Ana Maria Espírito Santo Bustorff Silva (1928-2014) was the grand-daughter of José Maria Espírito Santo Silva (1850-1915) who founded the Portuguese banking house of that name in 1884. The Espírito Santo empire was succeeded by his three sons, José, Ricardo and Manuel, and gained a prominent place in banking, insurance, real estate and investments in former Portuguese colonies, mainly in Africa. Financial success in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came hand in hand with a passion for collecting, and the collections formed by each brother are worthy testaments to their connoisseurship. The most celebrated of these is the collection of Portuguese furniture, silver, rugs and paintings that was presented by Ricardo Espírito Santo Silva (1900-1955) to the Portuguese state in 1953, along with the Azurara Palace in Lisbon, in which the collection is still housed.
Ricardo Espírito Santo Silva, Ana Maria’s father, was a true connoisseur of the arts, being one of the major collectors of his time and one of the most significant patrons of the arts in Portugal. By his late forties he made the important decision to donate the Portuguese commissions from his private collection to the nation. In 1947 he acquired the 17th century Azurara Palace in Lisbon to house and display the collection of over 2000 pieces of Portuguese furniture, silver, textiles, paintings, ceramics and other decorative arts, and to function as the headquarters for the Foundation bearing his name, created as the Museum School for Portuguese Decorative Arts. To that he added conservation workshops, which are still fully operational today, all with the intention ‘to protect Portuguese decorative arts, to preserve and improve their traditional features, to educate the taste of the public and to increase artistic sensitivity and the culture of the craftsman’, according to the Foundation’s bylaws. Having restored the building and relocated the thirty families living in the palace in extreme poverty, Ricardo Espírito Santo Silva directed the museum to be decorated in the style of a Portuguese aristocratic residence. Sadly Ricardo Espírito Santo Silva died just two years after his work was started.
Slightly less well-known, but nevertheless of equal calibre, were the remaining private family collections of Old Master paintings and drawings, European furniture and works of art, European ceramics and Asian porcelain. As the catalogues of the sales of Ricardo Espírito Santo’s collection held in Paris in 1955, in Geneva in 1976 and in London in 1996 evocatively reveal, the collection of French furniture was assembled with a discerning eye and unwavering determination. Many pieces are stamped by celebrated ébénistes such as Jean-François Oeben, Jean-Henri Riesener, Claude-Charles Saunier and Adam Weisweiler, and now form part of the core of some the greatest collections of French furniture in existence today. Indeed, the Espírito Santo taste was the source of inspiration for much of Pierre Verlet’s influential book, Les Ebénistes du XVIIIè Siècle of 1963. Subsequent sales from the collection of José Espírito Santo’s apartment in the 16ème in Paris also provided rich hunting-grounds for museums, and indeed it was from the Espírito Santo collections that the Getty museum acquired the magnificent Louis XV ormolu-mounted Vernis Martin cartonnier and serre-papier by ‘BVRB’, the pair of Louis XVI encoignures by Pierre Garnier, and a masterpiece of orfevrerie, the Louis XV silver tureens by Thomas Germain.
Ana Maria Espírito Santo Silva, the youngest of the four daughters of Mary Cohen and Ricardo Espirito Santo Silva, was born in Lisbon in 1928 and was brought up in a most refined and impressive domestic environment. She always followed her parents’ taste and advice when it came to artistic choices. In 1949 she married António Bustorff Silva, the son of one of Portugal’s most famous barristers of the 20th century, and together they had nine children and seventeen grandchildren. The loss of her father when she was only twenty-six galvanised her ambition to perpetuate Ricardo’s achievements and legacy, both through the collection he donated to the foundation bearing his name in Lisbon, and through the pieces she inherited from his private collection. Her own collection is today probably the last consistent nucleus of Ricardo’s original French, Chinese, Italian and English pieces, which she cherished and kept until she passed away in April 2014.
Highlights of the present group of works of art to be sold include an important and rare Chinese famille rose armorial punch bowl from the Qianlong period (circa 1750-60), decorated after the famous 1748 painting 'O the Roast Beef of Old England (The Gate of Calais)' by William Hogarth (now in Tate Britain, London). There is also an important group of pictures and drawings by the influential chinoiserie artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1728-1808) who declined the offer from King Joseph I of Portugal to become his First Court Painter before he left for England.
This sale offers today’s collectors the opportunity to acquire great works of art from one of Portugal’s most sophisticated family collections.