• Centuries of Style: Silver, Eu auction at Christies

    Sale 7800

    Centuries of Style: Silver, European Ceramics, Portrait Miniatures and Gold Boxes

    17 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 363

    A VICTORIAN SILVER TESTIMONIAL-CENTREPIECE

    MARK OF JOHN SAMUEL HUNT, LONDON, 1846

    Price Realised  

    A VICTORIAN SILVER TESTIMONIAL-CENTREPIECE
    MARK OF JOHN SAMUEL HUNT, LONDON, 1846
    The base tricorn shaped, each end applied with a figure emblematic of the arts, each seated on cast rockwork and resting against a central fluted and laurel branch column, with a central column with cast scenes of actors and applied with cast putto holding floral swags, capped with a cast figure of a maiden with musical instruments, the base with a plaque with an inscription, marked on the base, on figures, inside cast plaques and on top column, the foot further stamped 'HUNT AND ROSKELL LATE STORR, MORTIMER AND HUNT' and numbered 2662
    673 oz. (20,916 gr.)
    The inscription reads 'IN RECORD OF THE ZEAL, JUDGMENT AND LIBERALITY EVINCED IN THE MANAGEMENT OF HER MAJESTY'S THEATRE, THIS TESTIMONIAL IS PRESENTED TO B. LUMLEY ESQre BY HIS FRIENDS AND SUBSCRIBERS 1846'


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    Benjamin Lumley was both an author and a theatre manager. In the theatre and opera world he is chiefly remembered for his highly regarded productions at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, which he ran as Theatre Manager from 1842 until 1852.

    Lumley was the son of Louis Levy, a merchant of Canadian extraction who had died in London around 1831. Lumley initially trained as a solicitor and was employed as such by the Herne Bay Packet Company. While studying for his Bar exams he met and was taken on by Pierre-François Laporte (d.1841) manager of Her Majesty's Theatre to undertake legal and financial business transactions on his behalf. On the latter's death Lumley took over the running of the theatre. He prospered, breaking the monopoly of Italian singers and musicians and bringing ballet to the theatre. He was a prominent figure in society, entertaining royalty and the aristocracy at his Fulham house The Chancellors. His name featured heavily in the society pages of The Times. In 1846 the gratitude felt by his friends and supporters acquired a physical presence in the form of the grand silver testimonial offered here. Lumley records its presentation in his memoirs Reminiscences of the Opera, Twenty Years Director of Her Majesty's Theatre, London, 1864, p. 197.

    'As well to mark the satisfaction of the old supporters of Her Majesty's Theatre with their season's entertainment, as to signify their appreciation of the director's past conduct in general, a magnificent testimonial was presented to me towards the close of the season of 1847. It was inscribed with these words: "In record of the zeal, judgment and liberality, evinced in the management of Her Majesty's Theatre, this testimonial is presented to B. Lumley, Esq., by his friends and subscribers.'

    Lumley's social connections are clearly shown by the illustrious role call of the good and the great who subscribed to the piece.

    'A comprehensive subscription list was appended to the gift, including the names of several foreign ambassadors to this Court (that of one of my staunchest friends, Baron de B , at their head), followed by the signatures of the Dukes of Wellington, Bedford, Cleveland, Devonshire, Leinster, and Somerset; the Marquises of Lansdowne, Clanricarde, Donegal, Granby, and Huntley; the Earls of Lonsdale, Harrington, Kenmare, Bective, and Pembroke ; with a host of others, titled and untitled, including that of the Prince Louis Napoleon.' B. Lumley, op. cit., p. 197.

    However, even his well connected friends and many supporters would not be enough to take him through the turbulent years that were to follow. The Tesimonial would remind him of the professional and social heights to which risen.

    'This handsome piece of plate was to me a great source of pride and solace amidst all my trials and anxieties, as it showed the esteem and favour with which I was regarded by opera-goers at this crisis of my fortunes. Letters poured in upon me on every side, and from the noblest in the land, in assurance of support. Even anonymous good wishes were conveyed to me, to cheer and encourage me on my way.'

    By opposing the system, which made much of the stars of the time, and by challenging the established monopoly enjoyed by many of the musicians he made a number of enemies; not least of these was his lead conductor Michael Costa. Costa left the theatre in 1847 taking with him more that half the much admired orchestra to the newly establish Royal Italian Opera House at Covent Garden. Audiences declined dramatically and he no longer enjoyed the acclaim of the critics. Lumley was briefly saved by the hard won engagement of Jenny Lind (1820-1887), "the Swedish Nightingale", perhaps the greatest soprano of the 19th century. Unfortunately her retirement in 1849 led to a decline in Lumley's fortunes once more. In 1851, following a disastrous season in both London and Paris, where he had taken the Théâtre Italien, Lumley lost over £14,400. He fled to Paris to escape his creditors and the theatre remained closed until 1856.

    Lord Ward, later Earl of Dudley, backed Lumley and enabled him to return in 1856, taking advantage of the fire which had closed Covent Garden. Success was to prove elusive once more and Lumley was forced to give up the lease in 1858. He returned to the law and writing his memoires. He died unmarried at his Kensington House in 1875.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Provenance

    Presented to Benjamin Lumley (1811-1875) by friends and subscribers at the close of the 1847 season.


    Literature

    B. Lumley, Reminiscences of the Opera, Twenty Years Director of Her Majesty's Theatre, London, 1864, p. 197.