The Carp-Pattern teapot is a recent re-discovery and a rare survival 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 carp teapot epitomizes the innovative approach employed by Beckford throughout his lifetime, combining exotic porcelain and other materials with silver, silver-gilt or gold to create highly decorative objects, either for use or merely for display. In this instance, the silversmith James Aldridge has used a Chinese Export porcelain teapot body and engraved silver-gilt mounts to create an object of exotic style with the delightful conceit of the engraved carp 'swimming' around the underside of the cover mount and along the spout which echo the painted carp around the spout junction and handle. The unusual design may possibly be inspired by the silver fish held in the mouth of the golden heron which forms the crest of Beckford used so freely by him on his silver, porcelain and furniture; equally they may recall 'gold and silver fish' that acted as an ornament in Beckford's pond at Lansdown Tower observed by Henry Venn Lansdown on his visit to Beckford recorded in a letter to his daughter in August 1838.
'We observed before us a grotto, into which we entered. On the right is a pond of gold and silver fish, which are fed every morning by the hands of the gifted possessor of this charming place.' H. V. Lansdown, Recollections of the late William Beckford of Fonthill, Wilts; and Lansdown, Bath, Bath, 1893, p. 25.
The inventory produced by English and Son after Beckford's death listed the contents of his Bath home as published in M. Snodin and M. Baker, op. cit., p. 834. It included a large quantity of mounted porcelain including '11 pots and teapots', which no doubt included the present teapot and which was subsequently offered in the sale held on 26 November 1845 by English and Son, 'A tea-set of beautiful enamelled eggshell china, carp pattern, consisting of eight tea cups and saucers, five coffee cups, bason [sic.] and two plates, also a teapot and cream ewer to match, expensively mounted in silver-gilt.'
The design for the piece would almost certainly have been created under 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&A E 1-89-1972). One other piece recently discovered from the Bath period of Beckford's life is a tea cup and saucer of Sevres '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. Another example is in the collection of the Edward James Foundation, op. cit., no. 127, 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.