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Dinner Service

Artist or maker:
Auguste, Robert-Joseph (b.1723, d.1805)
Artist or maker:
Bunsen, Franz Peter (b.c 1725, d.1795)
Artist or maker:
Nubell, Franz Anton Hans
Artist or maker:
Boullier, Antoine
Date:
1775-1824
Place of production:
Paris, France
Hanover, Germany
Medium:
silver
Type of object:
dinner services
Accession number:
8.2003.1-82

Commentary

This magnificent French neoclassical service, a supreme example of the goldsmiths’ art, was commissioned in the 1770s by George III, as Elector of Hanover, for his German domains. Acquired by a Rothschild Family Trust in 2002, some 120 pieces from the service are set out at Waddesdon in the eighteenth century manner. It was ordered in Paris from Robert- Joseph Auguste (1723-1805) and extended by the court goldsmith Franz Peter Bunsen (c.1725-1795) in Hanover and subsequently extended again in the early 19th century by Franz Anton Hans Nübell to reflect the change in dining fashion from service à la française to service à la Russe.

George III inherited Hanover from his great-grandfather George I ,the first Elector, who became King of Britain in 1714 on the death of Queen Anne, Britain’s last Stuart monarch. George III was the first Hanoverian ruler to be born and educated in England and declared on his accession, “I glory in the name of Briton". The affairs of Hanover were his private business, and few of his British subjects visited the Electorate. It was a group of provinces about the size of Wales, with a population of about 600,000, governed by a Regency Council and a German Minister in London. George took an intense personal interest in the prosperity of Hanover, even though he never actually went there. He planned a visit in the early 1770s and in a British constitutional crisis of 1782-3 he threatened to abdicate and retire there. The service acted as a stand-in for the absent George III, and was also used to serve his sons.

The story of this commission, the largest and best-documented of any from a German court in the eighteenth century, shows a carefully planned strategy, carried out over more than a decade. Rulers from Catherine the Great in St Petersburg to John IV in Lisbon wanted Paris-made silver, the most costly in Europe, as well as emulating the dining practices of ‘the French who understand these things best of any nation’. They then extended their services with locally-made copies. This policy was adopted by the officials in Hanover. His new Service, the King insisted, was to correspond to the current method of serving, in which stately tureens dominated the table.

Early in the 1770s,the Hanover Chamberlain commissioned drawings from goldsmiths in both Vienna and Rome, but Paris was the final choice. In the summer of 1772, the French royal goldsmith, Robert-Joseph Auguste, whose silver tableware had been admired and copied in England from at least 1766, despatched sample designs to Hanover. After negotiations and a delay while funds accumulated, final drawings followed in January 1777. Auguste had a suitably stellar pedigree. He registered his mark in Paris in 1723 and was appointed 'orfèvre ordinaire du Roi' in 1778. One of his earliest commissions was a collaboration with the sculptor Falconet on a spectacular pair of gold salts for Madame de Pompadour and he supplied the regalia for the coronation in 1774. From the mid-1770s he was goldsmith of choice for the courts of Europe, including Stockholm, Copenhagen and Lisbon. Catherine the Great was one of his greatest patrons, commissioning no less than four large services from him between 1776 and 82. He was effectively the main supplier to the French crown until the Revolution, although very little French royal silver by him survived the upheaval.

Once the first pieces, the ice pails, the verrières and the cruets, arrived in Hanover, they were despatched to London for the King’s approval. Within a few months, the Hanover court goldsmith Franz Peter Bunsen produced exact copies of every piece. From 1778, Auguste received four staged payments, 10,000 livres a time, to buy metal. All the pieces made to match by Bunsen in Hanover were in the unusually high silver standard of 15 lot, to match the French alloy. This meant that the Paris and Hanover products became almost indistinguishable in colour and weight. The only way to tell them apart is to look at the silver marks. The total charge for the French elements, just under 140,000 livres, was four times the price of the most lavish Sèvres service and to this must be added the cost of Bunsen’s additions.

The most glamorous and complex objects were the great tureens, or pots à oille, which “opened” the meal. These prestigious pieces arrived from Paris in 1778. Soon after, the eight delicate double salts supplied by the subcontractor Antoine Boullier, and a pair of distinctive barrel-shaped mustard pots, ornamented with Auguste’s signature goats' heads, arrived. Six candelabra were delivered in January 1782, followed by oval and round tureens and sauce boats on stands in 1783. His last delivery, in July 1786, was of dish covers, casseroles and 24 small covered pots, ‘marmites and cocottes’. The service could be laid out to serve 72 people and included gilded spoons and ladles for ices.

