Tea with Molly

Portrait of Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey, in old age, attributed to Johann Zoffany (inv. no. 54443). ©NTPL/Christopher Hurst

We have just purchased a silver tea kettle stand with a connection to Ickworth, in Suffolk, from silver dealer and expert Christopher Hartop.

Silver tea kettle stand by Frederick Kandler engraved with the arms of Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey. ©Christopher Hartop

The stand is by Frederick Kandler and is dated 1764. It is engraved with the arms of Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey (1696-1768).

Pastel portrait of Molly Lepel, Lady Hervey, as a young woman by George Knapton after Sir Godfrey Kneller (inv. no. 66470). ©NTPL/Christopher Hurst

Mary (informally known as Molly), Lady Hervey, was a maid of honour to Queen Caroline and married John, Lord Hervey (1696-1743), the heir to the 1st Earl of Bristol. In spite of Lord Hervey’s ambivalent sexuality (he inspired the quip that there were three species of human, ‘men, women and Herveys’) the marriage was a love match which resulted in eight children. Lady Hervey was praised by contemporaries for her ‘cheerful elegance’, wit and beauty.

Portrait of John, Lord Hervey, holding his purse of office as Lord Privy Seal, by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1741 (inv. no. 13016). ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak

Stands like this one supported silver tripod burners which in turn supported silver tea kettles. Such luxurious tea-making equipment would have been used by the lady of the house to serve tea to her guests.

Following the relatively early death of her husband Lady Hervey spent most of her time at Ickworth. National Trust curator and silver expert James Rothwell notes that she would have presided over the tea table there while her father-in-law was still alive, and would have continued doing so after her eldest son (who remained unmarried) succeeded as the 2nd Earl.

Silver tea kettle set by Paul Crespin and Frederick Kandler, 1745, engraved with the arms of the 1st Earl of Bristol (inv. no. 852071). ©National Trust/Sue James

Another, complete tea kettle set engraved with the arms of the 1st Earl survives at Ickworth. The discovery of this additional stand indicates that there was more than one tea kettle in use at Ickworth at the same time. James Rothwell remarks that this seems to have been the case in other country houses too, for instance at Dunham Massey, where the Earl of Warrington had three silver tea kettles.

Some of the Hervey silver at Ickworth. ©National Trust

This acquisition has been funded by the Chelmsford and District National Trust Centre and the North Hertfordshire Association of the National Trust.

As it happens, Christopher Hartop will be sharing his expertise at a three-day course on collecting antique silver at Ardgowan, Renfrewshire, from the 21st to the 23rd of April 2012. The programme will include a discussion of styles and trends, handling silver pieces, identifying marks, spotting fakes, and a vist to the magnificant silver collection at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute. For more information contact Sally Gibson at Ardgowan on +44 (0)1475 521656 or info@ardgowan.co.uk

10 Responses to “Tea with Molly”

  1. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Trish Allen from Trouvais (http://trouvais.com/) just told me about a purported portrait of Molly Lepel that came up at auction at Skinner in Boston last year: http://bit.ly/xU9JLc I am no expert on eighteenth-century portraiture, but perhaps some of you who are can comment on whether you think this could indeed be Molly or not. Thanks again, Trish.

    And Susan Odell Walker of the Lewis Walpole Library also just contacted me to say that they have a digitised transcription of Horace Walpole’s Account of Lady Hervey, c. 1775, which is included in the 48-volume set of The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (vol. 31, p. 415, Appendix I). The full text of it can be seen beginning here: http://bit.ly/yDss8f

    Sue adds that there are a number of references to Lord and Lady Hervey in Walpole’s (famously amusing and infamously waspish) letters, which can be found by doing a keyword search in the digital Correspondence on the same website.

    The Lewis Walpole Library also holds Walpole’s manuscript Commonplace Books, where the comment about men, women, and Herveys appears (although these have not yet been digitised). Thank you very much, Sue, for making us aware of this digital cornucopia.

  2. style court Says:

    Emile, we need a post on Lord Hervey’s over-sized purse. I’m guessing it’s embroidered?

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes it is a rather magnificent example of raised embroidery. I will try to find some more examples of such ‘handbags of state’.

