Kinross House, Scotland
Whilst it is an undoubted privilege to have been asked by Christie's to write a forward for this sale catalogue, it is a bitter sweet experience knowing that it is only because so many of our Kinross House chattels are about to go under the hammer. The decision to sell Kinross House itself, which has been in my family's possession for generations, was one of the most difficult that I hope I ever have to make. In purely rational terms, our selling the house makes complete sense but that overlooks the unbelievably strong emotional ties that my family all feel for it.
Kinross House was built by Sir William Bruce Bt. (1630-1710), arguably one of Scotland's greatest classical architects. Its creation was all the more impressive because Bruce was not primarily an architect but a politician and place-holder (such as Privy Councillor and Controller of the King's House). This 'gentleman architect' however proved to be immensely talented, as is evidenced by his involvement in the creation of several iconic Scottish structures such as The Palace of Holyroodhouse and Hopetoun House. Kinross House, which he seemingly built for himself, is regarded by many to be his masterpiece and the culmination of his architectural vision and skills.
Bruce purchased Kinross Estate, including Loch Leven and its island castle (famous for having been a prison for Mary Queen of Scots until her escape), from the 11th Earl of Morton in 1675. He had obviously identified the site between the town of Kinross and the western shore of the loch as the location for his magnificent new house because much of the next ten years were spent draining and landscaping the land and then establishing the walled gardens. Construction of Kinross House itself commenced in 1685 and was completed in 1693. It was undoubtedly a triumph - the author Daniel Defoe described it as 'the most beautiful and regular piece of architecture (for a private Gentleman's Seat) in all Scotland' in 1753.
Although Bruce himself did not die until 1710, it is believed that it was his son John who moved into the house once it was completed. During the 1715 Rebellion, the house narrowly escaped forfeiture by the Crown because of the flagrant Jacobite views of Bruce's grandson, who by then had inherited it. However, the Bruce family fortunes went steadily into decline until Kinross House and the estate were bought in 1777 by one of my forebears, George Graham.
George Graham (1730-1801) had made his fortune with the East India Company in Jamaica and India, his half brother Thomas (1752-1819) also had significant interests in the East, so it is probable that they acquired much of the collection of Oriental items in this sale. Thomas, who succeeded him at Kinross, died leaving only two daughters after his own son had been tragically killed aged 16 when the ship he was travelling on was taken by pirates in the Indian Ocean - he had been ordered to stay below decks with the women and children but youthful curiosity had gotten the better of him and led to his demise. Thomas Graham's will left Kinross House to whichever of his two daughters had a son who first reached the age of 21. At the time of his death, both were still childless and therefore the trustees sold up the contents of the house in a 7 day sale starting on 30th October 1819. The property ultimately went to his daughter Helen who was married to Sir James Montgomery, 7th Bt. (1766-1839). The Montgomery Family Seat at that time was Stobo Castle in Peeblesshire and therefore most of the Kinross House furniture and pictures not being sold duly went south to Stobo.
With the Montgomery's ensconced at Stobo Castle, Kinross House was to lie empty, kept wind and waterproof, for the next eighty years. Although the famed formal gardens were left to become a wilderness during that period, it was perhaps fortuitous for Kinross House itself to remain unoccupied as it escaped the danger of Victorian restoration and instead preserved most of its original features which still delight architectural historians to this day.
It was only in 1902 following two family deaths in quick succession that Sir Basil Montgomery, 5th Bt. (1852-1928), inherited and Kinross House was brought back to life. He took the decision to sell Stobo Castle and move instead to Kinross, to redecorate and refurnish the house and to recreate the lovely formal gardens that exist today. He brought with him many of the family portraits and filled Kinross with much fine furniture, some of which had been removed from Kinross to Stobo in 1819.
Since Sir Basil Montgomery, three further generations have lived at Kinross, the most recent of which has been my wife Lizzie and I, together with our two children Edward and Iona. We took over the reins from my parents in 1996 and it has been a wonderful privilege to have been able to live in this fabulous house with its stunning setting overlooking Loch Leven. All of us who have lived here will always retain such wonderful, happy memories and I am entirely confident that the new owner and his family will quickly grow to love it as much as we have.
By the time this sale takes place, we will probably have moved out and the new owner will have moved in. I know, from talking through his ambitious plans with him, that Kinross House is going to be in excellent hands. This sale therefore merely marks the final words in one chapter of Kinross House, with a new chapter about to begin.
Moving as we are to a planned new house on the estate which is going to be on a decidedly more modest scale, Lizzie and I have had to be very selective about which items of furniture and the like we plan to take with us. I am delighted that most of the family portraits are going to remain in place in Kinross House because that is where they belong. The new owner has also asked to retain various items of furniture but the remaining chattels of note will go 'under the hammer' in this sale. I feel sure that the purchasers of these items will get just as much pleasure and enjoyment from them as we have.