Established in 1895, the New York firm of Edward F. Caldwell & Company was by and large one of the leading American designers of lighting fixtures and architectural decorations during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Operating from a large foundry located at 38 West 15th Street, the firm catered to the most affluent families of the Gilded Age, counting Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie and the Vanderbilts among his patrons. Upon his death in 1914, Caldwell was succeeded by his partner, Victor von Lossberg (d. 1942), an accomplished enameller, who incorporated the Company in 1915.
These magnificent and monumental torchères epitomize the firm's ability to rival the most fashionable and revered French firms of the period, evidenced by the excellent modeling of the herm figures and gilt- bronze chasing. The design, conceived at the time of von Lossberg's direction, was almost certainly carried out by a team of highly-skilled artisans, many of them of Italian, French and German descent, who von Lossberg hand-selected and recruited to the U.S. Working drawings for the male and female figures appear sporadically in the Company ledger between 1915 and 1917. An initial design, a satyr figure, whose various elements were filed under ledger numbers A33689 (column) and A33690 (figure and putto), was a showroom order and thus bears the notation 'Sample'. The first fully-executed commission for a pair of torchères (A33764), including the Bacchante pendant, was ordered in December 1915 for the interior decorator M. Etesses. Upon completion, a photographic record for the commission was entered into the Company's extensive archive (illustrated above). A close comparison of the marble columns reveals that the present lot does not match the Etesses order and is conceivably those ordered to nearly identical specifications in 1917 for an 'S. Zenmurray'. In all likelihood Caldwell's patron for the second pair was Samuel 'Sam the Banana Man' Zemurray (d. 1961), former owner of United Fruit Company.
Born Schmuel Zmurri in Russia in 1877, Samuel Zemurray emigrated to the U.S. at the age of eighteen and entered the banana trade in Mobile, Alabama in 1895. By the age of twenty-one he had founded his Cuyamel Fruit Company, which later merged with the Boston-based company United Fruit, and amassed a considerable fortune importing fruit from Honduras via steamship to ports in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1917, Zemurray purchased a Beaux-Arts mansion for $60,000 in the affluent New Orleans neighborhood of Audubon Place. Though the mansion was commonly considered 'the house that United Fruit built', the residence was originally designed and constructed in 1908 for William Theodore Jay, the owner of a large lumber and sawmill business. Upon purchasing the property, Zemurray and his wife Sara immediately commenced a series of capital improvements, including the addition of a grandiose ballroom on the third floor. Zemurray's commission for a 'shorter' pair of torchères, presumably the present lot, appears in the Company ledger on 30 October 1917, which would have coincided with the vast renovations underway at the residence in New Orleans. The pair was almost certainly ordered upon inspection of the aforementioned showroom samples and executed with specific height requirements not to exceed eight feet, four inches. In 1965, four years following Zemurray's death, the mansion was donated to nearby Tulane University where it now serves as the University President's residence.
We are grateful to Margaret Caldwell for her research and assistance with this footnote.