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A TWINNING NOT LIKELY TO OCCUR AGAIN
This introduction marks the retirement of Christopher Gibbs from his premises at 3 Dove Walk, and the reorganisation by Jonathan Harris and Bruce Lindsay of their business at 67 Jermyn Street. The twinning of these personalities and collections in one sale is not surprising, certainly not to those who watch the salerooms and note who is buying what, as many are their shared interests and tastes in trading, a natural consequence of this symbiosis being that they often buy in partnership.
Between 1958 and 1962 a small antique shop in Camden Passage, Islington, stood out from the rest. Even if one didn't then know Christopher, the crowded ensemble would confirm a young man of uncommon and distinctive taste. In 1967 he moved to larger premises at 1 Elystan Street, Chelsea, bringing him into pedestrian range of the dealers on the King's Road and Fulham Road, and not the least that community of dealers huddled around the Queen's Elm, including Ian Askew. Whenever I walk along Elystan Street on my way to John Sandoe's bookshop, I pass venerated number one, recalling the esoteric and alluring interior. Yearning to satisfy his lust for magnificent chimney pieces, large architectural bookcases, statues, tapestries, huge garden urns on pedestals, vast prospect pictures, or settees of a size consistent with Houghton, Christopher moved in 1971 to Kasmin's old gallery at 118 New Bond Street. As I wrote in "Clifton Hampden A Valediction", for his Christie's house sale of September 2000, in this "modern interior designed by Ahrends Burton and Koralek, the spirit of the place so used to hosting American abstract expressionism must have been quite discomforted by his exotic and wondrous furnishings. It brought out his latent sense of scale and his courage to buy, display and appropriately locate large objects". It was a memorable experience to leave the bustle and clatter of Bond Street, pass through that narrow darkened passage, to burst into the high, top-lit treasure house of salivation. Here would be found the genial and constantly creative Peter Hinwood, one of whose roles was aesthetic arrangement and juxtaposition, what one might call a shaking of the kaleidoscope. I was always aware of how object answered object in many sensitive ways, and there was always what might be called creative re-arrangements. I suppose the exhibit that evoked gasps from all and sundry was Lord Iveagh's sock cabinet from his bedroom at Elveden Hall, Suffolk, its drawers still containing an array of smelly socks wrapped around Sir William Chambers' designs for the cabinet, no less than the medal cabinet designed for Lord Charlemont at Charlemont House, Dublin. Not even the socks of a monarch could have been stored in such a masterpiece.
Developers brought an end to the Gibbs experience here in 1990, forcing Christopher to compress himself into the haunt of Beardsley and Wilde in 8 Vigo Street, convenient for his set at Albany, until 1998 when he moved shop to Dove Walk, joining the confraternity of the Pimlico Road dealers. Here, as in Bond Street, the approach seemed contrived to build up an expectancy in the visitor: first the confinement of the narrow mews, then stepping down into the darkened vestibule, usually to be confronted by a large prospect picture on the screen across the entry, maybe the parkland view of Halswell House in Somerset, or latterly Peter Tilleman's landscape view of Ashburnham House, Sussex. This screen permitted entrance to right or left into the glorious, high-ceilinged treasure house interior.
In recollection, there might be a feast of old masters: Rubens' huge cartoon of the Triumph of the Eucharist from Soughton in Flintshire, one of William Bankes' expatriate purchases, or Giovanni di Paolo's altarpiece, now in the National Gallery of Australia. Cabinets were a speciality, especially if they contained antiquarian, curiosity or shell collections. Here the ransacking of the Seats of the Nobility and Gentry was evident, as befitted the great nephew of Vicary Gibbs, editor of the Complete Peerage. Mrs. Freeman's Fossil Cabinet from Fawley Park, Henley was a wonder; Thomas Brand's Cabinet from The Hoo, Hertfordshire, maybe by the same maker as Horace Walpole's cabinet in the Victoria and Albert Museum, was redolent of connoisseurship in antiquity, as was the extraordinary Apollo Cabinet with its ivory temple from Richard Worsley's Appledurcombe, Isle of Wight. Then who can forget that vast panoramic canvas of Weald Hall, Essex, by a great but unidentified Netherlandish painter, happily bought for Sir Paul Getty; chimney-pieces galore, notably the Flaxman fireplace from Stratton Park, Hampshire; or two of the bookcases from Ralph Willett's library at Merly House, Dorset.
