English School portrait

English School portrait of a man with pickaxe and spade, dated 1601, sold for £400,000 at Dreweatts’ Robert Kime auction.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The interior decorator, who died last year, spent a lifetime building his own collection which was dispersed at a dedicated auction held from October 4-6.

The 399 lots on the first day in Newbury, Berkshire included furniture, silver, Asian art, antiquities and Modern British pictures but also a stand-out group of folk paintings which captured the imagination of bidders.

Pick of the bunch

The top lot of the collection was a striking portrait of a man holding a pickaxe and a spade.

While the artist and sitter were both unidentified, the latter - who was shown dressed in aristocratic attire (a white linen under shirt, silver and gold belt, and black breeches with silver thread) but carrying the tools of an agricultural worker - was believed to be a member of the gentry.

The inscription QVIA PATER CREDIDIT MVLIERI (Why should the father have believed his wife) suggests that the sitter, who may well have commissioned the work, was born illegitimate after ‘the father’ was made a cuckold by his wife. A further inscription to the upper right gave the date of 1601 and recorded the age of the subject as 36.

Replete with symbolism, the portrait was therefore considered a morality painting, perhaps relating to the sitter’s exclusion from inheriting his ‘paternal’ social status and property.

The quality of painting with the face vividly portrayed meant it was anything but a typical naïve picture.

Combining decorative appeal, historical and social significance, not to mention rarity with no comparable portrait having seemingly sold at auction, bidders were happy to overlook the condition issues which included repaired splits and fracture lines within the panel and numerous old retouchings.

Catalogued as ‘English school (early 17th century)’, the 3ft 5in x 2ft 8in (1.05m x 82cm) oil on panel was estimated at £10,000-15,000. On the day, it drew at least four bidders but came down to a battle between two determined parties on the phone. It was eventually knocked down at £400,000 to a US collector.

Robert Kime's at home

The late Robert Kime at his Provencal home ‘La Gonette’. Image: Tessa Traeger.


Head of House Sales & Collections at Dreweatts Joe Robinson said: “The results of the auction of Robert Kime’s personal collection show the widespread admiration for him as a true aesthete.

"The ‘titan of design’s collection was a testimony to his passion for collecting rare works with exceptional provenance and pieces that he truly cherished. His talent for adding depth to an interior to create a room was an unparalleled skill and was the impetus behind the competitive bidding from around the world to obtain a piece from one of the leading design figures of his generation.”

The buyer’s premium at Dreweatts was 26/25%.

A full report of the Kime sale will appear in a future issue.