Before the invasion of European aristocrats and oligarchs, London’s Old Chelsea was the gentle riverine province of artists such as Whistler and Turner, and writers like Thomas Carlyle and George Eliot.
I want to take you on a visit similar to the one I myself once made, to the 1717 red brick house that George Eliot lived in over a century ago. Forty five years ago, a new chatelaine came and made it her own. Victoria Press was tiny, noisy, vivid, hospitable and, not only did she have a great eye and a thirst for knowledge, she also had respect for the original internal architecture of her house and arranged her rooms accordingly. Above all, she knew when to leave well alone. Not for her open-plan caves, white walls and black floorboards. Her original parquet was bees-waxed once a year, in the summer, so her furniture was set on rich carpets and floors with a golden glow.
Left: The painted staircase, attributed to Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734). Right: The Dining Room
And now Victoria Press has gone, leaving behind her a glittering trail of rich and interesting furniture and porcelains arranged in rooms which had all the depth and resonance of an interior from when the house was originally built.
Happy were we who sat at her damasked and silver-laid dining table, a large Coromandel screen in the background as we discussed the history of art and architecture whilst devouring frozen Mars Bars served in an exquisite 18th century cut-glass bowl. Below, I have picked six items from the sale
Cesare Dandini (1596-1657), Saint Dorothy of Cappadocia; and Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Estimate: £150,000-250,000. To be offered in The Collection of Victoria Press on 18 November at Christie’s in London
These two 17th Century Florentine pictures were originally bought by Sir Francis Dashwood during his mid 18th Century Grand Tour. They are set in 17th Century frames with typical shell decoration.
Silvered side tables
A pair of Dutch silvered side tables, circa-17th century. Estimate: £10,000-15,000. To be offered in The Collection of Victoria Press on 18 November at Christie’s in London
These were originally intended as cabinet stands; the rouge marble tops are later.
Lord Brownlow’s overmantels
A pair of Italian silvered wall-brackets or overmantels, second half 17th century. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. To be offered in The Collection of Victoria Press on 18 November at Christie’s in London
The pair of Italian silvered wall-brackets or overmantels originally belonged to Lord Brownlow at 8 Carlton House Terrace and were designed to hold pieces of Blanc de Chine porcelain. Finding so many pieces of porcelain was difficult, so Mrs. Press had copies carved in wood and painted white to complete the picture.
A pair of Chinese powder blue-ground gilt-decorated large vases and covers, the porcelain first half 18th century. Estimate: £15,000-25,000. To be offered in The Collection of Victoria Press on 18 November at Christie’s in London
These handsome vases and covers stand on Regence-style gilt wood stands whose scrolled supports are separated by stylised scallop shells, that favourite motif of the 17th century.
Left: The Drawing Room. Right: The first floor landing, looking from the Drawing Room
A serpentine commode
An early Louis XV ormolu-mounted Vernis Martin serpentine commode, circa 1730. Estimate: £20,000-30,000. To be offered in The Collection of Victoria Press on 18 November at Christie’s in London
This early Louis XV ormolu-mounted Vernis Martin serpentine commode is richly decorated with a Rouge Royale marble top.
A Coromandel screen
A Chinese Coromandel Lacquer twelve-leaf screen, early 18th century. Estimate: £15,000-25,000. To be offered in The Collection of Victoria Press on 18 November at Christie’s in London
Decorated with a palatial scene of polychrome figures in pavilions and gardens with wide outer borders of scrolling clouds, vases of flowers, mythical beasts and auspicious symbols. The reverse is decorated with thirty ‘picture’ panels depicting a variety of mountainous landscapes, tree studies and palatial scenes within a border of flowers.
Left: The Drawing Room. Right: The Downstairs Drawing Room, showing the coromandel lacquer screen
Main image at top: Victoria Press (right) and her Cheyne Walk home
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