Larry Pristo, Martelé 950-1000 Fine Gorham's Art Nouveau Silver, 2002, p. 181, illus p. 101.
Katharine Morrison McClinton, Collecting American 19th Century Silver, 1968, illus. p. 147.
This aquatic vase is one of the triumphs of Robert Bain, Gorham's foremost chaser. "In 1900 his oeuvre consisted of perhaps a dozen objects, each of them a masterpiece" (John Webster Keefe and Sam J. Hough, Magnificent Marvelous Martelé: American Art Nouveau Silver: The Jolie and Robert Shelton Collection, New Orleans: New Orleans Museum of Art, 1900, p. 176). Born in Scotland, Bain joined Gorham in 1892 and by 1900 was the highest-paid chaser, at $39 per week, seven dollars higher than his nearest rival. Sam Hough notes that "female figures in the Mannerist tradition would appear to have been a specialty of Robert Bain" (ibid. p. 220), and this figural decoration – otherwise so rare on Martelé – distinguishes his major works, such as the dressing table now in the Dallas Museum and some of the great pieces for the St. Louis World's Fair.
After 77 hours to fashion the form, this vase required 210 hours of chasing by Bain. The accounts show an additional 20 hours by chaser Karl Wendt, a less accomplished artist than Bain who probably readied the piece (at a lower hourly rate) before passing it to the master. The casting required an additional 21 hours, and the piece was finished 25 July, 1900, with a net factory price of $600.
The design of the dolphin foot and decoration of water-nymphs and fish are close to the Martelé two-handled cup CLR, chased by Bain and signed W.C. Codman 1903 (sold Sotheby's, New York, 19 January 1996, lot 517). The offered piece is probably also a Codman conception, showcasing Bain's virtuoso watery chasing. The figures on the handles re-employ the mermaids from the Cox "Lifesaving Vase", presented in 1891 and shown by Gorham at the 1893 Columbian Exposition (illustrated Charles H. Carpenter, Jr., Gorham Silver, 1831-1981, 1982, fig. 162, p. 168). Presumably designed by Codman, their handling here a decade later is less Beaux Arts and more Art Nouveau.
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