Tulip Temptations

Anna Pavord in The Tulip relates the strange and wonderous story of William Pegg.

Derby’s star flower painter was William Pegg (1775-1851) whose father had been a gardener at Etwall Hall, near Derby, a hotbed of societies devoted to the English florists’ tulip. By the age of ten, Pegg was already working in the potteries and after three years, became apprentice to a china painter, working fifteen hours a day in the factory. In 1796 he was offered a five-year contract at the Derby China Works, which was booming after taking over the illustrious Chelsea Pottery. But Pegg, who had heard John Wesley preach in Straffordshire in 1786, began to worry about the morality of decorating expensive porcelain with sinfully beautiful flowers for the tables of rich clients. In 1800 he became a Quaker and abandoned his paint box to start a new and spectacularly unsuccessful life as a stocking maker. Stockings may have satisfied the inner man but did little to sustain the outer one. Starving, Pegg was forced to return in 1813 to his former work at the Derby China Works, filling pages of a sketchbook with elegant florists’ tulips which later found their way onto Derby’s porcelain. After seven years, plagued once more by religious scruples, he left the Derby factory for good and died destitute in 1851.

A sad story but one not likely to be repeated in the era of mass reproduction and knock-offs. At least, it is difficult to image another such case of renunciation.

And so for day 323
02.11.2007

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