Michael Sutty (1937-2003) was a master porcelain sculptor who was widely admired for his fine porcelain Militaria figures. His spectacular historical subjects are highly coveted by collectors for their painstaking detail, from the gold trim on their uniform ribbons to their individualized facial expressions.
Sutty taught himself the nearly forgotten skills involved in producing fine bone china figures, and in the process, became the leading sculptor of uniformed military figures of his time. A voracious reader, his researches made him an expert not only in the fields of sculpture and ceramics, but art, art history, and military history, as well.
His complex clay creations showed a technical virtuosity lacking then as well as now, which confounded the established china manufacturers at Stoke-on-Trent. His critics described his initial models as “unmakeable;” this led to him setting up his own production studio.
After serving in the British Army, on a whim Sutty purchased a packet of modelling clay.
Inspired by his own patriotism, and predicting the popularity of high-quality uniformed military figures, he worked for the next decade producing handmade pieces.
Although bone china is difficult and costly to work with, when it is fired it acquires a seeming life that sets it apart, and Sutty always retained loyalty to the material which originally captured his artistic interest.
His modesty, retiring demeanor, and unfailingly good manners obscured a keen and refined intellect. Because he knew it must bear up to the scrutiny of historians and museum curators, Sutty’s research was impeccable. His exquisite and exactingly detailed portrait busts were drawn from the finest documentary evidence, and the subjects are easily identifiable by experts at 20 paces.
Sutty’s patriotism helped fuel the creation of pieces inspired by Britain’s 1982 Falklands military campaign. His commemoration of the Royal Marines in the “Raising of the Flag at San Carlos Bay” was acquired by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, with whom he shared a mutual admiration. Lady Thatcher described his sculptures as “works of genius,” and remained a friend and promoter of his work.
Another Sutty series, Heroic Action, resulted in production of several of his most imaginative and complex works, which celebrated famous acts of personal bravery at such battles as Waterloo, Balaclava, and elsewhere.
The range of his subject matter remains impressive. His studio’s Catalog for April 1990 contained approximately 180 different Militaria figures and Regimental items. He and his team produced a series of figures based on paintings by Sir William Russell Flint, as well as a range of miniature animals.
The many rare and exquisite examples of famous individuals he produced included Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Lawrence of Arabia. He also designed figures representing famous British military regiments including the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rangers, and the Household Division.