Wall sconce

1875 (designed)

Thomas Jeckyll

Height: 50.5 cm, Width: 37 cm, Depth: 12 cm

M.9-2013 MET

Cast brass, made by Robbins & Co., Dudley, designed by Thomas Jeckyll, 1875

Wall sconce of cast and chased brass, a central oval panel set within an oval, outer frame. The decoration of the panel consists of a stylised, circular, sunburst panel, off centre, overlaid with cast branches of plum blossom in the lower half and two swallows in flight from left to right across the upper half; the background a series of hatched lines. The central panel is attached to the outer frame by six screws, regularly disposed around the edge. The frame has a beaded rim and is filled with a stylised cloud and shell design, interspersed with six, regularly spaced, circular medallions. A pair of bracket candlesticks with curved, barley twist branches are secured to a protruding boss which is secured to a small, inverted, double arched bracket at the base of the frame. The circular candle sockets have scalloped rims, incised lines, top and bottom and rest on cast, lotus flower drip pans. At the top, a circular suspension ring attached to a semi-circular bracket.

Thomas Jeckyll (1827-81), architect and designer, was the son of a Norfolk Nonconformist minister, who ran a successful practice both in Norwich and in London. It was Jeckyll’s introduction to the so called Chelsea aesthetes, a group which included Rosetti, Whistler, Nesfield and Godwin which changed his artistic direction. It was, in part, their influence which encouraged Jeckyll to assimilate the vocabulary of East Asian design. Jeckyll’s success in achieving this was later acknowledged by the critic Gleeson White who described Jeckyll as “the first to design original work with Japanese principles assimilated – not imitated.” Jeckyll’s major success with Barnards was his copious number of designs for the front panels of their revolutionary and hugely popular range of slow burning combustion fireplaces. Their main feature was a long and deep grate, narrowly proportioned to admit air through front bars rather than underneath, thus reducing the flow of air to the coal which burnt more slowly. The result was a more efficient and economical grate producing more heat with less coal. Jeckyll started to design the front panels for these fireplaces incorporating Japanese ornament in 1873 and for the rest of that decade, designed a considerable variety in the same manner in all sizes and shapes. They proved to be enormously popular both throughout Britain and abroad. The simplest versions in cast iron could cost as little as one pound; the most elaborate in cast brass upwards to £20. Architects as distinguished as Norman Shaw incorporated them into their buildings. Christopher Dresser specified them for his two architectural projects, Alangate in Halifax and Bushloes House in Leicester. Jeckyll in association with Barnards achieved what many notable 19th century design reformers could not. They produced a quality product that was accessible to a mass market.

