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Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
Property from the Eric Holder Will Trust (Lots 47-55) Eric Holder was one of the founders of Abbott & Holder, the much-loved firm of picture dealers known to generations of collectors. This of course is still extant and follows many of the same traditions, although it no longer occupies the premises where he established it, and it operates in a market the shape and dynamics of which he would scarcely recognise. In his day, as habitués of a certain age will remember vividly, the business existed at 73 Castelnau, the wide road that runs from Hammersmith Bridge to Barnes. Part gallery, part private dwelling, the house was open without appointment on Saturdays, and to 'do' A & H that morning was something of a ritual, whether you went by bus (stop outside), bike or car (parking easy in the spacious forecourt). Monthly lists were issued, but the real joy was to browse the stock that crowded the three rooms on the ground floor and the exhibition space in the basement. Paintings and some framed drawings and watercolours covered the walls, while unframed works on paper, including prints, sat in piles on plan-chests or leant in serried ranks against the backs of chairs. It was this plethora of material that stimulated such a delightful sense of potential discovery and enabled both fledgling collectors and older hands to develop their connoisseurship. With views of trees or garden smiling at every window, there was a club- or salon-like feeling to the whole experience, the last exhalation of a less pressurised, more opportunity-rich style of collecting that we shall never, alas, see again. If the stock was large, turnover was rapid. Prices, famously, were lower than in smarter West End establishments, partly due to the abundance of material and relatively low overheads but also because the directors were motivated by a Quaker and socialist ethic that prohibited an excessive mark-up. But it was not only the prices that distinguished A & H from its peers. Then, as now, the firm embraced a whole range of lower-profile artists that were shunned in Bond Street because of their inability to generate the right level of profit. In other words, whatever the depth of your pocket, A & H was the place for you if you were interested in these artists. But it would be wrong to paint too sunny a picture. There was a bracing astringency about A & H; you felt you were on your mettle. Both Eric Holder and his fellow director, John Abbott, were laconic characters, not given to gushing effusiveness or even to making you feel especially welcome. Their approach was embodied by the quirky and often trenchant assessments that peppered their monthly lists and by the famous promise, printed at the head of each issue, to return your money and give you a box of Black Magic 'should (unlikely) we be wrong' over an attribution. Somehow that 'unlikely' undercut any undue cosiness implied by the Black Magic. Not that Holder did not command affection. On the contrary, those who knew him well were deeply attached to him and treasured his sayings. You just had to accept a certain brusqueness, not losing your bearings, for example, if he told you that some gem on which you had set your heart was 'rubbish'. Holder was born in Tottenham, the son of a piano maker. His mother was involved in social work, and it was from her that he inherited the Quaker values that remained with him long after his Quakerism itself had lapsed. Even as a boy he was dealing in drawings, but it was not until 1936 that he met Robert Abbott, another part-time dealer with Quaker affiliations, and only in 1942 that they issued their first list. In 1951, after Holder had spent seven years working with refugees in Italy and implementing a mosquito-eradication scheme in Sardinia, schemes respectively under the auspices of the United Nations and the Rockefeller Foundation, he and Abbott took the house in Castelnau, which was big enough to accommodate their two families (Holder had married in 1941) and the business. In 1957 they acquired the freehold, but Abbott had a severe heart attack two years later and Holder bought him out. John Abbott, who was Robert's nephew, joined the firm in 1971. After twenty-two years at the helm, Holder retired in 1981, having issued his 198th list. John Abbott continued to run the firm in Castelnau until 1987, when it moved to its present premises in Museum Street, Bloomsbury. The same year Holder and his third wife, Helen, settled at Lewes in Sussex, where he died in 2007. One of his pictures, Arthur Hacker's Musicienne du Silence, was sold at Christie's in June 2003, and the remainder are offered here. They were never part of the firm's stock, forming Holder's own private collection from the start. Nonetheless it is hoped that their dispersal will bring pleasure to others just as his picture dealing brought untold enjoyment to his many clients.
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)

A Gorgon (a fragment)

Details
Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt., A.R.A., R.W.S. (1833-1898)
A Gorgon (a fragment)
oil on canvas
28 x 37¾ in. (71.1 x 96 cm.)

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Lot Essay

This is a fragment of an unfinished canvas representing the death of the gorgon Medusa. One of a series of ten designs illustrating the story of Perseus' search for Medusa and his rescue of Andromeda, the series was commissioned in 1875 by the young Tory politician Arthur Balfour, and was visualised as a frieze running round the music room at his London house, 4 Carlton Gardens. Burne-Jones originally planned to execute some of the designs as oil paintings and others as reliefs in gilt gesso on oak panels, but when the first of these panels (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff) was exhibited in 1878 it met with a hostile reception and he decided to treat all the designs as paintings. Full-scale cartoons in gouache are in the Southampton Art Gallery, and the final oil paintings, some of them unfinished, are in the Staatsgalerie at Stuttgart.

In The Death of Medusa, which was conceived as a painting from the outset, Perseus has just cut off the gorgon's head while her two sisters, greatly distressed, circle wildly. The present fragment comes from an early version of the composition and shows one of the two agitated sisters. The design was later altered radically and the figure's pose was changed. A preparatory study for the subject as it was originally conceived is illustrated here (fig. 1). For another, see Kurt Löcher, Der Perseus-Zyklus von Edward Burne-Jones, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 1973, fig. 71.

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