These magnificent coolers are derived from a design for a wine cooler, which is part of a group of 78 designs for silver by Jean-Jacques Boileau, two dated 1800 and 1802, which are now held in the Victoria & Albert Museum. One is signed "Boileau", one "J.J.B.", and they are almost certainly all by the same hand. Michael Snodin was the first to discern the connection between these drawings and actual extant plate (Michael Snodin, "J. J. Boileau, A Forgotten Designer of Silver", Connoisseur, June 1978, pp. 125-133). In about 1803 Rundell Bridge & Rundell began to design plate which compiles extracts from these drawings, and therefore Boileau was probably in some kind of relationship with the firm. He is almost certainly the same Boileau who was brought to England, circa 1787 by Henry Holland to work on Carlton House for the Prince of Wales. Although there is no incontrovertible documentary evidence linking the J. J. Boileau of these designs to the mural painter, Jean-Jacques Boileau, who was brought to England by Holland, and who is known to have worked at Carlton House, Windsor, Woburn Abbey and Fonthill Splendens, the name, the similarity of the signatures on these designs with that on a design for a library carpet at Windsor by Jean-Jacques Boileau, and various connections, including the Pugins and the Prince of Wales, make it almost impossible to doubt that they are one and the same. Boileau also worked at Windsor, together with the Pugins, and the Boileau designs were probably once owned by A. C. Pugin, as a group by Boileau are described in his sale catalogue of 1833 (Wheatley, 4th June 1833, lot 469, "Boileau's (J.) series of drawings appropriated to Gold and Silversmiths" (Snodin, op. cit.).
Boileau's design for this wine cooler reflects the "French Empire" style promoted by Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign and later popularized by publications such as Vivant Denon's Voyages dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte of 1802 and its English translation Travels in Egypt, 1803. Boileau and Rundell's were obviously influenced by these publications, reinforcing an English growing predilection of the 1790s. Indeed, the Nile Cup of 1799/1800 by Storr in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (Snodin, op. cit., fig. 6, p. 128), presented by the Levant Company to Admiral Nelson, bears many of Boileau's characteristics, the Egyptian extracts further developed in the Egyptian Service. This ornamental style was led by the Rome-trained French court architects C. Percier and P.F.L. Fontaine, whose Receuil de Décorations Intérieures, 1801, featured guardian sphinx supports on one of their Roman-style festive altars (pl.V) and on a tripod candelabrum (pl. XXIII). In London, this Parisian style was advanced around 1800 by the furnishings of Thomas Hope's mansion/museum in Duchess Street, where this same tripod-pattern of addorsed and single-legged sphinx featured on bronze "candelabrum" candlesticks, which he is likely to have commissioned from the French-born Piccadilly bronze-founder Alexis Decaix (d.1811) (T. Hope, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807, pl.XLIX).
These monumental vessels, of heavy weight, have a direct counterpart in a very similar pair of silver-gilt fruit coolers of 1805 - of the same shape but with a shallow dish liner - by Digby Scott & Benjamin Smith, also stamped by Rundell's, which are identical in the handles, bases and lower part of the bodies, differing only in the design of the upper decorative bands. These were sold from the The Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, Christie's, New York, 20 October 1999, lot 184 ($310,000). A set of four silver-gilt wine coolers, 1803/4, by Paul Storr, at Woburn Abbey are also after the same Boileau design, the frieze and serpent handles being taken directly from the drawing (Snodin, op. cit., fig. 12, p. 130). One, or possibly two other pairs of these wine coolers in gilt-bronze are presently known. An almost identical pair, sold from the collection of the late H. T. S. Upcher, Sheringham Hall, Norfolk, Christie's house sale, 22-23 October 1986, lot 106), are both inscribed "BOUGHT AT EARL NELSON'S SALE JULY 1895", having been sold then from the collection of the 1st Viscount Bridport (Christie's, 12 July 1895, lot 113), grandson of Admiral Nelson, to whom they had almost certainly previously belonged. A further pair from the collection of the Earls of Lichfield at Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire, was with Jeremy Ltd. in 2003. Another pair was offered in 'Out of the Ordinary: The Individual and Discerning Taste of Christopher Gibbs and Harris Lindsay', Christie's London, 10 May 2006, lot 45. Finally, a single example was sold from the collection of Frederick Ballon, Christie's, New York, 17 October 2003, lot 192 ($65,000).
The introduction to England of the severe Graeco-Egyptian style of these coolers, owes much to the firm of Rundell Bridge & Rundell, goldsmiths and bronze founders, whose chief patron was the Prince of Wales. Rundell's have here commissioned a modification of a pure Egyptian motif. Swans substitute cobras, flanking a winged sun disc, modified to a bowl with rayed fluting above, and face inwards rather than outwards, heads raised like their serpent prototypes. In the purer form this motif is derived from Vivant Denon, taken up by Percier and Fontaine, and appears in the French silver of Biennais. Possibly it was thought that the variant of the swan, then commonly seen in French design, would make a pleasing complement to the benign serpent handles. Artefacts designed by Thomas Hope (whose possible connection with Boileau is considered by Snodin, op. cit., p. 132) also combined both Greek and Egyptian forms and ornament, for instance seen on a settee and chair from his Egyptian Room in Duchess Street, now in the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia ("Egyptomania. Egypt in Western Art 1730-1930", Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, Ottawa, Vienna, 1994-95, Nos. 100-101). The contrast, seen both in the drawings and here in these gilt-bronze coolers, of rich frieze and handles in the upper part, and a concentration on the grand plain shape and surface of the lower, is typical of the sophistication of Boileau's style.
Rundell's were receptive to French influence. The extensive two-day sale at Christie's in London of French goods imported by the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre was in 1791. In about 1800 they had bought, very probably through Boileau's influence, a pair of silver-gilt tureens by Henri Auguste of 1787 (collection of H. M. the Queen) in the Louis XVI Greek manner (see, for example, Snodin, op. cit., fig. 1, p. 125). The shape and some details of decoration connect them with a Boileau drawing for a tureen (Snodin, op. cit., fig. 8, p. 129), and Storr's Royal Egyptian Service of 1803 (see, for example, Snodin, op. cit., fig 9, p. 129, illustrating a tureen from this service), Egyptian motifs further developed there.