A pair of ormolu and blue john vases, by Matthew Boulton
Lot 77
A pair of rare ormolu mounted banded amethyst quartz winged-figure Vases and Covers circa 1772, designed by Matthew Boulton,
Sold for £96,000 (US$ 154,068) inc. premium

Lot Details
A pair of ormolu mounted fluorspar 'Blue John' veined winged-figure Vases and Covers circa 1772, des A pair of ormolu mounted fluorspar 'Blue John' veined winged-figure Vases and Covers circa 1772, des A pair of ormolu mounted fluorspar 'Blue John' veined winged-figure Vases and Covers circa 1772, des A pair of ormolu and blue john vases, by Matthew Boulton A pair of ormolu and blue john vases, by Matthew Boulton A pair of ormolu and blue john vases, by Matthew Boulton A pair of ormolu and blue john vases, by Matthew Boulton A pair of ormolu and blue john vases, by Matthew Boulton A pair of ormolu and blue john vases, by Matthew Boulton A pair of ormolu and blue john vases, by Matthew Boulton
A pair of rare ormolu mounted banded amethyst quartz winged-figure Vases and Covers
circa 1772, designed by Matthew Boulton,
the beaded stiff leaf lids with acanthus cappings and leafy thyrsus finials, the ovoid bodies with applied draped winged female acanthus term handles, the central beaded and lappet banded guilloche girdles with twin acanthus scroll pendants, on fluted and gadrooned circular pedestals and square plinth bases, the darkened undersides of both plinth bases bearing ink numbered and scripted inventory marks 158 7.L² EMO LL Gsp² and 158 7.L3 EMO LL Gsp3, alterations and inner liners and one cover of a later date. alterations and inner liners and one cover of a later date, 32cm high (12.5" high).

Footnotes

  • Provenance

    The Earls of Portarlington, Emo Court, Portarlington, Co. Laois, Eire.

    Both vases are marked on the bases:

    158 7.L² 158 7.L3
    EMO and EMO
    LL Gsp² LL Gsp3

    Examination of the dismantled vases indicate that they were originally a garniture of three vases with one, or perhaps a pair, being originally candelabra; one now being missing, as marks on them include mounts numbered with one to three dots. They are, almost certainly, those listed in the 1907 Marriage Settlement inventory. This was a complete list of the contents of the house at that date. They are shown as 1 set (3) Blue and Gold Vases. Below this another entry states 3 pieces and 2 stands. These may, perhaps, be ormolu bases such as those at Osterley Park. They are described as being in the Reception Room, now the Drawing Room and one of the few rooms completed in the 2nd Earl’s time. However, the cursive nature of the inscriptions indicates a much earlier date than 1907.

    Possibly purchased by the 1st Viscount Carlow or Catherlough in its Irish spelling. The title of Baron of Carlow was first held by the 7th. Earl of Westmorland but became extinct upon his death in 1762. Sir Nicholas Goodison mentions an Earl of Catherlough as purchasing a pair of Cleopatra Vases in 1771 (see p. 408). This creates something of an anomaly since the second creation in that peerage (24th. July 1776), was as Viscount Carlow, which was conferred upon William Henry Dawson, who had been created Baron Dawson of Dawson's Court in 1770. The house was eventually to be entirely raised when the house was completed, though this was to take some sixty years. Viscount Carlow’s son was created 1st Earl of Portarlington in June 1785. It was he who patronised the career of James Gandon, the star pupil of Sir William Chambers, and who produced the plans for a new neo-classical house to be known as Emo Court. The name Emo or Imoe derives from its geographical location on a plain next to the Slieve Bloom Mountains and is a corrupted English form from the Irish Imeall na Maighe meaning On the edge of the Plain. It was no less a personage than Catherine the Great who tried to poach Gandon to work in Russia but this was firmly resisted by Dawson and Lord Beresford and, as a result, Dublin is graced by two of the finest buildings in the neo-classical style: the Customs House and the Four Courts, both sadly burned down during the Troubles in 1916 and 1921, though the shells were both re-roofed. Catherine the Great hired the Scottish architect, Charles Cameron, instead. Emo Court itself, one of Ireland’s most beautiful houses, was begun by the 1st Earl but a chequered history of the house was about to begin. The 1st Earl was to be killed during the 1798 Rising against English rule. His son, also called John Dawson, was indolent and was retired from the army after a shockingly late arrival at the battle of Waterloo. He was extremely short of money and nothing much was done with the house until 1834 when the fashionable English architect, Lewis Vulliamy, gave it the four giant columns on the garden front, thus departing from Gandon’s drawings. The second Earl died unmarried in 1845 in a tenement with two shillings in his pocket at this time. Most of the rooms were brick shells. His brother, the third Earl inherited part of the Damer estates and Milton Abbey in Dorset, which he was to sell in order to return to Ireland and finally complete Emo Court around 1860. Even then it had been threatened with sale by the Encumbered Estates Court following the Great Famine of the 1840’s. A more stable period followed, during which, in 1874, the house’s interiors were extensively photographed by Lord Brownlow. A welcome injection of cash resulted from the 6th Earl’s marriage to an Australian heiress, Winnafreda Yuill in 1907. The occupation of the house by the Earls of Portarlington was to come to an end with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 when the house was closed up for the duration. By the end of the War political turmoil had engulfed Ireland and the family never returned. Ascendancy families felt particularly threatened and the Dawson Damers were no exception. The huge enclosed estate of over 11,000 acres was effectively confiscated by the Land Commission; the price paid for the land and stock at that time being derisory.

