As a trainee architect in 1888, Ernest Gimson (1864-1919) had drawn a pair of 17th century brass and iron fire dogs he admired at Haddon Hall, the Tudor manor house in Derbyshire.
Later, based at Daneway House in the Gloucestershire village of Sapperton, he reimagined his own distinctive versions of the form to be made by esteemed local blacksmith Alfred Bucknell. Sketches of the designs, signed and dated Ernest W Gimson, Daneway House, May 12 1908, are kept in New Walk Museum, Leicester.
A well-provenanced pair of these fire dogs, near icons of the second flowering of the Arts & Crafts movement, emerged in a sale at Mallams’ Design & Modern Art auction in Oxford on December 5.
Estimated at £20,000-30,000, four phone bidders competed until they were hammered down to a dealer at £50,000 (plus 27% buyer’s premium inc VAT).
Max Fisher, head of design and Post-war British art at Mallams, said: “As soon as I posted the images of the fire dogs on Instagram we had a lot of interest. These are scarce things and the price really reflects their rarity.”
The 2ft 4in (70.5cm) high polished steel dogs with their pierced uprights and meticulously worked ’medallions’ displayed all of Bucknell’s skills as a metalworker.
From records it is known that at least two pairs were made in brass: one for Earl Bathurst at Pinbury Park, Gloucestershire, and another for the Gimson family (also in the New Walk Museum). A third pair was made at the same time in wrought iron for Sir Lionel Phillips of Tylney Hall, Hampshire.
Mallams’ pair was catalogued by Mary Greensted, co-author of Ernest Gimson: Arts & Crafts Designer and Architect published in October this year.
They came for sale from the family of Arthur Mitchell whose father Henry founded the Smethwick brewery that would become Mitchells & Butlers. Mitchell was a great patron of Cotswolds School craftsmen and, alongside five other lots in this auction, his descendants have consigned some important lots for sale to Mallams in recent years.
The price is among the highest for Gimson metalwork although back in June 1999 a similar pair had sold at Christie’s New York as part of the Maurice and Margo Cohen Collection of Decorative Art for a hammer price of $120,000 (£74,400).
An exhibition at Cheltenham’s The Wilson titled Ernest Gimson: Observation, Imagination and Making runs until February 25.