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These George II tea caddies were used to store tea, their small size evidence of how expensive and rare tea was at the time. The word caddy is derived from the Malaysian word “kati,” which designated a unit of measurement almost equivalent to a British pound. Tea was considered an exotic luxury item from China, so the scenes depicting tea planters and pickers on the front and back panels of these tea caddies were typical in decorative arts of the 18th century.

These panels also exemplify chinoiserie, the decorative expression of the West’s imaginings of the Far East. Chinoiserie combined Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and even Turkish motifs with fashionable Western shapes and designs. The chinoiserie panels are combined with elements of the exuberant Rococo style. The curved bombé form of the boxes and low, scroll bracket feet are derived from French Rococo furniture in the Louis XV style.

Using an embossed, or repoussé, technique, the George II tea caddies are decorated abundantly with Rococo scrolls, shells, and flowers in addition to its chinoiserie panels.

Details

  • Title: Pair of George II tea caddies
  • Creator: Elizabeth Godfrey
  • Date: 1755/1755
  • artist profile: Supplying nobility with high-quality work in silver and gold, Elizabeth Godfrey was renowned as the outstanding woman goldsmith of the 18th century. Born Elizabeth Pantin, she was the daughter of the distinguished Huguenot silversmith Simon Pantin. Her first husband, Abraham Buteux, was a goldsmith from the French immigrant community. Elizabeth registered her first mark (the stamp with which smiths “sign” a piece, often seen alongside marks identifying the date and location of the work) as Elizabeth Buteux in 1731, presumably after her husband died. She carried on her first husband’s silver business as a widow until her marriage to another goldsmith, Benjamin Godfrey, in 1732. Upon his presumed death, Elizabeth registered a second mark as Elizabeth Godfrey in 1741. The business dealings of Godfrey’s father and successive husbands indicate they were supplying the nobility with high-quality silverware, often with a strong French flavor. Godfrey was raised in the Huguenot tradition, derived from French silversmithing. The Huguenots were French Protestants who fled to England to avoid religious persecution, and they produced silver in popular French styles, such as Rococo. Godfrey had two periods of independent activity in widowhood, the second when the Rococo style was sweeping through the decorative arts of England and forcing artisans to adopt new styles. Her clientele remained loyal, providing evidence of her ability to manage a business and respond to the prevailing fashions.
  • Style: Rococo
  • Physical Dimensions: w4.25 x h5.5 x d2.875 in (Each)
  • Type: Silverwork
  • Rights: Silver collection assembled by Nancy Valentine, purchased with funds donated by Mr. and Mrs. Oliver R. Grace and family; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • Medium: Silver
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts’ Exhibition: “Women Silversmiths from the NMWA Collection,” 2012–13

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