Between Sotheby’s auctions, a fortuitous lunch-time ramble through London’s National Gallery brought me before one of the museum’s very early acquisitions (purchased in 1823), William Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode, a six-part narrative sequence of London interiors variously furnished with luxuries of the mid 1700s, the fabrics, the furniture, the chattels and materials, including oriental porcelain. As with A Harlot’s Progress -- the first of Hogarth’s so-called Modern Moral Subject series (1732) -- in Marriage à la Mode (c1743), one catastrophe crashes into the next. In both stories Hogarth pre-echoes or confirms the impending disaster in pottery symbolically suspended mid-air on its way to its own -- and its owner’s -- destruction.
While working in the 1730s and early 1740s, i.e., just before the emergence of the very first English porcelain makers, Hogarth’s own “china” props must come from other shores. In times of competition between potters worldwide, that still leaves him with a wide field of ceramic traditions to choose from: Chinese blanc-de-Chine from Fujian province or wares exported from Jingdezhen? Japanese Imari/Arita porcelain? Yixing brown stoneware Buddhas? English or German salt-glazed grey stoneware or English salt-glazed white stoneware? Dutch or English Delftware? silverware or an “istoriato” maiolica dish? lead-glazed domestic earthenware? Just how many of Hogarth’s pots in paintings and in prints are identifiable to a particular country or tradition?
Conversely, what of the actual ceramics painted, printed or molded with a Hogarth character lifted from his original “stage” and dropped into a scene quite different from the one in his original “script”? – for instance, a dark tavern interior transposed into an al fresco party in sunlit parkland. And in transferring a scene from print to pot, what misunderstandings, what liberties have the potters and decorators taken with the original?
Ceramics historian Lars Tharp was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was educated in England, and at Cambridge University he studied Archaeology (the Old Stone Age). In 1977, he joined London auctioneers Sotheby’s, representing their Chinese and European Ceramics departments and while there, in 1986, he joined the expert team on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, being featured on all its subsequent thirty-seven series.
In 1993, Lars formed his own company as an independent consultant to museums and individuals, advising on ceramics and other works of art. Today he broadcasts and lectures widely: from Europe to Asia, Australia, New Zealand and America (most recently at the 2022 Antiques Forum at Colonial Williamsburg, VA). Many of his talks draw on the life and times of British artist William Hogarth (1697-1764), in whose compositions ceramics play a humorous/subversive role. His acclaimed 1997 exhibition Hogarth’s China at London’s International Ceramics Fair was later transferred to the Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston. In 2005-6 he created three ceramic exhibitions for York Museums. As a self-confessed ‘Hogarth nut’ Lars gravitated to London’s Foundling Museum and, as its Director in 2008-2010, oversaw two major exhibitions, Threads of Feeling and PMT (works by the artists Paula Rego, Mat Collishaw and Tracey Emin). In 2021-22 Lars was a contributor/author to the Tate Gallery’s much discussed exhibition Hogarth in Europe. With his passion for music, he also participates as writer/narrator in London Early Opera’s Handelian concerts, performed in locations with strong Handel/Hogarth associations.
In his BBC TV documentary One Man and his Pug, Lars had hoped to discover the whereabouts of Louis-François Roubiliac’s lost terracotta sculpture of ‘Trump,’ Hogarth’s pet pug, and he’s still on the look-out.
Lars has been awarded two Honorary doctorates for his films and his ambassadorship of ceramic history. He is President of the International Ceramics Fair (Aberystwyth University, Wales), a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (London) and a Deputy Lieutenant of Leicestershire, and with his wife Gillian, a Deputy Lieutenant of Leicestershire, his county of residence.