In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Gorham produced wares in the Neoclassical, Japanese, Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival, and Art Nouveau styles. Gorham’s most successful line, Martelé, was developed in 1896. Martelé is French for “hammered” or “hand-hammered”; Gorham chose this name because it exemplified the ideals and traditions of the English Arts and Crafts Movement and the return of handcrafted objects that would be both beautiful and useful. Employing popular Art Nouveau motifs, the Martelé designs emphasized curvilinear forms inspired by nature, and distinguished by sensuality and elegance. Gorham introduced Martelé commercially by showcasing the line at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris, where the company won numerous awards.
This centerpiece is one of Gorham’s most spectacular Martelé objects. It was completed in 1903 and exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. The surface, with its swelling boat shape, is decorated with mermaids and mermen swimming among waves and seaweed. The lip features the fully modeled figures of Neptune and Venus flanked by mermaids. The dramatic, graceful curved lines exemplify high-style Art Nouveau. Impressive in size and scale, and unrivaled in technical excellence and craftsmanship, the centerpiece is a masterwork of handcrafted silver, produced by one of America’s most prestigious silver manufacturers.