Our exhibition, Great Provenances, is predominately focused on English furniture from the 18th century. But we also have several exceptional objects in the exhibition, including this magnificent George II silver soup tureen designed by Paul Crespin, one of the most celebrated goldsmiths of the 18th century. This tureen was originally made for Lionel Tollemache, 4th Earl of Dysart (1708-1770) for Ham House, Surrey. We briefly highlighted this piece in an earlier post looking at the presence of silver in paintings, which you can read here, but this piece deserves closer attention and further exploration.
The tureen is of oval bombe form and stands on four mask and rocaille-capped reeded scroll feet, with angular scroll handles issuing from applied foliage and rocaille terminals, the detachable domed stepped cover with similar handle. The tureen is engraved twice with a coat of arms, and the cover is engraved twice with a crest, each below an earl’s coronet. The arms are those of Tollemache quartering Joyce, Stanhope, Murray and Wilbraham, for Lionel Tollemache, 4th Earl of Dysart.
Paul Crespin can be considered to be one of the most accomplished goldsmiths of the second quarter of the 18th century. Crespin was born in Westminster, the son of Huguenot parents. He was an apprentice to the Huguenot goldsmith Jean Pons in 1713, and his first registered marks appear between July 1720 and December 1721.
The fashion for French style and the highest levels of craftsmanship led many English patrons to buy directly from French goldsmiths, but Crespin successfully captured this style and quality in his own work which allowed him to prosper. He was also unusual in England for adopting the Rococo style as early as the mid 1730s, when this soup tureen was created. Crespin incorporated Rococo elements directly from Parisian print sources. Commissions were received from George II, including a christening bowl for his godson, George, third son of Lyonel Tollemache; the King of Portugal and Catherine the Great. Perhaps his most outstanding creation is the centrepiece, made for Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1741, now in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen (E. Barr, George Wickes, Royal Goldsmith 1698 – 1761, 1980, fig. 103). Although recorded bankrupt in the Gentleman’s Magazine in February 1747, his mark is found on many pieces until his retirement in 1760.
Lionel Tollemache, 4th Earl of Dysart (1708-1770)
The 4th Earl of Dysart inherited his grandfather’s title and extensive estates in 1727. His inheritance included Ham House, Surrey; Helmingham Hall, Suffolk; Harrington and a 20,000 acre estate in Cheshire. In 1729 he was elected High Steward of Ipswich and in the same year married Lady Grace Carteret (1713-1755), daughter of John Carteret, Earl of Granville.
As a young man he travelled extensively on the Continent visiting France, Switzerland and Italy. He spent little time in public life, and preferred to devote his efforts to his houses and collections. Dysart took particular interest in redecorating the Marble Dining Room, which led to an ideal opportunity to commission a complete dinner service along with sumptuous new furniture and pictures. Over the span of twenty years beginning in 1729, Dysart built his entire dinner service, and this type of gradual accumulation of plate was common. Although bought over a long period, the dinner service is stylistically consistent in reflecting a restrained Rococo character with high quality finishes and engraved armorials.
Archival research by Elizabeth Jamieson and a study of the 4th Earl’s silver collection by Tessa Murdoch, of the Victoria & Albert Museum, reveal that the 4th Earl was a serious record-keeper and patron. Surviving pieces from the Earl’s collection and a large group of bills from silversmiths demonstrate the Earl’s taste for the finest work of the leading Huguenot goldsmiths of the day. Anne Tanqueray provided pieces for the dressing table, and her brother David Willaume supplied a chamber pot and a bread basket. From about 1740, Paul Crespin appears to have become the main supplier. Four candlesticks (two of 1750 and two of 1751) made by Crespin for the 4th Earl of Dysart were sold (Christies, London, 13 May 1992, lot 185).
The tureen is almost certainly the one which is recorded in the Earl of Dysart’s Account book for the years 1733 to 1743 (Buckminster Park Archives, Mss 929). The entry dated 29 January 1742 lists, ‘to Crespin Sylver-/ Smith (For a Terrine)/ A bill on Child for/ Threescore & Ten/ Pounds 70.’