Milwaukee Art Museum Acquires Rare Silver Monteith

Posted on January 23rd, 2004

Milwaukee, WI, January 23, 2004— The Milwaukee Art Museum announced today an important new acquisition to its Collection. The object is a highly-fashionable silver monteith created by English royal goldsmith George Garthorne in 1688. The Museum purchased this rare monteith using the Virginia Booth Vogel Acquisition Fund. Monteith bowls, seen on the most elegant 17th-century dining tables, were used to chill wine glasses upside down, with the stems resting in the notched rim.

The monteith’s body is skillfully decorated with exotic and fanciful scenes depicting Chinese warriors and sages in elaborate costume. The crest of the Royal African Company (which had the exclusive right to the African slave trade from its founding in 1672 until 1698) is featured in the central panel of the monteith – two African figures flanking a coat-of-arms within a laurel wreath. This expensive and ostentatious object was made at the height of the Royal African Company’s success.

The monteith is one of approximately 18 known to be decorated by the same anonymous craftsman. The skillful execution of the flat-chased engraving distinguishes these 18 examples from others with chinoiserie decoration. This unknown artisan’s work can be found on silver forms created by a variety of London silversmiths. The fine, yet confident lines and precise detailing can be seen in the costume and faces of the figures. While the identity of this craftsman’s work remains unknown, his legacy lives on in his exquisite workmanship.

This monteith has a matching tazza, a footed tray, that is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. The Milwaukee Art Museum hopes to rejoin these two masterpieces for a special exhibition at some point in the near future.

Virginia Booth Vogel Acquisition Fund

The Virginia Booth Vogel Acquisition Fund was established in 1976 by Virginia Booth Vogel. The Fund is used to purchase a wide range of art, from decorative arts to contemporary art, with a focus on the best quality work of lesser known artists.

Special Event

The Milwaukee Art Museum will host a lecture in honor of this new acquisition on Sunday, May 23, at 1 p.m. The featured speaker is Ellenor Alcorn, freelance decorative arts historian living in Irvington, New York and consulting curator for the Gans Collection of silver at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. From 1979 to 2000 Alcorn was a curator in the European Decorative Arts Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she published a two-volume catalogue of that collection. She will discuss MAM’s extraordinarily rare and important monteith acquisition.

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