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'The Pompeian Lady'

  • Object:

    Plaque

  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (made)

  • Date:

    1876 (designed)
    1877 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Morel-Ladeuil, Leonard (designer)
    Elkington & Co. (maker and retailer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Electroformed copper, electrogilded and electroplated

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased in memory of Joyce and Alfred Chaney and Family

  • Museum number:

    M.221-2011

  • Gallery location:

    Cast Courts, Room 46, The Chitra Nirmal Sethia Gallery, case CA3, shelf Touch

This is a contemporary electrotype of a silver and steel plaque depicting 'A Pompeian Lady', originally produced in silver and damascened steel by the great French artist Leonard Morel-Ladeuil for Elkington and Company of Birmingham. The silver and steel prototype was produced as the showstopper for the Elkington stand at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876. Elkingtons used the original to advertise electrotypes such as this, several commissions for which are itemised in the company's Visitor Books for the 1876 Exhibition and the Paris Exhibition of 1878. The back records the copyrighting of the design in four languages and five countries.

The 'Pompeian Lady' plaque is one of Morel-Ladeuil's masterpieces. The whereabouts of the original are unknown.

Physical description

Electrotype plaque, 'The Pompeian Lady', circular with a central scene of a Pompeian lady reclining on a couch after leaving her bath, attended by three servants, all grouped in front of a colonnade of fluted ionic columns draped in foliage, on the left of which is a table supported by a sphinx on which stands an animated statue of a dancing faun and, behind the left column, a tall stand supporting a Roman lamp, and on the right of which is a classical ewer on a stand filled with flowers. The central scene is framed by a circular ridge outside of which is a border of stylised Greek shells separated by small raised bosses. Outside this is a wider border of running palms and leaves topped by a mask, the whole framed by a further raised reinforcing ridge. A hole for suspension has been drilled through the top border, probably some time after the plaque was made.

The front of the plaque is signed by both Elkington and Morel-Ladeuil (picked up in the electrotype of the original) and the back of the plaque has an applied plate recording the copyrighting of the design in 5 countries and 4 languages and a full set of Elkington's electroplate marks.

Place of Origin

Birmingham (made)

Date

1876 (designed)
1877 (made)

Artist/maker

Morel-Ladeuil, Leonard (designer)
Elkington & Co. (maker and retailer)

Materials and Techniques

Electroformed copper, electrogilded and electroplated

Marks and inscriptions

'DESIGN COPYRIGHTED IN THE UNITED STATES NOVEMBER 1876'
Applied plaque on back, designed for the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, 1876

'DEPOSE EN FRANCE'
Registered in France
Applied plaque on back

'REGISTRIRT IN DEN OESTERREICHISCHEN KAISERSTAATEN, ZAHL 10.297'
Registered in the Austrian State, Number 10.297
Applied plaque on back

'REGISTRIRT IM DEUTSCHEN REICH No. 27.BD.1.BL.114'
Registered in the German State No. 27.BD.1.BL.114
Applied plaque on back

'English Design Registry mark for 30th April 1877'
Applied plaque on back

'E&Co' under a crown; 'E'; '&', 'Co', 'Q'
'Elkington and Company'; 'Elkington'; 'And'; 'Company'; '1877'
Applied plaque on back. Full set of Elkington and Co electroplate marks and the date letter Q for 1877. As was customary among electroplate manufacturers, Elkington skirted close to hallmarking legislation with the close resemblance of their marks to standard English silver hallmarks. The marks carried no guarantee of quality other than the manufacturer's own reputation. In 1896 the Sheffield Assay Office threatened to sue any electroplater who used a crown in their marks as this was the symbol of the assay office. The crown disappears from Elkington's mark after that date.

15428
Applied plaque on back, pattern number

'ELKINGTON & Co.'
Applied plaque on back, company signature

Morel Ladeuil
Signed on front of silver and steel prototype and copied into the electrotype

Elkington
Signed on front of silver and steel prototype and copied into the electrotype

Dimensions

Diameter: 51.4 cm, Depth: 3.6 cm

Object history note

The item is an Elkington and Company electrotype plaque depicting 'A Pompeian Lady at her Toilette', originally produced in silver and damascened steel by the great French artist Leonard Morel-Ladeuil and electrotyped contemporaneously for sale at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. The whereabouts of the original are unknown.

