17 August 2013

Walpole's Sugar Bowl

 I painted this illustration of a Sèvres 1758 sugar basin for the Parvum Opus 2013 desk calendar.
Reading about it's owner, Horace Walpole has been such fun.
Image Copyright Parvum Opus.

What began as a simple bit of research into the history of a small 18th century French sugar basin has instead led me to an entertaining discovery. It would have been enough to talk about the venerable history of the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory, and of the exquisite bird paintings of Étienne Evans. In this particular case, however, provenance wins out, because this little sugar basin was purchased by none other than Horace Walpole on a trip to Paris in 1765-6.

The companion jug from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection.

Before we get carried away, a bit about the sugar basin itself. From the Victoria and Albert Museum, where this piece lives now, we learn that “This sugar bowl and its companion jug are from a tea service with a matching tray. Such sets are known as 'cabarets' in Britain, where they were usually for one or two people, and as déjeuners in France, where they were sometimes equipped with four cups. Eighteenth-century accounts of tea drinking in France indicate that the tea was made very strong in a small pot, and then diluted with hot water before being drunk. Tea was drunk with hot or cold milk and sweetened with white sugar. It is unlikely, however, that these pieces were ever used by Horace Walpole, their first owner, for anything other than display.

Horace Walpole, by John Giles Eccardt, ca. 1755
Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford was born on 24 September, 1717. He was the son of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole and a cousin of Admiral Lord Nelson. Although he was an art historian and Whig politician, he is widely remembered for Strawberry Hill, his neo Gothic creation in Twickenham.

Strawberry Hill as it appeared after the 2012 restoration.
Image courtesy Wikipedia.

The structure of the house was inspired by Gothic masterpieces including Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral, and like those inspirational buildings, Strawberry Hill evolved over a long period-- thirty years in this case.

Joseph Constantine Stadler, after Joseph Farington, Strawberry Hill (South Front),
1793, aquatint with hand coloring, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

Most fascinating for me are Walpole’s extensive collections, which filled and defined the interior of Strawberry Hill. The interiors were said to be “settings of Gothic ‘gloomth’ for Walpole’s collection.” (Calloway, Stephen, Snodin, Michael, and Wainwright, Clive, Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill, Orleans House Gallery, Richmond upon Thames, 1980.) Gloomth—what a fantastically descriptive term! Walpole’s collections of art, antiquarian objects and curiosities were well known to his contemporaries and detailed in his publication, A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill.

John Carter, View from the Hall at Strawberry Hill, 1788, pen and ink, and watercolour on laid paper, from Horace Walpole’s extra-illustrated copy of A Description of the Villa…at Strawberry-Hill (Strawberry Hill, 1784). The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
* The blue-tinted area signifies a piece of art further described on the Library's database.

According the the V&A: “On [his 1765 trip to Paris] he spent more than £400 on porcelain and confessed that he bought china faster than he could pay for it. Walpole purchased these pieces some years after they were made, so he probably bought them from the stock of a Paris dealer, rather than as new pieces from the [Sèvres] factory. Continental porcelain could not be legally imported to Britain until 1775 unless it was declared to be for private use and not for sale.”

John Carter, Great North Bed-Chamber, n.d., watercolour and ink, from Horace Walpole,
A Description of the Villa…at Strawberry-Hill (Strawberry Hill, 1784).
This is the room in which the 
Sèvres breakfast set was displayed.
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. 

* The blue-tinted area signifies a piece of art further described on the Library's database.

My search into the history of this small sugar basin led me to a wonderful discovery: The Lewis Walpole Library of Yale University. There, interested parties can explore a database which includes not only details about Walpole’s entire collection of art and objects, but also detailed descriptions and images of each room in Strawberry Hill. 

John Carter, ‘Holbien Chamber,” c.1788, watercolor with wash-line mount, from Horace Walpole,
A Description of the Villa…at Strawberry-Hill (Strawberry Hill, 1784).
The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. 

* The blue-tinted area signifies pieces of art further described on the Library's database.

From the Library’s home page: “Dispersed since the famous house sale in 1842, Walpole’s collection was one of the most significant in eighteenth-century Britain, numbering several thousand items. This database encompasses the entire range of art and artifacts from Walpole’s collections, including all items whose location is currently known and those as yet untraced but known through a variety of historical records.” How wonderful that this project has been undertaken—it’s a truly impressive archive, and one I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Equally wonderful has been the circuitous path that led me from a French sugar bowl, to the biography of Walpole, to a splendid treasure trove of art and antiquarian objects.

16 August 2013

And the Winner is...

Congratulations Gina!

Your name was drawn out of the hat, and so it will be my great pleasure to make a bespoke folio for you. What fun-- I'm looking forward to it!

Thank you all for participating in our little birthday drawing. I'm looking forward to another year of engaging conversations.

06 August 2013

Happy Birthday Parvum Opus Blog!

A Notepad Folio shown with Italian paper interior and covers.
For detailed information on Parvum Opus folios, please click here.

How time flies! 

It's been exactly one year since we published our first post here on the Parvum Opus Blog. To celebrate, we're taking a cue from some of our favorite bloggers and invite you to participate in a drawing for one of our bespoke notepad folios (5" x 8" size) in the materials of your choice. To enter, simply add a comment on this post--one entry per person, please. You will be assigned a number, and we'll then draw the winning number out of a hat.  The winner will be announced next week. Good luck!

Writing this blog had been a delightful experience, and I thank you all for your erudite and sparkling conversation. I look forward to many more inspiring exchanges in the coming year!