by Christopher Proudlove©
Fortunately for my bank manager, I don’t collect silver. If I did, the chance of finding – let alone affording – something made by Paul de Lamerie (1688-1751) is remote. One of the most celebrated and arguably greatest of all English gold and silversmiths, De Lamerie was a leading exponent of rococo style and his most exuberant pieces are today seen only in museums. So then, what are the chances of finding a piece by the man who taught him? I thought they were pretty slim, but I was wrong, more of which later.
As our politicians wrestle with the perceived problems of an influx of European refugees, it is interesting to note that De Lamerie was himself a second-generation Huguenot refugee, a victim of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which drove his parents out of France to the safety of the Netherlands.
The edict was a decree of 1598 establishing that Catholics and Protestants could live and work side by side in France. It granted French Protestants – the Huguenots – their civil rights in a predominantly Catholic country and it succeeded in bringing peace and unity for many years.
However, Louis XIV renounced the edict and declared Protestantism illegal, so the Protestants fled. At a stroke, France lost many of its most skilled and hard-working individuals. An estimated 160,000 Huguenots travelled to such places as Switzerland, the US, Germany, Amsterdam and London which alone attracted some 50,000 immigrants. They were wig makers, hairdressers, boot and shoe makers, perfumers, jewellers, furriers and gunsmiths. The silversmiths among them brought sophisticated and advanced designs. They used a thicker silver and adorned it with higher and more elaborate relief and engraved decoration.
De Lamerie’s father, also Paul, was himself a minor aristocrat and on reaching the Netherlands, became an army officer in the service of William of Orange. His son was probably born there, but in 1689 the family left for London and by 1691 were living in Soho, the district having been taken over by French Huguenot refugees.
Though he went on to greatness, very little is known about the young Paul’s progress through what was an essentially closed profession. However, records at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London show an entry for August 6, 1703, in which the he apprentices himself to a Peter Plattell (sic) “Citizen and Goldsmith of London, for the term of seven years from this day”.
In addition to teaching the boy the technical skills of silversmithing, the Master also gave him the hand of one of his daughters
Platel, himself a Huguenot from an aristocratic family in Lorraine, had probably also been apprenticed in London and registered his mark at Goldsmiths’ Hall in 1699. A gifted individual, he made a silver service for the Prince of Wales, who became George II. De Lamerie probably lived with Platel and in addition to teaching the boy the technical skills of silversmithing, the Master also gave him the hand of one of his daughters in marriage. The couple had two sons and four daughters.
Platel died in 1719 and De Lamerie no doubt took over his workshop and his clients. He became a Freeman in 1712 and registered his mark the same year. Less than four years later, the young man had established himself sufficiently to open a shop and workshop at the sign of the Golden Ball in Windmill Street.
In 1731, De Lamerie was honoured by being invited to join the governing body of the Goldsmiths’ Company, by which time he was enjoying huge success. Commissions came from all the wealthiest European families and it is notable that all his most elaborate pieces date from this period.
He died in 1751 without an heir to pass on his business, both his sons, Paul and Daniel, dying in infancy.
By way of illustrating the kind of money pieces by De Lamerie fetch today, in April last year, a George II silver-gilt cream boat with London hallmarks for 1736 and weighing 230 grams, a smidgen over 7 ounces, and measuring just 4 1/2 inches sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $57,000.
This is somewhat out of my reach. However by chance, I came across this pretty little George I silver sugar caster (pictured right) which is hallmarked for London 1718 and estimated in a recent sale at £700 to £900. It sold for £7,500. Why? Because it was made by De Lamerie’s Master, mentor and father-in-law, Pierre Platel.
Picture top shows: Luscious Lamerie – A silver gilt ewer and basin decorated with the royal coat of arms, now in the collection of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths
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