Incredible Antique Inkwell of Robert Walpole's Yawning Face based on the Caricature by George Bickham


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THE STORY - When I peered through the shop window and my eyes fell upon this wonderful little inkwell, I had no idea of the history that lay behind it, I was just intrigued, loving the detail and madness of the piece, my heart was stolen, and I knew it was coming home with me for my shop. Once home I started researching the inkwell and here is what I have found: It is believed the inkwell is based on a caricature of Robert Walpole (1676-1745) who was a Whig Politician and who is regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain staying in post for over 20years. The caricature the inkwell is based on is by George Bickham the Younger and dated 1743 and I urge you to search for it, it is on the British Museum website (I wasn't sure if I was allowed to include a photo of it). The caricature is an image of Walpole like this inkwell yawning but it is even more grotesque than this inkwell with his wide open mouth almost the shape of a fish and with more than one would expect severe looking teeth jutting out from it. Apparently Walpole was a master at getting his own way through prevarication wearing down the opposition and it worked he was in post for 20 years, and I think this is what the caricature and in turn this inkwell refers to.
The inkwell I understand dates to the 1830s what the relevance of this period is to Walpole I am not sure. The inkwell has a truly wonderful matt surface which I think is termed dry glazed although I have seen other examples with a shiny glaze applied, but I think it is the matt surface which helps portray the details so wonderfully, his staring eyes, his individual teeth and the curls of his hair framing that elongated face. The idea was that ones quill or dipper pen would be placed in the hole in his head and the ink would be poured into his mouth and I what I adore is it looks like this inkwell was used as there looks to be the stains of old ink both in the hole in his head and in his mouth. I do not see this as a fault as for me it give the piece an incredible resonance.

AGE - Circa 1830

CONDITION - The inkwell is in very good condition with no chips or cracks that I can see, there is on a base a very fine and old hairline crack but my sense is that this is a firing fault and can be just seen in the final photograph at the top. There is a tiny black mark on one of his front teeth which I hope you can see from the photographs, I have looked at it through a strong magnifier and it doesn't appear to be a chip, but I have wanted to scrap it with my nail to make sure for fear of causing damage. It has I have said it does appear to have been used with evidence of old ink staining both in the open mouth and in the hole in his head. There is also as I hope you can see from the photos dust/dirt which it has garnered over its long life. For me I do not see this as a fault but will leave it to its new owner to decide whether to clean or not.

DIMENSIONS (Approx) - Length 2&3/4" / 7cm, Height 1&3/4" / 4.5cm, Depth 2&1/4" / 5.5cm

Now I have to say I loved this piece the moment my eyes fell upon it and although I have loved finding out about its possible history, I am not convinced it has made me love the item any more, or indeed made it feel any more special, because as I look down on it as I write this piece I see that face which conveys an incredible energy with that large open mouth and his eyebrows arched as if in pain from the hole in his head (which is quite understandable) it is almost like he is yelling at me. It is small, it is wonderful, it is crazy and it may very well be Robert Walpole based on that caricature by George Bickham as other examples including those in museums seem to think. Oh yes there is one other lovely thing about this particular inkwell, I found only one other matt example with all the others being shiny and glazed.

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