Spotlight on the Collection

August 2014: Hot Water Urn

Hot Water Urn. Hester Bateman, 1780/1782. Silver with bright-cut engraving, and wood. Museum purchase, 1973.30a-b.

Hot Water Urn. Hester Bateman, 1780/1782. Silver with bright-cut engraving, and wood. Museum purchase, 1973.30a-b.

Hot Water Urn, Hester Bateman, 1781/1782

Modern collectors and silver enthusiasts have called Hester Bateman (1708-1794) “the queen of English silversmiths.” In 1761, she took over her late husband’s chain-making business and transformed it into an important silver workshop. She retired in 1790, leaving the shop to her son, whom she trained in the trade. Though the Bateman workshop finally closed in the mid-1800s, interest in Hester Bateman’s work continues today.

The Bateman workshop catered to a wealthy clientele as well as England’s growing middle class. While richer clients often commissioned custom-made pieces, evidence suggests that the workshop was among the first to adopt mass-production techniques. In order to meet the increasing demand for household silver, silversmiths mixed and matched common elements, such as claw or ball feet, to create unique designs.

Scholars and connoisseurs often call Hester Bateman’s designs elegant, balanced, and restrained. Her work exemplifies the Neoclassical style that other English manufacturers and craftsmen, such as Josiah Wedgwood, also embraced. For example, she based the urn-shaped body and ball feet of this hot water urn on Greek and Roman designs but arranged them with a fresh twist. This work of decorative art combines aesthetic value with utility and would have been a staple in an upper-class 18th-century household, especially as tea gained popularity in England during this time.

Join the Conversation!

Hester Bateman’s patrons often passed down silver from one generation to the next, as wedding gifts or reworked as sentimental pieces for their new owners. What do your heirlooms say about your family or heritage? How do you feel about your own family heirlooms? Are such items still useful in your life today?

Check out this link, visit the exhibition, and join the conversation below!

“The Tyranny of the Heirloom,” New York Times, June 26, 2008

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