    Robert J. Goff of Newbridge, Co. Kildare was instructed to sell the contents of over two thousand lots. A second sale of the Countess of Portarlington’s furniture was conducted by Christie’s, London on the 14th February 1924. Unfortunately descriptions at the time were very cursory and the vases are difficult to identify. Emo was left unoccupied for ten years until 1930 when the Jesuits acquired it for use as a Seminary. Though much was removed to suit its new use, many features were was stored in safekeeping so that when the house was bought and admirably restored by Major Cholmeley Harrison in 1969, much could be re-instated. This was made easier by the photographs of the interior taken by Father Frank Browne S.J. (1880-1960). Indeed the visual records of the house from 1874 to the present day chart a valuable record of the life of the house. The unpublished Brownlow photographs may yet show the vases in situ. The house, contents and gardens were taken into the ownership of the Irish State in 1994 by Major Cholmeley Harrison’s generous gift and are looked after by the Office of Public Works. It is open to guided tours only and for occasional State use.

    The vases may have been purchased for the Dublin town house of the Dawson’s, which was at No. 6 Kildare Street. In the19th Century this became the Kildare Street Club for a period, after which it burnt down. The site is now occupied by the Royal College of Physicians, designed in 1862.

    Acquired by the present vendor from his father in the 1960s, the vases were purchased from the London trade sometime after the last War and have remained in the same collection until the present day.

    Literature and References

    Mark Bence-Jones, Burke’s Guide to Irish Country Houses, Volume I – Ireland, London: 1978
    Desmond Guinness, & Jacqueline O’Brien: Great Irish Houses & Castles, London, and Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1992
    Desmond Guinness, & Jacqueline O’Brien: Dublin, A Grand Tour, London, Widened & Nicholson, 1994
    Anthony Symondson, ‘A Miraculous Survival: Emo Court, Co Laois’, The Irish Arts Review, Vol. 13, Yearbook 1997, pp. 112-121
    John Stocks Powell, Pavillioned in Splendour: List of the Arts and Contents of Emo Court, Portarlington, Co. Laois, French Church Press, York, 2000
    Trevor D. Ford, Derbyshire Blue John, Landmark Publishing Ltd, 2000

    Related Examples

    For comparison examples of vase models by Matthew Boulton using an identical stone, see The Age of Matthew Boulton, Masterpieces of Neo-Classicism, Mallet & Son, 2000, p. 53, a pair Emperor Candle Vases, and p. 63, a pair of Blue John Perfume Burners.

    For examples of comparable winged-figured vase candelabra, see Matthew Boulton: Ormolu, Nicholas Goodison, Christies, 2002, figs. 365-6, p. 359, figs. 367-8, p.360 and fig. 369, p. 361.

