British master silversmith launches ambitious new project with Stonewall at the British Museum during Pride Season

One of Britain’s most exceptional young silversmiths has today launched an ambitious global project at the British Museum’s historic Enlightenment Gallery to celebrate LGBTQ rights and to draw attention to the issues still affecting the LGBTQ community.

Hal Messel has teamed up with the British Museum and Stonewall, Britain’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality, for the project which sees him creatively reimagine and recast the famous Warren Cup – a Roman artefact, thought to originate from 1st century AD – and part of the British Museum’s collection, into eight unique new artworks in the colours of the original Pride flag.  

Gloucestershire-based Hal, 32, who apprenticed in the Huguenot silversmithing tradition under Jocelyn Burton and Steve Wager, was inspired by the “challengingly explicit” Roman homoerotic artwork that courted controversy when it was bought by the British Museum for £1.8m in 1999. 

Messel, who has produced elaborate commissions for the likes of the Royal Collection, The David Gill Gallery at Masterpiece London, and Cullman and Kravis, New York, has painstakingly designed and crafted eight new works of art, inspired by the Warren Cup, but brought from history to modernity via an experimental technique.

Working closely with LGBT charity Stonewall, Messel has produced eight unique solid silver Pride Cups, with each cup tinted to represent a different colour of the original Pride rainbow flag.

Each solid silver piece references the meanings behind each of the colours depicted on the original LGBTQ flag – sex (hot pink), life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), magic/art (turquoise), serenity (indigo) and spirit (violet). 

These are further brought to life through the work of one of the UK’s most respected furniture makers, Thomas Messel, Hal’s father, who has designed and handcrafted eight individual cases representative of each cup. 

Further inspired by his pioneering great uncle, Oliver Messel, the celebrated theatre designer, architect, painter and member of the early 20th century’s Bright Young Things, Messel has deployed an innovative and intricate colouring method it has taken him a year to perfect, in order to achieve the beautiful and impactful effect of the LGBT rainbow flag. 

After the British Museum launch event, there will be a series of public exhibitions, first at Christie’s and then Brown Hart Gardens in Mayfair.  The cups will eventually be sold to collectors around the globe, with a donation from the artist and Pygmalion, Hal’s gallery, going to support Stonewall’s work to achieve acceptance without exception for all LGBTQ people and the British Museum’s continued work with the LGBTQ community.

Speaking of the project, Hal Messel said: “Depictions of sex were widely found and in fact celebrated in Roman art but for hundreds of years, same-sex relationships have been all-but erased from history, as so few artefacts have survived – or have been overlooked, ignored or hidden away for fear of public outcry. 

“This project is all about tackling assumptions and raising awareness around how gender identity and sexual orientation continue to remain on the fringes of so much contemporary art, using inspiration from the Warren Cup to produce something unique and special. 

“It’s important for us to consider as society why works of art like the Warren Cup and the Pride Cups are considered by many to be more provocative today, 2,000 years on, than they were to the Romans, and what that says about us as a society and how we view LGBT people.

“Although I never met my great uncle, Oliver, he was in many ways a pioneering gay man – although I’m sure he wouldn’t have thought of himself that way- but he certainly helped shape and forge, through his life and work, a more accepted and inclusive view of same-sex relationships. I hope to follow in his footsteps.”

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive, Stonewall said: “It’s great to see the celebration of LGBT equality being put centre stage, especially in one of the most famous exhibition spaces in the world. While we have made much progress as a society, it’s a sad reality that many LGBT people, both in Britain and abroad,  are still forced to exist in the shadows. This project has helped sparked an important conversation about how attitudes have changed and also how much work there is still left to do. We’re extremely excited to be part of this ambitious project and grateful for the support of such an esteemed artist.”

Sarah Saunders, Head of Learning and National Programmes, British Museum added: “The Warren Cup was acquired by the British Museum in 1999 and it has been on display ever since. We’re delighted that the Pride Cup project with Pygmalion and Stonewall is drawing attention to an object which is one of the Museum’s highlights and one which deserves to be more widely known. 

“The Warren Cup is one of the star pieces in our current Desire, love, identity LGBTQ audio tour of the Museum.  This trail demonstrates that same-sex love and desire and gender diversity have always been an integral part of human experience but that the way they have been expressed has varied widely around the world and over time.  We are about to launch new volunteer-led LGBTQ tours of the Museum offering another way for people to explore LGBTQ histories that extend from deep history to the present day. 

“The Museum is committed to developing new innovative ways of researching and highlighting LGBQT histories, histories that have often been overlooked but which are relevant to us all.”

A spokesman for Pygmalion Fine Art, Hal Messel’s agency, added: “We are delighted to be working with Hal, Stonewall and the British Museum to bring this exciting project into the world. It’s a pleasure for us to see an artist we work with step up to challenge entrenched attitudes, in such a brave, creative and unique way.”

Founded in 2017, Pygmalion Fine Art works alongside a small number of carefully chosen, exceptionally talented, young artists curating and organising specialist shows in London and further afield.  

After the British Museum launch event, the Pride Cups will be exhibited to the public at Christie’s until 14th July, and then Brown Hart Gardens in Mayfair from Monday 15th – Sunday 28th July. 

Further exhibitions in the UK and overseas are planned and will be announced in due course.

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