Matthew Boulton's magnificent 'Roman' candle vases of beautiful bluejohn from Castleton, Derbyshire, ormolu-enriched in the French manner, provided decorative chimney-piece and table garnitures for rooms decorated in the George III 'antique' fashion. They were particularly suited to the Etruscan 'columbarium' style promoted by The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, London, 1773. Presented on stepped or 'altar' plinths, they served as candlesticks, with reversible socket-concealing lids, aggrandised with candelabra branches.
Matthew Boulton (d. 1802) established his manufactory in Soho, Birmingham and began his celebrated partnership with John Fothergill (d. 1782) in 1762. Following the establishment of their ormolu manufactures in the late 1760s, they were patronised by George III and Queen Charlotte, while Christie & Ansell's Pall Mall Rooms provided them with access to London's fashionable clientèle, and auctions were held there in April 1770, 1771 and 1778 of the 'superb and elegant produce Of Messrs Boulton and Fothergill's Or moulu Manufactory, At Soho, in Staffordshire; consisting of A variety of most beautiful and rich articles, comprehending vases of exquisite shapes, clock-cases, candle-branches, essence pots, and many other ornaments'. Indeed, Empress Catherine of Russia is reported to have considered their wares in 1772 to be 'Superior in every respect to the French'.
The design of these candle vases is probably in part derived from vase candelabra designed by James Stuart (see N. Goodison, Matthew Boulton: Ormolu, London, 2002, pp. 76-77, figs. 33-34). A pair of the same model as the present lot (although without reversible tops) is in the collection of the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace, Oxford. Although there is no record of when the 4th Duke purchased the vases, he did buy other ornaments in 1772. In 1771, the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam bought a single vase of this design at Matthew Boulton's first speculative auction at James Christie's Pall Mall Great Room on 13 April of that year (lot 60). It was described in the catalogue as: 'a vase radix amethysti and or moulu, lined silver and perferated for essence, with ornaments in the antique taste and branches for two candles' and sold for £18 17s 6d against a reserve of £15 15s 0d, the same reserve as four other vases in the sale of the same description. The Fitzwilliam candelabrum was sold by the Trustees of the Olive, Countess Fitzwilliam Chattels Settlement, Christie's, London, 8 July 1998, lot 61. Other vases of this design known to exist include:
-a pair at Harewood House, Yorkshire (N. Harris, Chippendale, London, 1989, p. 106)
-a pair at Frogmore in the Royal Collection, formerly in the Mulliner Collection (H. Mulliner, The Decorative Arts in England, London, n.d. (c. 1924), fig. 164 and sold from that collection, Christie's, London, 10 July 1924, lot 37)
-a pair sold from the collection of the late 1st Viscount Leverhulme, Anderson Galleries, New York, 10 February 1926, lot 165 (sold from Bothwell Castle, Scotland, Christie's, London, June 1919)