THE 1851 GREAT EXHIBITION: 'The Opening of Pandora's Box' An early Victorian figured walnut, brass,
Lot 173Y
THE 1851 GREAT EXHIBITION: 'The Opening of Pandora's Box' An early Victorian figured walnut, brass, pewter, copper, mother of pearl and ivory inlaid centre table by R. W. Herring & Sons, the marquetry scenes designed by John Flaxman
Sold for £54,050 (US$ 89,824) inc. premium
Lot Details
THE 1851 GREAT EXHIBITION: 'The Opening of Pandora's Box' An early Victorian figured walnut, brass, pewter, copper, mother of pearl and ivory inlaid centre table by R. W. Herring & Sons, the marquetry scenes designed by John Flaxman
Applied with gilt bronze mounts, the circular tilt top centred by musical trophies within borders of grape vines and leaves and an ivy and berry wreath, the outer border inlaid with five engraved brass scenes taken from Elton's Hesiod, flanked by classical trophies and vine and berry entwined swags, on a triform spreading shaft applied with gilt bronze mounts with trailing flowerheads, inlaid with a laurel leaf and berry riband tied wreaths each centred by a female mask, on downswept scrolling legs applied with scrolling acanthus leaves and shell cast feet, with castors, ink stamped on the block, 'R.W. HERRING & SON, ........, 109 FLEET STREET, LONDON', with brass label to the underside engraved:
"Elton's Hesiod"
1st - Bade Hermes endue with xxxx refined - Line 97
2nd - Adored Persuasion and the Graces young
Her slender limbs with golden jewels bring - L 103
3rd - On Men and Gods in the same moment seized
The ravishment of wonder when they saw -L 783 Theogony
4th - He bade Heavens Messenger convey thro' air
To Epemetheus sends - Works
5th - But be received - Works
6th - She lifts the lid she scatters ills in the air - L132 Works & Days

128cm in diameter, 73cm high (50" in diameter, 28.5" high).


  • Provenance: The Great Exhibition of 1851, Hyde Park, London, exhibited by R.W Herring & Sons

    Literature: From the Official catalogue: 'Great Exhibition of the works of industry of all Nations, 1851, Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue - Volume I Index', published by Spicer Brothers.

    In class XXVI (26- furniture) stand 205,
    Herring, Robert, William and Sons.
    109 Fleet Street - decorators:

    "Centre-table made of fine walnut wood, inlaid with metals Ivory, and pearls, as a boarder, divided by trophies, inlaid in white and pearl, are the six subjects, designed by Flaxman "the opening of Pandora's box" inlaid in brass and etched"

    The firm commented on their intentions for the exhibition:

    "One of the objects in view is to exhibit an application of the products of high art to the embellishment of ordinary furniture."

    Elton's Hesiod

    Charles Abraham Elton (1778-1853) was a cultivated man and an associate of Charles Lamb and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published his "Remains of Hesiods, translated...with notes" in 1815, later editions were accompanied by engravings by William Blake after John Flaxman. Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer, was an oral Greek poet whose is thought to have been active somewhere between 750 BC and 650 BC. Hesiod's reputation is based on the works attributed to him by ancient commentators, 'Works and Days', 'Theogony' and 'Shield of Heracles' as well as some fragmented works. 'Works and Days' is a poem comprising some eight hundred verses and is concerned with labour and its purpose as the universal role of man. The poem regards labour as the source of all good in that both men and gods hate the idle. The character of Pandora appears in both Hesiod's 'Works and Days' and 'Theogony'. In Greek mythology Pandora was the first human woman created by the gods with unique gifts. She opened a box releasing all the evils of humanity into the world. When she closed the box again it was only 'Hope' that remained inside. She opened the box out of curiosity and not as a malicious act. Hesiod wrote in 'Works and Days':

    "Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house, she remained under the lip of the jar and did not fly away before Pandora replaced the lid of the jar. This was the will of aegis bearing Zeus, the cloudgatherer".

