The collection of Gloria, late Dowager Countess Bathurst
Offered on 22 July at Christie’s in London, a superb collection of furniture, decorative arts, sculpture, paintings, jewellery, prints and works on paper
Gloria, late Dowager Countess Bathurst (1927-2018) was an influential figure in cultural and social circles in Britain. Over the course of her life, she lived between homes filled with fine and decorative arts from all over the world.
On 22 July, Christie’s will offer for sale the collection of Gloria, late Dowager Countess Bathurst, featuring Old Master paintings, 18th-century English and European furniture, silver, porcelain, jewellery, Modern British paintings and decorative furnishings.
Further highlights from the collection will be offered across Christie’s Modern Edition: Works on Paper and Prints, the ONE sale, Classical Art Evening Sale and Important Jewels.
Gloria Wesley Clarry was born in 1927 in New York to British parents. In 1930 the family returned to Britain, and by the late 1940s Gloria was enjoying success as a model, working for the Couturiers Jacques Fath and Dior. ‘She became known as Britain’s most perfect outdoor girl and was chosen to showcase British woollen fashion in Italy,’ says Christie’s Deputy Chairman Charles Cator.
In 1965, she married David Rutherston. ‘In our country world,’ says Cator, who first met her in the same year, ‘Gloria seemed like a figure from another planet, epitomising style and glamour. And she had plenty of both.’
She was soon immersed in the world of Modern British art. As a solicitor, her husband acted for a number of galleries, while his father, Albert Rutherston (1881-1953), and his uncle, Sir William Rothenstein (1872-1945), were both celebrated artists.
Sir William worked closely with Charles Conder, Philip Wilson Steer and Augustus John, and counted Walter Sickert and Auguste Rodin among his friends. David Rutherston’s cousin, John Rothenstein (1901-1992), became the longest-serving director of the Tate Gallery, from 1938 until 1964.
David and Gloria were thus well placed to assemble an eclectic collection of works of art, with an emphasis on the modern and contemporary. Ben Nicholson’s 1945 (Still Life), above, an abstract composition in oil and pencil and typical of the works collected by the couple, will be offered in the Modern British Art auction on 29 September at Christie’s in London.
After David’s death in 1975, Gloria married Henry, 8th Earl Bathurst, and moved into the family’s splendid seat, Cirencester Park. In 1988 Lord and Lady Bathurst moved to Manor Farm within the estate, where Gloria remained until her death in 2018.
‘All of her works of art were combined in happy juxtaposition in the [house’s] elegant and comfortable rooms,’ recalls Cator.
Read on to discover the stories behind a selection of works in the collection.
A Queen Anne embroidered bedcover
This beautiful embroidered Queen Anne bedspread (circa 1710) was almost certainly a personal gift from Queen Anne to Frances Apsley (1653-1727), wife of Sir Benjamin Bathurst (1639-1704) and intimate friend and Maid of Honour to both Queen Mary and Queen Anne. It has been treasured by the family as an historic heirloom since.
The design is a brilliant example of the finest early 18th-century Bizarre needlework. Bizarre designs were usually heavily brocaded with silk and several kinds of metal thread, and used in furnishings and clothing.
A pair of Chinese export reverse mirror paintings
The painstaking practice of painting on the reverse of glass was developed in China in around 1715, a pivotal moment in trade between China and the West. At that time, reverse mirror paintings were made almost entirely for export and reflect a highly romanticised vision of what China wished to portray to the West.
To create such works, artisans traced outlines of their designs on the back of the mirror plate. They then used special steel implements to scrape away the mirror backing to reveal the glass that could then be painted.
After surviving the long journey from China to England, mirror paintings would have taken pride of place in the homes of the fashionable elite, very probably surrounded by other export objects, such as porcelain from the Jingdezhen kilns.
A Robert Adam overmantel mirror
When Lord Chancellor Henry, 1st Baron Apsley (later 2nd Earl Bathurst) wanted to build a prominent London house he turned to Robert Adam (1728-92), the most fashionable architect-designer of the period. The result was Apsley House, the magnificent five-bay mansion at the top of Piccadilly — its address was No. 1 London, and it subsequently became the home of the Duke of Wellington.
Adam also designed the interiors — 26 of his designs for Apsley House are today preserved in Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, including the design for this George III giltwood overmantel mirror, dating to 1778.
Although some of the mirror’s original decorative mouldings were subsequently removed, it still features the collared recumbent stag relating to Earl Bathurst’s coat of arms. This architectural overmantel, and the carving of all the mirrors for Adam’s Apsley House, has been attributed to Sefferin Nelson (1769-c. 1796), carver and gilder of Marshall St in London.
A striking sphinx-shaped inkwell
French actress and artist Sarah Bernhardt is thought to have sculpted the model for this striking bronze inkwell in 1879. Shaped in the form of a recumbent winged sphinx with a spiny reptilian tail, it marks a bold departure from the artist’s more conventional or Romantic subjects.
Its form may be a direct reference to the artist’s own life: in 1879 Bernhardt was rehearsing for the role of Blanche de Chelles in Octave Feuillet’s play Le Sphinx. In the play the mysterious and demonic heroine wore a poison ring in the form of a sphinx.
The inkwell appears to have been conceived on one level as a celebration of her role in Feuillet’s play, and on another as an evocation of what Bernhardt perceived herself to be. She was described by the critic Jules Lemaître as ‘a distant and chimerical creature, both hieratic and serpentine, with a lure both mystical and sensual’.
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Never previously offered at auction, the 19th-century topaz suite pictured below left was bequeathed by HRH Princess Amelia to her lady-in-waiting, the Hon. Mrs George Villiers, great grandmother of Lilias, 7th Countess Bathurst.
The outstanding cut-cornered rectangular aquamarine, marquise-cut diamond ring, above right, was given to Gloria by her first husband David Rutherston upon their engagement in 1965.
A Laundry Girl by Albert Rutherston
Born in 1881, the British artist Albert Rutherston was the youngest of six children. It has been suggested that his desire to become an artist was influenced by his artist brother William’s fashionable London lifestyle.
In 1898 Albert Rutherston enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art, where he met Augustus John and William Orpen. It was around this time that he befriended Walter Sickert, whom he later introduced to his friend and Slade colleague Spencer Gore, the first president of the Camden Town Group.
A porcelain dinner service fit for a king
This late 18th-century Berlin porcelain dinner service was given to Henry, 3rd Earl Bathurst by Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm III King of Prussia in the early 19th century. The 3rd Earl served as Secretary of State for War and the Colonies from 1812, the height of the Napoleonic Wars. This would have been a notable diplomatic gift.
A wedding gift to Lord and Lady Apsley
Philip de László’s portrait of Lady Apsley in a green dress with a jade bead necklace was a wedding gift to Lord Apsley from the Vale of the White Horse Hunt, the tenants of Cirencester Park and townspeople of Cirencester.
Lady Apsley’s mother-in-law, Lady Bathurst, influenced the composition of the painting. ‘Please do not paint her [Lady Apsley] in a riding habit or her wedding dress,’ she advised the painter. ‘She has a lovely evening dress, green shot with silver.’