Friday - 12 February 2016

Forbes tests the Victorian market again…

10 October 2011Written by ATG Reporter

IN what promises to be the biggest test of the overall health of the Victorian picture market for some years, Lyon & Turnbull will sell the entire contents of Old Battersea House, the London home of the Forbes family, in Edinburgh on November 1.

Christopher 'Kip' Forbes, of the well-known American publishing family, was a major figure in the post-War collecting revival of Victorian art. He famously quipped in the 1960s that it was possible to assemble one of the world's greatest collections of Victorian art for the price of a minor Monet. And he was as good as his word.

His collection, assembled over three decades, covered the walls of Old Battersea House, the late 17th century Wren-style pile the family purchased in 1970 and subsequently restored. It is currently on the market with Savills at £12m though an option to buy it with its contents has now expired.

Reflecting Forbes' wide-ranging tastes, Lyon & Turnbull will offer some 250 paintings by both well-known and obscure 19th century artists, covering every aspect of Victorian painting from genre to social realism to classicism.

It amounts to the most significant one-stop test of the Victorian picture market since the Finnis Scott sale (Sotheby's, November 2008) and, before that, February 2003 when the cream of the Forbes assemblage was offered in 361 lots across three catalogues at Christie's King Street.

Some of the unsold lots from that £16.9m event will reappear here with revised expectations, including The Princess Chained to a Tree by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones and Sir John Everett Millais' widely-exhibited For The Squire, 1882, both estimated at £800,000-1.2m in 2003 and now reoffered at £500,000-800,000 each.

But some pictures were purchased following that sale and many others, such as Charles Burton Barber's well-known portrait of Queen Victoria with John Brown (estimate £20,000-30,000) - a gift from the Queen to her ghillie that was sold by his descendants 30 years ago - are at auction for the first time since Forbes bought them in the 1970s and '80s.

Simon Edsor, a former curator of the Forbes collection and one of the directors of London dealers The Fine Art Society (who offered a number of pictures from the collection by private sale in 2009), has helped with the consignment.

Added to the paintings are the Georgian and later furnishings (with estimates from £50 upwards) and an extraordinary array of Royal portraiture and memorabilia. Forbes' love of Victoriana extended to the monarch herself: marble, parian, earthenware and bronze busts of Victoria and Albert occupy every room alongside the most personal of royal possessions (Victoria's generous silk bloomers concealed in a bespoke bathroom cupboard are estimated at £2000-3000).

The sale, with a top estimate of £4m, will be on view at Old Battersea House this coming weekend (October 14-16) before it moves to Edinburgh for further public viewing from October 28 and sale on November 1.

By Roland Arkell


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