William ‘Quaker’ Pegg (1775-1851) began an apprenticeship as a ceramic painter at the age of ten, when he started work at an earthenware factory in Staffordshire. In 1790 he apprenticed as a china and porcelain painter , and then in the autumn of 1796 joined the Derby factory at the Nottingham Road Works. Pegg spent five years at Derby working as one of the company’s top porcelain painters before leaving due to religious reasons. Pegg had become a Quaker, a religious sect that seeks religious truth in inner experience, and places great reliance on conscience as the basis of morality. Quakers strive to live simple lives and Pegg possibly decided his craft was a frivolous exercise and out of keeping with his religious ideals. In any event Pegg must have had a change of heart because he returned to Derby in 1813 and worked for a further seven years. Pegg’s immense skill as a flower painter is well documented and according to John Twitchett he was "one of the finest natural flower painters ever to paint on china".
When painting the ‘Large double Chinese Aster’ depicted on this dish, Pegg may have referred to John Edward’s 1795 publication ‘A Collection of Flowers drawn after Nature & disposed in an Ornamental & Picturesque Manner’. Edwards, a watercolourist and calico print designer, hand etched and hand-coloured all 79 plates contained within his study and it is held to be one of the finest works of its kind. It is believed that William Duesbury II, the Derby factory owner, acquired a copy of the book in the mid-1790s, and it provided much inspiration for the factory's painters. The decorators responded favourably to the more naturalistic style, imbuing the flowers with a delightful sense of life-like movement. Indeed, botanical specimens were popular subjects for tea and dessert services during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a trend most probably set by Chelsea’s celebrated Hans Sloane flower plates produced around 1755.
A Derby lozenge shaped dish depicting a ‘Chinese Aster’ is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. While the decoration on the V&A example may have been painted by a different hand, the source for the design is clearly the same.
A dessert plate from the same service as lot 179, both being numbered ‘392’, can be seen in John Twitchett’s book ‘Derby Porcelain’(p.208). The plate features an identical gilded border attributed to one of the factory’s leading gilders, John Lead, and the central decoration is attributed to William Pegg. Twitchett’s book also displays a square dish of a similar shape as the present lot and painted by Pegg as well. This example is decorated with a thistle (p.178) but bears no gilt borders, however Pegg’s handling of the composition is remarkably similar.
Pegg eventually left the Derby factory in 1820 and set up a small local shop selling general goods with his then wife Ann. He died on 27th December 1851 at the age of 76.
Literature: Twitchett, J. (1980) Derby Porcelain, London: Barrie & Jenkins Ltd.