The pair to this tureen sold Christie's, New York, 27 October 1987, lot 392.
From his many childless relatives, Sir James Lowther inherited a slew of estates in Northern England, collecting an annual income of 45,000 before his twenty-first birthday, a sum that grew throughout his life with further investment in the coal-mining industry in west Cumberland.
Sir James's ambitious political career was marked by a series of complicated relationships with England's Prime Ministers. In 1761, he married Lady Mary Stuart (1740-1824), daughter of Prime Minister John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792). Much to Sir James's disappointment, the influence he had gained from the connection to the Stuart family subsided when George Grenville (1712-1770), a Whig, became Prime Minister in 1763. In 1784 Sir James was created Earl of Lonsdale under Prime Minister William Pitt the younger (1759-1806), but threatened to withdraw his support from the same eight years later, when he was denied a Dukedom.
The Earl was famous for his wealth and power in Northern England, declared "perhaps the richest subject that His Majesty has" by the Duke of Newcastle. His political tenacity was often an alienating force; Horace Walpole described him as "equally unamiable in public and private." He was capable of pleasantries, however, and it was observed by Scottish intellectual James Boswell (1740-1795) that "when he chooses to pay a compliment nobody can do it more gracefully."
(For quotes see: Hugh Owen, The Lowther family: eight hundred years of 'A family of ancient gentry and worship', 1990, p. 283; Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the reign of King George the Third, ed. G.F.R. Barker, 1894, vol. 3, p. 195; Owen, p. 297)
While the overall inspiration for the design of this tureen is decidedly French, the modelling of the figural group on the cover may be attributed to the celebrated English sculptor John Flaxman. Flaxman supplied designs and models to the potter Josiah Wedgwood in this period and also later on to the Royal Goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge & Rundell. The figural group on the present tureen is based on an antique Roman cameo illustrated in Montfaucon's L'Antiquité Expliquée, a source for a number of Flaxman's models. A similar figural group of a putto and a panther, also thought to be designed by Flaxman, appears on a tureen by Paul Storr of 1813 (sold Christie's, New York, April 16-17, 1985, lot 498).