Wednesday - 01 October 2014

Matteo Sellas guitar strikes a £48,000 chord

04 October 2013Written by Roland Arkell

There was a great deal of international interest, particularly from institutions, when this five-course baroque guitar by Matteo Sellas of Venice, from the second quarter of the 17th century, was offered at Gardiner Houlgate’s September 19-20 sale in Bath.

The intricate decoration included a pierced parchment architectural rose to the table, as well as numerous ebony and bone motifs inlaid, as can be seen, and the fingerboard with panels of mother-of-pearl with ten later brass frets.

The auctioneers have developed a strong line in guitars, from classical instruments through to contemporary electric models, and this one was consigned from overseas.

It was once the property of the renowned picture conservator Sebastian Isepp (1884-1954), chief restorer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, who came to Britain in 1938 at the instigation of Sir Kenneth Clark. He formed a collection of 35 stringed instruments, most of which were later dispersed, some passing into the collection of the musicologist and early stringed instrument player Robert Spencer. This guitar passed by descent to the vendor.

Specialist James South gave it an estimate of £10,000-15,000, but such was the interest that it rapidly climbed to £48,000, when the hammer fell to a well-known dealer/collector possibly buying on commission. There was an 18% buyer's premium. After the sale Mr South told ATG: "Sellas was the maker of Romantic period guitars and there are two similar ones in the National Music Museum in South Dakota - the top instrument museum in the world - as well as an almost identical guitar in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/503385).

"But for some condition issues and the fact that Sellas used bone instead of ivory as inlay, it would have made £100,000."

The auctioneers set their house record of £70,000 when they sold a violoncello in May.

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