Alec Cobbe and the ‘Peacock’ Worcester Service of 1763
“It’s a story that began with a sale catalogue coming through my letterbox,” noted Alec Cobbe at the start of his virtual lecture on May 10. “I suddenly noticed a lot for a knife and fork that was said to be from the Cobbe Service.” This struck a note with Alec and inspired a multi-year search to bring an incredible dining service back to his family home, Newbridge House in County Dublin. To our collective benefit, Alec disagreed with claims that the service was only cutlery and began a journey to restore the ‘Peacock’ Worcester service of 1763, the largest mid-18th-century service recorded from any British porcelain manufacturer.
Newbridge was designed by James Gibbes in 1747 for the then-Archbishop of Dublin, Charles Cobbe, who presented the unfinished house to his son Thomas upon his marriage to Lady Elizabeth (Betty) Beresford in 1755. Thomas and Betty acquired the service after becoming acquainted with Dr. Wall’s porcelain factory in Worcester as they traveled from Dublin to Bath. Amazingly, Alec found the bills and inventories that serve as evidence of these purchases.
Alec conducted extensive research to better understand the service. Ornamental details such as a bird painted on a plate from the service indicate stylistic similarities to plasterwork in the dining room at Newbridge House. The bird also relates to images from ornithological books and prints. These discoveries allow us to understand the service’s direct connection to Newbridge House and broader 18th-century decorative art history.
Alec finished the presentation by sharing images of the fabulous service in situ at Newbridge House and an exhibition held at the State Apartments at Dublin Castle that was inspired by his research and collecting. Alec has located over 160 pieces of the service and brought them together to better our understanding of Worcester porcelain, 18th-century decorative arts, and the power of collecting.
After his presentation, Alec was joined in conversation with Leslie Fitzpatrick, who previously served as the Samuel and M. Patricia Grober Associate Curator of European Decorative Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago. Leslie and Alec covered many topics, including Ferdinand Weber, the foremost instrument maker in Dublin, who also sold Meissen porcelain; how the discovery of this service enhanced our understanding of early Worcester manufacturing; and much more.
Watch a recording of this presentation below to hear more of their discussion:
The program was dedicated in memory of Christopher Monkhouse, a recipient of the Trust’s Award of Merit, whose extraordinary exhibition and publication Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840 continue to serve as a testament to the incredible material culture of Ireland.
You can purchase a copy of Alec’s fascinating book Birds, Bugs and Butterflies: Lady Betty Cobbe’s ‘Peacock’ Worcester Porcelain on the Boydell & Brewer website.
The Decorative Arts Trust hosts monthly virtual dialogues that feature scholars sharing and discussing their exciting new research with colleagues in the field. The hour-long Zoom program includes a lecture, scholar-to-scholar conversation, and Q&A with the program participants.
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Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.