The later history of the service was complex. When Napoleon invaded Hanover in May 1803, the famous white horses of the Hanover stud, together with 30 grooms, the royal linen and all the silver furniture and dining plate, were hastily packed up and evacuated, via St Petersburg, to Britain. Seventy crates of silver finally arrived at Custom House Quay, in the City of London, in December and were taken up river to Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle, recently restored by the king, was chosen as the setting for a great patriotic party in February 1805; a highlight was the splendid and unfamiliar Hanover silver. ‘Great preparations have been making for a month past, new furniture, pictures removed, and a great collection of very fine new ones…. the magnificent plate which was brought from Hanover, consisting of tables, stoves, fire-furniture, nine fine lustres, 30 tureens, 50 dozen plates, silver drums, and many other articles’ (Gentleman's Magazine, pt.1, 1805). Some 500 guests, aristocrats, diplomats and the fashionable world came to listen to a concert of German music, dance and eat supper. The Hanover chandeliers dazzled overhead in the Ballroom, the Augsburg silver side tables and mirrors acquired by George II lined the walls and the tables glittered with a spread of dining silver and candelabra from Hanover, the first time the English court had seen its riches.

Windsor remained home for the Hanover Service, stored in a dedicated silver chamber and cared for by Hanover officials, until 1814 when peace came and Hanover was elevated to a kingdom. The Duke of Cambridge returned as viceroy for his father. Eight years later George IV made the first royal visit to Hanover in 80 years. The Auguste Service was overhauled for his visit by the then court goldsmith, Frans Anton Nübell. Heater stands were supplied and some wine coolers fitted with feet to raise them

When Queen Victoria came to the British throne in 1837, by Salic law she could not succeed to Hanover. Her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, became King Ernst August. His son Georg refused to support Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and Hanover was invaded and absorbed into the new German state. But the palace silver - buried under lime and debris in a vault in the grounds of Herrenhausen - was saved. The Kings of Hanover fled to Austria, and in 1924 sold the service to the Vienna dealer Gluckselig, after which it was divided into two. One part was acquired by Alphonse de Rothschild (1868-1949) in Paris. On his death, some pieces were bequeathed to the Louvre, where they can still be seen today. The remaining portion, sold by his heirs in 1982, is the silver now at Waddesdon.

Pippa Shirley, 2012

History

Provenance:
In the 1770s George III, Elector of Hanover and King of England, commissioned Robert Joseph Auguste, Paris to make a service for use at his palace at Herrenhausen in Hanover. Thence by descent to George V of Hanover. The service was hidden from the Prussians at Herrenhausen during the Seven Weeks War of 1866 and subsequently removed to the family home in Gmunden, Austria. The Service and much of the Hanoverian plate was sold by the family, now using the Dukes of Brunswick, to the Viennese dealer Gluckselig in 1924. The service was divided, one part was acquired by Louis Cartier and the other by Baron Edouard Alphonse de Rothschild. The Cartier group was sold at Sotheby’s Monaco 25-27 1979. The other group was divided in 1975 between the Louvre and the descendants of Baron Edouard Alphonse who sold their share privately in 1982. Acquired by Kerry Packer after 1982.
Exhibition history:
'The King's Table', The Gilbert Collection, London, 18 May - 31 December 2002

‘The Hanoverians on Britain's throne’ Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum, Hanover 17 May – 5 October 2014
Collection:
Waddesdon (Rothschild Foundation)
On loan since 2003

Bibliography

Bibliography

Philippa Glanville, "Success in Plate", Country Life, 27 November 2003; p. 76.
Philippa Glanville; The King's Silver: George III's Service in Hanover and England; Waddesdon; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor; 2003
Selma Schwartz; The Waddesdon Companion Guide; Waddesdon; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor; 2003; pp. 94-95.
Les collections exceptionnelles des Rothschild: Waddesdon Manor (Hors-série de l'Estampille/l'Objet d'Art, No. 14); Dijon; Éditions Faton; 2004; pp. 40-45.
Michael Hall, An Acquisitive Gene: Lord Rothschild's Collecting for Waddesdon, Apollo, July 2007-August 2007, 44-49; fig. 3.
Lorenz Seelig, Das Silberservice König Georgs III Von Robert-Joseph Auguste und Frantz Peter Bundsen: Zur Goldschmiedekunst des Frühen Klassizismus in Paros,London und Hannover, Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 2007, 141-207
Dorothea Burstyn; Silver Society of Canada; 13; Toronto; Silver Society of Canada; 2010; pp. 52, 69, 72, 85, 90.
Lorenz Seelig, The Dinner Service made for George III by Robert-Joseph Auguste and Frantz-Peter Bundsen, Silver Studies, 28, 2012, 76-100; pp. 87-100.
Silberpolitik Als Dynastische Strategie; Germany; Jochen Meiners, Bomann-Museum Celle; 2015; pp. 137-38, 141, 143-44, 146.

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