Classic Lead Garden Ornament
Lead garden ornament has a long history but its popularity has come in fits and spurts rather than a long slow evolution. Its heyday was probably in its beginnings rather than its more recent history. Its grandest manifestations, in figures and large vases, were created around the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries as a means of replicating sculptures of fine pieces such as those found at Versailles. Long before cast iron became a possibility lead was used. It was impervious to the elements, malleable, even paintable - as in the case of many figures of pipers, shepherds, rustic maidens... It's downside became apparent within a century or so as those wonderful figures began to lean, variously beginning to collapse under their own weight. This is why many that still remain are leaning at odd angles or a propped up with supports. It wasn't until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, after the advent of cast iron, that lead ornaments started to re-appear in quantity, only now most were much smaller in scale, to fill garden spaces that had themselves shrunk considerably, middle class gardens as opposed to aristocratic estates. Along with the smaller size came less the likelihood of long term collapse.
This piece is a rare one indeed. I was told it was from a collector who had hoarded it, and a number of other rare pieces, that he had found in France many years before. It is stylistically a very early piece and its patina could only have developed over a few hundred years. It has been re-built at the stem so as to be able to support its own weight again, though the repairs are not visible from the outside. It would be quite a conversation piece outside in any garden or as an indoor sculpture. Something like this does not surface too often.