‘At every turn the eye would fall on something beautiful’: the Robin and Rupert Hambro Collection

Rupert, a scion of the Hambro banking dynasty, and Robin, an American-born former model and Vogue editor, created dynamic homes filled with Modernist sculpture and 20th-century paintings, which sat happliy alongside Old Masters and decorative arts

The Hambros’ home on Ebury Street, London

The Hambros’ home on Ebury Street, London. Alongside works illustrated elsewhere are one of a pair of Regency-style two-tier étagères, Alberto Morrocco (1917-1998), Still Life with Clown, 1996, sold for £30,240 and a late Victorian walnut armchair, sold for £1,764. All offered in The Robin and Rupert Hambro Collection on 8 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

Known for her impeccable taste and love of the eclectic, Robin Hambro, together with her husband, the banker and philanthropist Rupert Hambro, built a superb collection of fine and decorative arts from all over the world.

‘Robin was not only glamorous and had impeccable style but also, having worked for Vogue, she had the discerning fashion editor’s eye,’ says Amelia Walker, Christie’s Specialist Head of Private Collections. ‘Rupert was a highly respected and successful financier, a trusted adviser to the British royal family, with a finely tuned cultural sensibility and a broad appreciation and understanding of art.’

Their collection reflects the rich strands of their dynamic and creative life together. ‘All of their works were carefully displayed in their homes — at Ebury Street in London, Copse Farm in Hampshire and Saint-Rémy in Provence — so that at every turn the eye would fall on something beautiful,’ adds Walker.

On 8 June 2023, The Robin and Rupert Hambro Collection will be offered at Christie’s in London. It includes an important group of Modern British art, jewellery, Impressionist, post-war and contemporary art, furniture and Old Master paintings.

François-Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008), Singe Alternatif SIII, 2007. Gilt bronze. Executed in 2007. 29⅜ x 6¼ x 7⅞ in (74.5 x 16 x 20 cm). Sold for £1,250,000 on 8 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

The objects and paintings represent some of the great artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, from Alfred de Dreux and Pablo Picasso to François-Xavier Lalanne and Barbara Hepworth.

‘The Hambro collection shows just how well traditional and contemporary pieces can work together,’ says Walker. ‘Robin had a talent for combining styles, colours and textures incredibly successfully.’

The collection includes works of art by well-known artists such as Picasso, Calder , Hockney and Hitchens, which carry accessible pre-sale estimates, and all lots with an estimate of £1,000 or less will be offered with no reserve.

Robin Hambro (then Butler), photographed for Vogue, 1969

Robin Hambro (then Butler), 1969. Photo: © Lichfield

Born in Philadelphia in 1934, Robin began her career as a model in New York, working with the leading photographers of the day, including Horst P. Horst and Norman Parkinson. She was later appointed the American director of public relations for Christian Dior Couture and, in 1967, fashion editor for American Vogue. Her interest in collecting across categories and periods can be traced back to those early days in Manhattan.

‘She lived in a beautiful ground-floor apartment filled with eclectic finds from her travels, and modern art including works by the Colombian artist Fernando Botero,’ says Walker, adding that the apartment in question was photographed for American Vogue in 1967. ‘The Vogue  photographs showcase her talent for mixing old and new to create a wonderfully layered aesthetic.’

Ebury Street, showing Marc Quinn (b. 1964), Green House, 2006. Sold for £37,800 on 8 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

After moving to the UK in the late 1960s, Robin was appointed London editor for American Vogue. Afterwards she worked at Christie’s, and later as an art adviser and artist. A selection of Robin’s own works are being offered for sale, among them a lively sketch of a northern cardinal and a vivid red bird against a blue background.

She also designed a jewellery collection for Hennell of Bond Street and served on the boards of the English National Opera and the Institute of American Studies in Oxford, as well as the Development Committee of the National Gallery.

‘The drawing room was filled with an eclectic range of artworks spanning periods and styles, all arranged in happy juxtaposition’ — specialist Amelia Walker

‘Her experience in the worlds of art and fashion undoubtedly shaped her eye as a collector,’ says Walker, adding that Robin enjoyed finding pieces on her travels as well as at auctions. ‘She decorated her homes herself, reimagining the traditional country house aesthetic by adding pops of colour as well as striking modern and contemporary pieces.’

Robin met Rupert Hambro shortly after moving to London, and they married in 1970. The great-grandson of Carl Joachim Hambro, who had founded Hambros Bank in 1839 in London, Rupert was energetic, gregarious and always entertaining company. In 1986, he left the family firm — with his father and younger brothers — to form J O Hambro, a boutique operation specialising in investment advice.

Alongside a huge portfolio of boardroom and committee roles, Rupert was a director of Racecourse Holdings Trust and a trustee of the Wallace Collection and Chiswick House. He also chaired the governors of the Museum of London, the development board of London Zoo and the council of the University of Bath at Swindon.

Over the course of their five-decade marriage, Robin and Rupert lived at various London addresses including Argyll Road, The Boltons and Eaton Place, before finally settling on Ebury Street. Their home was an early Georgian ‘country house in the heart of London’, featured in Architectural Digest  in 1995, whose restrained 18th-century façade belied the wide-ranging vision of the couple displayed within.

A comfortable family home, it was also a fitting backdrop for frequent entertaining. Guests were as likely to be friends and family as high-profile acquaintances from the worlds of art, music and business. Their hospitality in London was legendary. Robin was a generous and thoughtful host who knew how to make everyone comfortable, and this influenced her choices when it came to decoration.