Christopher's move to Elystan Street in 1967 coincided with Jonathan's setting up in business in Kensington Church Street, having left Sotheby's. Those were the days when the salerooms were the best schools to learn about the art and antiques trade. Staff were encouraged to take an interest across the departmental board, which resulted in fruitful cross-influences. As I have written elsewhere, this era was one when connoisseurship was encouraged by virtue of the embarras de richesses of what was on the market. At Christie's, Anthony Coleridge, Arthur Grimwade and Anthony du Boulay, and at Sotheby's, Jim Kiddell and Tim Clarke, were all adding to scholarship in their various fields. Jonathan had entered Sotheby's in 1963 to join Richard Timewell's furniture department under the tutoring eye of Peter Wilson. His colleagues in other departments included Derek Johns, Howard Ricketts, Richard Day, Kate Foster, Will Darby, Adrian Eeles and Richard Dennis, all of whom, like Jonathan, were to venture forth into dealerships, armed with what they had learned. At this time, the serious study of the applied arts was gathering pace, in furniture due largely to the influence of the Department of Furniture and Woodwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum, whose staff had played a key role in the founding of the Furniture History Society in 1964. By the late-'60s the Department, under Peter Thornton, was bursting with energy, its staff including Gillian Wilson, Clive Wainwright, John Hardy and Simon Jervis, all active too in the FHS. Jonathan was very much a part of all this, being an early member of the FHS and serving on its Council, as Bruce was later to do as well.
At the time that Jonathan opened a shop at 54 Kensington Church Street, I knew of him only through his father, Bill Harris, with whom I served on the Georgian Group. I was a regular antiques flâneur, first leaving my house in Pembridge Place to call on Claude Bornoff, then heading down Kensington Church Street, for the regulation call at Eila Grahame's, as I still do, and working my way southwards. On one fateful day, upon reaching number fifty-four I peered through the window of an antique shop unknown to me, and uttered a silent cry about "something different". I thought this a contrast to the "brown" of many of the nearby dealers. Here I met the young Jonathan presiding over a congenial mixture of the interesting and decorative: a North European glass picture, a Louis XVI commode, a gilt medal of Matthew Boulton, objects of Japanese lacquer, and a remarkable Tibetan bronze. Recently I looked this bronze up in the first volume of the firm's record books. It is listed as, "Polychrome gilt-bronze Tibetan figure. Demon or a Mahãsidda", costing £145, and was sold for £190 to John Hewett. That tells us a lot about Jonathan's education in the antiques trade. Like Christopher, he has always had a taste for the unusual and rare, but in Jonathan's case especially oriental objects. Tony Derham, of Christie's, was a valued colleague in this area, and friends and mentors of an older generation were Billy Winkworth and Gerald Reitlinger, both of whom had known Jonathan's great-uncle Henry, one of the founding members of the Oriental Ceramics Society in 1921. The unsung Hewett was a mentor to many. His house off the Fulham Road contained antiquities, medieval works of art, ethnography, Asian bronzes and fabrics, neolithic hand axes, flint arrow heads, fossils, coloured engravings of Fowler's Roman mosaic pavements, together with some of the best of the 20th century, a medley not so different to what Jonathan would have found when he visited Christopher's Elystan Street shop. It was en route to the Fulham and King's Road dealers, where an essential stopping-off place was the shop of David Drey, always with a tempting jumble of English busts, drawings, paintings, bronzes, and decorative objects. Other broadly knowledgeable and helpful dealers of an older generation were Ronald Lee, in Bruton Place, and Bill Redford, nearby in Mount Street.
From the outset, Jonathan's approach led to a fruitful relationship with museum and other academic colleagues. I have sometimes watched him seriously scrutinizing something in the salerooms, with an eye that misses little. He is that rare sort, a dedicated dealer/historian, which has been recognised by his election to the Society of Antiquaries. In the early days, John Hardy suggested that he put "By Appointment to the V. & A." on his letterhead, and now more than thirty museums and other public collections all over the world have been recipients of Harris Lindsay sales. Amongst the earlier acquisitions by the V. & A. were such "stars" as the Chambers-designed table made by Haupt, the Japanese lacquer six-fold screen from Lennoxlove once owned by Beckford and the ebony-inlaid maple side cabinet by George Bullock. This last is a reminder that Jonathan was often ahead of the market, handling some of Bullock's most interesting furniture and objects before he became more widely known. Desmond Fitzgerald, also at the V. & A. in the 1960s, remembers that the first piece of labelled Irish furniture that he ever bought was from Jonathan at this time, an upright architectural looking glass by the Bookers of Dublin, the piece which led to their identification. Jonathan was also, from the beginning, a buyer of unusual architect-designed furniture, such as the pair of painted Burges tables with pietra dura tops from the Tower House (bought with Michael Whiteway in 1971 and sold to the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and Temple Newsam, for £2,625), and of the English Arts and Crafts Movement of the 20th Century, another V. & A. acquisition being the Gimson walnut and gilt-gesso cabinet on ebony stand of 1902. More recently, Harris Lindsay mounted a significant exhibition of Danish 20th Century furniture, Modernism and Tradition, the exhibition opened jointly by the Director of Copenhagen's Kunstindustrimuseum and the Danish ambassador.
