The interiors of this 18th-century English house in the country were an opulent reinterpretation of tradition. ‘They reflected the collector’s strong personal taste, not only for visually arresting objects but for striking maximalist design,’ says Adrian Hume-Sayer, director of Private and Iconic Collections and Country House Sales at Christie’s.
Set in rolling countryside, the house was conceived as a luxurious retreat from the city, where country sports could be enjoyed and friends entertained on a grand and impressive scale.
‘Each room contained great works of art from different periods, thoughtfully placed and juxtaposed,’ adds Hume-Sayer. ‘This mix created a wonderfully layered appearance, which is so hard to achieve.’
On 9 February, Christie’s in London presents An Opulent Aesthetic: An Important Private Collection from an English Country House, in which works for sale will include Old Master paintings, English furniture, European decorative arts, silver, porcelain and sculpture.
The objects and paintings represent some of the great artists and artistic movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, from Reynolds and Constable to Oeben, Dubois and Cresson.
For Hume-Sayer, the sale is a brilliant opportunity for new collectors to acquire a diverse range of objects with fantastic provenance. ‘There are works from the Fermor-Heskeths at Easton Neston, the Sackvilles at Knole, the Earls of Home, and many more,’ he says. ‘Most are ready to go straight into new collections — and so, their stories continue.’
Behind the 18th-century façade lay suites of resplendent rooms, each with its own distinct identity, from the Venetian overtones of the red drawing room to the traditional aesthetic of the formal dining room.
‘The interiors were designed according to the collector’s specification, and so are brighter and bolder than the familiar English country-house aesthetic,’ explains Hume-Sayer, who notes that many of the pieces in the collection were acquired at auction. ‘The dramatic colours used in the enfilade of principal reception rooms served as a spectacular backdrop to the objects on display.’
Hume-Sayer’s favourite space was the red drawing room, with its high panelled ceiling, rusticated limestone fireplace and parcel-gilt Venetian doors. ‘It struck the perfect balance between grandeur and comfort,’ he says. ‘Despite its scale, the density of the furnishings, arrangement of pieces and dramatic wall colour made it surprisingly intimate.’
Among the room’s notable works of art was an 18th-century ormolu ‘Europa and the Bull’ striking mantel clock with enamel dial by Georges-Adrien Merlet. Designed in the Louis XV picturesque manner, the clock features a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Related models reside in the collections of the Louvre in Paris, Schloss Johannisburg in Aschaffenburg and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Adorning the crimson walls was a collection of assorted mirrors, animal still lifes and genre scenes. Plush velvets, embroidered cushions and a 1920s Manchester Kashan carpet with indigo field and columns of flowering vases and stems completed the look.
The formal dining room was painted in mellow mid-green. At its heart was a splendid 19th-century Irish mahogany dining table from Bantry House near Cork, adorned with a Regency surtout-de-table centrepiece and four-light candelabra, including an early-19th-century pair attributed to Bridge and Rundell. There was also an impressive pair of 18th-century Japanese nodding figures.
‘The porcelain is wonderful, with deep underglaze blue contrasted with reds, blacks and golds applied over the glaze,’ says Hume-Sayer. ‘The two figures have been mounted as fanciful candelabras and I can imagine just how amazing they would look lit at night.’
On the wall hung The Return (1859), a hunt scene by Alfred de Dreux (1810-60), a French painter celebrated for lively equestrian pictures characterised by their luminous colour and bold modelling. Also offered is The Death (1859) by the same artist, featuring a young man holding a dead fox, eager hounds pawing at his feet.
Both pictures were exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1859 and are today considered among the most important late works by the artist, who was a favourite of French royalty and the English aristocracy.
These rooms contrasted with the more informal style of the bar, furnished with deep tartan sofas, hunting trophies and bronze animal sculptures. Lining the walls was a sizeable collection of dog paintings in a stacked, salon-style hang.
Central to the display was Richard Ansdell’s large 1847 work The Wounded Hound, a poignant depiction of a dog with a bandaged foreleg being tended to by its master. A leading rival of his fellow animal painter Sir Edwin Landseer, Ansdell exhibited the imposing portrait to considerable acclaim at the British Institution in 1848. It was a pivotal moment in the artist’s career: with its clear emotive narrative and fine detail, the painting marked a departure for Ansdell into a fashionably sentimental genre.
Alongside this were works by other celebrated animal painters, including the British artist George Earl, the Dutch-Belgian Henriette Ronner-Knip and the French artist Rosa Bonheur, who is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay. The surfaces and shelves were peppered with decorative glass and silver objects, including goblets, cups, decanters and hip flasks.
The study was richly furnished with precious objects, including a late-19th-century patinated-bronze sculpture of a mounted jockey, cast by the celebrated Parisian founder Hippolyte Peyrol from a model by his brother-in-law, Isidore-Jules Bonheur. In addition to the English furniture, there was an important pair of Louis XVI giltwood armchairs by Adrien-Pierre Dupain, each covered in original 18th-century Beauvais tapestry.
The private suite on the first floor, which encompassed the morning room, was an intimate space where important albeit smaller works were placed for the private enjoyment of the collector. Among these was a pair of Louis XVI ormolu-mounted brûle-parfums (incense burners) made for the Russian market, and an 18th-century bronze depicting the death of Dido, Queen of Carthage, based on a sculpture by Claude-Augustin Cayot (1667-1772).
The furniture included a pair of Italian Rococo giltwood tabourets from around 1740, and a Louis XVI giltwood canapé by Georges Jacob covered in celadon velvet. These were complemented by a group of important European paintings, among them John Constable’s Flatford Mill from the Tow Path and Michele Tosini’s 16th-century painting of Cleopatra. Also offered is a half-length portrait of a lady, traditionally identified as Mrs Elizabeth Sheridan, by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
The French bedroom, part of the largest guest suite in the house, was furnished with a mix of important French furniture and objects ranging from Régence to Empire. Among the room’s notable pieces was a Louis XV ormolu-mounted Japanese lacquer commode, attributed to the ébéniste Jacques Dubois.
Although Dubois’s career is little documented, he is known to have worked for the marchands-merciers Antoine-Nicolas-Joseph Bertin and Pierre Migeon. It is likely that this commode would have been commissioned through the intervention of one of these fashionable dealers. ‘It was formerly in the celebrated Von Pannwitz collection at Castle Hartekamp in the Netherlands,’ adds Hume-Sayer, ‘and appeared in an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in 1947.’
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Elsewhere, there was An Elegant Company in a Park by Jean-Baptiste Joseph Pater and a Louis XVI Gobelins tapestry of Catherine the Great (circa 1782), which hung in the centre of a large Florentine floor-standing mirror on the landing at the top of the main staircase.
Other notable lots include a rare set of three Charles II silver-gilt vases, formerly in the collection of the Earls of Home, and a Louis XVI ormolu-mounted mahogany clock, the case attributed to Nicolas Petit and the mounts to Etienne Martincourt.