The salt-glazed stoneware crab had been export-stopped in the hope a UK institution could raise the funds.
Modelled in June 1880 by Robert Wallace Martin, it represents the brothers at the height of their powers. Believed to be a one-off piece, it is one of the earliest-known sculptural Martinware objects and featured in an article at the time in the Pall Mall Gazette (February 4, 1890) titled Martinware and The Middleman. It measures 18in (46cm) across.
The Box is planning an exhibition highlighting the work of the brothers and their influence. This crab will form part of this show alongside its existing collection of 106 Martinware works.
All but one of these (a purchase made in the 1970s) came from the collection of Sydney Greenslade, the Devon architect who was an early champion and friend of the Martin Brothers. They include a large vase depicting the potters’ kiln at Southall.
The crab was temporarily barred from export last year after it had been granted temporary release for sale at Phillips New York in 2018. It had sold for a record price of $220,000 (£184,000) plus premium. The museum met the asking price of £217,250 (excluding VAT) – the sum agreed between the vendor and the Reviewing Committee for the Export of Works of Art.
The crab had previously been sold by Richard Dennis Gallery in 1985 to the late John Scott (1935-2020), whose collection was dispersed by The Fine Art Society in 2014. It was later part of the 2015 Fantastique show at Mayfair dealership Sinai & Sons.
Last week Raphael Sinai told ATG: “We are delighted this masterpiece will be on public display for generations to enjoy in the company of items gathered by the meticulous Mr Greenslade.
“John Scott now rightly has his place in Martinware folklore. It was a privilege to have once owned this magnificent sculpture.
“As John remarked with a twinkle in his eye, just two days before his passing, ‘we all had a bit of fun with him’.”
Funding for the crab came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Arts Council England, the Henry Moore Foundation and the Decorative Arts Society.
René Olivieri, interim chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “The Martinware crab reflects Victorian fascination with the natural world and the macabre. Now, after 140 years in a private collection, the sculpture has been saved to become part of the nation’s heritage and will finally go on public display.”
Dealer Martin Levy and chair of the Decorative Arts Society, said: “The society was delighted to have offered its largest grant to date at the beginning of The Box’s campaign to save this export-stopped crab for the nation and warmly congratulates all at Plymouth on the successful outcome.”
Art curator at The Box, Terah Walkup said: “Although the crab looks amusing on first sight it’s a truly unique object that stretches the boundaries of art and science with its combination of anatomical detail and human expression. Its scale and design mark an important moment in the Martin Brothers’ production.”
Read ATG's guide to buying Martin Brothers sculptures.