PAIR OF BRONZE ARGAND LAMPS
Attributed to Phipson & Lambley (active, 1828-39)
Birmingham, England, c.1820
The urn-form oil fonts with flame finials and garland decoration with Satyr masks above a column with appliqués and a prism canopy of opposing griffons on a plinth base raised on animal paw feet.
Condition: Excellent; re-lacquered, shades and prisms replaced, electrified.
Geneva-born philosopher and inventor Francois-Pierre-Ami Argand (1750-1803), finally received a British patent for his lamps developed a few years earlier in Paris on March 15th, 1784 (patent no. 1425). His invention which promised “a lamp that is so constructed to produce neither smoak [sic.] nor smell, and to give considerably more light than any lamp hitherto known.” It consisted of a tubular wick held between metal tubes, a rack and pinion wick riser assembly and a tall, narrow chimney that fit closely around the wick causing air to be drawn up through the center of the flame as well as around its outside creating more thorough combustion. It was designed to burn rape-seed (colza) and whale oil issuing from an oil reserve or “font” positioned so that the oil would flow from the force of gravity to the burner.
This invention, developed initially with Matthew Boulton and James Watt in England, was subsequently manufactured by a host of makers in Birmingham including Messenger, Johnston-Brookes, Phipson & Lambley, Fletcher & Day, T.C. Salt and J. & C. Ratcliff. Hailed by Rees in his encyclopedia of 1819 The Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature saying “it may be justly ranked among the greatest discoveries of the age” and by Benjamin Franklin who noted it was “much admired for its splendor,” Argand’s invention was the most important advancement in home lighting since the discovery of fire.
The design of these lamps, like many Classical Argand lamps, were inspired by ancient Greek and Roman urns, stands and bronze vessels. The work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a rich source of inspiration for early 19th-century designers currying to the tastes of a populace fascinated with ancient cultures and focused on the electrifying, on-going archaeological discoveries in Southern Italy. In this case, the makers may have also been looking at Thomas Hope’s Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (London, 1807), pl. xxxv.
A closely related pair of bronze Argand lamps is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Bayou Bend Collection and can be seen here.
 Donald L. Fennimore, Metalwork in Early America (The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc., 1996), p. 258, pl. 176.