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A great talent gone to pot; ANTIQUES.

Byline: CHRISTOPHER PROUDLOVE

WITH a price guide of between PS3.5m and PS4.5m, auctioneers Christie's are describing this wonderful confection of a coffee pot as the most important ever to come to the market. At the fall of the auctioneer's gavel, it will become the most valuable piece of English silver ever sold at auction - if it sells. The sale is on July 4. What is beyond doubt is that it was made by England's greatest 18th century silversmith, Paul de Lamerie. A leading exponent of the Rococo style, his most exuberant pieces are today seen only in museums, which is where this piece has come from: until recently, it has been the centrepiece of a British silver exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

It is a truly magnificent object that deserves wider appreciation. Christie's catalogue description works hard to do it justice.

It reads - take a deep breath - : "A George II silver coffee pot, mark of Paul de Lamerie, 1738. The spirally-fluted pear-shaped body on three shell and acanthus foliage and flower-capped scroll feet, cast and chased above each foot with panel depicting a putto at rest within a landscape, two clasping coffee bush branches, with matting above, finely cast and chased beneath the short shell-capped spout with a mask emerging from coffee bush branches and flowers and with scrolls and rosette trellis, with two bird''s head and scroll cartouches, one engraved with a coat-of-arms within engraved foliate scrolls and rocaille, the hinged waisted cover chased with panels of flowers on a matted ground, separated by applied panelled scrolls and acathus foliage, the flammiform finial cast and chased with three shells and above chased scrolls, the carved wood handle set asymmetrically to the body and with a lion-mask upper terminal and a foliage cast lower terminal."

So who was this Paul de Lamerie? He was born in 1688, the son of a Huguenot forced to flee his French home in 1685 as a victim of the so-called Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

The edict was a decree of 1598 establishing that Catholics and Protestants could live and work side by side in France. It granted French Protestants - the Huguenots - their civil rights in a predominantly Catholic country and it succeeded in bringing peace for many years.

However, Louis XIV renounced the edict and declared Protestantism illegal, so the Protestants fled. At a stroke, France lost many of its most skilled and hard-working individuals. An estimated 160,000 Huguenots travelled to such places as Switzerland, the US., Germany, Amsterdam and London which alone attracted some 50,000 immigrants.

They were wig makers, hairdressers, boot and shoe makers, perfumers, jewellers, furriers and gunsmiths. The silversmiths among them brought sophisticated and advanced designs. They used a thicker silver and adorned it with higher and more elaborate relief and engraved decoration.

De Lamerie''s father, also Paul, was himself a minor aristocrat and on reaching the Netherlands, became an army officer in the service of William of Orange. His son was probably born there, but in 1689 the family left for London and by 1691 they were living in Soho, the district having been taken over by French Huguenot refugees.

Though he went on to greatness, very little is known about the young Paul''s progress through what was essentially a closed profession. However, records at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London show an entry for August 6, 1703, in which he apprentices himself to a Peter Plattell (sic) "Citizen and Goldsmith of London, for the term of seven years from this day".

Platel, himself a Huguenot from an aristocratic family in Lorraine, had probably also been apprenticed in London and registered his mark at Goldsmiths' ' Hall in 1699. A gifted individual, he made a silver service for the Prince of Wales, who became George II.

De Lamerie probably lived with Platel and in addition to teaching the boy the technical skills of silversmithing, the Master also gave him the hand of one of his daughters in marriage. The couple had two sons and four daughters. Platel died in 1719.

De Lamerie became a Freeman in 1712 and registered his mark the same year. Less than four years later, the young man had established himself sufficiently to open a shop and workshop at the sign of the Golden Ball in Windmill Street. Within six years, he was described as the King's Silversmith.

In 1731, de Lamerie was honoured by being invited to join the governing body of the Goldsmiths' ' Company, by which time he was enjoying huge success. Commissions came from all the wealthiest European families and it is notable that all his most elaborate pieces date from this period.

He died in 1751 without an heir to pass on his business, both his sons, Paul and Daniel, dying in infancy.

So then, what are the chances of finding an affordable piece of de Lamerie silver? I thought they were pretty slim, but I was wrong. The mug pictured on this page may look somewhat plain and businesslike, but it has a fascinating provenance.

Bearing the de Lamerie mark and assayed (tested for quality) in 1741, it is engraved with the arms of Powys impaling Spence, for Thomas Powys of Lilford, Northampton, and his wife Henrietta, daughter of Thomas Spence of Palgrave, Norfolk, Serjeant of the House of Commons. whom he married in 1740.

Spence died on June 29, 1737, "of two broken legs, occasioned by his jumping out of a chaise which his horses were running away with". The Gentleman''s Magazine of July 15 records the subsequent death of a Mr Stephens, surgeon to the Prince of Wales, who nursed him - "occasioned by his fatigue in sitting up to attend Mr Spence, one of whose legs he cut off".

The mug is estimated at PS7,000-PS10,000. OK, too rich for me too, but the two Hanoverian pattern table spoons, circa 1720-30, were in a recent provincial auction at PS120-PS180. They sold for a bargain PS75.

THE MARK OF LUXURY FROM A FELLOW EXILE THE coffee pot was commissioned by London-based trader and fellow Huguenot Sir John Lequesne, who came to London as a child refugee with his younger brother, David, having fled Rouen like so many of his fellow Protestants.

Their father had arranged for them to lodge with a Spanish merchant and they never saw him again. He died from an illness after having been imprisoned for his beliefs.

The brothers prospered. John became free of the Grocers' Company and David the Salters' Company. They later set up business together trading with the West Indies.

John was elected an Alderman of the City and was a director of the Bank of England. He was knighted by King George II in 1737.

A successful marriage, bringing a dowry of PS20,000, and an equally successful career enabled him to commission only the best objects for his home.

A Paul de Lamerie mug - utilitarian but with a fascinating provenance. Estimate: PS7,000-PS10,000.

CAPTION(S):

This magnificent Paul de Lamerie coffee pot could be yours for PS3.5-PS4.5m
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Jun 8, 2013
Words:1180
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