This catalogue for The London Sale is for the first of two sales from the collections at Mount Congreve. The second sale, The House Sale, will be conducted by Mealy's of Kilkenny, in association with Christie's, on 10-11 July at Mount Congreve itself.
Mount Congreve stands in a splendid position above the River Suir, not far from the city of Waterford in the south east corner of Ireland. The name is internationally known today for the astonishing gardens, among the greatest in the world. These contain more than three thousand trees, within seventy magnificently concentrated acres. Among its best known features is that each tree always planted in substantial groups of the same type rather than individually or in small numbers. When they are in flower the effect of these large groups is exceptionally powerful.
Much less well known than the garden, indeed largely unknown, is the magnificent collection of decorative arts in the house that was formed concurrently with the garden. The neo-classical house was built circa 1760 for the Congreve family by the leading local architect John Roberts. From the mid-1960s the house was remodeled with the addition of a deep bow on the entrance front with a baroque doorcase and other changes. This created some magnificent additional spaces within the house for the growing collection. Among them was the Chinese-wallpapered Drawing Room, the elegant setting for much of the superb French furniture in both sales.
An initial major inspiration in the creation of both the garden and the collection was Lionel de Rothschild (1882-1942), creator of the gardens at Exbury on the Beaulieu River in Hampshire. He was a man who described himself as 'banker by hobby, gardener by profession'. Mr de Rothschild set out from 1919 to create the greatest garden in the world and from the late 1920s onwards he regularly shared his knowledge and sent plants to Mount Congreve. His generous seeds fell on the most fertile ground and today Mount Congreve is justly as famous as Exbury, both among the very greatest woodland gardens in the world.
Lionel de Rothschild's taste for ormolu-mounted French furniture of the highest quality was to be as great an influence on the collection at Mount Congreve as his taste in magnolias was on the gardens. Mr de Rothschild died in January 1942 and parts of his collection of furniture from London and Exbury were sold at Christie's over the following year. Purchases from these sales were among the earliest acquisitions that are now at Mount Congreve and some are now included in both The London Sale and The House Sale, including a pair of Louis XV two-tone ormolu figural candelabra (Estimate: £20,000-30,000 in The London Sale) and the magnificent large marquetry cylinder bureau with double Rothschild provenance (Estimate: EUR 20,000-30,000 in The House Sale).
Perhaps the best single lot of French furniture in the London sale was also acquired at Christie's in 1942, a matter of a few months after those initial Rothschild sales. This is the pair of Louis XV ormolu-mounted marquetry encoignures of circa 1755 by Joseph Baumhauer (called simply Joseph), which are estimated at £120,000-180,000. These encoignures have the maker's characteristic synthesis of marquetry with sinuous mounts and were originally supplied to the marchand-mercier, or luxury goods dealer, Charles Darnault, whose shop sign 'Au Roy d'Espagne' appears on the trade label on these encoignures. The last owner before they were acquired for Mount Congreve was George Lockett, who had made his fortune in the Chilean nitrate trade and housed his superb wide-ranging collection in Edwardian splendour in Prince's Gate, Knightsbridge.
The furniture collection at Mount Congreve was begun in 1942 and was still being added to in the early 21st century. Few collections can have been formed over more than sixty years.
Although a taste for French furniture was to be a constant theme during the formation of the collection, full advantage was taken of the dispersal sales after 1945 of English furniture from great English country houses. The famous 1948 auction of furniture from the Earl of Coventry's magnificent Robert Adam mansion at Croome Court in Worcestershire provided one of the undoubted stars of the group, the magnificent George II giltwood overmantel mirror (Estimate: £200,000-300,000). Over seven feet tall, this mirror ranks among the very best of English overmantels in its sinuous design and superb quality. In the main Drawing Room at Mount Congreve it was grouped with two pairs of George III giltwood pier glasses from Studley Royal in Yorkshire, a house demolished in the late 1940s. A marble chimneypiece dominated the long end wall, surmounted by the Croome mirror, but each wall overlooking the garden and forecourt had a pair of Studley Royal pier glasses. The two pairs were bought directly at Christie's in 1965 and today each has an estimate of £120,000-180,000, one having a straight and the other a serpentine apron. A prominent 1990s addition to the collection was a pair of large giltwood side tables designed by Robert Adam for the banker Robert Child's London house in 1770 (estimate: £200,000-300,000). Sold by Child's descendant in 1934, they were finally acquired for Mount Congreve, having been at Julians, Hertfordshire, the home of Mrs. Pleydell-Bouverie, in the intervening years. Their superb scagliola tops are attributed to the London maker Johan Richter (fl.1767-96). In 1770 he was working alone but he was later more famous in partnership with Domenico Bartoli. Together the partners executed several of Robert Adam's decorative schemes but these table tops, probably designed by Adam like their bases, are among the earliest likely links between either man or the architect.
A superb Chinese screen of the type of incised lacquer known as 'Coromandel' (after the part of India from which it was ultimately shipped to Europe) was bought at a very early date, in May 1945 (Estimate: £30,000-50,000). It came from Doddington Hall in Cheshire. One demonstration of the very high standards of care at Mount Congreve is the number of Chinese vases which have been converted to lamps without being drilled for the electric cable. One Yongzheng period famille rose baluster vase is in The London Sale with an estimate of £5,000-8,000.
Christie's and Mealy's are honoured to have been entrusted with the sale of part of a collection formed over an almost uniquely long period.