As consignments in the ‘middle market’ sweet spot of £500-10,000 poured in, turnover in the lockdown year of 2021 raced to £27.71m.
And this year the consignments have kept on coming. For reasons of space and display, the Fine Furniture, Sculpture, Carpets, Ceramics and Works of Art sale in Donnington Priory, Newbury, on May 30-31 was on view at Kirtlington Park, Oxfordshire. Logistically it was a challenge, but the exercise was repaid by some strong results.
The sale was topped by a William and Mary carved and silvered wall mirror that sold online at £60,000 against an estimate of £6000-8000.
It was part of a consignment from the late Catherine Mary ‘Kate’ Wass (1942-2021), a direct descendant of one of William IV’s 10 illegitimate children with the actress Dorothea Jordan (1765-1837). She had inherited the 31 lots from her maternal great-uncle, Standish Robert Vereker, 7th Viscount Gort (1888-1975), whose country estate was Hamsterley Hall in Rowlands Gill on the County Durham, Tyne and Wear border.
Hamsterley Hall, an 18th century manor house with later gothic revival revisions once owned by the comic novelist Robert Smith Surtees (1806-64), came by marriage to the Viscounts Gort in 1885.
The 7th Viscount was the family’s most important connoisseur. His acquisitions, many of them acquired from country houses in the immediate pre- and post-war era included, in 1948, a Boulle cabinet-on-stand that is now in the Getty.
A March 1940 Country Life article on the mansion titled The Role of Antiques Today: Furniture and Tapestry at Hamsterley Hall featured several interior shots with some of the objects offered for sale at Dreweatts clearly in situ.
A 5ft 2in (1.64m) high mirror with its scrolled foliage and putti is probably the example photographed in a bedroom.
Dated to c.1680, it is closely related to one in the V&A that retains its original silver leaf over gesso gilding, bearing the arms of Sir Henry Gough (1650-1724) of Old Fallings Hall, Staffordshire. The silvering would have given the mirror the appearance of solid metal.
Dreweatts said there were some losses and restorations to the carving with the mirror plate and old replacement.
Clearly pictured in the 1940 Country Life article, displayed on a buffet in the drawing room, is a large oak carving of St George and the dragon. It is of no great age – probably a medieval revival piece from the early or mid 19th century – but an impressive size at 3ft 2in (95cm) high. With some old repairs to the extremities, it took £4000 (estimate £2500-3500).
A set of nine George III mahogany hall chairs c.1780 in the Gillows style with shield backs variously painted with crests were also pictured in Country Life – this time in the entrance hall of the private apartments at Penshurst in Kent.
The heraldry suggested they were owned by William Surtees Altham Cook (1813-1887) and his wife Henrietta Addles Elizabeth Moulton Barrett, sister of the writer Elizabeth Moulton Barrett Browning (1806-61). These sold at £7000 (estimate £4000-6000).
Some fine pieces of English walnut came from a range of other sources.
A profusely carved open armchair is similar to those in a set supplied by Daniel Bell and Thomas Moore in 1734 to the ‘Honourable Counsellor Rider’ of Sandon Hall, Stafford, at a cost of £27 10s.
The bill records ‘Ten hansome Wallnuttree Chairs broad banister backs cutt in shape with scrole tops finneard with very good wood, loose compass seats, stuft in white Hessings with rich carved fore feet with Lyons faces on Ye Knees and Lyons Paws… with scrolls…to ye fore-rails’.
The Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840 by Geoffrey Beard and Christopher Gilbert (1986) records Bell as a St Martin’s Lane cabinet-maker who was in partnership with Thomas Moore from 1724. Moore may have been a son of the royal cabinetmaker James Moore. Similar chairs were made for Houghton Hall, Norfolk, and the model is similar to others made in rosewood during the China trade.
The chair, with a retailer’s label for Norman Adams (it had received professional restoration sometime in its life) came for sale from a London private collection. It did not quite reach its estimate of £30,000-50,000 but did get away at £28,000.
Also from the George II period was a good example of an English furniture standard: the walnut chest on chest. As detailed in Adam Bowett’s Early Georgian Furniture, this very Georgian form (the earliest known is mentioned in a bill submitted by Gumley and Turing to Kensington Palace in 1727) evolved subtly across the decades.
This example had several refinements: angled corners of the upper case, architectural reeded pilasters and a coved sunburst to the bottom drawer indicative of a piece fitted with a secretaire. In decent period condition (the handles and locks are probably later and some sections of veneers required attention), it took £16,000 although something above £20,000 was expected.
Two lots of continental furniture – one Italian, the other German, both c.1740-50 – performed well against modest expectations.
Sold at £8500 (estimate £1000-1500) was a set of six Genoese painted chairs, each decorated with the armorial of a member of the Bernardini di Lucca merchant family. They probably once resided at the Palazzo Bernardini, Saint Maria in Via and later the Villa Bernardini in Massa Pisana. It was the lure of 18th century polychrome that sold them.
A far more muscular Baroque walnut and marquetry bureau cabinet c.1740 was in the manner of Jacob Arend (1688-1744) who worked in Wurzburg and then Fulda.
An earlier but similarly decorated cabinet in the Victoria and Albert Museum was famously found (in 1967) to include a letter from a 28-year-old Arend carefully secreted in a drawer. Translated and studied in 2014, it gives a vivid description of the hard times endured by his workmates – “‘cabbage and corn were often the best food we could get hold of” – as they made such a courtly object.
With their multiple drawers and cupboards for housing papers and personal treasures, in Germany these cabinets were often known as trisur. Much of its appeal lay in the complex inlaid decoration, including mother-of-pearl and ivory veneers at a quantity well below the 10% de minimis rule now required by UK law. It will, said Dreweatts, “require some repairs and restorations before use in a domestic setting” but it sold well enough at £19,000 (estimate £5000-8000.
Victorian brass club fenders are a more regular visitor to Newbury sales, but the example here raced away from the regulation £2000-3000 to bring £11,000 online.
It had previously been part of the furnishings at Abbotswood House in Stow-on-the-Wold, a building of medieval origins remodelled to the designs of Sir Edwin Lutyens at the turn of the 20th century. It is possible this fender, with its unusual leather-upholstered ‘saddle’ seats embossed with dragons, was part of that commission.
The most topical item in the sale, offered just days before the Platinum Jubilee festivities, was a woven blue and gold silk panel woven in the Queensway pattern with a crown above rose, thistle, leek shamrock emblems within oak.
Designed by Robert Godden, rector of The Royal College of Art, woven by Warner & Sons of Braintree and hung in Westminster Abbey during the 1953 coronation, it and other hangings were later gifted or sold off to raise money for charity. It had been acquired by the grandfather of the current vendor.
Entered for sale at the eleventh hour with a guide of £400-600, it raced away to bring £2000.
Good English ceramics
Some good English ceramics came for sale from two welcome private collections.
Pottery from the estate of the late Joe Constantine was applied with labels from London dealership Jonathan Horne Antiques. A sponge-decorated pearlware model of a chest of drawers, probably made in one of the north-east factories, c.1820, sold at £2800 while a typical Bristol delft ‘farmyard’ plate c.1730, sponged and painted in shades of iron-red, ochre, blue and manganese with a cockerel and trees, took £2400.
Several pieces of Chelsea red anchor porcelain came from ‘the London property of a former Australian prime minister’. Two leaf-shaped dishes of Hans Sloane type c.1756 had condition problems (both had been broken with old restoration now discoloured) but they took £6000 from an online bidder.