Bocage

In antique British pottery and porcelain, the term bocage is used to describe a decorative floral motif popularised first by Chelsea porcelain and later Staffordshire pottery from the mid 18th century onwards.

The term derives from the Old Norman word ‘boscage’, which was used to refer to shrubs, dense undergrowth, hedgerows or a small thicket of trees.

Not only did the applied bocage add an appealing layer of decoration to a group or figurine, but also offered strength to the ceramic sculpture in the form of a sturdy background that would support the delicate figures during the firing process.

With advances in the manufacturing practice of English earthenware, the bocage evolved from a simple decorative backdrop to become an increasingly ornate and elaborate feature of the overall design. 

Bocage figures came in many popular designs including religious and allegorical subjects, animals, shepherds and pastoral themes, musicians, sporting figures and popular pastimes of the period.

BocageOne of the most popular themes is known as the Tithe Pig group (pictured top) and is a satire on the longstanding practice of smallholders renting their land from the Church. If the farmer could not afford to pay rent, the local clergyman would take a fee equivalent to one tenth of their annual produce.

In this scene, the farmer’s wife is insisting that if the vicar wishes to take their pig, he must take their baby as well, since they have no means of supporting it. Thereby, highlighting the perceived cruelty and injustice of the tithe system.

Sadly, the delicate nature of the design of most bocage figures means that it is very difficult to find examples without any damage or restoration. Consequently, fine examples in good condition are very much in demand.

Click here to view a selection of Bocage Figures currently available from BADA members.