Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
A pair of silver-gilt salt cellars, each cast as a crab with a large conch shell between its claws; the irregularly shaped base is applied with cast shells and sea foam, supported on three feet cast with coral, shells and sea foam.
The Prince of Wales’s marine service contains two pairs of salts decorated with crustaceans, but while the pair ornamented with crayfish draw directly on the rococo designs of Meissonnier, the source of the pair with crabs is less obvious. The crabs themselves are cast from life from European shore crabs (Carcinius Mediterraneus); the surrounding shells are similarly cast from natural examples. In form the closest parallel, and possible source, is a sixteenth-century bronze inkwell, probably Italian in origin, which was purchased by Sir Hans Sloane in 1725 for a guinea. Not only the crab itself, but the whelk shell resting between its pincers, the scattered smaller shells around it and the oval ring forming the base all relate to Sprimont’s salts.
It has not been ascertained whether Sprimont ever visited Sloane’s famed collection but the Prince of Wales himself did so in 1748. Cromwell Mortimer commented in the Gentleman’s Magazine that he and Augusta ‘were not wanting in expressing their satisfaction and pleasure at seeing a collection, which surpass’d all the notions or ides they had formed from even the most favourable account of it’. Sloane had known Frederick before this date – in 1728, shortly after the Prince arrived in England, Sloane, as President, had welcomed him to the Royal Society. Moreover, Frederick greatly approved the opening of Sloane’s collections to the public, and in 1746 a dinner in his honour was held in Chelsea.
The spoons, like the sauce ladles in the service, relate closely to an undated drawing attributed to Sprimont, which shows two alternative designs for spoons with shell bowls and coral stems.
Text adapted from The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714 - 1760, London, 2014