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A REGENCY BRASS HALL LANTERN
AVENUE HOUSE - A RECOLLECTION I came to Avenue House at five days old and apart from intermissions at home and abroad, I have remained there for most of my life. The collection was well established when I arrived, some of the walnut pieces had been purchased in 1903 and the wonderful model by Fouquet (152) was in my grandfather's study by September 1909. Various passions and changes of taste were to follow. The Empire had succeeded the Arts and Crafts by 1910, paintings were avidly acquired from 1925, decorative objects in the 1930s and sculpture in the 1940s. During these decades (the last of which I recall vividly) the rooms formed a constantly shifting scene. My grandfather returned from expeditions with unexpected treasures, the Silenus on a goat from York (lot 140), the Fitzherbert furniture from London, a bust of Napoleon from France. But this is not to say it was the usual collection of a wealthy man, rather the reverse, for his aims were totally academic and artistic, to use the collection as a guide in his own work and to absorb its scale and intimacy as if by osmosis. Avenue House was always a creative space; Richardson described it in a BBC broadcast in 1956 as 'a home, an office and a university'. The latter element was always provided by the three or four young architectural draughtsmen working at the rear of the house, in the office he had established there in 1939. My grandfather walked to and fro between the main rooms and the office, bringing down vases or tomes for comparison in the preparation of an ongoing design. He also gave short impromptu lectures to the young men and the secretary, illustrated by his own hand-drawn slides on glass. The constant round of callers, such as clients and craftsmen, connoisseurs and former students, meant that the place was a hive of activity. Richardson used it as a power base to write his ten books on architecture and social history, as well as literally hundreds of articles and university lectures. I like to think this tradition was continued, for my father wrote two books in the house, my mother one and I added nine volumes to the tally. We also ran a private press in the stables with an artist friend, clocking up four hand-printed volumes and numerous broadsides! My grandfather's coterie of collector friends in Bedfordshire was quite impressive. Cecil Higgins, who founded the Higgins Museum at Bedford, Howard Spensley of Westoning Manor who left his collection to the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and S.H. Whitbread of Southill Park. He was also in contact with two very different collectors, Lord Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey, whom he advised and Charles Wade of Snowshill Manor. I suspect Higgins may have rekindled his enthusiasm for porcelain and Spensley for ivories. Charles Wade sparked him to buy the more whimsical items, which I never liked. Although Avenue House was a carefully displayed set of interiors, it was not a museum. My grandfather treated his things like old friends and was never keen on over restoration or in some cases any restoration whatever. The rooms were an inspiration to the artist in him and he was constantly drawing them in watercolour and watching the changes of light and shade. He claimed a wish to paint every room at every time of day at all seasons of the year. If the house was not static like a museum and not simply an artist's studio, neither was it intentionally a recreation of a town house of 1786. Although filled with objects of that period, it was more a statement of early twentieth-century taste by a fairly formidable arbiter of that taste. Early photographs of the rooms show a rather spare and almost modernist approach to the interiors. At this time, visitors included the Lutyens family, Charles Holden, John Betjeman and Christopher Hussey, who were all sympathetic to the new styles. But the Professor's later disenchantment with this is not only shown in his escapist fantasy pictures but in the denser, richer feeling of the collection more akin to the catholicism of the Edmund Davises and Ricketts and Shannon. This new phase also embraced Victorian genre pictures and French Barbizon School as well as nineteenth-century bronzes. Anyone acquainted with the house as I was, would instantly recognize its inspiration in other quarters. Details of the windows in the Jockey Club, Newmarket, the drawing-room fireplace as inspiration for the Fiske memorial in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, or the Marot vase in the sale (lot 444), which appears as the decor in the Duchess of Gloucester's room at Barnwell Manor. Although my grandfather was known for his humour and bonhomie, there was a more obstinate and ascetic side to this lovable man. Life at Avenue House was spartan, he would not allow electricity or modern conveniences in the house and only with great reluctance tolerated the telephone. The family shivered in the winter and sweltered in the summer, making it extremely difficult to keep staff; I always wondered why the housekeeper wore two coats. The Professor was oblivious to all this and would have no criticism, but there was always a Rolls or Bentley in the garage! He rose very early and went to bed rather later and expected everyone to be fully occupied all the time: writing, drawing or studying. He loathed bank holidays and seaside excursions, when active life stopped - a deck chair in the sun was anathema. He did relax in after-dinner conversation with a whisky and a cigar and over a game of chess. In the garden he would be happiest with easel and paints in the study of trees. In modern terms he would be called a workaholic but in reality (and surprisingly for such an eighteenth-century figure) he was a typical Victorian. After a lifetime in this place, redolent with my family's past, I had hoped to transfer it to the nation, as so few architects' collections seem to have survived. However, seven