This monumental centerpiece, composed of one of the most important models in English Regency silver, represents the extraordinary collaboration of artist, modeller, and silversmith--all working under the direction of the Royal goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.
John Flaxman, the greatest English sculptor of his day, designed both fully-modelled figural groups and bas-relief friezes for Rundell's most important works in silver. When the Prince of Wales, later George IV, commissioned two massive candelabra for his London palace Carlton House, Rundell's engaged Flaxman to design their sculptural bases. The subjects of the figural groups were the Garden of the Hesperides and Mercury Delivering the Infant Bacchus to the Nymphs of Nysa. The finished products, marked by Paul Storr in 1810 and in 1816, are acknowledged to be Flaxman's greatest fully-modelled works in silver. Flaxman's greatest bas-relief work for Rundell's was the Shield of Achilles, marked by Philip Rundell in 1821 and sold to George IV for display at his coronation banquet that year. While Rundell's subsequently made four more Achilles Shields, the present candelabrum is the only example of the Mercury sculpture known outside the Royal example. Rundell's also made just one other version of the Hesperides sculpture, for a candelabrum in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (illustrated in Shirley Bury, "Flaxman as a Designer of Silverwork," in David Bindman, ed., John Flaxman, 1979, fig. 185a, p.144).
Rundell's bill for the Royal candelabra proudly emphasizes Flaxman's authorship, describing them as "2 rich candelabras . . . composed from designs made by Flaxman on the subject of Mercury presenting Bacchus to the Nymphs. The other the serpents guarding the tree of Hesperides" (as quoted in E. Alfred Jones, The Gold and Silver of Windsor Castle, 1911, p. 116).
Flaxman's finished design for this candelabrum, in the form of a pen-and-wash rendering (illustrated here) was just the first step in the complex process of creating the work in silver. The two-dimensional drawing had to be translated into three dimensions by a skilled modeller. Rundell's employed sculptor William Theed R.A. as chief modeller in their workshops from around 1804 to 1817, and his authorship of the models for the Mercury candelabrum is documented by the artist Joseph Farington. In 1811, Farington visited Rundell's Dean Street workshops, recording that Theed showed him "several of his models: Candelabrums for the Prince of Wales & other works and described the great scale on which Rundell & Bridge (silversmiths) carry on their works" (Farington Diary, September 20, 1811, as quoted in Christopher Hartop, Royal Goldsmiths: The Art of Rundell & Bridge 1797-1843, 2005, pp. 99-100).
Rundell's workshops were at first managed by silversmiths Digby Scott and Benjamin Smith, but from 1807 to 1819, Paul Storr ran the manufactory, producing all of Rundell's commissions in silver-gilt. When Storr left Rundell's in 1819, the workshops continued under the direction of Philip Rundell, who entered his first mark that year. (Interestingly, the branches of the present candelabrum, made in 1819, bear sponsor's marks of both Storr and Rundell.)
(The Mercury candelabrum in the Royal Collection is illustrated in Christopher Hartop, op. cit., p. 99, in E. A. Jones, op. cit., Pl. LIX, p. 117, and Shirley Bury, op. cit., p fig. 185b, p. 145. For a discussion of George IV's silver made for Carlton House, known as the Grand Service and including the Mercury candelabrum, see Carlton House: the Past Glories of George IV's Palace, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 1991, esp. pp. 44-46.)
Sir Richard Sutton, 2nd baronet, succeeded to the baronetcy and inherited his grandfather's extensive landholdings at age 4 in 1802. His ancestors had been landowners in Nottinghamshire since the 13th century, and by the 18th century the family had acquired further properties in Norfolk, Leicestershire, and London. These estates generated immense income for the young Sir Richard, who married immediately on attaining his majority in 1819. Befitting the marriage of one of the richest men in England, Rundell's supplied him with a vast dinner service, consisting of 3,000 ounces in silver objects, and 1,200 ounces in silver-gilt, all marked by Philip Rundell in 1819 and 1820. A pair of gilt four-light candelabra of 1820 were undoubtedly made to flank the present centerpiece, which was fitted with a huge twelve-light branch for the same occasion. (The candelabra from the Sutton Service were sold Christie's, London, 5 July 2000, lot 4; most of the rest of the Sutton dinner service is illustrated in Glory of the Goldsmith: Magnificent Gold and Silver from the Al-Tajir Collection, pp. 190-191).
Sir Richard devoted his life to sport and music. His chief interest was hunting, and he had a liking for difficult horses. Although asked to stand for parliament a number of times, he disliked politics and steadfastly refused. His estates descended to his second son Richard, a keen yachtsman who challenged for the America's Cup in 1885.
CAPTION: John Flaxman, Drawing for Mercury Presenting the Infant Bacchus, Courtesy of Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California
CAPTION: John Flaxman, Drawing for Mercury Presenting the Infant Bacchus, Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum
CAPTION: Portrait of Sir Richard Sutton, 2nd Bt. (1798-1855), by John Dalby Christie's Images