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Boston tea party: a reinstalled English interior provides the splendid setting for a new display of 18th-century furniture and decorative arts.

The Alan and Simone Hartman Galleries

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Opened 8 May 2013

Summer in Boston brings an invitation to meet up with old acquaintances in new surroundings. One of the most authentic English interiors in North America has been reinstalled to provide a setting for a choice selection of 18th-century paintings, furniture and decorative arts. The guests, captured for posterity by Scottish portraitist, Allan Ramsay (1713-84), include that artist's second wife Margaret--with whom he eloped in 1754-and Horace Walpole's nieces, the Honourable Laura Keppel and Charlotte, Lady Huntingtower (Fig. 2).

The setting is the Drawing Room from Newland House in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire (Fig. 1), acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, in the 1930s through London dealers Gill and Reigate. Tragically the remains of the original 17th-century house were destroyed by fire last April. But the interiors were removed in 1930; the 1740s Drawing Room, one of the refurbishments commissioned by John Probyn, was reassembled at the MFA in 1937. It has been closed to visitors since the 1970s, however, and was dismantled in the last decade to allow for construction work.

The room retains its remarkable carved cornice featuring six allegorical and portrait heads, members of the Probyn family in the company of Hercules and Minerva, and personifications of Architecture and History. The idiosyncratic nature of the carving--the lions' heads on the overmantel have acanthus leaf tongues--suggests regional craftsmen, perhaps from nearby Bristol. (One possibility is the Paty workshop of architects, carvers and sculptors, established there by the early 1720s.) Photographs taken in 1925 of the room in situ at Newland House have enabled the reconstruction of the plaster ceiling.

The Newland House Drawing Room is set for tea with a Chinese export armorial service carefully assembled on a mahogany tea table of the period. The room is furnished with side tables supporting a Chelsea porcelain 'Music Lesson' figurative group, inspired by Boucher's painting L'Agreable Lemon and in perfect condition, and a pair of figurative silver candlesticks by James Shruder that date from 1742-43. A silver inkstand by Paul de Lamerie from 1730-31, judiciously placed on the open desk and bookcase, awaits the return of the master of the house from the dining room next door. Both candlesticks and inkstand form part of the remarkable collection of silver presented to the MFA in 2001 by Alan and Simone Hartman, who have generously sponsored the refurbishment of the Newland House Drawing Room, as well as the Dining Room from Hamilton Palace and the corridor gallery which links these two period interiors.

The latter rooms provide a sumptuous setting for silver by Huguenot goldsmiths. An intriguing silver stand (1689-90) engraved with the coat of arms of the 'Proud' 6th Duke of Somerset of Petworth House, West Sussex, may have been intended for the port wine served at room temperature and circulated to the male company after dinner. It is marked by Pierre Harache, the Rouen-born goldsmith who fled in the late 17th century and was the first Huguenot refugee of his generation to gain the freedom of the London Goldsmiths' Company. Single bottle wine coolers, introduced to the English table in the late 17th century, are represented here by an example marked for goldsmith David Willaume (Fig. 3)--similar to those made by William Lukin for Robert Walpole. The dark oak panelling of the Hamilton Palace Dining Room, albeit an early-20th-century modification of the 1690s original, provides an appropriate foil for the perfectly lit silver, which is displayed in elegant, tall non-reflective Italian showcases. The room's earlier carved detailing is documented as by William Morgan, who worked closely with the Scottish architect James Smith at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire and Melville House, Fife. The inner coat of arms, with its unusual Garter Collar, and the immediate fireplace surround of black Tournai marble are additions made in the 1820s by the 10th Duke of Hamilton.

Taking tea was enhanced by exquisite accessories, such as the 1721-22 shell-shaped silver cream jug with a dolphin handle displayed here, resting on a lion's back with a hexagonal base (also marked for the Metz-born, London-based goldsmith David Willaume). Of particular interest is the silver tea kettle stand chased with chinoiserie (1742-43), marked by Paul de Lamerie for the Franks family of Philadelphia--a reminder that wealthy colonial merchants were in the market for the latest sophisticated taste from the English capital. The clothes press from the collection of Boston merchant Charles Apthorp demonstrates that imports of English furniture were equally desirable. The sumptuous mahogany tea chest with elaborate rococo silver mounts contains a set of silver canisters (1739-40) marked for Louis Pantin, another goldsmith of Rouen origin.

The Hartman corridor is punctuated with a case of artfully designed teapots. Of these, the 1740s Staffordshire camel teapot with decoration lifted from Stalker and Parker's Treatise on Japanning and Varnishing (1688) wins the prize for exoticism. The juxtaposition of tea equipment and paintings recalls the Philadelphia-made tea service which belonged to American Impressionist Mary Cassatt, which is displayed next to her 1880 painting The Tea in the museum's American wing. Back in the Hartman Galleries, for sheer quality visitors should take in the 1567-68 ewer and basin featuring engraved portraits of the sovereigns of England, possibly once in the possession of Queen Elizabeth I (Fig. 4).

Racing trophies include the generous Irish silver punch bowl, marked for William Williamson of Dublin and engraved by Daniel Pomarede with the Curragh of Kildare (1751). The role of the architect is celebrated by the two-handled cup and cover marked for Paul Crespin (1733-34), presented to Henry Flitcroft in gratitude for designing the Bloomsbury church of St Giles in the Fields, London. The silver Richmond race cup made to architect Robert Adam's design in 1764, and marked for Daniel Smith and Robert Sharp, provides a neoclassical celebration of the passion for horse racing. Huguenot dominance in the production of London silver is upheld by the exquisite 1772-73 gravy 'Argyll', with inner lining to keep the contents warm. It was supplied to Nathaniel, 1st Baron Scarsdale of Kedleston, Derbyshire and marked for Louisa Courtauld, who continued her late husband's business with former journeyman George Cowles. This item, with its handles and spout formed as intertwined snakes, is also likely to have been architect-designed. The same workshop marked the condiment vases of 1771-72--a remarkable English contribution to the gout grec inspired by William Hamilton's collection of Greek vases--that are here judiciously juxtaposed with a classical painted Greek vase.

The role of the architect in designing silver is celebrated elsewhere in this great Boston museum. The twin candelabra supplied by B.F. Behrens to William Kent's design in 1739-45 form part of the spectacular buffet of Hanoverian plate that is a central feature of the newly opened European Paintings Gallery; a silver chandelier displayed nearby is one of five made for George II's Leineschloss in Hanover, also to a Kent design. The splendid arrangement is dominated by the silver wine fountain and cistern marked by David Willaume, and originally commissioned for Chambre Brabazon on succeeding to the title of 5th Earl of Meath in 1708. His magnificent Versailles-inspired landscape garden at Killruddery, south of Dublin, is a remarkable survival. Dominated by the Meath heraldic Wyvern crest and supporters, this silver fountain and cistern were bought by George II--who thought nothing of acquiring silver second hand--when Prince of Wales. The best Huguenot silver was worthy of the English Hanoverian monarch; the new Hartman Galleries are certainly worthy of the citizens of Boston.

Tessa Murdoch is Acting Keeper of the Deportment of Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
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Author:Murdoch, Tessa
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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