years of negotiations with the National Trust proved fruitless and futile and with regret I decided to put it on the market. I can only echo the words of the great collector Sir Ashton Lever in 1786 - 'I myself come here daily to view these objects which I cherish as old friends; for one day they will be in strange hands and I shall not see them again.' Simon Houfe Experiencing Avenue House The outside of Avenue House gives nothing away. Protected by projecting iron railings, the regular brickwork is punctuated by equally regular sash windows. Balanced, though off centre, is the stone porch which in its architecture reflects that reticent, almost French, classicism of its architect, John Wing's mentor, Henry Holland. On arrival this calm must be interrupted by the report of bell and knocker followed by the swinging open of the large front door. On a bright summer's day, as you peer into the semi darkness beyond, you are suddenly aware that you have arrived in a completely different world. The relative austerity of the outside gives way to abundance. Even in the Hall the massing and indeed the management of an enormous variety of works of art is apparent. On a cream painted be-starred neoclassical table (lot 12) to your right can be seen a rich blue mounted vase (lot 413), above, a portrait of a Norfolk worthy (lot 4), below, model cannons (lots 280 and 281) and either side the most outrageous of Regency oil lamps - the lights suspended from the beaks of eagles (lot 18). To hold open the front door, a huge lion doorstop (lot 2). This is no ordinary house: no ordinary collection. Venturing in you discover two doors, to left and right, a staircase beyond and a large corridor leading down the spine of the house. The left door leads into a dining room. Here the green painted walls, in a shade favoured by Lenygon & Morant, forms a background to pictures flanked by candle brackets. Chairs (lot 225) are pushed back in the 18th century manner and the central table (lot 226) laden with a vast Grainger service (lot 219) and a centre piece by Thomire, which was a Christmas gift from Lord Fairhaven (lot 97). This is all relatively straightforward but look closer and you see a china parrot hanging on a hoop (lot 488) in front of one window and at the other a Roman group of Silenus on a goat (lot 140) which once stood in the Great Room at Wentworth Woodhouse - it was snapped up by the Professor shortly after that great house had been given up and its contents dispersed. Open a drawer and you find heaps of unusual 18th century steel cutlery (lot 215) and further 18th century dining requisites spread themselves across the Ince & Mayhew sideboard (lot 227). The only 18th century thing missing from this room is now a maid but this is made good by a dummy board (lot 496). This is a room set for Hogarthian pleasures. Crossing the Hall, the other door opens into a Morning Room where the Professor 'saw' people. It also housed his sedan chair (lot 37) waiting in a corner to be called out for local transport. The walls here, grained in the 1920s, are hung with watercolours by Rowlandson (lots 512-521), of whom the Professor was a great admirer, and a variety of sporting pictures reflecting another of his passions. Curiosities though are not far off. On the cupboard beside the fireplace is a model of HMS Victory (lot 259) (the Professor was Chairman of the Victory Committee) but strangely inside the cupboard are relics from the Temple of Mithras in London (lot 508). 'Comfort' comes in the form of deep seated chairs (lot 529) and a settee that originally was part of James Wyatt's scheme for Broome Park in Kent (lot 105). 'Entertainment', if the Professor's conversation was not enough, in the form of an early forte piano which he would play, often donned in 18th century costume (lots 32-36). Returning to the Hall and eschewing the chairs, you pass down a densely populated corridor. It is full of 'people' - marble busts, portraits and dummy boards set amongst layers of paintings, cabinets (lot 20) full of porcelain and works of art and a variety of seat furniture including comic Venetian stools (lot 540). Opposite a book store stands a vast glazed case containing an unusually large ship model (lot 256), above which hangs a painting of the ship engaging the enemy appropriately in the Gulf of Venice. To the left a glazed door through which can be glimpsed the four busts of Roman Emperors, 'captured' from Wimpole Hall (lots 145 & 146). They stand oblivious of the children's 18th/19th century go-carts that are parked at their bases (lots 476-478). Opposite, another door leads to the Professor's study where he toiled surrounded by his significant collection of architectural tomes, observed by a multitude of architectural predecessors in engravings and drawings (lots 175 & 176). His tambour desk (lot 371) is lit by huge candles ensconced in equally large architectural candlesticks (lot 173). High above the beautifully designed Gillows bookcase (lot 378) in a narrow space (room was at a premium) hang 18th century English oil paintings including Reynolds' portrait of his niece (lot 55). At the corridor's end you arrive at the Drawing Room, the Professor's pièce de resistance. It took him a lifetime to achieve the harmonious blend of significant objects that are to be discovered here. For whilst the room is largely dedicated to the 18th century, it is done so in a very personal way. A succession of beautiful ladies hang on the walls, the principal ones painted by Kauffman (lot 50) and Mercier (lots 51-53). They are reflected in four pier glasses, one now attributed to the Edinburgh maker Mathie who contributed so much to Dumfries House (lot 117). On the mantelpiece stand two perfume burners by Matthew Boulton which accord with those made for the Empress, Catherine the Great of Russia (lot 60). Three much larger examples, highly decorated and in an equally miraculous untouched state, stand in the room. These are by Thomire and were originally presented by the Emperor Napoleon