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ID number:  BIRBI-48.18
Institution:  The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Artist / Maker:  Smith, Daniel and Robert Sharp (active partnership 1763 – 1788)
Title / Object name:  Teapot and stand
Object type:  Art object
Place made:  London
Culture:  English
Date made:  1785
Materials:  Gold with wood handle and bone knob
Measurements:  12.6 x 24.5 cm
Provenance:  Purchased from T. Lumley, November 1948, for £2,250

The teapot is engraved with the arms of William Beckford (1760-1844), the Gothic novelist, and those of his wife, Lady Margaret Gordon (1762-1786). His inheritance, at the age of nine from his father, Alderman Beckford, left him the richest person in England. This wealth was accrued through the family’s involvement in the slave trade; at one point his father owned thirteen sugar plantations which enslaved 3,000 people in Jamaica. The Beckfords were one of the largest, if not the largest, plantation and slave owners in the West Indies. William Beckford also received financial compensation from the government following the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

For this teapot, the use of gold, rather than silver gilt, reflects his extravagant taste and extreme wealth – and is exceptionally rare. It was made for the couple in the summer of 1785, just before Beckford’s exile in Switzerland from his home at Fonthill in Wiltshire, which would last for a decade. He was forced to leave the country following the exposure of his romantic relationship with 16 year old William ‘Kitty’ Courtenay (1768-1835), the heir to Powderham Castle in Devon. At this time, homosexuality was a criminal offence and punishable by death in England. However, the enforcement of this law would greatly depend on the social class of the person; no formal charges of homosexuality were brought against Beckford, as he was such a wealthy and powerful member of society. Even so, he had no choice but go into exile – abroad. Kitty also relocated, separately, first to New York and later to Paris.

Inscriptions / Translations:  Hall mark: London 1785. Maker's mark: DS/RS. Engraved with the arms of William Beckford (1759-1844) and his wife, Margeret Gordon (1762-1786).

Notes:  Exhibited: 'William Beckford 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent', Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, New York, USA, 18 October 2001 - 06 January 2002; 'William Beckford 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent', Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, UK, 06 February 2002 - 14 April 2002; 'The Glory of Gold', Goldsmith's Hall, London, UK, 31 May 2012 - 28 July 2012

2 Related Publications

William Beckford 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent
Ostergard, D. E.

The Connoisseur
Grimwade, A.
The Connoisseur
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