The Sir Robert Hart Silver Collection (Goldsmiths’ & Silversmiths’ Co., London, 1888) is on display at the Naughton Gallery in the Lanyon Building of Queen’s University Belfast.
The Hart Silver Collection is an ornate set of chinoiserie table silver, and was gifted to Sir Robert Hart in 1890 by his staff “as a united expression of esteem by the members of the service Foreign and Chinese”. The gift acknowledged Hart’s influential career in China during a pivotal period in Sino-Western relations.
Born in Portadown in 1835, Hart enrolled at Queen’s at just 15 years old. In his 45 years as Inspector General of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs (1863-1908), Hart helped to shape Chinese trade, foreign relations and infrastructure.
The Hart silverware consists of an epergne (centrepiece), a pair of candelabras and four compotiers (dessert stands) in the chinoiserie style, incorporating decorative elements inspired by Chinese design. The service was manufactured in England by the Goldsmiths’ & Silversmiths’ Co.
The silverware was presented to Lady Hart in London on 20 November 1890 to acknowledge Hart’s contribution to the Customs Service and his decision to decline the British Ministership in Beijing. Hart wrote of the gift, “I value the ‘motive’, but I fear the plate itself will hold out attractions of another kind of value to – burglars!”
The Hart silverware was willed to the University by Hart’s great-grandson, along with Hart’s personal archive.