This model of vase with laurel swags was conceived as a perfume burner with a pierced lid to release the scent of aromatic herbs, and derives from an illustration in volume 1, p. 171 of Matthew Boulton's Pattern Book.
Matthew Boulton (d. 1809) established his manufactory in Soho, Birmingham and began his celebrated partnership with John Fothergill (d. 1782) in 1762. George III and Queen Charlotte were among their many illustrious patrons and a series of sales at Christie's and Ansell's Pall Mall rooms provided them with access to London's fashionable clientele. Boulton sought to expand his market to include international clients and already in 1769, long before he made enough objects to suffice, he was thinking of selling vases in Paris. By 1771 there is evidence that they made deliveries of their goods to various European countries, particularly to Russia. Their clients were reached through Boulton and Fothergill's representatives, often English ambassadors abroad and foreign ambassadors in England. Their early contacts were established when, in 1766, Fothergill travelled to the Baltic states, including Prussia and Poland. Boulton and Fothergill became widely known and had frequent foreign visitors to their workshop. In the autumn of 1772 Boulton wrote: ...We had last week Prince Ponitowski, the nephew of the King of Poland, the French, the Danish, the Sardinian and the Dutch ambassadors. Indeed, among Boulton and Fothergill's most prestigious foreign clients was the Empress Catherine of Russia, who in 1771 directed her Russian envoy to Boulton's factory to acquire objects. This appointment was subsequently followed by a delivery of vases to the English envoy in Russia which were designated for the Empress. A pair of vases, fashioned as the same model to the present lot but differing in the use of fluorspar plinths, are in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg (illustrated in Nathalie Bondil, ed., Catherine the Great: Art for Empire, Montreal, 2005, p. 129). These vases are perhaps the pair recorded in Catherine's collection in 1772, although records show that Catherine ordered further items in 1774 and 1776. Catherine was reported in 1772 to have said that Boulton's vases were 'superior to those of the French in all respect'.
A pair of perfume burners of the same model have been recorded in the collection of Pavlovsk Palace, Saint Petersburg (see A. Koutchoumov, Pavlovsk. Le Palais et le Parc, Leningrad, 1976, pl. 92). Others were in the collections of the Earl of Bradford at Weston Park, Shropshire (see N. Goodison, Ormolu, The Work of Matthew Boulton, 1974, pl. 134) and Viscount Clifden, K.C.V.O (sold Christie's, London, 2 December 1966, lot 73). Further pairs sold at auction include: Christie's, London, 6 July 1995, lot 27 (£37,800 including premium); a pair from the collection of Mrs. Gabrielle Keiller, 4 July 1996, lot 278 (£58,700 including premium); and a pair with replaced lids, sold Christie's, London, 31 October 2012, lot 291 (£31,250 including premium).