The French designer, Leonard Morel-Ladeuil, began working for Elkington & Co. in 1859. He was employed specifically to produce large, intricately embossed pieces for presentation and exhibition. Exhibitions sought to encourage virtuoso displays of design and craftsmanship, allied to industrial design and production. The electrotypes were formed using one of the 19th century's great technological advances in metalworking production, electroforming.

The plaque was acquired by the Museum in 2011 from a private vendor, who remembered during her childhood the plaque hanging on her grandmother's wall.

Historical significance: 'The Pompeian Lady' plaque is one of Morel-Ladeuil's masterpieces. He produced it as the principal feature of the Elkington stand for the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876 (the equivalent of the Milton Shield in Paris in 1867). The plaque is very well documented. The Elkingtons' Visitors' Books (which are in the National Art Library) itemise copies of the Pompeian Lady made for customers at the Philadelphia Exhibition and at the Paris Exhibition two years later. In 1904 a book of his life and works claimed, ""For the Universal Exhibition of 1876, at Philadelphia, Morel-Ladeuil prepared an important artwork, a large, circular, figurative plaque in silver repoussé bas-relief, The Toilette of a Pompeian Lady ... 'Pompeian Toilette' quickly became very popular. The grace of the figures and harmony of the composition charmed the public; other artists, critics, and people of taste admired the extraordinary control, which allowed the artist to shape the central figurative group in repoussé bas-relief. The press in America, England, and France pronounced the artwork one of the most beautiful in the exhibition. The original artwork, at a price of 1500 livres (37,500 francs), was not sold, but numerous electrotype reproductions were acquired in England and America." (Léon Morel, L'Oeuvre de Morel-Ladeuil, Sculpteur-Ciseleur, 1820-1888, A. Lahure, Paris, 1904, pp. 24-25).

Morel-Ladeuil only produced four more works after this: the Bunyon shield in 1878, and the three Shakespeare reliefs, before he retired to Bologne in France in poor health, where he died. At a retrospective exhibition of Morel-Ladeuil's work in London critics called him one of the great artists of the century. Morel-Ladeuil's total output of mature artworks numbers only 35 pieces, of which the Museum only has one in silver, the 'Milton Shield' (Mus. no. 546-1868) (and 4 electrotypes of the same shield).

As an electrotype this plaque is also interesting an example of a 19th-century commercial application of new technology. The Museum's electrotype collection is so heavily weighted towards copies of historic objects that the significance and impact of the process as a means for producing all types of contemporary objects from grand sculpture to table cutlery can sometimes be overlooked. Elkingtons combined innovative, cutting-edge electrotyping technology with aggressive marketing and fierce protection of their work. The stamps, marks, signatures and inscriptions on this plaque convey an unusually large amount of information about contemporary reproduction for the modern art market of the late 19th century. The back carries inscriptions recording the copyrighting of the design in four languages and five countries as well as an English Design Registry mark for 30th April 1877 (a year after it was registered in America). It also has a clear set of Elkington electroplate marks and the date letter for 1877, an example of Elkingtons skirting close to the edge of hallmarking legislation. Elkingtons commissioned works of art with electrotypes in mind: the original in silver and steel was used at the exhibitions to advertise the electrotypes. Elkingtons were still featuring this electrotype in their trade catalogues in the early 20th century.

Historical context note

This plaque is an electrotype, an exact copy in metal of another object. Electrotypes were a by-product of the invention of electroplating (silver plating by electrolysis).

ELECTROPLATING: Electricity revolutionised the trade of coating base metal objects with silver. Patented by Elkington and Company in the 1840s, this technique was the fulfillment of a century of research into the effects of electricity on metals. A negatively charged silver bar, suspended in a vat of potassium cyanide, deposited a coating of silver on a positively charged base metal (mostly copper, later nickel-silver) object immersed with it. Electroplated objects were fully formed in base metal before plating.

ELECTROGILDING exploited the same technique but used gold bars instead of silver. It was safer than traditional mercury gilding.

ELECTROFORMING transferred the metal deposits directly into the moulds in the plating vats. When enough metal had been deposited to create a self-supporting object the mould was removed. Developed by Alexander Parkes, electroforms so accurately mirrored the moulds in which they were created that multiple copies could be created (ELECTROTYPES).

