These eyecatching and whimsical candelabra were formerly in the collection of Nancy Lancaster (1897-1994), and were placed in the famous yellow drawing room of her apartment at Avery Row, above the show room of the celebrated decorating firm Colefax and Fowler which with John Fowler she ran from 1950 following Sybil Colefax’s retirement. With its vividly-colored walls and English country aesthetic, this room is one of the most iconic domestic interiors of the 20th century and it came to inspire generations of decorators from Sister Parish to Mark Hampton. Born in Virginia, Nancy Lancaster had a huge influence on interior decoration in the 20th century, both through her work with John Fowler and through a series of iconic interiors she created for her own residences, including Kelmarsh Hall and Ditchley Park with her husband Ronald Tree, where guests included Winston Churchill, Noel Coward and David Niven, and finally Haseley Court in Oxfordshire.
Tripod bases were among the more popular design elements in late eighteenth-century French decorations as they were seen as typical features of ancient Roman art after numerous braziers and lavabo stands had been excavated in Italy. Such bases were often utilized in candelabra, side tables and centerpieces, most often executed in ormolu, such as lot 50 in this sale. The tripod base of the present centerpieces is practically identical to that of an ormolu candelabrum dated circa 1785 and illustrated H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Munich, 1986, vol..I, p. 265, fig. 4.9.4. and very similar to those supporting marble bowls in the collection of the Louvre, see ibid., p. 267, fig. 4.9.8. With their unusual ormolu pineapple mounts, these rare and fascinating objects probably served as amusing conversation pieces. Pineapples, along with other exotic fruits from the colonies, were rare and fashionable in the seventeenth and eighteenth century and Europeans even tried to cultivate them in England and on the continent. Late seventeenth-century paintings, such as the family portrait of Agneta Block and her family at their summer home Vijverhof by Jan Weemix, now in the Amsterdam Museum, or a painting showing King Charles II being presented with a pineapple by the Royal Gardener, John Rose, (sold Christie’s New York, 5 July 2018, lot 46), as well as the famous La Récolte des Ananas Beauvais tapestry in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, attest to the European fascination with pineapples. Pineapples were sometimes fashioned out of porcelain, wood, or ormolu and used as exotic, often Chinoiserie-related, ornaments. For a pair of ormolu-mounted ostrich eggs decorated with gilt bronze pineapples from circa 1760, see Sotheby’s New York, 6 November 2008, lot 91. The unusually large size of the ormolu pineapples and the fact that they are nestled among realistically-painted metal leaves suggest that these candelabra were intended as grand centerpieces for the dining table where gilt bronze and tôle peinte served as a substitute for the quickly-spoiling real fruit. A pair of practically identical centerpieces is in the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris (inv. 31210).