We have just managed to buy at auction a pair of silver salvers with a connection to Uppark, West Sussex. They were purchased at Sotheby’s in London on 27 April for £6,250, with funds originally donated by the late Simon Sainsbury and from various other gifts and bequests.
Salvers were developed from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards as a kind of tray used to bring in drinks, but they could also be used for display on a sideboard. The silversmith William Peaston specialised in salvers, but National Trust silver expert James Rothwell says that the vine-leaf border seen on these examples is unusual. It fits in well with the decorative scheme at Uppark, as we shall see below.
The arms engraved on the salvers are of Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh (pronounced Featherston-hoar) and his wife Sara, née Lethieullier. Sir Matthew descended from an ancient Northumbrian family who had made their fortune in coal and wine. Sarah was the great-granddaughter of a Huguenot who emigrated to England and became a prominent London merchant.
Soon after marrying Sarah in 1746, Sir Matthew bought and began to remodel Uppark, probably using James Paine as his architect. Paine was close to the St Martin’s Lane Academy circle, a group of artists and architects who were instrumental in spreading the Rococo style in England.
In 1749 Sir Matthew and his wife went on a two-year tour of Italy, taking in Florence, Venice, Rome and Naples. They brought back a subtantial number of pictures, including portraits of themselves wreathed in fruits by Pompeo Batoni.
The asymmetrical foliage, flower and fruit motifs typical of the Rococo are clearly in evidence in the decoration at Uppark associated with Paine.
Bunches of grapes obviously referred to wine and to the pleasures of the table. More generally, fruits were auspicious as symbols of bounty. Perhaps all this symbolism was too reassuring, suggesting limitless resources: Sir Matthew’s son Sir Harry became a spendthrift Regency rake – but that’s another story.