Apr 11, 2017

Huntington Museum of Art Acquires Exceptional Sugar/Tea Caddy Set

Contact: (304) 529-2701

The Huntington Museum of Art has acquired a rare, three-piece sugar and tea caddy set made by the noted Royal goldsmith, Thomas Heming, in 1757.

Decorated in the tea-pickers’ pattern, the surfaces of each piece are covered in elaborately worked Chinoiserie designs showing Chinese figures picking tea leaves while the wind – represented by a lion’s head – blows down from the heavens above. On the short sides of each piece are depictions of Asian-style pagodas or cottages.  Atop each hinged lid sits the figure of a young boy who grasps a sheaf of tea leaves in his right hand. Of special importance is that the three pieces come with their original, purple velvet-lined, silver-mounted, shagreen, green leather case, which is almost always missing.

The set was made by the Royal goldsmith, Thomas Heming (1722-1801), who was apprenticed in 1738 to the Huguenot goldsmith, Peter Archambo (1699-1759).  His early work is remarkably similar to that of his teacher, Archambo, who was known for “a French delicacy of taste and refinement of execution," according to information about Heming on the website of Koopman Rare Art of the United Kingdom.  Just three years after completing this set, in 1760, Heming was appointed as the principal goldsmith to King George III, retaining that position until 1782.

The set eventually found its way into the collection of Queen Elizabeth II, from whom it was gifted to the respected attorney and noted American bibliophile, Robert Pirie (1934-2015).  Pirie specialized in 16th and 17th century English literature and grew his library into one of the finest held in private hands.  Following his death, a number of his holdings were acquired by the Folger Shakespeare Library.  The silver set was acquired by the museum from his estate.

The remarkable, original condition of the set is unusual, and it certainly has something to do with the survival of its fitted case.  While not made for the King, the set was probably once part of an ambassadorial service that was returned to the crown and stored, which may indicate why the original case and its contents survived in such excellent shape.

The museum plans to install the newly acquired pieces in an exhibition of British silver and decorative arts titled “Domestic Delights,” which will be on view at the museum from September 2017 through April 2018.

HMA hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free on Tuesdays thanks to the generous sponsorship of Macy's; and $5 per adult on other days. HMA admission is free to Museum Members; children younger than 18; veterans and their immediate families; and active duty military and their immediate families. For more information on HMA, visit www.hmoa.org or call (304) 529-2701. HMA is fully accessible.