A monumental pair of George IV silver-gilt four-light candelabra

A monumental pair of George IV silver-gilt four-light candelabra

hallmarks for Benjamin Smith II, London 1827

Each featuring a tapering fluted column topped by acanthus leaves, the whole gilded, with detachable branch section, with three ornate scrolling floral and foliate branches issuing from a central light, all with detachable drip pans, each main column flanked by three cast figures after the antique, one with Hercules wearing a lion skin, a goat at his feet, and two Bacchanalian maidens playing instruments and dancing, the other featuring Diana the Huntress, ...

hallmarks for Benjamin Smith II, London 1827

Each featuring a tapering fluted column topped by acanthus leaves, the whole gilded, with detachable branch section, with three ornate scrolling floral and foliate branches issuing from a central light, all with detachable drip pans, each main column flanked by three cast figures after the antique, one with Hercules wearing a lion skin, a goat at his feet, and two Bacchanalian maidens playing instruments and dancing, the other featuring Diana the Huntress,

Eros playing the double flute and a maiden joyously playing the tambourine, each on a circular plinth naturalistically cast with flora and fauna.

Benjamin Smith was closely connected with the leading silver craftsmen and manufacturing firms at the turn of the 19th century, and was recognised as an "ingenious chaser". In 1790 he was introduced to Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), with whom he started his career. Boulton's company produced plate, buckles and buttons, and had embraced the mechanical innovation of the industrial revolution. Described as a button maker in 1794, Benjamin Smith made the move to London in 1802, forming a partnership with his friend, the draughtsman, Digby Scott (1753-1816). They were appointed to direct the acclaimed and prolific workshops of Rundell and Bridge (after 1805 known as Rundell, Bridge and Rundell) based in Greenwich. As such, Smith's collaboration with Scott was a particularly fruitful one, given the high profile work that poured into Rundell and Bridge. It was at this time they were commissioned to create 'The Duke of York Baskets' for Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827), the second son of George III, previously exhibited in the Powerhouse Museum in Australia; and also the 'Jamaica Service', created in 1803 for William IV (1765-1837), then Duke of Clarence, which is still in The Royal Collection today.

A shift however occurred in 1807, when Paul Storr (1771-1844), the most celebrated English silversmith of the period, was also asked to open a workshop for Rundell, Bridge and Rundell in Dean Street, Soho. Scott at this point left the partnership with Benjamin Smith, and Smith (who was a somewhat irascible fellow), registered a succession of marks dependent on who he was partnering, and additionally the times when he worked alone. Through circumstance, Benjamin Smith worked alongside Paul Storr through their mutual alignment with Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. What is evident is that their silver designs often appeared interchangeable and at times difficult to distinguish between.

The reason Rundell and Bridge were so influential, was their close association with the Crown. They were one of the chosen goldsmiths and jewellers to George III in 1797, and appointed 'Principal Royal Goldsmiths and Jewellers to the Crown' in 1804, proudly holding the Royal Warrant until 1843. By operating their own workshops, Rundell's could safeguard their own designs, and also exert control over their equipment and raw materials. Their modus operandi was to employ the best workmen available and combine their expert skills with first rate artists. Amongst their employees were the well-known artists John Flaxman (1755-1826) and Thomas Stothard (1755-1834), and modellers such as Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867). They all designed and modelled silverware for Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, alongside other prestigious projects. Again, their designs were frequently incorporated into both Smith's and Storr's work, which is evident when researching their original metalwork drawings currently held at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The taste for silver-gilt reached its peak during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, led initially by the extravagant Prince Regent (later George IV) who believed 'kingship and collecting were inextricably linked' (Hartop, p.71), and the aristocracy, landed gentry and nouveau riche followed his lead. Britain's star was in ascendance, wealth boosted by success in the Napoleonic wars and the industrial revolution. Demand rapidly grew for magnificent over-sized silver, profligate services of plate, and presentation pieces for military heroes returning from wars overseas. As Christopher Hartop states in his book 'The Art of Rundell & Bridge', 'Rundell's were very aware of their role in promoting table and display plate as fine art. The decorative possibilities offered by massive display pieces such as chargers, and by figural groups used for candelabra and tureens, brought silver once again back into the realms of sculpture' (Hartop, p.99).

Silver-gilt especially was a fashion that had originated in France, when Napoleon was trying to model his regime on the golden age of the Roman Empire, an aura of power portrayed through the use of gold, while also embracing Imperial Roman motifs and classical sculptural form. George IV adopted this ideology, as he saw himself 'as an embodiment of a Britain proudly standing at the heart of European affairs. Casting himself in the role of creator of the alliance that vanquished Napoleon, he sought to surround himself in an aura of golden splendour, and like Napoleon, he strove to recreate the magnificence of Imperial Rome. His purchases of gold and silver from Rundell's were crucial to the elaboration of this image' (Hartop, p.73).

Smith's work, alongside Storr's, is noted for its high-quality craftsmanship, attention to detail, sculptural form and the incorporation of classical revivalist designs. The Regency era was a time of great change and innovation in art, literature, and design. In addition, the neoclassical influence was prominent, inspired by the discovery of ancient sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum, visible in the classical elements incorporated within the candelabra being offered. Benjamin Smith was a master silversmith whose works reflected the elegance and sophistication of the period. His association with prominent figures and the royal family, coupled with his exquisite craftsmanship, ensured his place as a notable figure in the history of English silversmithing. He passed the silversmithing baton onto his son, Benjamin Smith III, who carried on his fine work. Their genius can be found in museums and private collections around the world.

Literature
John Flaxman, Thomas Stothard, William Theed and others, 'Designs for Gold and Silver Plate', 55 drawings on 27 sheets, connected with the firm of Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, royal goldsmiths for the years 1797-1843. The folio is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum , reference E.83-1964.

Prices exclude custom clearance fees which will be charged directly to the client by your receiving courier, importer or government.
Reference

11847

Dimensions

Height 68 cm / 2' 3"
Width 47 cm / 1' 6 "
Weight 22.1 kg (710.53 troy ozs)