The design of this striking pair of ‘Roman’ torcheres, with palm-wrapped pillars and tripod 'claw' on chimerae monopodia, derives in part from marble antiquities such as those displayed in the Louvre (H. Moses, Vases, Altars, Paterae, Tripods, Candelabra, Sarcophagi, London, 1814, pl. 86). Interest in Ancient Roman forms was revived by the French architects Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853) in their influential 1801 publication Recueil de Décorations Intérieures. There, several designs for torchere stands such as those on plates 4 and 23 closely relate to the present lot.
The maker of these torcheres is currently unknown but an identical torchere, which even shares the same idiosyncratic casting seam at the center of each side of the base, is in the collection of the Dukes of Devonshire. This torchere is topped with a ‘Roman’ oil lamp inset with an agate oval and is also a bit of a mystery; records in the Chatsworth archives do not currently confirm the torchere’s origins or exactly when it entered the collection. Although it is first documented in an 1822 watercolor of the library at Chiswick by William Henry Hunt (reproduced above), an 1811 inventory of Devonshire House after the 5th Duke’s death mentions “A Bronze vase supported on an ormolu tipped stand” located in the Front Drawing Room. This entry could certainly refer to the torchere as the 5th Duke refurbished both Devonshire House and Chatsworth during his tenure. However, other records in the Chatsworth archives suggest that it was acquired by the 6th Duke on an 1817 trip to St. Petersburg. A craftsman F. Rechenburg, is mentioned, perhaps in association with the torchere, and its unusual casting could indicate Russian manufacture. The agate mounted on the vase may be a further connection; at that time, precious hardstones were frequently incorporated into Russian furniture and decorations.
It is equally likely that these torcheres were made in England and the strongest candidate is the court lamp-manufacturer William Collins, who traded in the Strand from 1808-1852. His most important and probably most documented patron was the 3rd Duke of Northumberland and from 1822-1839, Collins supplied all the lighting and metalwork, in both ormolu and patinated bronze, for Northumberland House. This included the ‘5 Altar Pedestals with 5 Lamps for Grand Staircase” on a 23 March 1823 invoice (C. Sykes, Private Palaces Life in the Great London Houses, New York, 1986, p. 239) which also share characteristics with all of these torcheres. Intriguingly, a second pair of torcheres, with an antiqued bronze finish were offered at Christie's, London 9 June 2005, lot 210. This surface links directly to Collins, whose references to a ‘Grecian Metal’ seem to describe a special tinted lacquer finish to the bronze to create a suitably ‘Antique’ patina.
Christie’s thanks the Chatsworth Archives for their assistance in cataloging this lot.