to the King of Württemberg (lots 100 and 101). To light this room, the Professor insisted on candles and to achieve this he managed to acquire a set of gilt torchères, again no ordinary examples, but splendid late 18th century ones designed by Robert Adam, thought to originate from Whitehaven Castle, Cumbria (lot 115). There is so much to see in this room that it reveals its treasures slowly - the finest forte piano by Merlin left in a private collection (lot 130) , the set of seat furniture which once adorned Steine House in Brighton when it belonged to Mrs. Fitzherbert (lot 102), the painted furniture originally commissioned by the Duke of Bedford for Oakley House (lots 106-111), not forgetting the extraordinary jewel-like clock (lot 59) resting on the side table. At this point, before cultural indigestion sets in, a walk might be a good idea. Going out of a side door into the yard you can pass through a painted fence into the original pleasure grounds. Here a winding path leads up between box hedges, shaded by trees, to a high terrace or avenue which gives the house its name. Art, though, is not far removed, as your progress is enlivened by baroque statuary that the Professor could not resist. Beneath the great cedar tree, one imagines with great difficulty, he brilliantly installed his Apollo and Marsyas which originally adorned gardens in north Italy (lot 635). Returning to the house and entering by the back door you encounter the old Kitchens where Lady Richardson cooked and where Sir Albert's pupils carried out their work. Here still hang a variety of watercolours painted by the Professor himself; fantasies, local views and architectural drawings. Passing through a door beside the old fireplace you find yourself in the Servant's Hall, confronted by a wall clock, originally commissioned by the Marquis of Tavistock in the 18th Century and salvaged by the Professor from an inn in Ampthill (lot 507) . On the far dresser sits a rare pottery model of a trussed bird (lot 486) and above it the largest surviving Wedgwood 'agricultural devices' service (lot 484) , also with a Russell/Woburn provenance. But hurry on, there is still more to be seen. Up the stairs dominated by portraits of the Professor's forebears at the Royal Academy, Reynolds and Chambers, to arrive at the first floor corridor. Here, if possible, the hang and the disposition of furniture is even richer. Selection is difficult but it's worth pausing to admire the wonderful lead busts of Andrea Palladio and Inigo Jones (lot 150), the copy of Canova's Three Graces (lot 139), the drawings by Sir John Soane (lots 155-158), Old Master and British paintings, all lit by a handsome cut glass lantern which reputedly once hung in Florence Nightingale's London house (lot 432). The Lady of the Lamp's lamp! At the far end above the Drawing Room lies the Professor's bedroom. From his four poster he could look out at a galaxy of Old Master pictures, or, if minded, pee in a pot on the head of Napoleon (lot 271) . In the adjacent Red Bedroom hang his collection of Victorian pictures reminding one of his friendship with John Betjeman. The table here is by George Bullock (lot 23). The Professor was one of the first to champion the Regency which led to another friendship, this time with Clifford Musgrave at the Brighton Pavilion. Dropping down a few stairs you encounter the Boudoir with its eclectic mixture of English and Continental furniture, with such treasures as the hanging shelves probably designed by Henry Holland for Oakley House (lot 108). Adjacent is the Tented Room, with blinds kept down so that the watercolours assembled here should not fade. Lastly the White Bedroom where you might well wish to lie down on the comfortable looking four poster slowly taking in the pictures, the 18th century furniture, and the variety of sculpture and works of art which by this time might seem normal until you leave the house and join the 21st century again. On departure you find a chance to reflect and in doing so you realise that whilst the collection does decorate the house, it is not by any means simply a collection of decorative objects. Each object reflects some aspect of the Professor's personality and his multitudinous interests. His architectural career encompassed so many different facets and these are mirrored in the formation of his collection. It is his appetite for the past that goes some way to explain why a bust of the philosopher John Locke (lot 45) might be found adjacent to an outstanding ship model (256), and again why the dresser in the servants' hall might be laden with a service for the 6th Duke of Bedford (lot 484). This is a collection skillfully assembled by someone who had huge knowledge and a very discerning eye. It is reflective of the Professor's life to a remarkable degree and this catalogue has enabled those special qualities to be emphasised. Richardson as a progenitor of the Regency Revival, as The Complete Georgian, as a friend of Royalty and as Chairman of the Victory Committee. In his professional life as President of the Royal Academy, architect, lecturer and teacher 'The Professor', and as Country House aficionado; someone imbued with respect for the Past . In private: a Musician, a follower of the Turf, a Traveller, a Painter in his own right, a Countryman, and a creator of Pleasure Grounds. In short, a polymath whose love of life and art breathes through this collection. It is hardly surprising that when knighted he chose as his motto 'Art is more certain than nature' for it is in art and architecture that he found stimulation, intellectual challenge and fun. James Miller
A REGENCY BRASS HALL LANTERN

EARLY 19TH CENTURY

Details
A REGENCY BRASS HALL LANTERN
EARLY 19TH CENTURY
The hexagonal glazed body with lacking circular pane below, with turned pendants, three lacking, drilled for electricity
22½ in. (57 cm.) high

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Alexandra Cruden
Alexandra Cruden

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