The Personal Archive of Louis Osman, Goldsmith and Architect
Louis Osman (1914-1996)
“He was an architect, goldsmith, draftsman, art historian and art patron. Most of all he was a creator of genius”
These are the words Graham Hughes, Art Director of the Goldsmiths’ Company, used to describe Louis Osman.
Born in 1914, Louis Osman showed a flair for creativity even as a youth, channelling this talent into his training at the Bartlett School of Architecture and also studying drawing at the Slade School of Art. During the Second World War, he was a Major in the Intelligence Service and more importantly, he met and married Dilys Robert, who became not only his wife and unswerving supporter, but later his enamelist.
Louis began his career as an architect in the office of Sir Albert Richardson, learning the grammar of good architecture, but, from the beginning, was keen to question traditional methods and push design and construction to their limits. He first made his name when he rebuilt the bomb damaged Convent of the Holy Child Jesus on Cavendish Square, London, connecting the two Georgian buildings with a new bridge. As part of this work, Louis asked the sculptor Jacob Epstein to produce his magnificent Madonna and Child to grace the front of the building. Much of Louis’s other architectural works comprised restorations or extensions to historical buildings, most notably Staunton Harold for the National Trust, Ranston House in Dorset, and Shere Church in Surrey; another architectural ‘tour-de-force’ was his brand new neo-renaissance plate glass palazzo Principal’s Lodge for Newnham College, Cambridge.
In the early 1960s, “Osman moved out of masonry and into precious metals with grace and apparent ease”. Graham Hughes was, from the first, a champion of Osman, and it was under his direction that the Goldsmiths’ Company commissioned Louis, first to design a new treasury for Lincoln Cathedral, and then in 1969, to make the crown that the Company presented to the Queen for the Prince of Wales’s investiture at Carnarvon Castle - “the best-known piece of new British gold of [the] century”.
In 1971, the Goldsmiths’ Company held the ‘Louis Osman Gold Exhibition’ at Goldsmiths’ Hall, comprising 105 pieces, mostly new and modelled in gold. By this time Louis was ensconced at Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire where he set up a workshop employing half a dozen silversmiths, engravers and other helpers. Besides silver, Louis also designed and produced jewellery, mostly for commissions, but sometimes for exhibition. Highlights of his jewellery work include the stunning ‘spider’s web’ diamond necklace, designed for the 1961 International Jewellery Exhibition in Tokyo. This necklace, Osman’s own personal favourite, was also the best loved piece among the members of the Goldsmiths’ Company and their wives, who are encouraged to borrow pieces from the collections to wear at the Company’s annual dinners, although this necklace is unfortunately now considered to be too delicate to be loaned out.
Louis “always undertook meticulous research to ensure his commissions were appropriate for the individuals or institutions commissioning therm, with the design drawings in pencil, ink and watercolour, often embellished with gold leaf, being works of art in their own right”, and this is clearly demonstrated by the beautiful designs and drawing he produced, and the annotations he added to them. Even small sketches are coloured and accented in gold leaf to bring them to life. Louis himself, always sure of his own talent, said in a letter to a publisher: “Holbein could make jewellery and paint portraits for Henry VIII, providing the most marvellous drawings, which rest in the British Library. Michelangelo could design the dome of St Peter’s, carve David and paint the Sistine Chapel, but I am thought peculiar because I make things of gold and also of concrete, and can also draw.” Hopefully history will raise this creative genius to the pedestal where he belongs, in amongst the pantheon of titans of art and design.
Offered here, on behalf of the vendor, Louis’ daughter, Dix Noonan Webb are privileged to bring to auction Louis’ own personal archive of drawings, designs, sketches and selected pieces of work; a wonderful insight into the mind of one of the most talented and creative craftsmen of the 20th century, and a rare chance to own a small piece of our collective creative history.
Moore, J., Louis Osman, Architect and Goldsmith.
Exhibition Catalogue: Louis Osman, gold exhibition, Goldsmiths’ Hall, February-March 1971. Exhibition Catalogue: Osman, Canons Ashby, May 1974.
Treasures of the 20th century, Goldsmiths’ Company exhibition.
Hughes, G., Obituary: Louis Osman, The Independant, 16th April 1996.