‘Their hospitality in London was legendary’ — Robin and Rupert Hambro

‘Her experience in the worlds of art and fashion undoubtedly shaped her eye as a collector’: Robin Hambro and her husband Rupert

‘I’ve had a pink dining room in every place I’ve lived,’ Robin told Architectural Digest. ‘It’s a very flattering colour, and if everyone looks wonderful, they have a good time.’

Off the main entrance was a traditional panelled hallway that led to a light and airy drawing room at the back of the house. ‘It had a very distinctive but welcoming feel to it,’ recalls Walker. ‘It was filled with an eclectic range of artworks spanning periods and styles, all arranged in happy juxtaposition.’

Open link https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6427028

Alfred de Dreux (1810-1860), Portrait d’enfant assis avec ses chiens, 1855-58. Oil on canvas. 21⅞ x 18 in (55.7 x 45.8 cm).

A Louis XVI ormolu-mounted bureau à cylindre, circa 1790, sold for £9,828. Among the works hung above is Katia endormie, circa 1974, by Balthus, sold for £25,200. All offered on 8 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

Among the room’s notable works of art were two François-Xavier Lalanne monkeys. Made from gilt bronze and conceived in 2007, they sat on both ends of the mantlepiece. ‘They speak to the Hambros’ playful side,’ says Walker. ‘The monkeys bring a sense of mischief to an otherwise quite formal drawing room setting.’

Animals, especially dogs, are a recurrent motif throughout the collection, including canvases from the circles of Levieux and Desportes, as well as bronze and silver sculptures of Robin’s beloved pekineses. Alfred de Dreux’s portrait of a child and three dogs from around 1855-58 offers a rare insight into the artist’s studio: an unfinished sketch of three horses is visible in the background, and there are opulent red, blue and gold fabrics draped around the sitter’s chair, which resemble the costumes used by de Dreux in his Orientalist paintings, notably his Guerrier Ottoman à cheval.

Also in the collection is John James Audubon’s hand-coloured engraving of two snowy owls, one of only three night scenes depicted in The Birds of America. ‘The dramatic background heightens the contrast with the birds’ plumage and their perch to superb decorative effect,’ says Walker.

Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979), A Circle of Flowers, 1968. Oil on canvas. 20¼ x 41½ in (51.4 x 105.4 cm). Sold for £50,400 on 8 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

Adorning the walls of the drawing room was a collection of assorted portraits, abstract landscapes and vibrant floral studies, among them A Circle of Flowers (1968) by Ivon Hitchens and Green House (2006) by Marc Quinn. Robin's taste continued to evolve, and she was buying daring contemporary artists like Quinn well into her seventies, always looking for colourful new works.

Other significant pictures coming to auction include a 1972 pencil drawing of onions by David Hockney, a vibrant painting of a horse and rider by Marino Marini (1954) and a sensitive portrait of the Jamaican-born model Henry Thomas by Glyn Warren Philpot from 1936.

Born in London in 1884, Philpot established a strong reputation for painting British and American society in the years before the First World War. While black male sitters had been among Philpot’s favoured subjects since 1912, this painting belongs to a small series of half-length seated men produced between 1936 and 1937.

Open link https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6426975

Glyn Warren Philpot, R.A. (1884-1937), Seated Model in the Studio (Henry Thomas), 1936. Oil on canvas. 30 x 25 in (76 x 63.5 cm). Sold for £189,000 on 8 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

Open link https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6426997

Marino Marini (1901-1980), Cavallo e cavaliere, 1954. Oil, enamel, gouache, india ink and pebbles on paper. 32⅜ x 24¼ in (82.2 x 61.5 cm). Sold for £100,800 on 8 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

In their later years, the Hambros took their collection in an increasingly 20th-century Modernist direction, with a particular focus on sculpture. They acquired works by Lynn Chadwick and Antony Gormley, as well as important pieces by leading female artists including Barbara Hepworth and Emily Young. At almost six feet tall, Time Boy (2011) is a magnificent example of Young’s distinctive style and her ability to carve serene human forms from ancient hardstones.

Emily Young (b. 1951), Time Boy, 2011, shown in situ at at Copse Farm in Hampshire. 66⅞ in (170 cm) high. Sold for £478,800 on 8 June 2023 at Christie’s in London

They also acquired a monumental bronze sculpture of a horse with two discs by Christopher Le Brun. Conceived in 2000-2001 and cast by AB foundry in 2001, it depicts the central image from Le Brun’s 1984 painting Union, held by Tate Britain.

As for furniture and the decorative arts, highlights coming to auction include a pair of George II white painted pedestals, circa 1750; a Louis XVI ormolu-mounted bureau à cylindre, attributed to Jean-Jacques Pafrat, circa 1790; and a North European scarlet-japanned bureau-cabinet, dating from the late 18th century.

Sign up for Going Once, a weekly newsletter delivering our top stories and art market insights to your inbox

Standout items from Robin’s collection of jewellery include an alluring tsavorite garnet and diamond ivy spray brooch, a Marina B diamond and lacquer collar necklace with a trilliant-cut diamond of approximately 2.95 carats, and a Bulgari gem-set ‘Tubogas’ collar and bracelet set with amethyst, peridot and sapphire cabochons and stainless-steel linking.

Related departments

Related lots

Related auctions

Related content