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Sir Frederick Richmond, Bt.: The Man and The Collection.
Sir Frederick Richmond Bt. (1873-1953) left Marnham, Nottinghamshire in his teens to work as an apprentice in the giant drapery shop of Debenham and Freebody in London. There he trained in every department, and eventually rose to be Chairman succeeding Ernest Debenham in 1927. By the time he arrived Debenham's had expanded by acquiring the goodwill of other large drapers and were multiplying their export trade. Soon they had branches in Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, The Hague, New York, as well as South Africa, South America, Canada and even China. Under Richmond's control they bought department stores both in the provinces and in London creating the largest textile distribution empire in the world. He was also Chairman of Harvey Nichols and, importantly, Governor of the Hudson Bay Company which controlled much of the trade with North America.
In 1929, a key figure in the drapery world -- and well on the way to becoming a millionaire -- he was made a baronet. In a tribute in The Times, 14 November 1953, a friend wrote that besides business ability
"He also had a great love of art and literature and great kindness and generosity. He had collected lovely things all his life, and both of his houses were full of beautiful objects. His collection of Old English needlework was, I believe, the finest in the Country and Lady Richmond [Dorothy Agnes Sheppard whom he married in 1921] shares his love and knowledge to the full. In all things he was helped by a phenomenal memory".
Sir Frederick began his important needlework collection in about 1907. The Edwardian and inter-war period was a great age for the dispersal of family collections, from these and from fellow collectors, Sir Frederick was in an enviable position to purchase many fine objects. Collections sold at that time included: Geoffrey Whitehead, forty lots of needlework, Christie's, 9 November 1915; Viscountess Wolseley, 1906; the Collection of Lord Abingdon, Ryecote House, Sotheby's, 15 June 1928; Collection of Sir William Lawrence, Bt., Sotheby's, 20 April 1934; Collection of Percival D. Griffiths, Christie's 10-12 May 1939; and the Collections of Frank Ward; of the stock-broker John Holms of Formakin, Bishopston, Nr. Glasgow; of W. B. Redfern, Sotheby's, June 1934; and W. Sanders-Fisk, Sotheby's, November 1937. In Germany, the Collection of Frau Emma Budge of Hamburg, was sold in Berlin during September 1937.
Needlework was a fashionable subject to collect, but Sir Frederick may well have been one of the main instigators of the rage. He founded at Debenhams a department, first on the corner of Wigmore and Welbeck Street -- then, as it proved so popular in Oxford Street itself, at numbers 352-354 -- there they sold: "early samplers; needlework; pictures; bead bags; old bed covers; linen and lace and brocades, and later Stewart panels of great variety and charm: petit point with padded figures etc." In 1920 they advertised in The Connoisseur "Collectors in search of interesting specimens would do well to visit our antique gallery where many pieces of ancient needlework are to be found".
But Sir Frederick was not alone, The Fine Art Society, London had organised an exhibition of 350 samplers and embroidered pictures as early as 1900. Sidney Hands Ltd., 16a Grafton Street, Bond Street, W1. held "An Exhibition of early English Needlework, 16th and 17th century petit-point and stumpwork panels, mirrors, caskets and cushions" in 1920 and they even published "A short illustated History of Old Needlework" 5 shillings. Harrods Ltd. were also advertising old needlework in issue XXXIII The Connoiseur, and Messrs Frank Partridge held an exhibition of Old English Needlework at their 26 King Street Galleries in 1934 [they also had a branch at 6 West 56th Street, New York]. Other London dealers included John Hunt and Acton Surgey. There were also two Scottish department stores which dealt in early needlework: Jenner & Co., Edinburgh; and Wiley and Lockhead, Glasgow.
The 1920s and 1930s were boom years for the collecting of 16th-18th century embroidery. The Art Journal, The Connoisseur, Apollo and Old Furniture all featured regular articles and exhibition reviews on the subject. "Country Life" illustrated many 17th century houses and interiors. Publications, sales and exhibitions fuelled the passion for collecting 16th and 17th century needlework.
Sir Frederick's country house, Westoning Manor, Bedfordshire, bought after 1936, was itself a collection of fragments, and must have provided a most suitable backdrop for the collection. Set in a park of 103 acres, Westoning had been a Royal domesne until 1173, once held by King Harold. But it had been rebuilt in 1842 by the Reverend J. W. C. Campion. A large quantity of old woodwork said to have been taken from the house at Wrest Park, then being demolished, and from the old Houses of Parliament had been incorporated in the design of many of the rooms and staircases, while at the back of the house were several much restored 18th century half timber and brick barns. To the front of the house there remains the site of the old house [Victoria County History 1912].
