A consignment of works from an historic estate, Meldon Park in Northumberland, meant Bonhams’ latest Collections auction in Edinburgh had the whiff of a classic country house sale about it.
Sitting within a wooded parkland and overlooking an ancient deer park, the house was owned by the Cookson family seven generations.
Built in 1832 for Isaac Cookson, who was the third generation to manage the family concerns that included a successful glass and chemical works, the property was put on the market last year by James Cookson and his wife Emily with a £3.5m asking price. According to Country Life, it was bought in December by a buyer relocating from Scotland.
With a mixture of paintings, furniture, silver, ceramics and works of art, the 135 lots from Meldon Park at Bonhams generated a combined hammer total of £234,790 on February 2, with 130 of the lots finding buyers on the day. The auction house said the majority of lots sold to private buyers.
Bonhams’ director of valuations in Scotland Charles Graham-Campbell said: “As expected, the sale proved very popular with collectors with many lots doubling their estimates.
“Country house sales are always special events and the opportunity to acquire pieces with such distinguished provenance attracted a lot of interest and some very spirited bidding.”
Pictures provided some of the main highlights of the collection and yielded six of the top 10 prices.
It was a good day for Jacob George Strutt (1790-1864) as one of his views of Rome led the sale and made the highest price at auction so far for an individual work by the artist.
The Colchester-born painter was a landscape artist and etcher who, it has been suggested, may have trained under John Constable, given their proximity and stylistic similarities.
Strutt exhibited at the Royal Academy for 30 years. He was also known for his woodland scenes and tree studies, producing a series of prints published in JC Loudon’s eight-volume Arboretum et fruticetum britannicum of 1838.
The artist moved to Lausanne in c.1830 and later travelled around Switzerland, France and finally Italy. Having been joined by his son Arthur, the two artists established a studio in Rome from where he produced some of his most notable works.
Commercially these views of the Eternal City tend to be the most sought after and have provided the bulk of his highest sums in the saleroom over the last 30 years. On offer at Bonhams was a fine example: a view of the Arch of Constantine which was signed and dated 1845. Measuring 2ft 7in x 3ft 4in (78cm x 1.03m), the oil on canvas was an attractive size and came to the auction in good condition.
Speaking before the sale, Bonhams’ picture specialist Leo Webster said: “The city of Rome, its ancient history and the surrounding campagna provided great inspiration to both artists, with them even dabbling in some amateur archaeology.
“The 19th century saw the rise of the artist traveller, and this painting is a classic example of the genre with its historical and topographical interest, but also the real sense of warmth captured through Strutt’s sun-baked palate.”
In terms of the previous record for the artist, a group lot of 22 pictures of Italy had made £30,000 at a Sotheby’s sale back in 1995, but the highest price for a single painting was the £7000 for a smaller view of Rome with the Ponte Rotto that sold at Christie’s in 2000.
The £10,000-15,000 estimate here therefore looked relatively punchy, but the fact that this was clearly a major work that was impressively detailed and depicted two key landmarks (the Arch of Constantine but also the Colosseum to the background) gave Bonhams confidence the painting would draw interest.
It duly did, and after a bidding battle between a number of parties it sold at £17,000. The result provided a welcome boost to supporters of 19th century British pictures.
The following lot was also a view of Rome but this time by Jacob’s son, Arthur John Strutt (1819-88) who was a writer and practising archaeologist as well as an artist.
Like his father, he painted scenes of both the city as well as the surrounding countryside but, despite their painterly quality and acute observation, few were ever exhibited at the Royal Academy on account of their size.
The 2ft 6in x 3ft 4in (76cm x 1.04m) oil on canvas here was signed and dated 1857. It was a good size but by no means large by the artist’s standards. It depicted the Forum in Rome, specifically the Campo Vaccino which, as its name suggests, had been used as a cattle market for centuries by the time this picture was painted.
Here the estimate was set at £8000-12,000 and it sold at £9000. The price stands within the top 10 auction prices for the artist (source: Artprice).
The record for Arthur Strutt was set at Christie’s in 2006 when Haymaking in the Roman Campagna, a slightly later work that was over double the size of the current picture, took a £35,000 bid.
Another of the Meldon Park pictures bringing strong demand was an 18th century Italian picture which depicted a Neapolitan folk musician.
The painting of the seated man holding a lute was of a type associated with artists such as Pietro Fabris, Filippo Falciatore and Gaspare Traversi but here the 3ft x 2ft 5in (92 x 74cm) oil on canvas was offered as ‘attributed to’ Giuseppe Bonito (1707-89).
Works by Bonito are potentially highly valuable with a number having made six-figure sums in the past. This one had some varnish to the surface although it was apparently untouched underneath.
Estimated at £7000-10,000, it was knocked down at £14,000.
Elsewhere at the sale and outside the Meldon consignment, a number of animal studies were among the pictures attracting decent bidding.
A pair of paintings depicting a lion in a landscape and a fox and her cubs came from a private Scottish estate and were offered as a single lot. Catalogued simply as ‘English School 19th Century’, they surpassed a £2000-3000 estimate and sold at £7000.
Further down the price scale and also from a Scottish source, an engraving of a tiger after James Northcote (1746-1831) also generated interest. The painter and writer, who was a pupil of Joshua Reynolds, produced numerous portraits like his tutor but he also executed some notable works depicting exotic animals. He is thought to have studied the animals at the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London.
The 19in x 2ft (48 x 61cm) print here was an example of those engraved by Jonathan Murphy which were based on original compositions by Northcote and published in London in 1790. Examples are rare on the market, although one made £3240 including premium at Christie’s in 2007.
The engraving at Bonhams was estimated at £400-600 and eventually sold at £1800.
Overall the 246-lot sale generated £471,200 including premium with 232 of the 246 lots sold (94%).
Bonhams’ next Collections sale on March 21 will feature lots from another country house which has a certain claim to fame: Chequers (see News Digest in ATG No 2580).