    A pair of ‘Blue John’ winged-figured vase candelabra on conforming pedestals was sold by Sotheby’s New York, Property from the Collections of Lily and Edmond J. Safra, 3 November 2005, lot 110, a ‘Blue John’ winged-figure vase candelabrum was sold by Christie’s London, Important English Furniture, 28 November 2002, and a pair of opaque glass winged-figured candelabra on marble pedestals was sold by Christie’s London, Important English Furniture, 29 November 2001, lot 40.

    The form of the present vases bears close similarities to a manuscript design for a vase candelabrum with white body and marble plinth bearing the number 238 illustrated on page 156 in Volume 1 of Boulton and Fothergill Pattern book, preserved in Birmingham City Archives (see illustration). Two further variations of the design were produced at Soho. One design was formed as a cassolette or perfume burner with ovoid body applied with stiff leaves on winged-figure tripod supports with claw feet, the cover being either pierced or in the form of candle holder with a small burner suspended by chains below, and the base either being a shallow triangular plinth or a ram’s head ornamented triangular plinth. The second design was a simple ovoid body with applied husk draped medallion with cover and reversible candleholder or with two candle arms. The first design differs from the other two in that the figures had raised wings and were cast with additional beaded necklaces but less elaborate coiffures.

    All three variations of the winged-figure vases were produced commercially at Soho and proved to be popular with Boulton’s clientele, presumably because they could be adapted to manufacture as vases, perfume burners or candelabrum with the cost dependant on the type of body used such as ‘Blue John’, white marble or opaque glass, and the type of bases or pedestals. A letter from Fothergill to Boulton in 1772 records the first mention of the model stating that the Earl of Stamford had visited Soho and bought ‘the winged vase’ for £12 12 0s.

    Several variants of the design of the present vases adapted as candelabra were included in the Christie’s sale of April 1772, including a pair which were sold to the Prince of Wales, a single vase in purple stone sold to a Mr Thyne, a winged figured vase without pedestal to the Duke of Northumberland and a pair of cassolettes with pedestals to Robert Child of Osterley. Robert Child of Osterley also purchased another pair of similar winged-figured twin branch candelabra vases with white opaque glass bodies on pedestals supplied by James Keir of Stourbridge. Archive records suggest that the model for the present vases was still in production in somewhat reduced quantities as late as 1784.

    Although originally assumed to be a particularly defined form of Derbyshire fluorspar ‘Blue John’, recent research and consultation with mineralogists has identified the stone of the vases as a form of banded amethyst quartz rather than fluorspar. Amethyst quartz was a highly prized and relatively unusual stone in the 18th century when it was as almost as highly regarded as precious gemstones. Its use however dates back to ancient times when it was particular utilised in classical civilisation, most notably for intaglios. Examples of amethyst quartz vases were found during the excavations of Pompeii, destroyed by Vesuvius in A.D. 79, although in the 18th century these pieces were actually thought by many to be a form of ‘Blue John’, which possibly had been exported to Italy via the Roman trading routes. Further confusion may have arisen between the stones during the late 18th century by the fact that ‘Blue John’ was also known as ‘radix amethysti’ and Boulton’s inaugural sale held at Christies in Pall Mall in April 1770 included a large quantity of vases in ‘radix amethysti’ which was presumably actually ‘Blue John’. Trevor Ford in his book Derbyshire Blue John also notes that at least one example of a ‘Blue John’ vase exists which bears an applied brass plate stating that the piece is made of ‘Amethystine Quartz found in Castleton in the 17th century’ where both the identification and date are incorrect.

    It is therefore a distinct possibility that the bodies of the present vases may have been turned from examples of antique stone brought back from Italy in the late 18th century, either executed as a speculative venture or brought back by or on behalf of a wealthy client. Another alternative is that Matthew Boulton, who recognised the commercial appeal of an exotic looking stone, which could be attractively mounted in ormolu, may have acquired a small quantity of amethyst quartz in England to use for the bodies of his vases, as its appearance was very similar to highly fashionable Derbyshire ‘Blue John’. Boulton certainly explored the possibility of purchasing
    mining rights in Castleton, Derbyshire to obtain ‘Blue John’ so that his Soho works could have a regular supply. It is therefore a possibility that the amethyst quartz of the present vases was utilised as an exotic substitute in the period when Boulton was anxious to gain a footing within the Derbyshire’s Castleton mines.

