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"The Huguenot Silversmiths of London," a lecture by Dr. Tessa Murdoch

  • Deyo Hall 6 Broadhead Avenue New Paltz, NY, 12561 United States (map)

From the mid-16th century French protestant refugee craftsmen settled in London where they enjoyed freedom of worship and the opportunity to practise their skills. The patronage of goldsmiths in war-torn France in the late 17th century was forbidden by the French King Louis XIV. Renewed persecution of the Huguenots, as French protestants were known, resulted in an increased exodus of talent that joined already established networks of craftsmen in London. Although in the late 17th century the first generation silversmiths introduced new forms of secular plate and high quality workmanship, the second generation craftsmen, Paul de Lamerie and Paul Crespin achieved an even greater reputation. Their skills appealed to a wide range of contemporary patrons. 

Whereas first generation smiths made for aristocratic patrons including George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington and William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Devonshire, the second generation craftsmen made for a wider circle including their fellow craftsmen. The network which the Huguenot silversmiths maintained amongst their own community and the care with which they nurtured their patrons, created a monopoly which provoked a hostile reaction from native silversmiths. In order to sustain their own business, the native smiths often employed Huguenot journeymen who gradually infiltrated the London workforce. The remarkable three generation dynasty of Courtauld family silversmiths is a tribute to the tenacity with which the Huguenot craftsmen and women maintained their place at the centre of this skilled workforce.

Tessa Murdoch’s PhD "Huguenot artists, designers and craftsmen in Great Britain and Ireland, 1680-1760," University of London, 1982, fed into the Museum of London exhibition The Quiet Conquest: The Huguenots 1685-1985. Elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1988, she joined V&A Furniture and Woodwork in 1990 assisting with research for the acclaimed British Galleries. In 2002 she was appointed Deputy Keeper, Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass and Head of Metalwork.

She was lead curator for the V&A’s 2005 Sacred Silver and Stained Glass Galleries and the 2009 Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries. Publications include Noble Households: Eighteenth Century Inventories of Great English Houses (2006) and Beyond the Border: Huguenot Goldsmiths in Northern Europe and North America (2008). For the 2012/2013 exchange of exhibitions between the V&A and the Moscow Kremlin Museums she co-edited The Golden Age of the English Court from Henry VIII to Charles I, Moscow, 2012, and London, 2013, Treasures of the Royal Courts:Tudors, Stuarts & the Russian Tsars. Going for Gold: Craftsmanship and Collecting of Gold Boxes (2014), the proceedings of a V&A/Wallace Collection conference held in 2010, was co-edited with Heike Zech. In September 2015, she co-edited and contributed on sculpture and clocks to Burning Bright: Essays in honour of David Bindman published by UCL Press and available for download. She curated an exhibition of Musical Clocks in 2013 for Handel House Museum. Recent acquisitions by Huguenot craftsmen include for the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection include a royal Christening gift purchased at TEFAF Maastricht in 2014 and for the V&A a royal mantel clock, purchased at Masterpiece, London, 2016.

Pictured: Tureen (Detail), 1751-52, Samuel Courtauld I, The Courtauld Gallery