The small Wiltshire firm Jubilee Auction Rooms – opened in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year in 2002 and soon to move to larger premises in Pewsey – received inquiries from all over the world when it emerged they had unearthed a remarkable jewel-decorated flask by William Burges (1827-81) in a routine house clearance.
As an antiquarian and an avid collector as well as an
architect-designer, Burges often successfully incorporated
classical gems, coins, Oriental carvings and porcelain into the art
objects he created for himself and his clients.
For this newly-discovered 7½in (19cm) tall vessel he used two
Chinese works of art - a robin's-egg-glazed blue vase with
elephant-mask handles and a domed cloisonné cover - mounted in
silver set with cut and cabochon semi-precious stones.
The original watercolour design for the flask survives in the
collection of the Victoria &
Albert Museum (and is easily available online) but the
whereabouts of the vessel itself was hitherto unknown. It was found
by David Harrison, who runs the Fordbrook Estate
auction room with Sue Owen, when clearing a house
in the nearby village of Etchilhampton.
The auctioneers believed it was made for Burges' personal 'use'
as it is engraved to the foot in gothic script: W Burges in
remembrance of Tommy Deane his pupil MDCCCLXXIV (1874). It was a
tribute to, rather than a memorial for, a favourite student.
At the time the flask was made, Cork-born architect Thomas Manly
Deane (1851-1933) was showing only the first signs of a talent that
would earn him major commissions in Dublin and a knighthood in
Such personal art objects by William Burges make only rare
appearances on the market, although a hitherto unknown brooch by
the architect-designer was sold by Gildings of Market
Harborough last year for £31,000.
A more straightforward comparison with the Wiltshire flask was
another memorable Antiques Roadshow discovery, a silver and
jewelled bottle formed around a Chinese vase (again the original
watercolour survives) which was unsold against an estimate of
£40,000-60,000 at Sotheby's in March 1998, but later found its way
into a Continental museum.
their bottle at an eminently buyable £8000-12,000 and on the eve of
their May 16 sale were thinking more in terms of £20,000.
In fact the undisclosed buyer parted with £42,000 (plus 15%