RICHARD SEBRIGHT: Porcelain Painting Done Right

A Royal Worcester dessert set, hand painted with fruit by Richard Sebright - photo by Sotheby's Australia

Richard Sebright was born in 1870 and died at the age of 89 in 1959. He worked for the Royal Worcester company for fifty-six years. In that time, he saw many changes- not only in the world outside – but in the organisation of the factory as well.

What was Going on in the World and at Royal Worcester Then?

A Royal Worcester fruit painted plate, painted by Richard Sebright, circa 1918-20 – photo by Bonhams

In 1880, Octar Copson painted the first Worcester fruit piece. The start of a fruit painting tradition within the company. Seven years later was Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, much celebrated in England.

In 1889, Royal Worcester bought out the Grainger porcelain company, and two years later Charles William Dyson Perrins became a Director of Royal Worcester. The Royal Worcester soon expanded. Workers from the Grainger factory were imported as Grainger’s closed and the Royal Worcester bought Hadley& Sons.

Turbulent Times

Then we have the first World War, 1914 – 1918, and the company made hard porcelain for use in hospitals, laboratories and schools. This was followed by the flu pandemic which swept the world.

Richard Sebright, painter, 1930 – photo by Museum of Royal Worcester

In 1926, we had a general strike and poverty was widespread in the United Kingdom. Then in 1929 came the Wall Street crash.

But Royal Worcester introduced a new range of fine bone china figures and fireproof porcelain was introduced.

1939 – 1945 saw the Second World War with the turbulent times and economic stresses that caused.

And all this time, through all these phases, there was Richard carefully painting the most realistic fruit on fine porcelain.

What kind of Man was Richard Sebright?

There is little information about the man himself – he lives on through his exquisite painting. Richard Sebright was apparently a very religious man. His work and his religion completely occupied his days.

A pair of Royal Worcester dessert square serving plates, by and signed Richard Sebright – photo by Sotheby’s Australia

The artists at Royal Worcester were paid piecemeal. Perhaps, this is rather surprising when you consider the very high quality of their work. But this system of payment worked against Richard, who was extremely painstaking. Every piece he worked on had to be the very best he was capable of.

So, he was never a fast-enough worker to make a good living. After World War Two, he was only making 45 shillings a week. This is roughly worth around 189 AUD in today’s value. Not a lot!

Richard’s Fruit – Good Enough to Eat!

Royal Worcester Plate painted by Richard Sebright, 1930 – photo by Artnet

Yet, his fellow artists considered him to be the finest fruit painter of them all. And, in fact, Richard Sebright is considered to be the best fruit painter of any time. When you look at his works, even images on the internet, it is easy to understand why.

One feels one could reach out and pick the fruit up, so convincingly has it been depicted. You can even see the bloom on the fruit. His work was not restricted to fruit, he also painted flowers. Some of his flower paintings are in subtle and gentle watercolour colours. He did exhibit several of these at the Royal Academy.

The process of painting needed a whole team of experts.

Royal Worcester Richard Sebright for Aspreys, Hand Painted Dish Dated 1935 – photo by eBay | billyboy1961paul

Sebright applied the paint in layers – and each time he painted a layer, the piece was fired. Since the colours in the palette were translucent, the lighter colours underneath show through. Thus, he was able to build up stunning 3D images of the fruit. The backgrounds were also often elaborate and colourful. So, stage by stage, the fruit took shape and colour.

Adding to the glamour of each piece, the gilder applied the delicate gold finishing with 22-carat gold. Then the burnisher made them gleam.

Finally, the inspection – every piece had to be perfect.

Some Examples of Richard Sebright’s Work

A Royal Worcester covered vase, signed Richard Sebright, circa 1909 – photo by Sotheby’s Australia

While it is not easy to find out much about the man, there are plenty of examples of his work to be found on the internet. Prices seem to vary from eBay to other Auction houses, but even where there is some minor damage the prices are still respectable. Here are some examples:

On eBay, I found a couple of beautiful dishes. One, a squarish dish with deep blue colouring for £265 (478 AUD) and another delicate plate with a scalloped edge and a hairline crack for £250 (451 AUD).

At the same time, Sotheby’s sold a vase estimated at 2,500 AUD – 3,500 AUD and a dessert set estimated at 3,000 AUD – 4,000 AUD.

The Heritage of Richard Sebright

Richard Sebright is remembered for his exceptionally fine fruit paintings, and also for his delicate watercolours of flowers. He made each item he painted a work of art, and although he himself never gained materially from his fine work, he left an inheritance for others to enjoy and profit from.