A highlight of Christie’s 250th anniversary celebrations, the Defining British Art Loan Exhibition showcases works by some of the greatest British artists alongside pieces by international artists inspired by visits to Britain.
Ever since James Christie opened his doors for business in 1766, the auction house has championed British art and artists. Many of the masterpieces on view in this exhibition have been sold at Christie’s over the last 250 years. Highlights include the Circle of Hans Holbein II’s outstanding portrait of King Henry VIII, The Monarch of the Glen by Sir Edwin Landseer and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s haunting Proserpine.
The Defining British Art Loan Exhibition will be on view from 17 June to 15 July at Christie’s King Street.
Read more about the unique array of masterpieces sold by Christie’s which show how far British art has come.
About the lot
This imposing mid-16th-century portrait of King Henry VIII, from the Circle of Hans Holbein II, is based on the full-length portrait of the king from Holbein’s great wall painting of the Tudor family. The latter work was executed in 1536–37 for Whitehall Palace, but was destroyed in a fire in 1698. Holbein’s portrait of Henry is one of the most famous of any British monarch. The portrait was first recorded in Christie’s 24 January 1778 sale of the 144-piece collection of George Byng, 4th Viscount Torrington, where it was purchased by Charles, 4th Duke of Rutland, from whose family collection it is now being loaned.
Image courtesy of Bridgeman Images. ©Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, UK/Bridgeman Images
Royal portraiture is also highlighted in William Dobson’s mid-17th-century work, King Charles I, first discovered when it was put up for auction at Christie’s in 1989. One of three known small portraits of Charles I by Dobson, and painted on one of the coarse canvases he favoured, it dates from the end of the royal court’s stay in Oxford.
In 1746, Canaletto moved from Venice to London. Two of his spectacular views of the capital are included in the Defining British Art exhibition: The Old Horse Guards, London, from St. James's Park, 1749 (illustrated left), and The Banqueting House and Holbein Gate, Whitehall, with the Equestrian Statue of King Charles I, 1754–55. Canaletto’s extraordinary pictures of London, including these two masterpieces from his English period, inspired a generation of English topographical artists.
On loan from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation
Exhibited alongside these views of London is a magnificent pair of ormolu three-light candelabra, circa 1758–65, designed by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart for John, 1st Earl Spencer, an ancestor of the late Princess Diana. The pair was intended for the chimneypiece in the Painted Room at Spencer House, a renowned example of an 18th-century aristocratic private palace, built in the same year that Christie’s was established. Spencer House became the temporary headquarters for Christie’s in 1941 after a bomb seriously damaged the King Street premises.
Joshua Reynolds’s Portrait of Joanna Leigh, Mrs. Richard Bennett Lloyd celebrates the nuptials of Joanna Leigh, heiress of Northcourt House, to Richard Bennet Lloyd. It was acquired in 1869 by Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild for 800 guineas, then one of the highest prices paid for a portrait by Reynolds at auction.
Image courtesy of The Public Catalogue Foundation © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Landscape features heavily in the work of Sir Edwin Landseer. Few of his canvases are better known than The Monarch of the Glen, 1851, in which a royal stag is shown against a dramatic Scottish landscape. Exhibited concurrently with the Great Exhibition, in which Britain displayed its manufacturing prowess to the world, the picture reflected the confidence of a nation on the cusp of Empire. Purchased from the artist by celebrated sportsman Lord Londesborough for 350 guineas, it was sold by his widow Lady Otho Fitzgerald in 1884 for 6,200 guineas at Christie’s. It was sold again at Christie’s in 1892 for 6,900 guineas, with other notable works by the artist that had been acquired by H.W. Eaton, Lord Cheylesmore.
A very different aspect of British art is represented in Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones’s Love among the Ruins . Executed in 1873, during the most fertile and inventive phase of his career, this work remains one of the greatest examples of Burne-Jones’s art. Sold at Christie’s in 1904, it returned to Christie’s in 2013 where it realised five times its pre-sale auction estimate, establishing a new world record for the artist, the Pre-Raphaelites, and any work on paper by a British artist.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Proserpine, 1877, exemplifies the compulsively-worked depictions of the artist’s great love, Jane Morris. Rossetti has penned a sonnet in Italian that is visible in the upper right of the picture, which concludes, `Woe’s me for thee, unhappy Proserpine!’ Sold in 1888 for £745, it returned to Christie’s in 1964 where it was sold to L.S. Lowry, then England’s most popular painter, for £5,250.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed this dark-stained oak high-backed chair for the refurbishment of Miss Cranston’s Argyle Street Tea Rooms, in Glasgow, just one year after the first sale of Rossetti’s Proserpine. The commission was begun in 1898 and completed the following year, in collaboration with George Walton, who designed the Luncheon Room.
Commissioned by the publishers MacGibbon & Kee to illustrate Rex Warner’s Men and Gods, a book of tales retold from Ovid, Lucian Freud’s Hercules is a fine display of the artist’s virtuosic draftsmanship, with his characteristic sensual emphasis on large, almond-shaped eyes and full lips. This simple composition contains all the concentrated energy that would come to define Freud’s matchless and uncompromising career. Before its sale at Christie’s King Street in 1989, Hercules was owned by Lincoln Kirstein, the collector, philanthropist and co-founder of the New York City Ballet.
Image courtesy of The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images. ©The Lucian Freud Archive/Bridgeman Images
Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Self-Portrait, 1975, is one of an outstanding series of stark, piercing and analytical triptych self-portraits that Bacon created in Paris. One of relatively few paintings known to have been produced by Bacon in the French capital, this defining work is a testament to the important emotional relationship he had with the city. The work was purchased from Bacon’s French gallerist Claude Bernard in 1976, and remained in the same private collection until June 2008.
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2016.
Giovanni Antonio Canal, Il Canaletto (1697–1768)
The Old Horse Guards, London, from St. James's Park, 1749
On loan from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation
17 June – 15 July 2016
8 King Street
London SW1Y 6QT
Monday – Friday*
9:30am – 4:30pm
Saturday – Sunday*
12pm – 5pm
*Sunday 19 June, 1pm – 5pm
*Saturday 25 June, 12pm – 6pm
*Saturday 2 July, closed
*Sunday 3 July, 10am – 5pm
*Tuesday 5 July, 9:30am – 8pm
*Saturday 9 July, 2pm – 5pm
Francis Russell and Nicholas White
+44 (0) 20 7389 2622
+44 (0) 20 7752 3209
This summer, Christie’s launches its 250th anniversary celebrations in London with the Defining British Art Evening Sale. This landmark auction will celebrate the artistic legacy of four centuries of British artists, building on the success of Christie’s pioneering curated Evening Sales – notably Looking Forward to the Past and The Artist’s Muse in 2015.