THE WEST Country is not the antiques wilderness it is sometimes painted but a relatively sparse population means that auctioneers cannot simply rely on local solicitors to provide the deceased estates. Networking the landed gentry at cocktail parties or hunt meetings is part of the social round for any flourishing local auctioneer and such contacts regularly pay dividends for Duke’s rooms in Dorchester.
A group of 18th century Dutch marquetry furniture which provided some of the highest prices at this summer sale on July 4 (15% buyer's premium) had originally come from the Dorset estate of Eastbury Park.
Designed by John Vanbrugh, Eastbury Park was the country house equivalent of a white elephant, built over 20 years from 1718 by sleazy politician George Dodington (Lord Melcombe) at the cost of £140,000. So enormous was this rival to Blenheim that a subsequent owner, Earl Temple, offered anyone foolhardy to take up the tenancy £1000 per annum towards maintenance costs. But this desperate action was not enough to save Eastbury, which was taken down and sold off piecemeal by Temple in 1795.
All that remains of the estate today is the stable block, itself the size of a manor house. The original furnishings were dispersed in 1763, but the family who have lived on the estate since the 19th century supplied the furniture to Duke’s. The association with Eastbury was probably more interesting than the furniture itself, which was 18th century in period but possibly later inlaid.
The 5ft 10in (1.78m) armoire was characterised by fine, complex marquetry of flowering urns to the shaped panel cupboard doors and a bold serpentine crested and floral carved pediment.
Entered in good, original condition, the armoire was offered without a printed estimate and sold to the trade at £9000.
Two Dutch marquetry bombe bureaux in good condition from Eastbury Park fetched £4000 and £3500.
The more desirable example was narrower, at 3ft 2in (97cm) wide, and was fitted with two short and two long drawers. The slightly cheaper model had arguably more interesting marquetry, including butterflies and parrots, to the fall front, but it had a rather cumbersome width of 4ft 2in (1.27m) and a plain arrangement of three long drawers. “Bureaux have been difficult to sell recently, but these two were quite decorative,” said valuer Matthew Denney.
There is nothing unappealing about period yew-wood, one of the most popular mediums in the furniture market, and the deserved best-seller here was the George II burr yew chest illustrated here on the right.
Entered from a local private source, the four-drawer crossbanded chest measured a neat 2ft 7in (79cm) wide, and clean, untouched condition was said to be an important factor in the high price of £12,000 paid by a collector, against London trade underbidding.
Another fresh, private lot of George II period was a mahogany ‘harlequin’ writing table with secretaire cabinet and lappet carved club legs, but this piece was ‘basically original’ and had a steep estimate of £4000-6000. It sold privately at £3600.
Some of the best paintings at Duke’s sale had come from the Peto family of Iford Manor in Wiltshire, the source also of the auctioneers’ prime continental furnishing. The late 16th/early 17th century Spanish vargueno was an above-average example of its type, distinguished by fine carving of satyrs and cherub masks to the enclosed cupboards and drawers. Measuring 4ft 2 1/2in (1.28m) wide on an arcaded stand with turned and reeded columns, the vargueno was entered in good condition and attracted Italian trade interest before selling to a local collector at £7500.
Dressers may have come off the boil recently, but there is still demand for
certain types and the mid-18th century three-drawer base and potboard, 6ft 10in (2.08m) wide, certainly fitted trade requirements at Duke’s. Good colour was a major factor in the trade bidding £5200 for it.
Clocks featured a George III mahogany and white dial bracket clock by Francis Perigal of London, which was lifted by the domed hood and subsidiary dials to £3400. Among the works of art,
a Georgian blue john goblet vase on pedestal dedicated to ‘…Eleanor Digges la Touche who died …1798’ was kept to £3800 because of damage and morbidity.
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