Lot 80
V. Rare etchings by Muss, friend of John Martin

Estimate: $2,500 - $3,500

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About this Lot

[John MARTIN (1789-1854) – Charles MUSS (1779- August[?] 1824)].

[Thirty-Three  / Original Designs / from Gay’s Fables, / drawn and etched / by the late Charles Muss, / Enamel Painter to His Majesty.] [London: published for the benefit of the Widow and Family. 53, Warren Street, Fitzroy Square, and 537, Bazaar, Soho Square, no date, but circa 1824, six plates watermarked ‘1822’]. Quarto (11 1/4 x 8 3/8in; 286 x 213mm). Without text (as issued, title taken from label on upper cover). 33 etched plates by and after Charles Muss. (Some spotting and old dampstaining, light worming to outer margin of a few leaves). Original green straight-grained morocco-backed backed boards, covers covered to style  with marbled paper, original paper title label on upper cover, plain endpapers (spine with 1-inch section missing from foot, splits to head of spine, some rubbing, fading and scuffing).

Provenance: Harry De Spencer Kingdon (Colyton, Devon, inscription, dated ‘15 July 1857’, noting the purchase of the book ‘Bought at the Rectory at Musbury [Devon]).

Very rare: one copy in the US (Houghton Library), 2 in the UK (both BL). None sold or for sale. This rarity might be explained by Lionel Cust’s remark about this work. He notes that it was one of Muss’s last projects, ‘a few copies were worked off for inspection before his death, which stopped their publication’ (Cust in the DNB).

The images, all roundels, offer an attractive range of subjects and the influence of Martin and Blake are definitely felt in some of the images. Muss was an artist who achieved greatness in an underappreciated field: enamel painting. And then died before securing his name for posterity. Clearly an inveterate innovator, this work also hints at what could have been if he had more time to spend on etching and print-making. He probably now represents an important artistic cul-de-sac.

Charles Muss, “enamel and glass-painter, born in 1779, was son of Boniface Muss (or Musso), an Italian artist, who exhibited a drawing at the Society of Artists' exhibition in 1790, and is stated to have practised at Newcastle-on-Tyne. Muss was principally employed on glass-painting, and as such became one of the principal artists in Collins's glass-works near Temple Bar. He obtained some eminence in this art, and executed among others a copy of Rubens's 'Descent from the Cross' on glass for St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street. He devoted much time to the art of painting in enamel, and after some vicissitudes of fortune brought it to great perfection. He copied in this manner a number of important works by the old masters, some in an unusually large size, such as the 'Holy Family,' after Parmegiano. He was appointed enamel-painter to the king, and received many commissions from him. He had, however, barely secured success and a recognised position in his arts when his career was cut short by his death, which happened about August 1824 [His obit. appears in the August issue of the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’]. He had been an occasional exhibitor of enamels at the Royal Academy from 1800 to 1823. Muss was a personal friend of John Martin [q. v.] the painter, who undertook to direct the completion as far as possible of Muss's unfinished works on glass and in enamel. Muss had also prepared for publication a set of thirty-three original outline illustrations to Gay's 'Fables,' and a few copies were worked off for inspection before his death, which stopped their publication. He left a widow, and on 29 and 30 Nov. 1824 his collections of prints, drawings, &c., and completed works were sold by auction [by Sothebys] for her benefit.” (Lionel Cust in the DNB / wikisource).

OCLC 80616403 (Houghton copy) & 563157940 (BL copies, apparently lacking the title labels?).

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