Epergne, silver, glass, J Henry Steiner, Adelaide, South Australia, c. 1880
Made in the workshop of the colonial silversmith J Henry Steiner (1835-1914), this is Australia's largest known centrepiece. Standing over a metre tall (without the base!), it towered over Steiner's displays at the Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide international and intercolonial exhibitions from 1879 to 1881. The centrepiece can now confirmed as being made originally for Australia's first international exhibition held in Sydney in 1879 where it formed part of Steiner's 'exceedingly handsome display'. In 1924 it resurfaced in Sydney as a Victoria Park Cup horse racing trophy won by Frances Johnston's horse Lornstock.
Elaborate silver epergnes were favourite forms of presentation silver commissioned from prominent silversmiths in Australia in the second part of the 19th century. Often in the form of a naturalistically rendered tree, they were inspired by fashionable English and Continental models. In Australia however, their design often included figures of Aboriginal people as well as native flora and fauna, particularly the emu and kangaroo. This piece offers an interesting combination of Australian and European motifs.
Approximately a couple of dozen large (over half a meter in height) silver presentation centrepieces were made in colonial Australia. About half of these amazing tours de force of Australian silversmithing are known to have survived.
Trained in Germany, Henry Steiner was a leading Adelaide silversmith who displayed his foremost creations at intercolonial and international exhibitions. This epergne towered over Steiner's display at the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufacturers and Agricultural and Industrial Products of All Nations in Melbourne in 1880-81. It resurfaced in Sydney in 1924 as a Victoria Park Cup trophy which was won by Francis Johnston, the donors' grandfather, and his horse Lornstock.
Eva Czernis-Ryl, curator, 2007
Probably designed by Henry Steiner, Adelaide, circa 1880. It is possible that the design was provided by Julius Schomburgk.
Made in the workshop of Henry Steiner, Adelaide, circa 1880. Fully marked on the base.
Note regarding glass bowls: On aquisition the Epergne included one original small glass bowl and four reproduction small bowls made in England. Following acquisition the museum commissioned the large central bowl and one small bowl. These were made by Robert Wynne and wheel-cut by Eddie Mills in Sydney.
Exhibited in Australia's first international exhibition held in Sydney in 1879, Melbourne international exhbition in 1880 and Adelaide Intercolonial exhibition in 1881.
The epergne was used as the Victoria Park Cup trophy in Sydney in 1924. Its history between 1881 (Adelaide intercolonial exhibition ) and 1924 is not known. It is thought, however, to have also been presented in Sydney in about 1920 as a trotting trophy by Joynton Smith (Hawkins, 1990, vol 2, p.136).
The epergne was won, as a racing trophy (Victoria Park Cup), by Francis Walter Johnston's father, Francis Johnston, and his horse Lornstock at Victoria Park on 13.12.1924. Lornstock was ridden by E Henry. (refer to typed manuscript 'Recollections' by Francis Walter Johnston, 1991 on object file (the original manuscript will be donated to the Mitchell Library by Mr Johnston).
The epergne was in custody of Francis Walter Johnston prior to its donation to the museum in 1998 by his four children (possibly 3 children and one cousin). FW Johnston inherited it from his father and had it displayed in a wooden showcase in his Lindfield house (45 Owen Street) since the family moved there in the 1930s. (The epergne was presented to the Museum in this showcase). Mr Johnston presented the work to his children in 1977.
John Hawkins, a noted Australian dealer and author, had it photographedat in Mr Johnston's house in Lindfield for his 1990 book '19th century Australian silver', pp.135-137 and colour plate 69. Around that time, Hawkins was also asked to replace missing original crystal bowls with reproductions made in England.