Bruce Lindsay joined Jonathan in 1984, and one of his earliest memories of the business was viewing Christie's Thornby Hall sale and watching Jonathan and Anthony Coleridge examining a pair of commodes and discussing their Linnell attribution. "I was struck at least as much by the level of this discussion as I was by the commodes later making over £200,000 in the sale", he recalls. "I was very quickly aware of the sympathetic, academic milieu in which I had found myself". Bruce's joining was eventually to lead to the renaming of the firm as Harris Lindsay in 1999 when it moved to 67 Jermyn Street, a space redolent of the tenure of Andrew Ciechanowiecki, and home to other galleries long before that. These premises gave the chance to create a space for the firm's impressive library and archive, which is often used by their colleagues, in the museum world as well as the trade. Christopher's Bond Street gallery also comes to mind - the approach from the street by a passage that debouches the visitor from the bustling pavement, unexpectedly into a top-lit gallery. This has been a venue for a triumphal march of treasures, many now in public collections, and many illustrated in the sumptuous Harris Lindsay Works of Art catalogues, produced since 1989, principally by Bruce. An arbitrary selection might include the massive porphyry vase and cover from the collection of James Hugh Smith Barry at Marbury Hall; the pair of blue and gilt Sèvres Vases Etrusque Caraffe of 1807, given by Napoleon to the Empress Josephine, and now at Malmaison; the Berlin porcelain table attributed to Schinkel, now in the Metropolitan Museum; Plácido Zuloaga's pair of vases from Fonthill, of chiselled steel damascened in gold and silver, of 1869. Three joint purchases with Christopher were the mid-17th century ebony and pietra dura Drayton House cabinet-on-stand; the pair of giltwood armchairs designed by John Vardy for the Palm Room at Spencer House and lent to Spencer House during the 1990s restoration to use as models for copying the set of these chairs that had previously been in the house; and the Groombridge Place rococo tree and rockwork table by Gideon Saint, that ought to join its maker's sketchbook in New York's Metropolitan Museum. I could also single out Henry Weekes' marble bust of Mary Seacole on beautiful palm leaf socle, and the Contant d'Ivry giltwood console table, both now in the Getty Museum; Robert Hume's massive pietra dura and ormolu side table of c.1830; the equally massive Owen Jones cabinet in the Moresque taste; two fascinating antiquarian objects of quite different kinds, the needlework carpet of the Roman mosaic pavement at Stonesfield, Oxfordshire (now in the Oxfordshire County Museum), and the silver-gilt and enamel vase in the Moorish-Gothic taste, c. 1840, commemorative of Louis IX (now in the Los Angeles County Museum); and the Amber Cabinet from Ince Blundell, now back nearby in the collections of the Liverpool Museums.
Both companies fully recognise the importance of provenance in cataloguing an object. I am still often amazed how some dealers never bother to discover the origins of pieces they have bought. Christopher Gibbs and Harris Lindsay take a scholarly view of their purchases, and many of their investigations would do justice to a detective mystery. Over the years countless items, great and small, have had their history and significance restored to them, a process which is often on-going. In the present sale is the pair of vase stands which first appeared in Harris Lindsay's Catalogue No. 14, described as "possibly by a German sculptor working in Northern Italy". Now, with the help of Carlo Milano, they can be related to very similar Emilian putti stands in the Palazzo Rosso in Genoa, that came from Eugène Beauharnais's Palazzo Galliera in Bologna.
Unlike Christopher, who has devoted much of his time to being an eminence grise to many, not the least advising Sir Paul Getty on his donations, Jonathan has regularly exhibited at fairs, and Harris Lindsay now shows each year at Grosvenor House, Maastricht and the International Show in New York, which they will continue to do. If Christopher and Jonathan have always had common tastes in what they buy and sell, they also both serve a common cause on Diocesan Advisory Boards, in Oxford and London, and both firms are regular advisors to the National Trust and other government and heritage bodies, roles which will doubtless also continue.