"Elkington and Co. Ltd. Catalogue", circa 1900, page 117, no. 20356, illustrating a design for this work.
An extremely beautiful and large Edwardian Louis XV style Sterling silver centrepiece by Elkington and Co, after a design by its chief designer Auguste-Adolphe Willms, with a central double lipped bowl chased with foliage around a cartouche on either side, both engraved with the Japanese chrysanthemum emblem, fitted with a cut-glass dish, the bowl with gilt interior on a tapering base applied with trailing flowers and flanked by two large reclining classical female figures carousing at a banquet wearing diaphanous drapery, one holding a goblet, the other a bunch of grapes and both with a vine-wrapped vase beside her, the base with three sunken recesses, the two at either end chased with a large anthemion motif, the sides with elaborate floral and Rococo style decoration
Birmingham, dated 1906
Height 33 cm, length 90 cm, weight 10 kilos.
This magnificent Edwardian centrepiece by the renowned British silversmithing firm of Elkington and Co was designed by its chief artist Auguste-Adolphe Willms (1827-99). One of a number of French designers who worked for the firm during the nineteenth century, Willms had previously been employed in Paris by such makers as Jean-Valentin Morel, Christofle and Froment-Meurice. In 1855 he joined Elkington's design team; four years later he was heading the studio and remained in that position until his death. Shortly afterwards, his design for this work featured in the Elkington illustrated sales catalogue under the heading "Dessert Service. The Louis Quinze. Sterling Silver. Specially designed by the late Chevalier Willms, Chief Artist to Elkington & Co. Ltd." As its description noted "the vase containing a handsomely cut-glass receptacle" supported by Bacchants was for flowers while the two outer projections were intended for dessert fruits etc. The same page of the catalogue illustrated a companion set of "richly chased fruit or bon-bon stands, with cut-glass bowl".
While the latter were priced at a mere £18.10.0, the centrepiece was priced at £175.0.0, a very large sum, which reflected the work's importance, especially in the light that Willms only earned up to £400 and a solicitor about £500 per annum.
While the style was described as Louis XV, its overall design also reflected the ideals of Art Nouveau, which triumphed at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. The engraved Japanese chrysanthemum emblem on the two cartouches is of particular significance, reflecting the firm's interest under the direction of Frederick Elkington (1822-1905) in the Far East. The firm was in fact one of the first to produce silver in the Japanese style and from the 1860's, under the guidance of Willms added a fine range of cloisonné and champlevé enamels to their line. Frederick Elkington had also amassed a large collection of Chinese and Japanese enamels, which were sold at Christie's after his death.
By 1906 the firm of Elkington and Co was run by Frederick's sons Herbert Frederick and Gerald Bartlett Elkington, who with Hyla Garrett Elkington, William Lee Matthews and Andrew Binnie acted as directors of this important business. With a factory in Birmingham they had by then established two showrooms in Birmingham, three in London and others in Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle and were probably the most frequently represented silver manufacturers to show at local, national and international exhibitions, 1840-1914, where they won many awards.
The firm, founded circa 1836 by George Richards Elkington (1801-65), first made its name as the largest British electroplating silver manufacturer but in addition produced a large variety of pure silver pieces, from table silver and domestic hollowware to large presentation pieces in conjunction with bronzes and enamels.
ELKINGTON AND CO. LTD. ENGLISH
FOUNDED CIRCA 1836 BY GEORGE RICHARDS ELKINGTON (1801-1865) SUCCEEDED BY HIS SONS OF WHICH FREDERICK ELKINGTON (1822-1905) WAS A PARTNER
Elkington of Birmingham revolutionised the silver industry with their electroplating techniques, developed and perfected by George Richards Elkington. He was apprenticed to and later partnered (until 1840) his uncles, J. and G.Richards, producers of jewellery, silver and cut glass. In 1824 he inherited his father's gilt-toy and spectacle firm which he ran with his cousin, Henry Elkington (c.1810-52); they experimented with gilding base metals, taking out patents for their electroplating process in 1836/37 and '40. At first there was resistance from other Sheffield plating firms but from 1840 Elkington's were licensing their patent to other firms, including Christofle in Paris, William Button of Sheffield and Edward Barnard, London. By 1847 Elkington had perfected their technique and subsequently prospered from the mass production of tableware for the catering trade. In addition they produced decorative silver in a variety of styles, from the Moorish to the Italian Renaissance. Like the ceramic factories, Elkington employed a number of foreign designers. Benjamin Schlick (1792-1872), provided some of the earliest designs; Pierre-Emile Jeannest (1813-57) , previously a modeller with Minton's headed Elkington's design staff, 1853-57; Leonard Morel-Ladeuil (1820-88) a pupil of Antoifie Vechte, whose intricate pieces include the Inventions Vase, 1863 and Milton Shield, which won a Gold in Paris, 1867 (both; Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Auguste A.Willms (1827-1899) previously employed by Jean-Valentin Morel in Paris headed Elkington's design team 1859-99.
In 1842 josiah Mason, a wealthy pen manufacturer was taken into partnership and the firm became Elkington, Mason and Co. until 1861. When G.R.Elkington died, 1865 the business was entrusted to his four sons; Frederick (1822-1905), James B. (1830-1907) Alfred J. (1834-1910) and Howard (d. 1899). The firm was styled Elkington and Co. 1861-86 (with Frederick as a partner) and became a Limited Company 1887-1963 (with Frederick as a director until his death, 1905). Frederick obtained his Freedom of the Goldsmiths Co., 1885 and became a Liveryman in 1890. It appears that he was at the forefront of the firm. Some of the most interesting pieces bear his stamp, such as a silver and gilt jug and two beakers, 1882-3 (Victoria and Albert Museum), with matting and engraved in the Japanese taste. Originally inspired by Tiffany's experiments in textured silver and base metals decoration to imitate Japanese metalwork, Elkington's were one of the first manufacturers to produce silver in a Japonaiserie style. Frederick collected Orientalcloisonne enamels (sold by Christie's, 1905) and from the 1860's until 1879 applied cloisonne and champleve enamelling . He was probably responsible for commissioning designs by Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), who likewise loved Japan. Dresser was the first in England to design really new forms for the silver industry; like Puiforcat he believed that design should address utilitarian qualities and that cost, even when using expensive materials (silver) should not be prohibitive (electroplating). In addition Elkington's like Jones and Crompton fo Birmingham were influenced both by Liberty silver and the foewing lines of Continental Art Nouveau. Some of the most interesting and now sought after Elkington silver was produced while Frederick Elkington co-ran the firm.
Copyright 1994 by Richard Redding , Zurich, all rights reserved