Domestic Delight: British Silver, Portraits and Decorative Arts

September 16 - April 8, 2018

A high tea opening reception for this exhibit takes place on Sunday, September 17, 2017, from 2 to 4 p.m. Admission to the opening reception is free.

Some of the most beloved holdings of the Huntington Museum of Art are found in the collection of British portraits and silver.

The silver holds a special place in the history of the museum, as most of it was collected by museum founder Herbert Fitzpatrick and it was showcased as a regular feature after the museum opened its doors in 1952. It includes works by many of the finest British silversmiths of the Georgian period, including Paul Storr, Paul de Lamerie and Hester Bateman. Most of the portraits were added in the 1950s when George Bagby donated a group of works by some of the leading portrait artists who were active in 18th century Great Britain.

The 18th century was a time that saw expanding empires and trade along with great wealth among the privileged class in Great Britain. To showcase this wealth the upper classes increasingly called upon the nation’s silversmiths to fashion fine objects that could be conspicuously displayed in their lavish homes. These items reflected the stylistic fashions of the day and were used in a culture where eating and drinking became the ultimate pleasures and fostered elaborate dinner rituals that required a multitude of specialized utensils. Dinners could sometimes last 4 to 5 hours and were often seen as the major activity of the day. Portraiture served as yet another means of displaying wealth. Painters such as Joshua Reynolds, Henry Raeburn, and George Romney were kept busy creating likenesses of the social elite. No stately home was complete without a collection of portraits to adorn the walls, since these paintings provided a visual reminder of the family heritage that was so keenly prized by the upper class.

In addition to the silver that is part of the museum collection, a special group of silver vinaigrettes from the collection of Ashland native Ronald Polan will be a featured part of the exhibition. Vinaigrettes were small containers that were used to hold aromatic substances that were often dissolved in vinegar. Although used by both sexes in the earliest days, by the late 18th century they became an accessory carried almost exclusively by women. Their function was to mask offensive odors or to take advantage of the restorative powers of the substances that were carried in the container. Their appeal extended into the early 19th century, but by 1840 they had faded in terms of popularity.

The items in this exhibition present a link to an era when the fine and decorative arts served the needs of the wealthy through objects that were both rare and splendid. Though more than two centuries have passed since they were created, they still retain the stunning beauty that made them so desirable to the owners who commissioned them.

This exhibit sponsored by

Alex Franklin

S.J. Shrubsole

This exhibit supported by

Adam Booth, In Memory of Jeanne Kaplan Dunn

Dr. Peter and Clare Chirico, In Memory of Raffaella Del Guerico

Jean Eglinton and Steven Snyder, In Memory of Stuart H. Snyder

Oliver and Gaye Fearing, In Memory of Janet Ensign Bromley

Dennis and Lindsay Lee, In Memory of Laura Weber

Iris K. Malcom, In Memory of Arthur Malcom

Tamara S. Nimmo, In Memory of Edith and Christine Nimmo

Sally B. Oxley

Betsy H. Wilson, In Memory of Elizabeth Mitchell

Additional support from The Isabelle Gwynn and Robert Daine Exhibition Endowment.

This program is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

Domestic Delight: British Silver, Portraits and Decorative Arts

​This recent Huntington Museum of Art acquisition is a three-piece sugar and tea caddy set by Royal Goldsmith Thomas Heming. Photo by John Spurlock.