figures often have appendages broken off. Some are repaired very well, like the broken horse leg here; others are not, like the Baden-Powell head that follows - the fifth Baden-Powell statue featured on this page.

Before buying ask if there have been repairs, or if there are hairlines that betray past breakages or future ones, like the sixth Baden-Powell featured further below.

One seller kindly offered before and after pictures of the horse's leg when broken, and a view of the leg once repairs had been made.

The Baden-Powell above, with the broken off head, is shown here to show a really bad repair job.

Always look for repairs on Staffordshire generals.

Note again, the almost total lack of colour on the back, which would usually be placed against a wall or backboard in a china cabinet.

For that reason too these statues were not formed "in the round;" they were actually made flat on the back to fit against the wall better. Hence the popular name for these as Staffordshire "flatbacks."

Below are the colourless flatbacks of Lord Baden-Powell left, and Lord Roberts right.

Below is another version of a Baden-Powell Staffordshire in which he is unhorsed. He is featured standing in front of Lord Nelson, the famous canon with which he defended Mafeking against the Boers and became a household word throughout the British Empire in 1900.

But something is wrong! Can you spot it?

There are signs of a broken off head here too, but difficult to spot from the front, though the break is there running across under the chin. The rear view shows the necklace of a hairline crack very clearly. This head had once been off! Collectors shy away from previously broken statues; but Baden-Powell fanatics will buy it anyway and pay a premium.

The face painting here also was done by an especially poor craftsman who should have stayed at his previous job driving a pit pony, herding sheep, or gutting fish. Becoming a painter for Staffordshire was not a good career move; but it probably paid better. So why not become an artist!!!!

It certainly was better than unemployment!

Was the success of the Staffordshire generals the inspiration for the Eskimo art movement in the Canadian arctic in the 1960s?

It's not far-fetched at all... Read on...

Insight Canada - Turning Stone into Gold

This technique of turning everyone in town into an artist, reached its highest form in Canadian "Eskimo" art in the 1960s and 70s, when in fact virtually every single Inuit person in the Canadian arctic "created" Inuit art with hammer and chisel. Most of it - soap stone carvings and stone print images - was - predictably - God awful!

Far from being the creative flowering of the best work of the top artists of a culture, the art was downright primitive! It's what happens to art when everyone does it...

Or if you will, it was at least the equal of the Staffordshire portrait painters. And for exactly the same reason...

But southern Canadians and American "Inuit art aficionados" couldn't tell the difference, and wildly bought it all up... and still do...

The only saving grace is that only the art buying public was fooled; the creative "artists," both in England, and in the Canadian arctic, never were. They kept their soul inviolate. They knew they were not producing "art" but only manufacturing a product for the market, and were taking home money. If others chose to be fooled by it all - so be it... Their families benefitted from the pay cheque, whether by painting eyebrows and mustaches, or chiseling crudities out of stone; none pretended to be artists; let the marketeers do the hype...

In the 1970s, one could approach any Inuit school janitor, taxi driver, and store clerk on the subject and they would wink broadly as they flipped the tag "Genuine Inuit Art" that accompanied each sales item and turned crude stone into gold among southern Canadian art snobs. "I'm an Inuk too!" they would protest, taking mock offense. And with a laugh, they turned to chop another piece of precious soapstone into a craggy crudity certain to please the illiterate eye of a high society poseur in Toronto or New York.

(The Genuine Inuit Art tag was key to the marketing strategy for these carvings. No other art ever had "pedigree" tags applied to each item before. Just think of a Rodin sculpture accompanied by a tag that read "Produced by a Genuine Frenchman!" (Come to think of it, with Henry Moore it might have helped) But most Eskimo art was so bad Southern Canadian socialites would never have bought it on its own merits. Understandably. They had to be convinced they were not buying badly done figures, but the best from a culture which didn't have very good artists. It was marketed as "pure art" from an unspoiled culture of primitive people unsullied by white values. In fact the whole "primitive Eskimo art boom" was dreamed up and initiated by white government employees, artists, instructors, and marketeers.)

The Eskimo art boom became a multi-million dollar business success story; a feather in the cap of the Department of Economic Development which had finally found a way to create an industry to bring employment and money into a chronically depressed region of Canada, where most people were unemployed or underemployed most of the time.

And as far as art goes, it produced art that was the equal of the Staffordshire generals and dogs, and as good as the souvenir art to be found in the tourist shops at Niagara Falls, two other high points of English and Canadian artistic achievement!

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000