The Burlington Magazine/Volume 7/27/Gilbert Marks: Silversmith
GILBERT MARKS: SILVERSMITH
There has lately passed away , silversmith, an artist of delicate grace and charm, whose name will probably take high rank in the estimation of the collector and connoisseur. Mr. Marks's career, though brief—for he has died before passing the middle age—was a protest against the ordinary conditions under which the modern silversmith has to work. He insisted that the smith must be at once the designer, the artist, and craftsman. He would have no dies, no machinery, no repetitions; every piece that left his hand was an original, and of no essential part of any piece is there any duplicate. He would have no polishing that would destroy the beauty of the metal's natural colour, no turning that would remove the marks of the tool or injure the modelling. His pieces are not the mere vessels of silver that are annually set before the public of to-day, but works of art which in their beauty of design and handling repay the torment and the love of the craftsman. He was not alone in his efforts; but there are not many such as he—still fewer who regarded their art as a noble and inspired thing. He despised the showy and pretentious products of the shops which in these days suffer so greatly from the paralysing conditions of the ordinary silversmith's workshop and from the fatal repression of the trade union— which are stamped by machinery, cast by the score, reproduced to order by electrotype, without more pride taken in the manufacture of them than attends the production of an American desk. For these things have no more artistic quality in them than is brought to them by the original designer, who rarely sees, much less touches, the work itself.
Gilbert Marks was wholly original in his designs. Gifted with a dainty imagination, with pure feeling for form and line, and, to harmonize all, a passion for simplicity, he bent his craftsmanship to the production of a series of beautiful objects which cannot fall far short of 750 or 800 pieces, all of them in the hands of collectors. The last decade of his life was his finest period, during which he realized the fancy and refinement of his design by the intelligence of his work. Fish or lizards, for example, would provide him with a delightful motif of decoration, but simple flowers—wild ones for choice—are his principal theme; and the strong strain of field-poetry in his nature adapted them to arrangements elegant and appropriate. What more natural than that a rose-water dish should bear a border of loves and rose-garlands? That on a beer-beaker there should be beaten up a decoration of cunningly devised hops? That a punch-bowl should be embellished with a tracery of poppies? His design was nearly always pure and felicitous, and the execution sound.
The silver-lover who is something more than a worshipper of the hall-mark must recognize the beauty and power that lay in the hammer, the raising tools and tracers of a repoussé worker such as Marks; and appreciate the apparent ease with which he could work the yielding metal, play with his pattern and his ornament, and bring it up to accents of sharpness or caress it into liquid meltingness. On bowl, beaker, tazza, cup, and dish, we have the pomegranate, the thistle, blackberry, or what not—as unlike the dull monotony of the million-struck fiddle-pattern spoon as Marks himself was unlike the ordinary Birmingham craftsman. It is the principle of undying Greece and Etruria which we find in work such as his—a touch of that art which alone survives from ancient civilizations, and which alone brings those nations face to face with ours—the concrete testimony of ancient glories that otherwise live but in the page of history. M. H. S.