Gothic Master; Christopher Proudlove on Renowned Designer Pugin. and the Link between Him, Singer Cher and Chirk Castle Antiques

Article excerpt

FUNNY how things come full circle, isn't it? With an increase in knowledge and improved communications, the antiques industry is replete with remarkable discoveries that serve only to make the hobby of collecting even more compelling.

Take the silver toast rack pictured here. It turned up in an auction in Australia where specialists rightly believed it was designed by that master of gothic, AWN Pugin. But in the absence of any documentary evidence, they couldn't prove it.

In the course of research, the auctioneers turned to one of Pugin's suppliers, Birmingham-based John Hardman & Co.

Founded in 1838, it was Hardman who created much of the Pugin-designed furnishings, enamel work, embroidery, metalwork and, most especially, stained glass for the Gothic Revival movement that was so strong during the mid-l9th century.

By coincidence, Hardman specialists were at the time concentrating on another auction on the other side of the world, with the most unlikely champion of Pugin.

In a glitzy Los Angeles sale was property from the Italian Renaissance-style Malibu home of superstar Cher, a noted collector and devotee of Pugin's gothic works of art.

Hardman was most interested in securing a pair of Gothic Revival painted brass chandeliers and a matching pair of floor-standing lamps made by the company to Pugin's design, which Cher had acquired for her dining room.

Coincidentally, in Cher's library was a folio of important Pugin drawings used to illustrate the second volume of his Examples of Gothic Architecture, one of the seminal 19th century books on the Gothic Revival style.

In addition to providing fascinating insight into the preparatory work for the book, the drawings were also must-have archival material for the Hardman specialists.

When the bidding started, Hardman secured the chandeliers, the lamps and the drawings and went home happy.

And the toast rack? Amazingly, there among drawings was one featuring the very same toast rack, cancelling out all doubt Pugin had designed it. When the Australian auction took place, Hardman bought the toast rack too.

And the full circle part of this tale? It would be wonderful to be able to write that these rediscovered treasures once graced the rooms of Chirk Castle.

That's not the case. However, Pugin did remodel the interior of the National Trust-owned property and that's where they can be seen currently, in an exhibition titled A Passion for Gothic. It runs until the end of the month.

After that, the exhibition moves truly full circle when it will be the centerpiece of the four-day Antiques for Everyone at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham (see panel).

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) was one of the most influential architects and designers of the 19th century.

As a 15-year-old he designed a set of gothic chairs for George IV and subsequently went on to act as architect for the New Palace of Westminster (the House of Commons) after a disastrous fire destroyed the original building.

In the event, Pugin designed everything from the facade of Big Ben down.

In doing so he presented Hardman with one of the firm;'s most important commissions: producing the stained glass and complete range of metalwork, from inkstands and umbrella-stands to chandeliers and the jewelled and enamelled ornaments of the Royal Throne.

Pugin pioneered an appreciation of medieval art and architecture and established in his writings and design manuals the principles upon which the 19th century Gothic Revival was based.

His ideas were adopted and developed by followers as diverse as William Morris and Frank Lloyd Wright. …