Copper in the Arts

June 2021

Rare 19th-Century Bronze Vase Designed by Thomas Hope Discovered in Oklahoma Collection

An extraordinarily rare and important 19th-century bronze urn, thought lost to history, was recently discovered by Heritage Auctions and presented at auction June 18 in Dallas, Texas. Designed in the early 19th century by furniture designer Thomas Hope, the urn was found in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the collection of David D. Denham, where it had been modified into a side table.

According to research, the urn's mate resides in London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), the world's largest museum of applied and decorative arts and design.

news_June.jpgA gilt bronze-mounted patinated copper two-handled
vase by Alexis Decaix, designed by Thomas Hope for
his Duchess Street Mansion, London, circa 1802-1803.

Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions. 

"This important discovery was a remarkable surprise," says Karen Rigdon, Director of Fine & Decorative Art at Heritage Auctions. "No one knew where the urn was for decades until we recognized it during a house call."

Hope commissioned the vase, decorated with ormolu (gilt-bronze) mounts, for the dining room of his mansion located on Duchess Street in London. It was made by acclaimed French artist Alexis Decaix based on Hope's design, which mirrored a classical volute (spiral scroll) krater, an ancient Greek vase with two handles which was used for mixing wine and water. Hope likely commissioned the one-of-a-kind pair of bronze urns directly from Decaix.

Experts working with Heritage matched the urn's historical background with telltale details confirming the vase is the pair to the one at the V&A. The newly-discovered vase's specific placement of the mask mounts at the obverse and reverse matched the vase in the museum's collection, as does the placement of specific notches and scratches made to each vase.

Hope, the scion of a wealthy banking family, made his London home into an outstanding example of Neo-classical design. In 1807, Hope published in London an illustrated account of the house and its furnishings in a book titled Household Furniture and Interior Decoration. The book had a considerable influence on other architects and designers working in the Greek Revival style.

"The appearance of this second example confirms Hope clearly took great care to ensure the vases would be displayed in perfect harmony, which supports what is known about his incredibly meticulous nature and approach to collecting," according to Hope experts Philip Hewat-Jaboor and William Iselin, who worked with Heritage to confirm the vase's authenticity.

Heritage experts discovered the urn in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, collection of the late David D. Denham. "Denham was a well-known social figure in the area and admired for his collector's eye and meticulous attention to detail," Rigdon says.

"The estate is unsure when the vase first entered Denham's collection or when it was made into a side table," Rigdon added. "But its discovery closes a chapter on the unknown history of this important artwork."


Heritage Auctions, Dallas, TX

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