These vases comprise festive Grecian-stepped altar-pillars that are hung with bacchic lion-heads and capped by laurel-wreathed sacred urns evoking lyric poetry and sacrifices at love's altar. Such candle-vases were designed by Matthew Boulton as appropriate embellishment for the furnishings of a room decorated either in the French goût grec fashion or in the Etruscan 'columbarium' fashion promoted by Robert Adam (d. 1792).
This model of vase is derived from the pattern of candle vase referred to by Boulton in a letter to William Matthews on 6 May 1771 as a 'Cleopatra' vase. Several were included in the 1771 sale at Christie's, but only referred to as Cleopatra vases in the subsequent letter, detailing unsold stock. It is thought that Boulton was referring to a model of candle vase incorporating a square pedestal with an integral portrait medallion of Cleopatra with diadem, veil and an asp at her breast. It seems that the likeness of Cleopatra was soon replaced by medallions of Ceres. Examples exist with pedestals of unadorned panels of agate, lapis, aventurine and simulated malachite. In spite of such variations, the model was still referred to as the 'Cleopatra' vase. A further variation, relating to the present model and probably slightly later in date, incorporated the Cleopatra vase with a drum pedestal mounted with laurel-swagged lion's heads and a stepped plinth with a pierced guilloche band (N. Goodison, Matthew Boulton: Ormolu, London, 2002, pp. 297, 328-330, figs. 260-262, 327-330). A pair of blue john candle vases of this model was sold by Mr. S. Jon Gerstenfeld, in these Rooms, 25 November 2004, lot 60 (£106,500). Another pair was sold by the late Denys Sutton, Christie's, New York, 15 April 2005, lot 212 ($120,000).
Instead of the more usual Derbyshire fluorite known as blue john that was commonly used by Boulton for his objects, this pair of candlevases uses a yellow fluorite with an unusual zig-zag structure. This stone may be identifiable with a yellow fluorite mined at Crich, or possibly with another stone combining barytes and fluorite known as 'hatterel'. Boulton referred to a particular type of stone, possibly either of the latter, as 'tiger stone' and 'leopard stone'. His diary records a purchase of tiger stone in 1769 (ibid., p.152 & p. 384, n. 110).
The vases may have been those purchased by the 6th Baron Craven (d. 1791) from Boulton in 1775 (ibid., p. 410). He was an infrequent visitor to Soho House, but is recorded there between 1769-1780 and purchased vases and dressing-boxes in 1771. His descendent William, 4th Earl of Craven (d. 1921) reputedly presented these vases to his wife Cornelia (d. 1961) who presented them to her brother, Bradley Martin. They were later inherited by his son, Esmond Bradley Martin and sold at Sotheby's New York in 2002.