Matthew Boulton – Neoclassical Designer and Industrialist

10505 – 18th Century Pair of Gilded Bronze Cassolettes attributed to Matthew Boulton

Matthew Boulton FRS, (3 September 1728 – 17 August 1809), was an important early industrialist, government contractor, scholar and manufacturer.  Business partner of Scottish engineer James Watt, together, In the final quarter of the 18th century, the partnership installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines, which were a great advance on the state of the art, making possible the mechanisation of factories and mills. Bolton was most famed for his manufacture of ormolu and silverware that is prized by all collectors great connoisseurs from the 18th century through to the present day.

Matthew Boulton was the chief producer of decorative metalwork in 18th century Britain and was described by Josiah Wedgwood as ‘the first Manufacturer in England’. He inherited his ‘toymaking’ business, which at that time meant producing both useful and decorative products in polished iron and steel, brass, copper and silver, from his father. By 1766 his factory at the Soho Works in Birmingham, with up to 600 employees in more than 60 workshops, was one of the most famous in Britain.  In Soho Boulton introduced the French fashion for Ormolu into the English market and created clock cases and vases with ormolu decoration in the French style.  This consisted of milled gold amalgamated with mercury, and applied to the item, which was then heated to drive off the mercury, leaving the gold decoration.

10505 – 18th Century Pair of Gilded Bronze Cassolettes attributed to Matthew Boulton

18th Century Pair of Gilded Bronze Cassolettes

This rare pair of late 18th Century gilded bronze cassolettes attributed to Matthew Boulton (1728 – 1803).  Re-gilded, each with laurel leaf garlands and goats mask motif supported on square base terminating on bun foot.

From an early age, Boulton had interested himself in the scientific advances of his times.  His interest and membership of the Lunar Society brought him into contact with other enthusiasts such as Benjamin Franklin, Josiah Wedgwood and John Whitehurst .  Boulton, like Wedgwood, had much in common and collaborated to produce small decorative items such as buckles, jewellery and personal accessories in tandem with the production of vases and decorative items to fit the Neo-classical interiors being designed by architects such as Adam, Chambers and Stuart.  Inspired by designs from Classical Antiquity and the work of George Hepplewhite, Thomas Sheraton and Thomas Hope, Boulton harmoniously helped to define the wave of Neoclassical design encompassing society whilst the partnership also inspired Wedgewood to establish the Etruria works ceramics factory.

Boulton is recognised by several memorials and other commemorations in and around Birmingham.  Soho House and Sarehole Mill, his home and workshop are now museums.  The Soho archives are part of the Birmingham City Archives, at the Library of Birmingham.  Also recognised by blue plaques at his Steelhouse Lane birthplace and at Soho House, commemorated also by a gilded bronze statue by William Bloye and Matthew Boulton College was named in his honour in 1957.  The two-hundredth anniversary of his death, in 2009, resulted in a number of tributes including a year long festival celebrating his life, work and legacy, the issue of a Royal Mail postage stamp and being featured on the Bank of England’s new £50 note with James Watt.

The rare pair of late 18th Century gilded bronze cassolettes are available to view on our website alongside many other fine antiques in both our Dublin store and New York gallery for you to view at your leisure.

by O'Sullivan Antiques