During the electrotyping process a mould was taken of the original object. In this mould a copper type pattern was electroformed. From this type pattern subsequent moulds were created in which electrotypes were formed. This plaque was therefore electroformed in copper from moulds made from a type pattern which itself was electroformed in a mould of the original. The copper electrotype was then electroplated, electrogilded and oxidised.

Early experiments in electroplating, often by amateur scientists using Elkington's home electroplating kits, involved coating fruit, flowers and animals in silver or gold "with the most perfect accuracy". They "retained all the characteristics of the specimens before their immersion" (Penny Magazine, 1844). The Art Journal enthused in same year, "The electrotypes are perfect; the finest lines, the most minute dots are as faithfully copied as the boldest objections".

Electrotyping was an industrial technique whose application to the arts rapidly increased the supply of works of art to a broad section of society. Henry Cole, the first director of the South Kensington Museum (V&A), quickly grasped the educational potential of this new technique. He employed Elkingtons and Franchi & Son of Clerkenwell to take moulds of historic and modern objects in the Museum (at their own risk), create copies in a base metal and then electroplate them. These could be sold freely as reproductions, with a gold, silver or bronze finish, provided they bore the South Kensington Museum's official stamp. To avoid breaking English hallmarking laws, all marks were to be deleted from copies of silver objects. Copies were made of successful modern objects as well as historic works of art

Elkington's display of electrotypes at the 1867 Paris Exhibition proved extremely popular and prompted Cole to organise a convention at which 14 European countries agreed to exchange works of art. Representatives of Elkington's and the V&A sent staff to Germany, Sweden, France, Denmark and Hungary. The most ambitious trip, to Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1880, secured copies of over 200 items from the Kremlin and the Hermitage, including the celebrated Jerningham Wine Cooler and much Elizabethan and Stuart silver sent as ambassadorial gifts to the Tsars. By 1920 the V&A held over 2000 electrotypes. Copies toured the country as part of the Museum's educational programmes and were sold to the public and to museums and art schools.

Elkingtons were a commercial giant selling electrotypes for profit as well as instruction. A variety of finishes met a range of tastes and budgets.

The process of electroplating and electrotyping favoured companies that could afford large factories and expensive technology. The power of the machinery and new technology now at the disposal of the silver industry allowed modern mass production to develop. Electroplaters could create thousands of identical objects using a fraction of the amount of silver to create "a degree of mechanical finish it would be difficult to surpass" (Art Union, 1846). The focus of silver and silver product manufacture moved from London to the new factories of Birmingham and Sheffield.

Some smaller companies trying to keep pace with industrial change suffered. The large vats of potassium cyanide required spacious, well-ventilated factories. A report at the Great Exhibition claimed workers in smaller companies suffered blistered skin, headaches temporary blindness and nausea.

Descriptive line

Plaque, 'The Pompeian Lady', electrotype (electroformed copper, electrogilded and electroplated), designed by Leonard Morel-Ladeuil in 1876 and made by Elkington & Co., Birmingham, 1877.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Morel, Léon, L'Oeuvre de Morel-Ladeuil, Sculpteur-Ciseleur, 1820-1888, A. Lahure, Paris, 1904, pp. 24-25
Glanville, Philippa, ed., Silver, Victora and Albert Museum, London, 1996, pp. 60-1
Bury, Shirley, Victorian Electroplate, Country Life Collectors' Series, 1971
Elkington and Company Trade Catalogue, 1904, p. 189
Treasures of art, industry and manufacture represented in the American Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia 1876
Smith, Walter, The Masterpieces of the Centennial International Exhibition, Volume II: Industrial Art, Gebbie & Barrie, Philadelphia, 1876, pp. 126-129
Angus Patterson, "The Pompeian Lady Plaque", The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Vol. 19, June 2011, pp. 76-81, ill. p. 76

Production Note

Prototype of silver and steel designed by Morel-Ladeuil in 1876, this electrotype made by Elkington and Co. in 1877.

Attribution note: Contemporary electrotype copy of prototype of 1876

Materials

Copper; Silver; Gold

Techniques

Electroforming; Electrotyping

Categories

Advertising; Household objects; Metalwork; Plaques & Plaquettes

Production Type

Copy

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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