Designers, makers, and patrons

Charles Lepec: two recently identified works

As was acknowledged during their lifetimes, the crucial relationship between the fabulously wealthy patron and collector Alfred Morrison (1821-97), and the supremely talented enamel artist Charles Lepec (1830-90), led to much of Lepec’s artistic output, during the 1860s, finding a home at Morrison’s Fonthill House, Wiltshire.  A number of the pieces commissioned or acquired by Morrison, many of which were exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle, 1867, have been traced; see Olivier Hurstel and Martin Levy, ‘Charles Lepec and the Patronage of Alfred Morrison’, Metropolitan Museum Journal 50 (2015), pp. 194-223.

Recently two more works by Lepec, supplied to Morrison, have emerged.  Atalanta and Diana (alternatively called Amazon, see detail above, and right for Atalanta) surfaced at Plymouth Auction Rooms, November 5, 2014, lots 291 and 292.

‘[A]talante’ had been sold at Christie’s, January 25, 1899, in lot 392: ‘A PAIR Three [written in] OBLONG ENAMEL PLAQUES, painted with an Amazon, and a bust of Atalanta [and Diana, written in] in borders of arabesque ornament in brilliant colours on silver and gold ground—5 in. by 8 in.—by Charles Lepec—in glazed ebonized frames.’  £7. 7s to Roberts.  The plaques are two from an original group of five intended for a coffer on the theme of the hunt.*

The vendor in Plymouth was the great granddaughter of Evan Roberts (1836–1918), presumably the buyer at Christie’s. Roberts was a Manchester-born watchmaker and later collector.

These works, numbered 194 and 195, are dated 1864. Auguste Luchet (in Jules Mesnard, ed., Les Merveilles de l’art et de l’industrie…, 1869) illustrates ‘une femme indienne tirant de l’arc . . . le couvercle d’un coffret don’t l’ensemble doit symbolizer la chasse‘ (see below).

This is certainly what was described in 1899 as an ‘Amazon.’ Although this second plaque is not named as such on the list of items sent by Morrison to Paris, it was included. Luchet continues: ‘Aux deux grands côtés, les profils d’Atalante et de la Diane antique; aux petits. Des attributs de vénerie que surmontent une tête de chevreuil et une tête de lion. Cette belle Héctate indienne aux couleurs acajou se détache d’un disque en platine, sorte de lune nageant dans un fond d’or vermiculé. . . . ‘

On removing the back, 7 June 2015, the backboard to Amazon was found to be incised ‘La Chasse’ (presumably referring to the coffret of which it was intended to be a part). The mahogany surround supporting the enamel plaque itself is marked in pencil ‘Diane Sauvage’.

Atalanta and Diana, mounted by Robert Phillips, Lepec’s London agent, have been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


*For new information about plaques created for the Morrison’s coffer on the theme of the hunt, see Olivier Hurstel and Martin Levy,  ‘The Apotheosis of Charles Lepec: his participation at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867‘, Decorative Arts Society Journal, 41 (2017).