This silver-mounted Japanese porcelain bowl and cover is one of only a handful of objects to survive from the Bath period of William Beckford's life. Beckford, the celebrated art collector, connoisseur and gentleman architect, moved from his immense gothic mansion Fonthill Abbey in 1822, living first at Great Pultney Street and then Lansdown Crescent, creating the Lansdown Tower as a writing retreat from 1826. The present bowl and cover, as well as the fascinating carp-pattern teapot with mounts by James Aldridge, London, 1825 (sold Christie's, London, 27-28 November 2012, lot 839) combine exotic porcelain and other materials with silver, silver-gilt or gold to create highly decorative objects, either for use or merely for display. The hawk and foliage decoration on this example has parallels in two similarly decorated silver-gilt mounted porcelain baskets, marked for James Aldridge, London, 1818, at Brodick Castle, a previous residence of the Dukes of Hamilton. The present mounted bowl and cover cannot be identified in any of the several Beckford or Hamilton inventories prior to 1876 as there are too many generic descriptions of mounted ‘basons [sic] and covers’.
The design for this piece almost certainly would have been created at the direction of Beckford, recalling the earlier works Aldridge had created for him under the supervision of his great friend Gregorio Franchi (1769-1828). Evidence of the close collaboration between patron, designer and craftsman can be seen in the album of drawings and drawings, now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V E 1-89-1972). Another re-discovery from the Bath period of Beckford's life is a teacup and saucer of Sèvres 'des Indes' pattern porcelain mounted by Aldridge in silver-gilt in 1827 and exhibited by H. Blairman & Sons in 2010.
James Aldridge is pivotal to the study of William Beckford as a collector of silver and silver-mounted objects. He was apprenticed to Charles Aldridge in 1778 and became free in 1785. Charles Aldridge had also worked for Beckford, creating the Hamilton Beckford candlesticks in 1787 which are now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (sold Christie's, London, 17 November 2009, lot 277). James entered his first mark in 1798 when based at 20 Strand, later moving to 11 Northumberland Street nearby in around 1807.
Aldridge's first commission from Beckford dates from 1812. It was a bowl modelled in the form of a Chinese porcelain or enamelled copper bowl with engraved decoration that simulated painted enamel decoration. A large number of commissions followed for silver-gilt and gold-mounted hardstone vessels and silver-gilt mounted cups, scent flasks and jugs with Oriental porcelain bodies. One of the more extraordinary commissions was a magnificent hookah pipe which Aldridge created using a Mughal nephrite ewer as the body with silver-gilt and platinum mounts. The Victoria and Albert Museum album, mentioned above, was compiled by Aldridge and includes designs for Beckford uniquely mounted on single sheets accompanied by annotations and drawings by Franchi. The album dates from the Fonthill Abbey period. Some pieces, which appear in the album, among others are now at Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran and illustrated in D. Ostergard ed., William Beckford, 1760-1844, An Eye for the Magnificent, New Haven and London, 2001, nos. 63. 69, 110 and 126, and a silver-gilt mounted Meissen porcelain jug dated 1816 is in a private collection, op. cit., no. 110. Aldridge is thought to have continued working, latterly in partnership with his son Edward, until around 1845/46.