Blades in a Field of Glass

November 9 2009, 10:23am

Figure 1 John Blades was a leading glassmaker of the early nineteenth century. He was active from 1783, when he opened his shop at 5 Ludgate Hill, London, until his death in 1829. His business was far-reaching, with connections in both the Middle East and India, and eventually a division, Blades and Matthews, was established in Calcutta. Figure 2 Known as the “great glass man of Ludgate-hill,”1 Blades specialized in chandeliers and candelabra of superior quality. His clientele included the Second Earl Grosvenor and the Draper’s Company, a prestigious livery company in London, and in 1789 he was appointed Cut Glass Manufacturer to his Majesty, George III. He retained the services of architect and designer J.B. Papworth to design both his showroom and products, which was unusual in his field for the time. Papworth is credited with introducing the oblong, rule-cut drops that are so distinctive of Blades’ work and are found in a pair of candelabra in the Carlton Hobbs collection (figure 1). A print from Akerman’s Depository of the Arts depicts the Ludgate Hill showroom filled to capacity, and includes a candelabrum comparable to the present pair (figure 2). Upon Blades’ death, the business was continued by Francis Jones and his sons, though Blades’ name and reputation were not forgotten. Jones’ trade card advertises himself as the “successor to the late John Blades, Cut Glass Manufacturer to his Majesty and the Honble East India Company” as well as promoting the company’s services as “By appointment to her royal highness the Duchess of Kent” and “By royal firmaun to his Majesty the Shah of Persia.” Figure 3 Figure 4 The candelabra combine Blades’ characteristic design elements to produce an exquisite example of a lighting style popularized during the Regency period in England. They are probably the largest of this type, standing at 2 1/2 feet tall. A closely related, but smaller, pair of candelabra attributed to Blades is illustrated in Lighting in the Domestic Interior (figure 2),2 and a design for a similar pair, made for the King of Persia, can be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Additionally, two similar pairs of English candelabra, published in Nineteenth Century Lighting, utilize the same gilt-bronze zoomorphic feet and drops comprised of vertically stacked glass balls atop faceted pendants (figure 3),3 which can also almost certainly be attributed to Blades. Footnotes: 1. Urban, Sylvanus. The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle. Vol. XCIX. J.B. Nichols and Son, 1829. 2. Bourne, Jonathan and Vanessa Brett. Lighting in the Domestic Interior: Renaissance to Art Nouveau. New York: Philip Wilson, Ltd., 1991. 170. 3. Bacot, H. Parrot. Nineteenth Century Lighting: Candle-Powered Devices: 1783-1883. Grand Rapids: Schiffer, Ltd., 1987. 131.