First came the £656,000 Asian specialist sale on May 16 (see ATG No 2296). Then followed the May 24 sale of the ‘selected contents’ of the Cotswolds country house Abbotswood, the most eagerly anticipated inheritance from the previous Stanley Gibbons regime.
“There was variety and quality on offer,” said Law. “The weather was fine, the room was crowded and the atmosphere was great – an old-fashioned country house sale.”
A property has stood on the site overlooking the Swell since the 13th century. In the last two centuries the house has been owned by those with an interest in preserving the architecture, gardens and (particularly the last owner) in furnishing it with fine material.
It was appreciated by the buyers at the Donnington Priory rooms – 95% of the 266 lots got away to a total of £930,000 including nearly a score of five-figure bids and one record breaker.
This was a 23½in (60cm) tall, pink marble female nude signed by John Skeaping and dated 1928, which featured in ATG No 2294. At £90,000 it doubled the previous hammer high for a Skeaping work, the £45,000 taken for an alabaster pigeon at Sotheby’s six years ago.
“It was a big price but worth it,” said Josh Darby, a director of Cork Street gallery Browse & Darby who bought the marble with a client in mind. Currently on show at the gallery, it is, said Darby, “a very rare piece and we were very happy to secure it”.
As Jennie Fisher, head of Modern & Contemporary Art at Dreweatts, noted, Skeaping (1901-80) is more usually associated with equine bronzes and his signed and dated 1978 bronze Workhorse measuring 12 x 19in (30 x 48cm) sold to the UK trade a little above hopes at £5000.
Another sculpture lot brought the day’s second highest bid – two of the bronze busts of African figures which were the trademark of Charles Henri Joseph Cordier (1827-1905).
Both signed Cordier in the maquette and Simonet Fils & Cie Vendeur à Paris to the reverse, one was a 16½in (43cm) tall example of his famous Venus Africaine, the other a 16in (41cm) tall bust entitled Saïd Abdullah of the Mayac, Kingdom of the Darfu, Sudan, a version of which was bought by Queen Victoria at the 1851 Great Exhibition.
Venus had a visible join to head and neck and both busts, on later faux marble stands, had marks to the patination. But, considering auction precedent, the £15,000-25,000 estimate on the Abbotswood duo looked quite conservative.
Certainly it triggered international interest and against a French underbidder in the room, the bronzes went to a European buyer at £70,000.
American buyers also played a strong part in the sale’s success, particularly among the more decorative offerings.
One was a c.1700 Italian scagliola table top, decorated with music scores, counters and playing cards.
Such tops from the late 19th and early 20th centuries do appear from time to time at auction but this 3ft 2in x 17in (98 x 44cm) top was much earlier and showed it, with marks, scratches and abrasions consistent with age and use.
Mounted in a wooden ‘coffee table’ frame by Malletts in 1973, it was estimated at £1000-1500 but sold to the USA at £24,000.
Going less spectacularly above estimate to a US bidder was a c.1810 Empire ormolu chandelier.
Featuring a dish surmounted with a central cherub figure and 12 winged caryatids holding caste sconces, the 3ft 7in (1.10m) tall chandelier with some 19th century alterations took £11,000 against a £5000-8000 estimate.
Prize piece of furniture, however, was a quintessential English item – an early oak draw-leaf table.
Dated c.1625, its rectangular top, extending to 10ft long by 3ft wide (3.06m x 92cm), was above a bog oak and holly-chequered inlaid frieze.
“A splendid, exuberant piece with very glamorous leaf-carved baluster legs,” enthused auctioneer Law after the table, with some repairs and wear consistent with age, tripled the top estimate going to a private English buyer at £36,000.
The UK trade stepped in successfully for another English classic – a George I walnut and crossbanded bureau cabinet, 8ft 2in (2.49m) tall with arched panelled doors enclosing a fitted interior above a hinged fall and drawers. A glass panel in the arched top featured a gilt cypher for George I and his long-time mistress the Duchess of Kendal is traditionally supposed to have removed the cabinet from Hampton Court.
The dealer went to £10,000, double the top estimate, to remove it from Donnington Priory.
Another UK trade buy was a pair of c.1815, 5ft 5in (1.64m) tall giltwood and ebonised torchères with reeded columns carved with lotus leaves, triform bases with winged lion monopodiae and panelled sides applied with stars and Apollo masks.
Catalogued as ‘attributable to Thomas Hope’, the torchères took a mid-estimate £9500.
Almost inevitably, China had a role in the sale’s success.
An early 18th century side table in precious huanghuali, 3ft 6in wide by 21in long (1.06m x 53cm), had been restored and repolished to give a glossy overall appearance.
This was no deterrence to predominantly Mainland Chinese bidders, one of whom tripled the top estimate taking the table at £36,000.
A London specialist dealer went to nearly four times the top estimate to take a typical Yuan or Ming ‘Longquan’ type celadon bowl. Incised with flowers and lappets of wave patterns, the 11in diameter (28cm) bowl had some firing blemishes but no chips, cracks or restoration, and sold at £32,000.
And, of course, there had to be a Chinese sleeper – a 17in (43cm) tall undated grey crackle-glaze, triple gourd-shaped vase with a central blue ‘ribbon’ of a type associated with the Qianlong period. Also ex-Mallett, it had gilt-bronze mounts that allowed for its conversion to a lamp. It carried hopes of £800-1200 but went to China at £17,000.