Syd Levethan: THE LONGRIDGE COLLECTION
The Longridge Collection is the culmination of almost 30 years of inspired collecting by the late American collector Syd Levethan, who created one of the world's finest private collections of 17th and early 18th century British delft, slipware, and works of art. The heart of Levethan's English pottery collection combines the colorful boldness of tin-glazed earthenware, or 'delft', with the charm of naïvely decorated earthenware decorated in 'slip', or liquid-clay. Each object in the collection was carefully chosen because it spoke of the social and political climate in which it was made, commemorated the reigning monarch of the day, or simply showcased the skill and craftsmanship of its creator.
Availability is key when forming collections on this scale. Taking advantage of a buying landscape that featured an amazing succession of single-owner auctions - names such as Thomas Burn of Rous Lench Court, Mr. & Mrs. Ronald Billington, John Philip Kassebaum, Jean & Kenneth Chorley and Harriet Carlton Goldweitz for pottery; the Richmond and Dent-Brocklehurst Collections for embroideries; and the Blumka, Owen Evan Thomas and the Rothschild Family Collections for the works of art - Syd Levethan bid against the top collectors, institutions and dealers in the world, securing the best objects in each auction for his collection. Although he took advice from top dealers in each of his many fields of interest - Jonathan Horne for English ceramics, Titi Halle for needlework, Sam Fogg for Continental ceramics, sculpture and works of art, Tony Foster for treen to name but a few - the final decision of which piece to buy and how much to spend was Syd's alone.
On the heels of the highly successful sale of The Longridge Collection at Christie's King Street in June 2010, the January 2011 auction in New York promises to be of particular interest to American collectors. Choices for this second auction, featuring only ceramics, were guided by academic and decorative considerations, as well as by the decision to again offer a cross-section of the type of objects that comprise the whole collection and from a cross-section of the sales from which Syd acquired the best on offer - in particular the four combined London sales of property collected by Thomas Burn at Rous Lench Court and of John Philip Kassebaum in North Carolina.
We have purposefully timed the sale to co-inside with Americana week, taking advantage of the synergy between English pottery and early American decorative arts. The choice of what to include was helped by concentrating on pieces with a confirmed connection to the thirteen colonies. It will come as no surprise that in 17th century America, taverns and churches were the center of life. In archaeological digs centering around Colonial Williamsburg and settlements at Jamestown, Virginia and along the James River, remnants of the pottery used in public taverns and in private homes is found in abundance. We were lucky in that The Longridge Collection features a wide array of punch bowls, mugs and posset pots - some completely undecorated, covered only by the opaque white surface realized by the addition of tin oxide to a lead glaze, the definition of tin-glazed earthenware aka delft; some left in the white but decorated overall with bosses pushed out in the potting of the piece; some dated and named with the type of wine or liquor meant to be stored in the jug; some richly decorated with Chinoiserie figures in colors or in white enamel on a rich blue ground known as bleu Persan or Persian blue.
Archaeological evidence in Virginia proves that contemporary Italian tin-glazed earthenware or maiolica was also exported to the Colonies, including some istoriato wares, dishes on which the painter used the surface as a canvas to tell a story. Although other delft dishes painted with Biblical scenes within decorative surrounds are known, the charger in The Longridge Collection dated 1638 is perhaps unique in its scale, sophistication of design and quality of execution. As such, it exemplifies the mantra that guided Syd Levethan throughout his collecting career - the desire to buy 'only the best'.
Made in the Southwark area of London, the Longridge dish is painted with The Adoration set in a 17th century interior, the figures in the scene likely taken from a Biblical woodcut. It was created to commemorate the wedding of Aron Wit to Frances Allen at St. George the Martyr, Southwark on 9 July 1638, their initials inscribed twice within the decoration and on the reverse as a monogram along with the initials of the potter or painter. Documentary, boldly decorated, a 'show stopper', it is a quintessential 'Syd' dish.
Of equal importance to the sale is the slipware from places like Donyatt in Somerset, or Burslem in the midlands - a country foil to the delft produced in the urban trade centers of London, Bristol and Liverpool. Featured is more of the rustic wares that were so well received at the June sale, the January group inscribed with maker's names such as William Talor, John Weir and Samuel Malkin. Indeed, The Longridge Collection includes examples of wares produced across the whole of Britain, up into Scotland and across the sea to Dublin.
Syd Levethan enjoyed life fully. He was never happier than when struggling home from a long business trip to Italy capped off by a quick stop in England to successfully hunt for treasures - those objects secure in shopping bags in his arms as he boarded the Concorde for home. He took great pleasure in adding the perfect object to his growing collections. But he took equal pleasure in the search itself - and in the fight necessary to acquire it. He sought out 'only the best' and bought it with bravado, the courage of his convictions, good advice, and the luxury of being able to pay over the odds when competition deemed it necessary.
Discussions with Christie's to put the collection on the market started many months before Syd Levethan's untimely death. An auction is what he wanted - for the dispersal of The Longridge Collection to join the pantheon of the great benchmark sales at which he had acquired so many of its pieces - allowing a new generation to have the opportunity to buy 'only the best'.