This pair of fruit coolers exemplifies the classical and Egyptian revivals of the early nineteenth century which followed archaeological discoveries and territorial conquests in Italy and the Nile. The coolers show the considerable influence of French taste in English silver, particularly the contrasting areas of plain silver and crisp relief ornament.
The design for these fruit coolers is attributed to French-born Jean-Jacques Boileau, a mural painter, who came to England to assist Henry Holland in the decoration of the Prince of Wales's Carlton House. Boileau later turned his hand to silver design and his work shows a debt to the French goldsmith Henri Auguste. Among Boileau's designs are works executed in the full-blown Egyptian manner, likely encouraged by publications such as Vivant Denon's Voyages dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte of 1802.
Boileau's drawing for a wine cooler in the Egyptian manner, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is clearly the inspiration for the present fruit coolers, which incorporate a similar shape and duplicate the base and sphinx supports. In addition, the fruit coolers exhibit a number of characteristic Boileau motifs, including the plain lower body contrasting with bands of ornament, coiling serpents formed as handles, classical masks at the base of handle joins, as well as plaited hair tied under the chin of each sphinx head. A set of four silver coolers, which incorporate the serpent handles and frieze, but not the sphinx base of the sketch was produced by Paul Storr in 1803-04 and is in the collection of the Marquess of Tavistock and the Trustees of the Bedford Estate, Woburn Abbey (see M. Snodin, "J. J. Boileau: A Forgotten Designer of Silver" Connoisseur, June 1978, pp. 124-33 and H. Young, "A Further Note on J. J. Boileau, 'a Forgotten Designer of Silver'" Apollo 124, October 1986, pp. 334-37.