Art nouveau, Arts and crafts
Price range: Sold
For sale is this outstanding sculptural silver casket by Lilian Simpson. It is, improbably, in cast sterling silver, weighing over 2.5 kgs. The casket dates to 1895 and is engraved with Simpson’s signature with that date. It is not assayed. It sits on its original wooden plinth, into which two pins on the casket base slot.
The casket design is very much influenced by the New Sculpture School with its mix of classicism, art nouveau and symbolism. The four sides each appear to depict winged male and female figures with two kneeling, hugging figures to the lid. The symbolism is hard to interpret but I think this is probably a marriage casket with themes of love based on the story of Cupid and Psyche.
For me, the kneeling, hugging, figures on the lid are especially attractive and modern, and beautifully modelled. The more time I spend with this casket the more impressive it becomes.
The plaster model for this casket was exhibited at the 1896 Arts and Crafts Exhibiton Society (exhibit 175j) and was a silver medal winner in the 1895 Art Union National Competition. An image of the plaster model was published in The Studio Volume 8, issue 42, September 1896 page 231. Quite why this actual casket was not exhibited is unclear but I suspect it was made later and then exhibited at the major Leeds Spring Arts and Crafts Exhibition in 1897, where Simpson posthumously exhibited a “Casket”. A bronze version of this casket was also exhibited at the Royal Academy 1896 (exhibit 1826). See images.
Margaret Lilian Simpson (1871-1896) was the daughter of Edward (Ted) Simpson who was the second generation partner with his brother in the famous decorating firm (principally tiles) of W B Simpson, established by Lilian’s grandfather in 1832. Remarkably the company survives to this day and further information on its heritage can be found at this link.
Design was clearly in Lilian’s blood and she was taught by Edouard Lanteri at the National Art Training School where her contemporaries included Margaret Giles, Ruby Levick, Florence Steele and Esther Moore. In the 1891 census her occupation is listed as “art scholar”. Simpson was a prize-winning student. Her first major work as a student was a design for a book cover using a similar design of winged angels. This won first prize in the new Art Union National Competition and was replicated in silver and silverplate as prizes for the Art Union members. See this link for more details from the British Library that holds a copy.
Susan Beattie’s book “The New Sculpture” describes how Simpson won a travel scholarship to Italy as part of this prize where she contracted typhoid, sadly dying in December 1896 aged 25. She is burried in Assisi.
Simpson’s volume of work is therefore tiny and this casket represents one of her only major known works.
Condition is excellent and original. I am no expert, but I would say the casting is rather crude, with visible pitting to the silver in many areas.
Maker: Lilian Simpson
Designer: Lilian Simpson
Marks: Signed and dated, not assayed
Material: Sterling silver
Size: 15 cm high, diameter 19cm, e
Weight: 2505 grams, 88.4 oz (silver only)