    Although Pandora is referred to in 'Theogony' (Lines 560-612), a poem in epic meter, she is not mentioned by name. The Human race receives the stolen gift of fire from Prometheus and Zeus decides to punish humanity and creates Pandora. The Pandora Story is expanded on in 'Works and Days' which is the first literary telling of the story. Hesiod expands on the scope of what she inflicts on humanity. The gods all play a part in Pandora's creation, Athena teaches her needlework and weaving, Aphrodite 'sheds grace upon her head, Persuasion and the Charities adorned her with necklaces and other finery while Hermes named her Pandora meaning 'all gifted' and gave her a shameful mind and deceitful reputation.

    John Flaxman (1755-1826)

    The sculptor John Flaxman was engaged in February 1816 with Longman and Co. to 'Furnish a series of Drawings to illustrate Hesiod' and these were produced in his usual graphic style around quotations from Elton's second edition (1815) of 'The Remains of Hesiod translated by Charles Abraham Elton' The engravings comprise of some thirty seven plates and are one of William Blake's most significant undertakings as a commercial engraver of designs by other artists. Flaxman was largely self taught, his father being a modeller of seller of plaster casts. The artists William Blake (1757-1827) who was to engrave his illustrations for Hesiod was a close friend of Flaxman and the pair met during their first year at The Royal Academy. Flaxman was later employed by Josiah Wedgwood and William Bentley to model reliefs for the company's jasperware and basaltware again working in a classical style. Flaxman's compositions for Hesiod were heavily influenced by Greek and Etruscan vase paintings and were frequently reprinted and were included in 'The Classical Compositions of John Flaxman' in 1870.

    R. W Herring & Sons

    The firm of Robert Herring traded between 1769-1839 and are recorded as cabinet-makers, upholsterers, appraisers and undertakers. The is believed to have been founded by a Robert Herring with the business being continued by his son Robert Herring accounting for the long trading life of the company. The firm are initially recorded at No.96 Fleet Street (1771-1783) and later at number 109 (1784-1870). The ink stamp that appears on the above lot is previously unrecorded. Robert Herring is listed on Sheraton's 1803 list of Master Cabinet Makers. A Regency bookcase bearing a printed card from Herring and Son, Upholsterers and Cabinet-Makers, No.109, Fleet Street, London and bearing delivery instructions was sold Sotheby's ........and is illustrated in C.Gilbert, Marked London Furniture 1700-1840, Leeds 1996, p.264, pl.491 & 492.

    According to C.Edwards in his article, Art Furniture in the Old English Style, The Firm of Collinson and Lock, London, 1870-1900, Frank G.Collinson and George J.Lock were originally employees of the prestigious firm of Jackson and Graham left to work for Herring and Company in the 1860's. They eventually succeeded Herring's Fleet Street business in 1870.

    Advertisements in Notes and Queries, 4th Series VI, dated 10th September 1870 and Series XI dated 3rd May 1873 show they used the Herring name to illustrate the heritage listing the firm and the Herring founding date on their bill heads. The 1873 advertisement reads:

    "Old English" Furniture
    Reproductions of Simple and Artistic Cabinet Work from Country Mansions of the XVI. and XVII. Centuries, combining good taste, sound workmanship, and economy.
    COLLINSON & LOCK (late Herring).
    CABINET MAKERS, 109 Fleet Street, E.C. Established 1782.

    The Great Exhibtion of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851 (1 May 1851 - 11 October 1851)

    London's Great Exhibtion was to set the benchmark of the numerous World's Fairs in the second half of the 19th century. Attracting more that six million visitors to Joseph Paxton's 'Crystal Palace' in London's Hyde Park, equivalent to 1/3 of the population, all keen to see the 13,000 exhibits. The Exhibition was the brainchild of the civil servant and inventor Sir Henry Cole (1808-1885) aided by Prince Albert (1819-1861) and aimed to establish Britain at the forefront of design and manufacture. Amongst the notable attendees were Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, the Orleanist Royal family and Charlotte Bronte who described her visit:

    "It is a wonderful place - vast, strange, new and impossible to describe. Its granduer does not consist in one thing, but in the unique assemblage of all things. Whatever Industry has created you find seems as if only magic could have gathered this mass of wealth from all ends of the earth - as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged this with such a blaze and contrast of colours and marvellous power of effect"

    The Exhibition was an enormous popular and cultural success and yielded a surplus of £186,000 which was used in the creation of numerous educational and cultural institutions including the South Kensington Museum which was later to become the Victoria & Albert Museum.
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