FINDERS KEEPERS | ART & CULTURE | CABANA MAGAZINE

 

Isle of Wight-based antique and Delftware specialist Kevin Morris has been collecting and dealing in antiques since he was 15 years old. He shares with Ros Byam Shaw his greatest find and the piece he'll keep forever.

 

INTERVIEW BY ROS BYAM SHAW | ART & CULTURE | 21 JUNE 2024

"Unusual and interesting pieces" atop a late-17th century Charles II chest of drawers in Kevin Morris' showroom. 

 

The first and greatest influence on Kevin Morris’ taste was the furniture in his parents' farmhouse on the Isle of Wight - "it had never been updated and was all 17th and early 18th century, and I loved it". Aged 15 he began 'dabbling’ in buying and selling, mostly early pottery such as English Delft. Thirty years ago he gave up his work as a tree surgeon to concentrate on dealing full time.

His stock still includes Delft, but the quality, rarity and price have rocketed since those teenage beginnings. At any one time, alongside a large selection of early pottery, he may have examples of rare stump work, English oak furniture, candlesticks, and beadwork, all dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.

His clients include private collectors, dealers, corporate collections and museums, but he also loves to mentor young, up-and-coming dealers, and says he enjoys nothing more than being able to share his knowledge and expertise. He sells almost exclusively online, from Instagram and from his website.

 

Kevin's Greatest Find: a 17th-century beadwork layette basket © Kevin Morris

 

My Greatest Find: 17th-century beadwork layette basket

"I’ve lived on the island all my life - I’ve only been to London twice - but I sell to clients all over the world and buy from auctions all over the world. It’s like hunting for prey. I spend hours trawling and sometimes find nothing for several weeks but then three really special pieces come up at once.

"I always ask for extra pictures and can spot restoration from a photograph. Auctions often mis-catalogue things, and this was the case for my greatest find: a 17th century beadwork layette basket. These were made using Murano glass beads and, unlike needlework which has usually faded, the colors are as bright as the day it was finished. Its subject matter is a real treat - King Charles hiding in the Boscabel oak tree after his escape from the Battle of Worcester in 1651, and what appear to be Charles and Catherine of Braganza standing either side of the oak.

"The edges are decorated with hunting scenes, dogs, a swan, insects and the date 1662 which is the date Charles and Catherine were married. I found it by chance in an American auction. It was listed as ‘a basket’ with no other details or research even though it has a label on the bottom saying it was exhibited in the V&A for three years. Its decoration makes it particularly rare."

 

The Piece I'll Keep Forever: English 16th-century Delftware Charger

"Over the last 30 years I have had many pieces of English Delftware and Italian maiolica pass through my hands from the simple and basic to the very unusual. The piece I'll keep forever is a charger and a particular rarity, being one of the earliest forms of English Delftware. This type of pottery was first produced in 16th century France by Bernard Palissy but my dish is English and was made in one of the pot houses along the Thames at Montague Close, Pickleherring or Rotherhithe.

"It’s press moulded - the clay pushed into a wooden mould to create a repousse design. Mine is decorated with a reclining female nude, emblematic of fecundity, and five naked putti, one with a dog over his shoulder. The border is moulded with masks and flower baskets and there are paintings of trade ships from the Thames. I have only ever seen two others like it. It hangs above the fireplace in my living room and, despite many clients wanting to buy it, I have never been able to let it go."

 

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