‘They were trailblazers in reviving the reputation of Victorian art and design’: the collection of Peter Rose and Albert Gallichan
‘Rose and Gallichan covered every inch of their home, from skirting board to ceiling, with Victorian ceramics, sculpture, watercolours, copperware and glass,’ says Christie’s consultant Philippe Garner. Now some of their finest treasures are being offered in London
Behind the front door of a handsome late-Regency stucco house in Brighton, on England’s south coast, lay a remarkable secret. The home contained one of the most important surviving collections of 19th-century British decorative art.
It belonged to Peter Rose (1927-2020) and Albert Gallichan (1930-2001), and was the result of their two-man mission to collect the best Victorian art and objects at a time when they had fallen from favour.
‘Rose and Gallichan covered every inch of their home, from skirting board to ceiling, with Victorian ceramics, sculpture, watercolours, copperware and stained glass,’ says Philippe Garner, former head of Decorative Arts and now consultant to Christie’s.
‘It became a temple to the 19th century. As tastes changed over the decades, the collection came to be recognised by scholars and institutions as being of great significance.’
On 30 September, 300 lots from their home — including objects by great reforming designers such as William Morris, Augustus Pugin and Christopher Dresser — will be offered in An Aesthetic Odyssey: The Peter Rose and Albert Gallichan Collection at Christie’s in London.
Rose and Gallichan began collecting in the early 1950s, when they moved into their first home together, above an antiques shop on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, north London.
They shared a love of unfashionable Victorian design, which was shunned by dealers in favour of the restrained style of the Regency period. As Rose once lamented, ‘The description of anything as “Victorian” was almost invariably preceded by the word “ugly”.’
However, it meant that they could furnish their flat easily and cheaply with Victorian pieces from junk shops and flea markets.
‘They realised that this was fertile ground for collecting,’ says Garner. ‘They were self-taught, learning on the job by reading journals from the period.’
In 1965 the pair relocated to Brighton. ‘Back then, the city was a national centre for antiques,’ Garner explains. ‘Every Friday, dealers would line The Lanes [Brighton’s shopping district], selling the week’s pickings of Victorian country-house clearances from their car boots. For Rose and Gallichan, it was like being children in a sweet shop.’
‘As fashion turned full circle, by the 1980s Victorian art was in demand. Their collection became a reference point for anyone interested in the subject’ — Philippe Garner
Both men had a flair for design. Gallichan became successful in the advertising world, and Rose worked in art education, including a stint at St Mary’s College in Strawberry Hill, a Gothic Revival villa built by the English antiquarian Horace Walpole.
They set themselves a firm rule for collecting: each acquisition had to be ‘different from, or better than’ anything else they already owned.
They were also very particular about how they grouped the collection, with each room having its own theme and every object its place.
The drawing room (below) was painted in peacock blue, adorned with Morris fabrics and matching turquoise Minton vases (above) designed by Dresser. It also doubled as a Victorian picture gallery — one of Gallichan’s special areas of interest.
Among the gilt-framed landscapes and domestic scenes was a version of William Holman Hunt’s 1853 masterpiece, The Light of the World, by his studio assistant Edward Robert Hughes.
In its heyday Hunt’s painting of Christ, depicted at night holding a lantern and knocking on a door covered in brambles and weeds, was one of the most famous images in the world. During the 1860s, it was circulated as an engraving to thousands of homes and churches.
Rose and Gallichan’s version was the result of Hunt deciding on painting a third Light of the World — the original is housed at Keble College, Oxford, and a second version is at Manchester Art Gallery — to hang in St Paul’s Cathedral. A life-sized replica of the Manchester painting, it was probably painted in order to test out the alterations Hunt required.
The study was moss-green, a colour favoured by the Aesthetic Movement pioneer Dante Gabriel Rosetti (whose designs for stained glass also feature in the sale). On the mantelpiece was a bronze of Frederick William Pomeroy’s dynamic nude, Perseus with the Head of Medusa (above right) — the original life-size plaster version of which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1898.
On one side of the room was the couple’s collection of Victorian opalescent glassware by the Arts and Crafts manufacturer James Powell & Sons.
On the other was a Grecian Revival cabinet (below) by the Scottish architect and designer Daniel Cottier, full of Doulton ceramics and Martinware — the grotesque, anthropomorphic pottery figures of birds and other animals made between 1873 and 1914 by the avant-garde Martin Brothers.
Chief among these was a ‘Wally Bird’ tobacco jar, an object that might once have been dismissed as an oddity but is now considered highly desirable, with some examples selling for six-figure sums.
The dining room, painted a deep red, was themed ‘An Englishman Abroad’ and filled with Empire furniture and sketches of Italy and other foreign lands by Henry Wallis, J.R. Spencer Stanhope, George Price Boyce and Edward Lear.
The Aesthetic bedroom, covered in vivid floral wallpaper, had a section dedicated to nautical and coastal pictures. Among works by Alfred William Hunt and Lionel Percy Smythe hung Bathing Group (below), a painting by the celebrated Newlyn School artist Henry Scott Tuke of two young men relaxing on a beach.
No space was left unfilled. ‘Away with the tasteful gap,’ Rose would say, echoing his mentor, Charles Handley Read.
Hallways were meticulously curated with clusters of sculptural reliefs, and a bathroom was filled with works by the English potter William De Morgan. Even window recesses were fitted with display shelves.
‘They certainly adopted the 19th-century maxim of “more is more”,’ says Garner.
The highlight for many guests was the couple’s ‘Bad Taste Room’, later becoming the ‘Nature Room’. A celebration of the Victorian obsession with the natural world, it was piled high with seashell sculptures, dried-flower displays and stuffed birds.
Among these objects was a superb brass-and-copper lamp (below) fashioned from a pink nautilus shell by W.A.S. Benson, a designer championed by the artist Edward Burne-Jones and adored by Rose.
‘It’s so clever,’ says Garner. ‘The metal deflects the light to give the object warmth. It’s very emblematic of the playful design ethos of the era.’
A leopardskin rug completed the room’s look.
‘They knew that by trying to rehabilitate something deemed “bad taste” they would have naysayers, but it didn’t bother them,’ Garner explains. ‘They were up for the challenge and believed in their cause.’
After Gallichan died, in 2001, the collection became largely static. Rose spent more time researching and writing about his passion, while continuing to enjoy welcoming visitors for a fish-pie supper and a tour of the house.
‘Over the years, Rose and Gallichan became known as Brighton’s own Victoria and Albert,’ says Garner. ‘They were trailblazers in reviving the reputation of Victorian art and design, the rumblings of which began in the 1970s.
‘As fashion turned full circle, by the 1980s Victorian art was in demand. Their collection soon became a reference point for anyone interested in the subject, and the objects they had picked up from markets ended up being loaned to museum exhibitions.’
In 2004, the house was documented in the book The Best of British Arts & Crafts.
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Before Rose’s death in 2020, he decided that the collection should be dispersed in order to allow ‘others to share our thrill of finding things’.
Fittingly, the proceeds from the sale will go to benefit the Albert Dawson Educational Trust, which promotes the study of the fine and decorative arts of the 19th century.