Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) was the pre-eminent eighteenth-century maker of fine quality ormolu objects in England. Together with his partner, John Fothergill, Boulton established the Soho Manufactory near Birmingham in 1762 and produced ormolu, Sheffield and silver plate, clocks and other ornamental wares for English and European royal and noble patrons including George III, Catherine II, Empress of Russia, and George, Prince of Wales, later George IV.
Boulton's production of ormolu objects coincided with the development of the antique taste in England and many of his works were executed according to designs supplied by the fashionable architects of the day, including Robert Adam, Sir William Chambers and James Wyatt. With it's tripod form and classically-inspired ornamentation, the design of this perfume burner or cassolette derives from antiquity and was associated both then and in eighteenth-century England with dining and hospitality as Mrs. Montagu noted in a letter to Boulton in 1773 '...my friends reproach me that I do not regale their noses with fine odours after entertaining their plates with soups and ragouts. The cassolettes [are] used to make their entry with desert and chase away the smell of dinner' (N. Goodison, Ormolu: The Work of Matthew Boulton, London, 1974, p.25).
Boulton subscribed to many of the leading eighteenth-century architectural and archaeologiccal publications and the term figures which appear on this perfume burner relate closely to those which appear in a design by Michaelangelo Pergolesi, found amongst his pattern books as reproduced here. Similar figures also feature in a design by James Wyatt (see K. Quickenden, 'Boulton and Fothergill Silver', Burlington Magazine, June 1986, p.419) as well as in other drawings and works produced by Boulton and Fothergill. (R.Rowe. Adam Silver, London, 1965, fig.47, and N. Goodison,op.cit, fig.125.)
A pair of identical perfume burners with pedestals from the collection of Viscount Villiers was sold Christie's London, 17 November 1994, lot 26, (£276,500). Produced by Boulton in 1771, Sir Robert Child acquired the Villiers pair for the Withdrawing Room at Osterley Park House in Christie and Ansell's sale-room in April 1772. Other identical examples are in the collection at Temple Newsam, Leeds (see C. Gilbert, Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall, London, 1978, vol. II, p. 385, fig. 510; this example lacks its burner) and in the A.C.J. Wall loan at the Birmingham City Museum and Gallery. A further pair of this form was purchased from Mallett, London and is illustrated in The Age of Matthew Boulton: Masterpieces of Neoclassicism, London, 2000, pp. 66-67. This pair is now in a distinguished American private collection. This is the pair of this model thought to have been purchased by the Prince of Wales.