A George III Antique Silver-Gilt Mounted Japanese Porcelain Bowl
From the start William Beckford seemed unlikely to become an ordinary, well-adjusted gentleman of English society. His father's death left him, a ten-year-old, with one of the greatest fortunes in the country, built on an empire of Jamaican sugar plantations and some 3000 slaves. And William inherited no penchant for frugality. His personal tutors included Mozart, Alexander Cozens, and William Chambers. He embarked, at 20 years old, on the most famous Grand Tour in history. He became a writer, a composer, an artist, a designer; he was a polymath but no dilettante.<br /><br />
And his collections of art, antiques, and books grew beyond all reasonable proportions. He purchased Edward Gibbon's entire library, then built a cavernous home for the books in the form of Fonthill Abbey, a paradise of Gothic design. Unfortunately Fonthill, like so many ofÊBeckford's diversions, proved overambitious, and within twenty years the structure collapsed under its own weight. It was perhaps a metaphor: by the time of his death in 1844, Beckford had successfully exhausted nearly the entirety of his father's enormous wealth.<br /><br />
If that sounds to you like poor financial management, you're probably right. Yet here we are, talking about Beckford, while most of his peers who handled their money more "wisely" are forgotten to history. And while they were busy tending to profits and properties (almost none of which survived more than another few generations regardless), Beckford was putting his family fortune to immediate, impressive, and memorable use.<br /><br />
To wit, Beckford's collection included dozens of Chinese and Japanese porcelain bowls, some of which he had mounted with silver or silver-gilt. His preferred silversmith for this work was John Robins, who likely followed Beckford's instructions in executing the mounts for these objects. We are pleased to have acquired this piece, almost certainly fashioned by Robins for Beckford. It's a jewel of a sugar bowl, with a Japanese porcelain body and cover, mounted with silver-gilt bands of foliage.<br /><br />
The idea of fusing Asian ceramics with European metalwork is quite old. Beckford himself owned the earliest known example, the "Fonthill Vase", which was made in China and mounted in Europe (probably Hungary) in the 14th century (and now resides in the National Museum of Ireland). The East-meets-West aesthetic was alluring to Beckford, who was perhaps a little ahead of his time--as the 19th century wore on, designers and craftspeople would show an increasing appetite for international fusions of style and technique. Working with Robins, Beckford blazed that trail, with vessels like this one that now represent a particularly interesting juncture in decorative arts history.
|Size||Diameter: 4.75 in.|