George Wilkinson ( American, 1819 - 1894 )
Gorham Manufacturing Company ( American, 1831 )
- designed 1866
Beginning in the 1850s, Neoclassicism was bolstered by American silver designers who adopted a figural style developed by their English counterparts, such as Paul Storr, in the 1820s and 1830s. The use of three-dimensional classical figures was most common in pieces with strong vertical elements, such as centerpieces and compotes. Clothed in drapery and positioned in contrapposto atop a celestial sphere, a female figure functions as the stem of this fruit stand designed by Gorham Manufacturing Company chief designer George Wilkinson. Perched on the handles are figures representing Vulcan, the blacksmith of the gods, and Apollo, the sun god, as children. Other details, such as the band of ivy leaves punctuated by cameos on the base and the series of astrological symbols on the globe, further evoke ancient Greece and Rome.
Gorham publicized this model (no. 164), one of several variations, with a woodcut distributed to numerous publications including American Silverware. As a result of its popularity, competitor Ball, Black & Company produced a smaller and simpler adaptation without the globe and with cast birds on the handles.
Charles L. Venable, Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art; New York, New York; Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994), 61, 330.
Charles Venable, "The World On Her Table: American Silver at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1850-1900," in Tri Delta Charity Antiques Show (1989): 95.
Mary Ann Steiner, ed, "American Silver," in The Bulletin of The Saint Louis Art Museum Volume XVII Number 1 (Winter 1984), 44.
In 1866, merchant George Peabody presented an enormous service, including another example of this model (no. 164), to Cyrus Field, financier of the recently completed transatlantic cable, which enabled telegraphic communication between the United States and Europe. This example, now at the Museum of the City of New York, is personalized with cameos of Peabody and Field and inscribed "George Peabody to Cyrus W. Field in testimony and commemoration of an act of very high commercial integrity and honor. New York, 24 Nov. 1866."
David B. Warren, Katherine S. Howe, and Michael K. Brown, Marks of Achievement: Four Centuries of American Presentation Silver (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; New York: In association with Harry N. Abrams, 1987), 97.
Birmingham Museum of Art
English silversmith Paul Storr's figural style influenced American designers like George Wilkinson. View a Paul Storr centerpiece with three female figures at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Saint Louis Art Museum
View an example of the Ball, Black & Co. adaptation at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Brown University Library, The Gorham Company Archive
The Gorham Company Archive includes a working drawing and a photograph of model no. 164, both reproduced in David B. Warren, Katherine S. Howe, and Michael K. Brown, Marks of Achievement: Four Centuries of American Presentation Silver (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; New York: In association with Harry N. Abrams, 1987), 97.
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