Museum Treasures; Joseph Grimaldi Figure
Staffordshire potters have been making figures since the mid 18th century. While most were purely decorative, in the 19th century they began making figures showing the celebrities of the day. Many figures depicted royalty or politicians but some of the most popular showed the stars of the stage. One was Joseph Grimaldi (1779-1837). The original ‘Clown Joey’, Grimaldi was a comedian, acrobat and singer who introduced many innovations to the British stage. These included the concept of the pantomime dame and audience participation in songs – something which became the hallmark of the Victorian music halls. He also pioneered the use of catchphrases and this figure, which is derived from a print of Grimaldi, shows him greeting his audience with the words “Here we are again!”
Grimaldi retired from the stage in 1823 returning briefly five years later. He died in poverty aged 49. This figure, showing Grimaldi in his character as Clown, was almost certainly made to mark his final appearance. It is earthenware with hand-painted details. Although unmarked we know that it was produced by the Burslem manufacturer, Enoch Wood, as it matches sherds of Wood’s pottery found when St Paul’s Church, Burslem, was demolished. Similar figures were also made in porcelain by the Derby factory. The modern equivalents of this piece are the collectible figures of television and film characters.
The Potteries Museum has a large collection of Staffordshire figures ranging from the mid 18th century through to the present day, of which many are on display in the ceramics gallery.