- Museum number
Pair of mantelpiece or piano candlesticks; cast brass with stamped copper drip trays and lathe-turned knops; a weighted sphere at one end enables the candlesticks to stand clear of the mantelpiece.
- Production date
Height: 11.20 centimetres
Length: 33.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text from J. Rudoe 'Decorative Arts 1850-1950. A catalogue of the British Museum collection'. 2nd ed.1994. no. 19.
W.A.S. Benson trained as an architect with Basil Champneys before turning in 1880 to the design and manufacture of domestic lighting and establishing his own workshops in Fulham for the machine production of metalwork on a large scale. His workshops soon expanded to premises in Chiswick Mall and an even larger factory, the Eyot works, St Peter's Square, Hammersmith, was nearly completed when A.H. Church was writing on Benson in 1890. Benson's first showroom was in Campden Hill Road and in 1887 he moved to 82 New Bond Street. He was a close friend of William Morris, becoming a director of Morris & Company on Morris's death in 1896. Information about Benson's assistants can be gleaned from the detailed listings in the catalogues of the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society, London, in view of its policy of acknowledging makers as well as designers. Benson exhibited with the Society from its foundation in 1888, when J. Lovegrove is listed as executor. By 1890 Lovegrove, as supervisor of the workshop, was assisted by T. Pinches, J. Taylor and C. Green; J. McVeigh is recorded as a pattern maker (Catalogue of the Third Exhibition) 1890, 178-82, nos 232-51).
By the late 1890s Benson's metalwork was widely admired on the Continent and in America (see The House Beautiful v, April 1899). It was exhibited in Bing's Maison de 1'Art Nouveau from at least 1896 (The Studio VII, 1896,179), when the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum, Trondheim, purchased a group of nine items (Weisberg, G.P. 'Art Nouveau Bing: Paris Style 1900' New York 1986, figs 100-105, col. pl. 25). Benson's metalwork was later shown in the Hirschwald Gallery, Berlin (The Studio XIII, 1898, 118), at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, the Turin Exhibition of 1902 (Die Kunst v, 1901-2, 418) and at the Hohenzollern Kunstgewerbehaus, Berlin, in 1906, as part of an 'English tea-table' (Velhagen & Klasings Monatsheft 1905-6, II, March 1906, 119).
It is difficult to date Benson metalwork with any accuracy. A number of items are illustrated in the many articles in contemporary journals of the 1890s and early 1900s, but Benson's earliest surviving catalogues date from about 1897, and there is little information on the firm's early products of the 1880s. The 1896 Trondheim group, which comprises tableware, lamps and hearth furniture, is thus of especial significance. The Trondheim group also includes a rare instance of a registered design, a copper tray registered in 1894 (Wakefield, H. et al. 'British Decorative Arts of the late Nineteenth Century in the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum', Nordenfeldske Kunstindustrimuseum Arbok, Trondheim 1961-2, 51-6, figs 53-61). Early in the First World War the factory turned to the manufacture of munitions and never went back to the production of domestic metalwares; the firm closed down in 1920 when Benson retired. Thus, unless a contemporary illustration has been found, most of the items catalogued here have been dated to c.1890-1914.
A pair of mantelpiece candlesticks of this design are included in a photograph of Benson's Campden Hill Road showroom, which must date from before 1887 ( Rose, P., "W.A.S. Benson: a Pioneer Designer of Light Fittings', Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 9, 1985, 53). See also Muthesius, H., 'Benson's elektrische Beleuchtungskorper' Dekorative Kunst 5, 1901, 110, where this candlestick is described as a 'Klavierleuchter'.
In his article of 1890 A.H. Church noted with regret that few of Benson's designs were registered and were therefore prey to the 'countless imitations . . . which meet us at every turn'; he believed the imitations to be of German manufacture. Inferior versions of these candlesticks were indeed made in Germany and bear the mark of the firm of Carl Deffner, Esslingen: the letters 'CDE' between crossed swords (I owe the identification of this mark to Graham Dry; for examples of these candlesticks, see Christie's, South Kensington, 7 September 1990, lot 69).
Church also notes the various methods employed by Benson: 'casting, turning, polishing, plating, bronzing, and lacquering'. He records that brass was used for rigidity and strength, while copper was used for reflecting surfaces, and that 'both metals were protected from corrosion by means of a colourless lacquer; so also are those surfaces which have been plated with silver'. The writer of Benson's obituary notice in The Times of 9 July 1924 noted the 'heavy stamping plant, spinning lathes, and shaping tools' in the Hammersmith works, as well as 'a lacquering department which had benefitted so much from his inventive genius that constant efforts were made by trade rivals to penetrate its secrets' (quoted by W.N. Bruce in the memoir on Benson printed as an introduction to Benson's Drawing: Its History and Uses, 1925, xxvi).
Information supplementary to Rudoe 1994:
Illustrated in I. Hamerton (ed.), 'W.A.S. Benson', Woodbridge 2005, p. 120, pl. 96.
- On display (G47/dc16)
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number