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A PAIR OF GEORGE III ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE JOHN CANDLE VASES
A PAIR OF GEORGE III ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE JOHN CANDLE VASES
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PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
A PAIR OF GEORGE III ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE JOHN CANDLE VASES

BY MATTHEW BOULTON, CIRCA 1775

Details
A PAIR OF GEORGE III ORMOLU-MOUNTED BLUE JOHN CANDLE VASES
BY MATTHEW BOULTON, CIRCA 1775
Each surmounted by a removable top with pine-cone finial above a spreading domed acanthus base and pearled neck, the top reversing to form a baluster-shaped stiff-leaf candle-nozzle with removable drip pan, the ovoid body with reeded rim flanked by scrolled handles cast with rosettes, husk trails and acanthus sprays, above an acanthus cup and fluted spreading circular socle with laurel collar and square base
12 ¾ in. (32.5 cm.) high
Provenance
With Norman Adams, London
A Private Collection, acquired from the above in 1976
'50 Years of Collecting: The Decorative Arts of Georgian England'; Christie's, London, 14 May 2003, lot 100
Literature
C. Claxton Stevens and S. Whittington, 18th Century English Furniture, The Norman Adams Collection, Woodbridge, rev. ed., 1985, pp. 475-6
N. Goodison, Matthew Boulton: Ormolu, London, 2002, p. 309, figs. 288-289

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Lot Essay

MATTHEW BOULTON: PURVEYOR OF LUXURY GOODS

Matthew Boulton (d.1809) is celebrated as the most significant producer of objets de luxe in eighteenth century England. A Renaissance man of sorts - artisan, designer, entrepreneur, scientific inventor and philanthropist - he was one of the luminaries of his time. In addition to his artistic endeavors, he and James Watt were credited with improving the efficiency of the steam engine, thus significantly contributing to the progress of the Industrial Revolution.

Boulton opened his Soho Manufactory in Birmingham with his partner John Fothergill in 1762. In a period when most firms comprised small industrial units engaged in complex systems of sub-contracting, the partners modernized manufacturing methods bringing together all mechanical processes with each specialized aspect of production, such as drawing, gilding and burnishing, in different studios. Through these improved production methods, the factory expanded its repertoire from producing buttons and small metal objects to encompass a wide variety of luxury goods in decorative metalware. Josiah Wedgwood described Boulton in 1767 as 'the most complete manufacturer in England in metal.' In 1765 Boulton visited Paris, where he observed firsthand the output of the acclaimed Parisian bronziers. Following this visit he became determined to challenge their dominance in the ormolu market, and in 1768 a specialized department was created for the large-scale production of ormolu.

With his jewel-like objects acquired by important patrons, including King George III, Boulton enjoyed a reputation for producing the most luxurious ormolu goods in the country. A series of sales at Christie's in the 1770s provided him with further access to London's fashionable clientele. Boulton also sought international clients, utilizing a network of local agents and ambassadors stationed abroad as tastemakers to introduce his work at various Royal Courts, such as the Court of Catherine the Great. His Soho factory became a place of pilgrimage for fashionable society and in 1767 Boulton boasted, 'Last week we had Prince Poniatowski, nephew of the King of Poland, and the French, Danish and Dutch ambassadors; this week we have the Count Orloff and five celebrated brothers who are such favorites with the Empress of Russia; and only yesterday I had the Viceroy of Ireland who dined with me. Scarcely a day passes without a visit from some distinguished personage' (H. W. Dickinson, Matthew Boulton, Cambridge University Press, 1936, p. 72).

THE MODEL

The present magnificent ‘Roman’ vases were particularly suited to rooms decorated in the fashionable George III ‘antique’ style promoted by architects and designers such as James and Robert Adam. They likely formed part of a decorative table or chimney-piece garniture. In a letter from Boulton to his wife detailing a visit to Buckingham House in 1770, the designer noted the fashion for adorning chimney-pieces with ormolu-mounted vases, recalling: ‘The Queen sent for me into her bed chamber, shewed me the chyney [sic] piece and asked my opinion how many vases it would take to furnish it, for she says all that china shall be taken away' (N. Goodison, Matthew Boulton: Ormolu, London 2002, p. 165).

Vases accounted for the majority of the firm’s ormolu production and the present pair, with slender scrolled arms and reversible socket-concealing lids serving as candle holders, is derived from a sketch in from the firm's Pattern Book I numbered 863 (Pattern Book 1, p. 170; illustrated Goodison, op. cit, fig. 290). Significantly, and perhaps surprisingly, the vases offered here appear to be the only known pair of this precise pattern. While the design suggests that the model was possibly conceived with additional ornamentation such as swags, the choice to keep the mounts spare serves to showcase the exceptionally striking figure of the stone. The finely cast and chased ormolu finials recall the lids in a pattern of winged-figure vases (ibid., p. 361, fig. 370), while the nozzles feature on the 'Apollo and Diana' candlestick pattern (p. 186, fig. 132.1-2). Close variants on the present model, including related examples with scrolled handles, appear in sketches on page 170 and 171 of the Pattern Book (illustrated ibid., pp. 295, 307-308, figs. 257, 284, 287). Notable examples of Boulton's work at auction include a pair of blue john urns with mask-molded handles, sold Christie's, New York, 17 October 2008, lot 53 ($242,500), a pair of white marble pot-pourri vases and covers, sold Christie's, London, 5 December 2012, lot 548 (£157,250) and a blue john 'Kings' candelabrum sold Christie's, London, 5 December 2012, lot 550 (£337,250).

BLUE JOHN

Featuring richly striated blue john, the present vases reflect the taste for precious mounted minerals and hardstones among collectors in the second half of the 18th century. A rare fluorspar deposit, blue john is mined on a single hill in Castleton, Derbyshire. Comprised of a mix of deep purple hues with lighter translucent layers ranging from honey yellow to light brown, the name is a corruption of their appellation 'bleu et jaune' in French. Robert Adam too incorporated blue john into furniture and lighting, while a pair of Louis XVI vases and a ewer in the Wallace Collection suggest that Parisian marchands-merciers also used the material (P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996, vol. III, pp.1390-3, F345-7). It remains unknown if marchands-merciers obtained blue john directly from Castleton or if they were supplied through Boulton, who had an essential monopoly on the mineral in England, as well as a flourishing trade in France.

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