As the year draws to a close, we thought it was a good time to show off a small fraction of the amazing works of art acquired by the Art Museum in 2015. Over the next 10 days, we’ll highlight an artwork or group of artworks that became part of the SLAM collection this year. None of these acquisitions would be possible without the support of Members, donors, and the people of St. Louis. Make sure to read other stories about recent acquisitions.
This isn’t your grandmother’s tea kettle. This silver Kettle and Stand weighs more than 10 pounds and stands nearly two feet tall. To put that into perspective, that’s larger than most newborns. The kettle’s pear-shaped body is lavishly ornamented from top to bottom with foliate designs and scalloped shells, and it even features a high relief of a man playing a lute accompanied by a woman, child, and dog.
The piece was made by Vincent Laforme, an American silversmith based in Boston who was the son of Anthony Laforme, an immigrant German silversmith who arrived in Boston about 1833. Vincent probably apprenticed with his father and possibly an uncle, Bernard Laforme, but by age 21 in 1844, he was active as an independent craftsman. Laforme’s shop produced holloware, especially tea sets, presentation mugs, and pitchers, as indicated by surviving works, and sketches for silver that are in the collection of the Winterthur Museum and Library.
Though mundane in function, the piece demonstrates mastery in form, material, and scale and highlights the quality and ambition of American silversmiths in the mid-1800s. It was intended for use, although its excellent condition suggests light use.
David Conradsen, the Grace L. Brumbaugh and Richard E. Brumbaugh Associate Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, said in an acquisition proposal that it has been a top priority for years to acquire a major example of American silver the “demonstrates the extraordinary ability of American silver manufacturers to compete with the best in English and continental Europeans production.”
This work addresses that gap in the collection as an example of American mid-19th century domestic silver of ambitious scale with richly cast, chased, and repousée ornament. This bold example of embellishment features raised scenes of fête galants, loosely inspired by the 18th-century French prints, as well as naturalistic scrolls, foliage, shells, and abstract motifs pulled from rococo sources. It is far more sophisticated than the majority of American revival silver produced at the time.
The Museum purchased the kettle at auction. Kettle and Stand eventually will be on long-term display in the decorative arts galleries, which will be reinstalled in 2017.