These impressive ‘Grecian urn’ vases are remarkable for their blue john fluorspar, luminosity - particularly when exposed to light – and size; they are possibly one of the largest pairs to have remained together. This pair is part of a select homogenous group of vases of large proportions that includes the renowned Shore vase; the first vase of this design created in 1815 by James Shore of Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, which is 21 inches (53 cm.) to the top of the handles, and 12 inches (30 cm.) wide across the handles, now in the collection of the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, and another at Renishaw Hall, near Sheffield, which is larger still at 22 inches (56 cm.) high by 14 ½ inches (37 cm.) wide. Blue john vases of this model were highly prized with the Shore vase exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition, over 35 years after it was first created.
The present vases are modelled on an Apulian krater vase dated circa 330 B.C., illustrated in Pierre d'Hancarville's Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Hon. Wm. Hamilton, Vol. I, published in Naples in 1766. Hamilton, a prolific collector of antiquities, in particular Greek and Roman vases, brought his collection to England in 1772; it was later sold to the British Museum. The model was fashionable and reproduced in other media, in 1790, Josiah Wedgwood created comparable vases in black basalt, and in 1807, Thomas Hope included similar vases in bronze and gilt-metal in his Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807, plates V and XII.
These vases, similarly to the Shore vase at Chatsworth, and the Renishaw vase, are built up from a series of rings of Blue John fitted one above the other. The stone of the vase at Chatsworth comes from the Bull Beef Vein, mined in the Blue John Cavern in the Treak Cliff hills, Derbyshire. Blue john vases of these proportions are remarkable, and rare because it is difficult to extract large slabs of the fluorspar from the caverns and mines of Treak Cliff. The deposits, which occur in voids in the Boulder Bed and in ancient caves in the underlying Carboniferous Limestone are usually less than 4 inches (10 cm.) thick although occasionally the linings meet and fuse to create nodules or ‘double stones’ up to 8 inches (20 cm.) (T.D. Ford, ‘Postscript to The Largest Blue John Vases ever made’, Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society, vol. 11, no. 6, Winter 1992, p. 264).
A related example of this model of Blue John krater vase, ‘The Kedleston Vase’, 19 in. (48.5 cm) high, sold ‘The Exceptional Sale’, Christie’s, London, 9 July 2015 (£314,500 inc. prem.). Others of comparable dimensions to the latter include: one in the collection of the Royal Scottish Museum; another, measuring 19 inches (48.5 cm.) high, sold anonymously Sotheby’s, New York, 7 April 2004, lot 159 ($243,200 inc. prem.) and again, ‘The Property of Princeton University’, Sotheby’s, New York, 27 January 2012, lot 4 ($338,500 inc. prem.).