Thomas Jeckyll (1827-81), architect and designer, was the son of a Norfolk Nonconformist minister, who ran a successful practice both in Norwich and in London. As was usual in those days, his training was by way of being articled to a local architect. By 1850 he was listed in a Norwich directory as an architect and surveyor. His Norfolk practice was reasonably active and seems to have been primarily ecclesiastical. His early work was mainly in the Gothic style and by all accounts was unremarkable. It was not until he moved to London in 1858 that his professional career began to flourish artistically. In 1859 he began a long and fruitful association with the Norwich brass and iron foundry, Barnard, Bishop and Barnards. Jeckyll’s first important commission from them was the design of a monumental set of park gates which consisted of a series of cast and wrought iron panels of richly interlaced naturalistic ornament. It took three years to make; involved up to 70 blacksmiths and was displayed in the London International Exhibition of 1862 to great acclaim. It was Jeckyll’s introduction to the so called Chelsea aesthetes, a group which included Rosetti, Whistler, Nesfield and Godwin which changed his artistic direction. It was, in part, their influence which encouraged Jeckyll to assimilate the vocabulary of East Asian design. Jeckyll’s success in achieving this was later acknowledged by the critic Gleeson White who described Jeckyll as “the first to design original work with Japanese principles assimilated – not imitated.” Jeckyll’s next success with Barnards at an international exhibition were the “Vienna Gates”, a combination of naturalistic scrollwork with Japonisme floral and animal forms, worked in repoussé in the lower panels which were greatly admired at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1867. But Jeckyll’s most notable successes with Barnards was another exhibition tour de force, the Japanese pavilion for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, and subsequently re erected at the Exposition Universelle, Paris, in 1878. This was a remarkable pagoda like structure of cast and wrought iron, decorated with a bravura mixture of Japanese and naturalistic ornament drawn from English flora and fauna. Jeckyll could manage this eclectic mixture with consummate skill. One of the pavilions most striking features were the lower railings surrounding the pavilion at ground level which were composed of serried ranks of wrought iron sunflowers, the upright stems flanked by stylised leaves directed downwards. This feature alone helped to confirm the image of the sunflower as one of the emblems of the Aesthetic Movement. Jeckyll’s other major success with Barnards was his copious number of designs for the front panels of their revolutionary and hugely successful range of slow burning combustion fireplaces. Their main feature was a long and deep grate, narrowly proportioned to admit air through front bars rather than underneath, thus reducing the flow of air to the coal which burnt more slowly. The result was a more efficient and economical grate producing more heat with less coal. Jeckyll started to design the front panels for these fireplaces incorporating Japanese ornament in 1873 and for the rest of that decade, designed a considerable variety in the same manner in all sizes and shapes. They proved to be enormously popular both throughout Britain and abroad. The simplest versions in cast iron could cost as little as one pound; the most elaborate in cast brass upwards to £20. Architects as distinguished as Norman Shaw incorporated them into their buildings. Christopher Dresser specified them for his two architectural projects, Alangate in Halifax and Bushloes House in Leicester. Jeckyll in association with Barnards achieved what many notable 19th century design reformers could not. They produced a quality product that was accessible to a mass market. Object history Jeckyll was to continue a close association with Barnards until the last four years of his relatively short life. By 1877, Jeckyll was seriously ill with what would now be diagnosed as manic depression and he was confined to a psychiatric institution where he was to die in 1881. The management of his affairs had been assumed by his younger brother, Henry Jeckyll (1838-1917), also a trained architect and a brass and iron founder working for the firm of Robbins and Company in Dudley, Worcestershire. This explains why this design was produced by Robbins and not Barnards. Significance and Relevance to the V&A’s collection Jeckyll’s design for this sconce was registered at the Patent Office on October 2, 1875 and is in the National Archives held by the Public Record Office. The name Robbins appears on the drawing (BT 43/39 no.294900). The design shows two alternative versions for the border. In the lower right hand section, the design is a simple scalloped edge if the design was to be executed in wrought iron. The upper right hand section shows a more intricate cloud and shell design if the design was produced in cast metal which the few surviving examples invariably are. The central oval panel was decorated with a pair of swallows and plum tree branches in relief. It has been suggested by Susan Soros and Catherine Arbuthnot in their definitive study of Jeckyll’s career (Thomas Jeckyll, Architect and Designer 1827-1881, Yale, 2003) that the design was adapted from a series of colour woodcuts by the Japanese print maker, Nakayama Sugakudo. In the V&A, Far Eastern collections, there are 22 woodblock prints from a series `Pictures from life of the 48 varieties of birds (Seisha shiju hachitaka gwajo), signed by Sugakudo published by Koyeldo in 1859 (E.116-137-1955). Two of these prints, Nightingale and Plum blossoms (E.116-1955) and Migratory Swallow and Nonesuch (E.128-1955) are the immediate sources of Jeckyll’s design. He has traced the plum blossom branches but eliminated the nightingale from the first and traced the swallows from the second and overlaid them on to the plum blossom design. To this he has added a stylised sunburst pattern to the centre. These elements are in reverse to those in the woodblock prints. Jeckyll probably traced the designs with a soft pencil or charcoal stick, and then made an impression on a blank sheet of paper by turning his tracings face downwards, pressing the two sheets of paper together and working up the final design with pen and ink. Jeckyll may well have possessed his own copies of these prints which he probably would have bought from Liberty’s. Alternatively, he may have borrowed them from his associate, James McNeil Whistler.

Acquired with a contribution from John S.M. Scott.

Location: In Storage

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