A group of three 19th century pictures harking back to a now demolished estate and its previous owners came to Reeman Dansie’s (20% buyer’s premium) latest East Anglian art and antiques auction.
Gosfield Place, a Georgian classical house near the village of Gosfield in Essex, was built by the Sparrow banking family in 1800. They owned Sparrows Bank, a business that later became part of Barclays.
The surrounding park was designed by Humphry Repton in 1811 but the house was rebuilt by Basil Sparrow in 1865, becoming a larger property with a French design.
Incidentally, it should not be confused with Gosfield Hall, an even older estate located nearby which dates back to Elizabethan times.
According to Britain’s Lost Heritage list (lostheritage.org.uk), Gosfield Place was demolished in c.1924.
It had reputedly been purchased by a builder from Braintree whose wife refused to move there and who, after taking down the house, was able to make more by recycling the materials than he had paid for the estate.
Sadly today all that remains of what was clearly once a splendid residence is an ornate bridge at Sparrows Pond in Gosfield’s Little Aldercar Wood.
The works offered at Reeman Dansie were consigned by a relative of the Sparrows.
After selling the estate, these pictures were kept in the family and had descended to Commander Peter Rushbrooke to whom they were bequeathed in 1953 by his second cousin Colonel Richard Sparrow.
They were offered on September 28 at the Colchester saleroom, located about 20 miles away from where the house would have stood.
The most affordable of the three works was a picture of the estate itself. The 13 x 19in (33 x 48cm) watercolour was by an unknown hand. Estimated at £400-600, it was simply catalogued as ‘English School, 19th century’.
Housed in an ornate glazed gilt frame, it was a well-conceived picture with attractive colours and an assured touch when it came to execution. It was also in decent condition.
Inevitably, the subject of a lost estate was probably what appealed most to the bidders who turned out on the day and it was carried to £700 before being knocked down to a local private collector.
Take the coach
Wider interest came for an intriguing coaching scene.
The painting of Basil Sparrow, the long-time owner of Gosfield Place, driving his wife and family to church in a horse-drawn carriage was by Alfred Frank de Prades (1825-95).
The French painter, who moved to England with his father as a teenager, specialised in equestrian and military subjects and examples of his work can now be found in the National Army Museum, Walker Art Gallery, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and the Royal Collection.
Commercially his horse-racing scenes are the most valuable in his oeuvre. The current auction record stands at $75,000 (£51,310) for a large 1881 painting of the racehorse Robert the Devil with jockey ‘up’ that sold at Christie’s New York in 2002.
But his coaching scenes, which also demonstrated his considerable abilities in capturing horses and their movement, are highly regarded themselves although they appear at auction less often and probably appeal to a somewhat smaller audience.
The 2ft 8in x 4ft 6in (82cm x 1.37m) oil on canvas in Colchester was signed and dated 1874 and was effectively a family portrait as well as a coaching scene. Sparrow and his wife Julia (née Scratton) had 13 children in 21 years.
Nine of the children are shown aboard the coach (a list was included with the lot). Incidentally, none of the 13 had any male heirs, which may explain why the estate was eventually sold off.
A lively painting by a recognised artist that strongly captured the sense of gentile life in mid-Victorian England, the picture looked like a good proposition against a £4000- 6000 estimate.
As such, it was bid to £7000, at which point it was knocked down to a London buyer.
While Christie’s sold a pair of paintings of mail carriages for £8000 back in 1995, the price here appears to be the highest for an individual coaching scene by de Prades.
Vine in equestrian mode
The third picture from the consignment was a painting of Sparrow’s daughter Emma riding her hunter in the grounds of Gosfield Place.
Painted by John Vine of Colchester (c.1809-67), the 2ft 1in x 2ft 6in (63 x 76cm) oil on canvas was signed and dated 1842.
It was a known work, having been illustrated in Hugh Scantlebury’s book titled John Vine of Colchester, An account of the Life and Times of an Essex Livestock Painter, published in 2008.
In commercial terms the artist is one of the more established names when it comes to naive-style livestock painting. He plied his trade in the Essex market town and beyond, achieving acclaim despite having severe hand and arm deformities.
In his case, images of horses are not at the top of the tree; his depictions of oversized sheep, cows and particularly pigs tend to make higher sums (a painting of a group of the latter selling for £14,000 at Bonhams Knightsbridge in 2014 remains the record).
Here the £5000-7000 estimate proved a little punchy but the picture still found a buyer, a Somerset collector, at £4500.