The instrument, recorded by Grant O’Brien in his book Ruckers, A Harpsichord and Virginal Building Tradition, is most distinctive for the interior of the lid that is painted with an extensive landscape of St Theresa’s hometown of Avila, Spain.
The painting was once attributed to van der Meulen (1632-90) but is now thought to be earlier, perhaps c.1620, and by an anonymous hand. Since the instrument was last sold at Sotheby’s in 2004 (for £107,000 including premium) the paintwork had undergone professional restoration.
The instrument itself was adapted in the Georgian era to include a four-and-a-half octave keyboard. In his book on the Ruckers family, Dr O’Brien records that: “This is a typical English 18th-century ravalement of a Ruckers harpsichord. The case was widened and the octave span narrowed to accommodate the extra notes.”
It has a long ownership history at homes in Bath, Manchester, London and Dartington Hall, Devon. Offered with a guide of £70,000-90,000 at Gardiner Houlgate (22% buyer’s premium) in Corsham on June 17, it sold at £180,000.
The sale at Lacy Scott & Knight (22.5% buyer’s premium) in Bury St Edmunds the following day included a very musical instrument: a rare Nicole Frères ‘variation’ music box numbered 38412 for c.1861.
It is very unusual for a music box to play just one tune in several variations. The box plays four versions of Robin Adair, a once popular Irish song mentioned in Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma.
The lyrics were written by Lady Caroline Keppel as a riposte to her family who disapproved of her lower-class husband, army surgeon-colonel Robert ‘Robin’ Adair.
Housed in a rosewood and floral marquetry case, the music box was in good working condition with no losses to the comb. Estimated at £400-600, the hammer price was £18,000.