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 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
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
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
By Roland Arkell