The other half of Sir Frederick's collection was displayed at his palatial London house in "millionaires' row", 10 Kensington Palace Gardens, a house designed by Philip Hardwick in 1846. It was not lived in until 1852 when James Meadows Rendal, Civil Engineer, acquired the house. The next owner was the German born Steel Magnate, Leopold S. Benzon, who threw lavish dinner parties for leading artists and musicians of the day. The next owner was Leopold Hirsch, the Financier. On Christmas day 1938 Sir Frederick commissioned a charming series of watercolours of the needlework collection displayed in his house. These have survived and they provide an important historical record showing the arrangement customary at that time.
The other major collectors of needlework in those years were: Robert Spence whose glove collection is now at the Museum of Costume in Bath; John Holms; Marcus B. Huish; Irwin Untermyer; Mrs Lila Hailston; Mrs [Percy] Theresa McQuoid ; Sir James Horlick Bt. (the malted milk millionaire); Lord Leverhulme (the soap King) who left much of his needlework collection to the museum he founded, the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight; Mrs Rachel Head; G. Baron Ash of Packwood; Lord Plender; H.M. Queen Mary; and of course the millionaire ship owner Sir William Burrell, 1861-1958, much of whose collection is now housed at the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.
INTRODUCTION: THE ART OF EARLY NEEDLEWORK
Embroidery is an Art in which England has long excelled. From the time of the Bayeux tapestry, 1077, onwards Opus Anglicanum vestments were exported throughout Europe. During the Medieval period English embroidery continued to be of high quality, although of course a great deal has not survived. Much of the finest Elizabethan embroidery was amateur and domestic, though to professional designs. Some of the finest bed valences like those included in this sale as lots 4-7 and 9 and 10, were displayed in sets of three around the testers or canopies of beds. Fashionable subjects for the designs of these valences were Ovid's Metamorphoses; Biblical subjects; and emblems. Emblem books such as E. Geoffrey Whiteney's A Choice of Emblems and Other Devices, 1586 were popular sources of design. Such valences are usually thought to be Scottish and sometimes worked by a professional class of journeymen embroiderers. In England, the family of Kytson at Hengrave Hall in Suffolk, kept detailed records which provide us with a picture of an Elizabethan household in operation. For example in October 1572: "Paid the embroiderers for VIII weeks and IV days work in embroydering work @ VIII [8d] the day" [which was 2d. a day more than they paid for the repair of tapestries].
There were two especially renowned embroideresses at this period: Mary Queen of Scots (1548-87) and her gaoler, Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury (1520-1608). They made much use of Emblems in their work. The needlework at Hardwick has recently been catalogued by Santina Levey. Such labours were not easy. Pepys in his Diary some years later recorded: "the poor wife...works all day like a horse at the making of her hangings."
Blackwork, as in lot 1, is a particularly English type of needlework, favoured during the Elizabethan period. It was used both for pillow cases (or beres) and for parts of costume such as petticoats or skirts, foreparts, sleeves, caps and nightcaps. These can often be seen in portraits of the period. Queen Elizabeth I herself was not averse to being presented with embroidered petticoats or panels which would then be made up by her tailors: William Jones or Walter Fishe. People usually took the precaution of checking with courtiers what colours or designs were currently in favour.
The use of embroidery in costume continued into the early 17th century. The beautiful lady's coif, lot 2 in this sale, dates from about 1610. Coifs were worn by ladies indoors as semi-formal dress, or for receiving visitors when in bed. Articles of dress were often embroidered with flowers - these were rich in symbolism. The pansy stood for kind thoughts (as in Hamlet when Ophelia says: "Here is pansies - that's for thoughts"). Honeysuckle was the emblem of affection and faithfulness. The cherry, the fruit of paradise, represented Heaven.
Young English girls of the Nobility and Gentry began their needlework at an early age. Martha Edlin, for instance, whose needlework is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, embroidered her coloured sampler in 1668 aged 8. She finished her more complicated whitework sampler aged 9. She then made a needlework casket in 1671 aged 11 and a beadwork jewel case in 1673 aged 13. She later married a Mr. Richmond. Her beadwork box was bequeathed by Sir Frederick to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The other pieces were sold to the V. & A. recently, having been on loan for many years. Sir Ralph Verney wrote in the 1640s that his 8 year old daughter "being a girl shall not learn Latin, so she will have more time to learn breeding hereafter and needlework too." There are three 17th century coloured samplers in the sale lots (38-40), one dated 1668 with the name of the embroideress; and one white sampler lot 37. Two lots 39 and 40, have figures known as "boxers". These derive from a motif of a lover offering a flower to his lady, found in many of the 16th century pattern books. The term sampler itself derives from the old French "essemplaire". Palgrave's Dictionary of 1530 describes samplers as "exampler for a woman to work by" but by the 17th century samplers were produced as evidence of a little girl's needlework progress. By the 18th century samplers grow more pictorial as shown in the Continental sampler, lot 42.
