My Blog List

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.

6 comments:

  1. Dear Erika - your painting of the little Sèvres sugar bowl belonging to Walpole is exquisite, even down to the fine touches of gilt around the baseline rim.
    I was really interested to read your observations about Walpole as I visited Strawberry Hill a couple of years ago. I had intended to do a post with my photos from the trip, but somehow they have been pushed on one side. Now you have inspired me to resurrect them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Rosemary,
      Thank you for your lovely comment-- I'm so glad that this little post was of some inspiration for you! I'm sorry to be responding so late-- I've been away for a few days and am only just reconnecting to the electronic world... I can't wait to see your post on Strawberry Hill!
      Warm regards,
      Erika

      Delete
  2. Dear Erika, This is an exceptional post to inaugurate your second year. I love your tribute to Horace Walpole, one of my top-favorite writers and historical characters. Your discovery of Horace Walpole through his sugar bowl is a great example of serendipity, an especially apt term since it was Walpole who created that word in his story the Three Princes of Serendip.

    It should be mentioned that the Lewis Walpole library is not only an internet resource. Located in a colonial mansion in Farmington, Connecticut, the greatest Walpole collection in the world was donated to Yale University as a branch museum-library, and is well worth a visit.

    Your portrait of the sugar bowl is masterful as usual. I love the way the oranges and pinks of the flowers complement the blues and greens of the bowl, while the highlighting of the gilding on the base balances the explosion of color at the top, and leads the eye into the beautiful details of the porcelain.
    --Road to Parnassus

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jim,
      Thank you for your very thoughtful and kind words! As I mentioned to Rosemary, I've been away for a few days and it seems I've missed quite a bit... You are absolutely correct to point out the beautiful physical presence of the Lewis Walpole Library-- I think I was thinking only of those readers too far away to visit in person, but should rather have encouraged all to visit! I'm so glad you enjoyed seeing my illustration-- I think what I like best about doing them is the opportunity for research they present. Each object is like a window into a new area of study-- how wonderful!
      Warm regards,
      Erika

      Delete
  3. Dear Erika,

    I echo the words of Rosemary and Jim in saying that your watercolor is exquisite and masterful, and I add to that charming. I salute you for mastering a medium that has so far eluded me!

    I have never visited Britain, but I have a wish list of places to visit, and the Sir John Soane Museum and Strawberry Hill are right at the top. I read somewhere that much of the interior decoration is paper maché — wouldn't it have been fun to be a fly on the wall and watch that whole Gothic magic come together?!

    And I just now noticed that Strawberry Hill is represented in Walpole's portrait — a nice touch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Mark,
      Thank you for your very kind words-- and accept my apologies for the delay in responding! I agree with you that Strawberry Hill is a 'must-see' sort of place.... There are not too many opportunities to visit structures that are so truly unique and individual in their vision. I only wish the descendants hadn't sold off the collections-- wouldn't it have been wonderful to see the place as it was meant to be??? The actual construction of the place really must have been fantastic to see-- with all those papier mache craftsmen, carvers and plasterers at work!! The more I read about Walpole, the more I think I'll have to include him in my ultimate dinner party... Most intriguing...
      Thanks again Mark & warm regards,
      Erika

      Delete