Rosewater sprinkler

Possibly by F. & C. Osler British

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 516

This rosewater sprinkler is an elegant and charming example of the important manufacture of glass vessel goods produced in British centers like Birmingham for sale to the Indian and Near-Eastern markets. The lead glass produced in Victorian Britain enjoyed the double characteristics of brilliant clarity and sparkle, with the capability of being blown thick enough to provide the depth and strength for its surface to be wheel-cut into deep relief patterns. Catching and refracting the light, the end result is extremely decorative and proved remarkably popular both with the domestic market and for trade to the Indian subcontinent.

Originating with London-based manufacturers, like Jerome Johnson in 1752, and John Blades from 1789 until 1829 (by which time he even operated subsidiary premises in Calcutta), the production of glass goods for the Indian and Near-Eastern markets gathered momentum in the 1840s, with massive, medium-defying, cut-glass furniture pioneered by the Birmingham-based firm, F. & C. Osler. Osler’s perfected cut-glass armchairs, occasional tables and torchières, in 1847 supplying Ibrahim Pasha with 17-foot-tall candelabras for the tomb of Mohammed at Medina, at the 1851 Great Exhibition exhibiting a fully-functioning fountain made out of cut glass, over 25 feet tall and hailed in the Crystal Palace catalogue as “perhaps the most striking object in the exhibition”. By the 1870s, Osler’s produced 40-feet-tall cut-glass chandeliers for the Maharajah Jayaji Rao Scindia at Gwalior to mark a visit by the Prince of Wales, and at Udaipur, for the Maharana Sajjan Singh, they created a “Crystal Gallery” fitted out only with cut-glass furniture- tables, settees, even a four-poster bed. Although smaller manufacturers, like Alderman Copeland and W. P. & G. Phillips, both of London, followed suit, creating cut-glass furniture and smaller-scale cut-glass tableware for export to India, reaction to this mode was not universally positive: already in 1853, John Ruskin declared “all cut glass is barbarous”.

This rosewater sprinkler, though more modest in scale and considerably less ostentatious than the cut-glass furniture, belongs to the same context and can be tentatively attributed to F. & C. Osler. Surviving examples of Osler’s trade catalogues, produced for their showroom in Calcutta, include hookahs, washing basins, toilet bottles and jars, comparable to this rosewater sprinkler, alongside their famous cut-glass furniture. The medium and execution of the rosewater sprinkler is British, but the design was selected specifically to appeal to the Eastern market, adopting the format of an Indian, Persian or Arabian Gulab Pash, with its distinctive globular body and long, tapering neck designed to minimize flow of the perfume to sparse droplets. This is a very fine relic of one of the most successful of the British Victorian export markets.

Rosewater sprinkler, Possibly by F. & C. Osler (British, Birmingham and London, 1807–1922), Cut lead glass with silver mounts, British, Birmingham, for the Indian export market

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