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Cup presented to George Taylor

Laurent Amiot
Cup presented to George Taylor, 1827
30.7 × 16.8 × 16.7 cm
Purchased 2000 with the assistance of a grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act

On 14 May 1827, the King Fisher, a brig weighing 221 tons, was launched at the Canoterie, in Quebec City's lower town. The ship, built for George Douglas and Thomas Harby of London, was being chartered by the government for a five-year period to oversee fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie and Governor General of British North America, presided at the launch. Keen to promote development of the shipbuilding industry, he presented the owner of the shipyard, George Taylor, with this magnificent silver cup, filled with champagne for the occasion. Taylor, delighted with his gift, commented that he would not swap the cup for the ship!

Dalhousie's commissioning of the best silversmith in the country was an instance of the sustained encouragement of artists that marked his stay in North America. However, while there is documentary proof that a number of talented draughtsmen and watercolourists were members of the Governor General's circle, we know of no other vice-royal commission for silverware. During this period, objects of this kind were generally purchased or ordered in England. It is no surprise, given Laurent Amiot's genius, that he should have produced such a perfectly designed and executed vessel - a magnificent cup remarkable for both its impressive size and its sculptural presence. Amiot employed a form used commonly for such presentation pieces during the first third of the nineteenth century: that of a classical urn with a lid, supported on a plinth. As was usual in silvermaking, the master almost certainly called upon the services of other specialized artists in creating the piece. For example, the unicorn's head in the centre of the lid (the unicorn, which appeared in the Dalhousie crest, also served as the King Fisher's figurehead) was probably cast after a model carved by François Baillairgé (1759-1830). The inscription and armorial bearings that adorn the front of the vessel and the kingfisher on the edge of the lid are clearly the work of a professional. It seems likely that the task was entrusted to James Smillie (1807-1885), then the city's finest engraver, who around this time also engraved a bookplate for the Governor General, featuring the family crest. With Dalhousie's support, Smillie would leave Quebec the following fall to complete his training in England.

This cup is the most important piece of presentation silverware made in this country during the first half of the nineteenth century. Its execution was the occasion for a unique encounter between a prestigious patron and artists of the first rank; it also recalls the early days of the oldest North American shipyard still in operation - known today as MIL Davie.