In 1770 Matthew Boulton secured an invitation to Buckingham House where he was received by King George III and Queen Charlotte. In a letter to his wife in March that year, Boulton describes the encounter thus: 'The Queen was very affable, and is patroness of many English manufactorys, of which she gave me a particular instance, for after the King and she had talked to me near three hours, they withdrew but the Queen sent for me into her bed chamber, shewed me the chyney [sic] piece and asked my opinion how many vases it would take to furnish it, for she says all that china shall be taken away'.
It was after this encounter that Boulton produced the design of the present vase to serve as part of the garniture for Queen Charlotte; it is known from Fothergill's correspondence that the original garniture included six vases and a clock case. In his book, Sir Nicholas Goodison suggests (based on the descriptions and reserve figures for vases of the same design included in Boulton's first sale at Christie's the following year) that the garniture is most likely to have consisted of four vases of this design, a pair of smaller sphinx-mounted vases and a mantel clock. Four of these vases were subsequently moved to Windsor castle in 1829, two of the 'King's candle-vases' are now on the mantel in the Queen's private sitting room there accompanied by the pair of sphinx-vases and the clock, whilst the two further 'King's candle-vases' are on display elsewhere at Windsor. William Chambers (1723-1796), who served alongside Robert Adam as the King's Architect from 1766, may be credited with the design of the foot of the present vase: he is reported to have supplied a drawing based on a sketch by the King for 'a better foot' for Boulton and Fothergill's '4-branched vase'. This is most likely to relate to the design of the 'King's candle-vase' because the same design of foot, and its close variants, recurs often amongst the group of works supplied by Boulton to the King - most notably in extended form to the clock which forms the centrepiece of the aforementioned garniture. Goodison goes on to suggest that Chambers was probably also responsible for considerably more of the design than just the foot. Chamber's designs for 'various vases, etc to be executed in or molu [sic], by Mr. Bolton [sic] for their Majesties' were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1770 and further evidence comes from a statement in a letter from Boulton to his wife '[Chambers] shewed me some some civility and made me a present of some valuable, usefull and acceptable modells'; also a design by Chambers' assistant John Yenn survives in the collection of The Victoria and Albert Museum which bears a striking resemblance to the present vase. (see N Goodison, Matthew Boulton: Ormolu, London, 2002, pp. 77-82).
Boulton, ever the self-publicist, was not one to miss an opportunity and went on to use this important commission to his advantage. He supplied examples of the 'King's candle-vase' to many notable patrons, some with minor variations or 'improvements' to the design. Variations included examples with statuary marble bodies and examples with six branches. The present vase displays a slight 'improvement', in the addition of an extra loop to the outer part of the branch which differs from those supplied to the King and relates to design number 399 in their pattern book. In a further (and slightly brass-necked) attempt to publicize this Royal commission, Boulton and Fothergill included two examples of this design in their sale at Christie's in 1771 ('A Catalogue of the Superb and elegant produce of Messrs Boulton and Fothergill's Or moulu Manufactory' ,) , Thursday 11 April, lot 86 and Friday 12 April, lot 88, each described as follows 'A large vase of radix amethysti and ormolu perforated for incense with two double branches, supported by demy satyrs with festoons, etc. standing on a plynth richly inlaid, after a model that hath been executed for his majesty'. Both examples in the 1771 sale were purchased by someone of the name Barton.
Other known examples of this design and its close variants survive in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicargo, at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire, and at Saltram Park, Devon whilst a pair white marble bodies from the collection of Lord Elphinstone featured in the Partridge Fine Arts Summer exhibition in 1989 and a bluejohn bodied example was sold form The Fermor-Hesketh Collections, Christie's London, 7 July 1988, lot 7. The Saltram vases (which are six-light variants of the design) were commissioned for the House by Mrs. Thomas Parker in 1771 following her admiration of the one her brother, Lord Grantham, had acquired; four remain in her Adam saloon, as originally intended, and an additional candelabra is elsewhere in the house. (for an extensive discussion on the design of this vase see, N. Goodison, Ibid., pp. 77-82, 336-342).
The present vase formed part of the collection of HRH The Prince George, Duke of Kent. It was sold by Princess Marina, Dowager Duchess of Kent at Christie, Manson & Wood's sale of her property at Derby House, London, 12-14 March 1947 as lot 313, where it was purchased by 'F.P.' at 220 10s 0d. 'F.P.' was almost certainly Frank Partridge, who it is believed was acting as agent for the Earl and Countess of Harewood to buy the vase from the collection of Princess Mary's late brother.