    As initially discussed, the present pair of vases are marked with a series of corresponding dots to the mounts, with the exception of one incorrectly marked mount, suggesting that the pair of vases were created as individual pieces which were once part of a larger garniture, possibly formed as three vases, a central candelabra vase and a pair of vases to flank them. The winged female figural mounts on one vase were originally cast to support candle arms which were either possibly filled when the arms were removed (presumably at the time of the later alterations) or that were actually filled during the manufacturing period so that Boulton could utilise the mounts to produce a vase without candle arms. These mounts have pierced openings to hold chains, which are now lacking, although there is a possibility that these chains were never added if the handles were filled at the original time of manufacture.

    The recent inspection of the individual components has confirmed that the vases are currently mounted with transposed marked mounts, which were probably switched when the pieces were altered and the recast cover added. It would however be probably possible to reinstate the mounts to their original configuration and there are images of these vases in their dismantled state which show the components laid out as originally intended.

    Production of ormolu began at Boulton’s Soho works in1768 and was well established by the opening years of the following decade when the firm’s reputation for ornamental pieces in ormolu was second to none in England. Boulton’s ambitions and achievements in the production of ormolu work set him apart from English competitors, being the first manufacturer to venture into the speculative production of ormolu ornaments on a large scale against strong French competition. His models were expensive and his varied stock included candlesticks, ice pails, girandoles, knife urns, tripods, clock cases although the production of vases in all their guises perhaps more than anything defines Boulton’s forays into the production of ormolu and ormolu mounted ornaments.

    The mania for ornamental vases, fashionable from the early 18th century onwards and often produced in pairs and multiple sets ranging from three to seven vases known as ‘garnitures de cheminèe, rapidly developed in the 1760’s, coinciding with the craze for the ‘antique’, which was influenced and promoted by architects such as James Stuart, William Chambers, and Robert and James Adam. Books illustrating classical vases were published to satisfy the fashion, the most famous being d’Hancarville’s coloured prints of the Etruscan, Greek and Romans vases in the collection of the connoisseur William Hamilton, the English envoy to Naples, which was published in two volumes in 1766-7 and 1770. These publications particularly influenced designers and manufacturers of the day such as Matthew Boulton (who had an agent subscribe for him the four volumes in 1767), Josiah Wedgwood and William Duesbury and they were thus able to exploit the demand for such pieces. In 1770 Wedgwood made mention of the phenomenon commenting on the current ‘vase madness’.

    Boulton’s initial approach to the production of vases was to imitate the work of French metalworkers who mounted vases in the elaborate taste of the Louis XV period where the body of the vase, whether porcelain, marble or glass was mounted with elaborate rims and pedestals in the Rococo fashion regardless of the form and decoration of the vase bodies. This fashion continued when classical styles came into vogue, although by this time bodies were made specifically for mounting in ormolu. Vases were also turned into useful objects such as ewers or pot-pourri’s by the addition of mounts and Boulton capitalised on this with the production of perfume burners and cassolettes. Many perfume burners however may have been bought simply for ornaments. Vases were also converted more usefully into candelabra and timepieces being a combination of ornament and utility following fashionable French models. Boulton produced many designs for candelabra, holding anything from a single candle to up to six candles and these designs sometimes allowed for the burning of incense, always with the emphasis on the decorative.

    Boulton’s experimentation with mounting vase bodies began in 1767 when he approached Wedgwood for a supply of bodies. By 1768 he was buying pieces of marble and fashioned stone ornaments, including vases, candlesticks and obelisks from the quarries in Derbyshire (where there was also a trade in cut and polished marble and spar ornaments) and also in London. Boulton had the intention of utilising the quarries of Derbyshire to supply large quantities of Blue John or Blew john, as he called it, for his vases and wrote to his friend John Whitehurst asking if he could enquire as to the possibility of leasing a mine, although it appears he was never able to fulfil this ambition and continued to purchase small and large quantities of the stone. Other materials also considered suitable for the vase bodies in that period included lacquer, alabaster, glass, japanned metal and marble.

    We would like to thank Patrick Pilkington and John Powell for their kind assistance in preparing the footnote for this lot.
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