  4. Andrew Says:

    Not much in the NT Collection, it seems – here is Hervey’s one – http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/852360.2

    The Lord Chancellor also has a purse, as keeper of the Great Seal, and used to have a retinue of specialised servants to deal with the documents before and after sealing, prepare the wax, etc.

    The Royal Household has a Privy Purse to deal with its domestic finances.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much Andrew – yes it is geat that Lord Hervey’s purse (or purses, as there seem to be two of them) are still extant – a tad faded, but that can be expected after 250-odd years.

    And yes I was about to mention the Lord Chancellor in the follow-up post I am preparing in response to Courtney’s command 🙂 And Keeper of the Privy Purse – now there is a beautifully heraldic job title 🙂

    I have found a few more portraits-with-purses which I will show in the post that will follow shortly.

  6. Eric Weichel Says:

    Hi Emile and Andrew – I’m a Canadian doctoral student working on the Herveys, and I was just wondering if there has, perhaps, been an error with the Zoffany portrait represented above as a portrait of Mary Hervey (Molly Lepell). The costume and style seem a bit late for an upper-range date in the mid 1760s, while the face of the sitter doesn’t seem to match the Heath, Knapton, Gravelot or Ramsay likenesses, all of which record her strong chin; also, the Zoffany itself is said to be a portrait of her daughter, Lady Mary Fitzgerald (1726 – 1815), by the Bridgeman art library, and certainly the likeness would accord well with earlier images of Fitzgerald. Has there been a re-attribution of the Zoffany as a portrait of the earlier Lady Mary Hervey??? Or is this in fact an image of her daughter? It is being replicated around the internet, on a few blogs, etc., as a real likeness of Mary Lepell, which is how I picked it up…. would just love your opinion!
    Eric Weichel, Ph.D candidate, Queen’s University

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Eric, thank you very much for your interesting comment and query. I think it was our (now on the point of retiring) curator of paintings who described this portrait as being of the mother rather than the daughter, with the following comment:

    ‘This picture seems undeniably associated with the set of four other pictures at Ickworth of John, Lord Hervey’s and Molly Lepel’s daughters, but it is little more than half their size, and freer in handling. This could be because it was a ‘modello’ for another picture in the set that was never executed. The sitter is also clearly of an earlier generation. It therefore seems most likely that it represents Lady Hervey herself. It is true that there is not much resemblance to the plump, cheerful sitter in the Ramsay, but this picture must date from a decade later, by which time she may have become more gaunt. Ramsay also had a great ability to convey female beauty and charm. Zoffany – or whoever the artist of this picture is – was more of a realist.’

    This can be found on the entry for this portrait on the National Trust Collections database (http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/851998).

    What do you think of those arguments?

  8. Andrew Says:

    The additional details in the NT Collections database say that this portrait was sold by John Hervey, 7th Marquess, and in that sale “attributed to Zoffany, as *probably* of Lady Mary Fitzgerald, daughter of John Hervey” (emphasis added) which could be the source of the identification by the Bridgeman art library here http://www.bridgemanart.com/asset/361415/Zoffany-Johann-1733-1810-attr.-to/Portrait-of-a-Lady-probably-Mary-Fitzgerald-oil-

    The NT has another Zoffany of Lady Mary Hervey, Lady Mary Fitzgerald (1726-1815) here: http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/851789

    I am not an expert on paintings, or on their costumes, but I don’t see very much resemblance between any of these three paintings, but the “after Kneller” sketch above is unsurprisingly quite similar to a portrait by Fayram (after Kneller) here: http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/851717 – typical Georgian beauty – but the Ramsay is different again: http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/851760

    Does the original Kneller portrait survive?

    The NPG has an engraving by Heath, which seems closer to the Ramsay (thin smile, nose)

  9. Andrew Says:

    Perhaps worth adding that mother and daughter might be expected to be somewhat similar in appearance, so disentangling who is who is not easy.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, apologies for the delay in replying. Thanks very much for those helpful links. I agree with you that the sitter in the Ramsay looks very different from the one in the Zoffany (attrib.) shown at the top of this post. Our former curator attributed that to the effects of age, and to Ramsay’s tendency to visual flattery.

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