Queen Anne was the reigning monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland between 1702 and 1707. She became the first sovereign of Great Britain in 1707 when England and Scotland were united under the ‘Acts of Union’. She ruled until her death in 1714, and was the last of the Stuart monarchs.
Anne succeeded her sister Mary II and her brother in law William III. With this new reign came a new aesthetic- ‘Queen Anne style’ refers to the techniques and decorations that were popular during this period, and their enduring influence afterwards. Anne’s predecessors favoured a rather ornamental Baroque style of decoration, however Anne opposed this. In fact, Queen Anne style is renowned for its simplicity. Sarah (Duchess of Marlborough and the Queen’s favourite) is quoted as summarising the style of the period as ‘plain and clean, from a piece of wainscot to a lady’s face’. Unpretentiousness was truly the hallmark of the period. The silverware produced during this time was devoid of redundant ornamentation, a restrained attitude that reflected the Queen’s politics as well as her design preferences.
The grandeur of Queen Anne style silver comes from the exceptional focus on construction that silversmiths at this time embraced. Where previous (and subsequent) trends relied on extravagant embossed and repoussé-work, the Queen Anne style prioritised the manufacturing of a piece, favouring the use of simple shapes such as lines and panelling to achieve their desired effect. Silversmiths at this time looked at surfaces and how they are set against each other; using deflection and reflection to angle the light to create texture, rather than relying on lavish ornamentation. For example, a plain teapot could be made grander by a clever use of lines and panelling which drew the eyes upward and increased the perceived height of the piece. To let simplicity shine, silversmiths utilised new styles of craftsmanship. Rather than using bold cast work, they employed the use of delicate strapwork and enhancing cast finials, which produced a far more subtle effect.
Queen Anne silver is also known for being of an exceptionally high quality. This is accredited both to the emphasis that was placed on construction, and the influx of skilled Huguenot smiths during this period. Huguenots were refugees that fled France in search of safety when the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes occurred on October 22, 1685. They emigrated to various lands, bringing with them their expertise in a vast number of trades, including silver. Among the estimated 200,000 to 1,000,000 Huguenot refugees that settled outside of France was David Willaume, one of the most successful and prolific smiths of this time. The remarkable skills of the Huguenots proved to be incredibly influential, and this is reflected in the European inspired nature and extraordinary quality of Queen Anne style silver.
The selection of exceptional pieces below demonstrates the simple yet effective craftsmanship of Queen Anne style silver.