Caskets were worked panel by panel on one or several larger pieces of white satin with green thread woven into the selvedge. They were arranged on the satin so as to waste as little of the material as possible. Sometimes unmade up pieces such as the two doors for a travelling mirror, lot 32, have survived. There is a casket at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester made by Hannah Smith, aged 11, in 1656. It contains a note written by her stating she finished it in Oxford in 1656 and it was sent to London to be made up in 1657.
The scenes embroidered on pictures, mirrors, caskets and cushions were often taken from book illustrations not necessarily intended for embroidery. Many of the Biblical scenes, for instance, derive from Gerard de Jode's Thesaurus Historiarum Veteris Testamenti, Antwerp, 1585. The designs were drawn out in ink by a professional designer. There is an unfinished mirror in this sale, lot 29, that shows exactly how this was done. Little is known about these designers but there is an embroidered picture at Blair Castle, Perthshire, where the designer has written his name and address at the foot of the panel: Jo. Nelham Sugar Lofe, Grayffriars Newgate Market. John Nelham (d. 1694) and his father Roger were embroidery designers from the 1630s - 1684. In 1654 Roger Nelham left in his will "the halfe of my books and prints and patterns which I do use for the drawing of works" to each of his sons. John Nelham was a member of the Broderer's Company and although his premises where burnt down in the Great Fire of London, 1666, he kept his sign when he moved to Old Bailey. The embroidered picture at Blair Castle is worked on satin with a couple in raised work within a raised work oval frame and spot motifs in the spandrels. Needlework pictures of this design within an oval frame are sometimes referred to as in the style of Nelham. The Museum of London has an unfinished panel on canvas which was rescued from a house in Cheapside during the Fire of London, 1666. This too has the oval frame drawn in and may have been drawn by John Nelham.
It was a very English custom in the early 17th century to cover Bibles and Prayer Books in embroidered bindings such as lot 16. These are mostly professional work. In 1638 a petition was submitted to Archbishop Laud on behalf of "Imbroderers working in their own homes" who had for many years covered Bibles for the Nobility.
In the 18th century pastoral themes were more fashionable and much of the needlework made was used for furnishing - for seat covers and screens. Most of these were worked in tent stitch on canvas. In Sir Frederick's collection, lot 51 is a hitherto unrecognised set of six panels worked in crewelwork on wool by Elisabeth Steward between 1721 and 1724. Crewelwork was used for bedhangings and curtains which these panels do not appear to be. These are worked with fashionable Chinese blue and white vases and with Elisabeth Steward's initials and her husband's coat of arms. Only four comparable sets, and a single panel survive and these are all worked on canvas in tent stitch.
At Stoke Edith, in Herefordshire, were two large panels which featured scenes in the formal garden probably of the house itself. These were worked by the "five successive wives" of Thomas Foley, and are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Julia, Lady Calverly embroidered ten panels each 9ft.6in. x 35in. in wool with some silk, on canvas. They were made for Esholt but moved to Wallington, Northumberland where they still remain, when she inherited the property from her father in 1755. Her husband noted in his diary that they took her three and a half years to finish. He also noted "the greatest part done by her own hands" so she was presumably helped by her attendant ladies. In 1727 she made a huge six fold screen also still at Wallington. Each panel is 5ft.9 -5ft.10in x 20.5in. wide., with scenes taken from Virgil's Eclogues and Georgics. This too was in wool on canvas. In 1983 Christie's South Kensington sold another unrecorded and important set of twelve panels from Brynkinalt, Lord Trevor's seat in Wales, which were worked in the first quarter of the 18th century probably under the supervision of Anne, daughter of Lord Trevor. They realised 40,000 pounds and are now at St. Fagans, the National Folk Museum of Wales. There is also a charming hanging at Monymusk by Anne Grant, 1750, of a conservatory with blue and white vases.
Altogether these treasures from Sir Frederick Richmond's Collection form one of the most remarkable accumulations of needlework ever to come on the market. Private collectors, and museums too, will rarely have such an opportunity to add to their holdings.