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April 20, 2021

1882 Royal Worcester Aesthetic Teapot, Inspired by Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 Opera “Patience”

Everything is not as it seems with this quirky two-faced teapot by Royal Worcester. Created in 1882, one face depicts a flamboyant young man dressed as a dandy and adorned with a sunflower, while its other face shows a woman wearing a lily.


This celebrated teapot satirises Oscar Wilde and the entire Aesthetic movement that swept the London art scene around the 1870s and 1880s. The principal inspiration was Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta Patience, first performed in 1881.

Worcester’s design also pokes fun at an exhibition held at the Grosvenor Gallery when a single Chinese teapot was put on display to represent perfection in design and visitors were invited to go home and ‘Live up to it.’ The inscription alludes to this, as well as the controversy still raging over Darwin’s theories on Evolution.



Underneath is an inscription which reads: “Fearful consequences through the laws of Natural Selection and Evolution of Living up to one’s Teapot”.

This inscription was a satirical comment both on Oscar Wilde’s tongue-in-cheek quip about his blue and white china, and also on the hysterical fears circulating in the 1880s about the effects that effeminacy and the blurring of gender roles might have on the future British population. This inscription therefore also references Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) and theories of ‘Social Darwinism’ which followed it, which feared that any disruption of the social order, including gender roles, might cause the decline of Britain’s influence and Empire.


The identity of ‘Budge’ whose name appears on the base has proved elusive but may possibly be a pseudonym chosen by Worcester’s Art Director, R W Binns.





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