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"What fun it has been!"
Few collectors have been as lucky as I. Not only did I inherit the collecting gene (disease, affliction, obsession?) from my father, but at the age of nineteen, with his blessing and backing, I was allowed to embark upon an odyssey of acquisition in a field just beginning to be re-appreciated. Having purchased a copy of Graham Reynolds's Victorian Painting at a Bermuda bookstore during the spring break of my freshman year at Princeton, I was dazzled by the lush colour blocks of the best of Britain's artistic output during the over six decades of Queen Victoria's reign. That summer I salivated over the plates of another book devoted to this hitherto much-ridiculed genre, Jeremy Maas's Victorian Painters. Concurrently, my father was expanding the Forbes Collection beyond Fabergé, American historical documents, and a miscellany of paintings of various periods to include works by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. It was the purchase of one of Claude Monet's vast series of Waterlillies that prompted me to suggest that it would be more challenging and ultimately more rewarding to collect a less sought-after aspect of nineteenth-century painting. I rashly opined that for the price we had paid for a single late Monet, we could have a collection of British Victorian paintings unrivaled in America outside a few museums. Instead of upbraiding me for my impudence, Pop (as my siblings and I all called our father) quickly warmed to the idea. He had an affinity with history and genre painting, and had, in fact, acquired a year earlier William Powell Frith's 'For Better, For Worse' (lot 10). Only much later did I come to appreciate that this rendering on canvas of the traditional wedding vows was one of the last of Frith's great panoplies of contemporary English life that was not in a museum (or the Royal Collection!).
By early 1970 we were buying at a fairly dizzying clip, first with the help of Rodney Merrington at Agnew's and then that of Andrew Patrick and his then junior associate, Simon Edsor, and their colleagues at The Fine Art Society. While the collection was 'my project', I learned very early on that it was always better to keep my father fully involved. Such was definitely the case at Christie's 20 July 1970 sale of Important Victorian Paintings organised by Christopher Wood. Together, we identified in the catalogue several 'must haves', and set top bids for each. I had to return to New York on 18 July, so Pop attended the sale solo. He proceeded to secure all the desired lots at prices which far exceeded our agreed-upon limits. Had the situation been reversed, we would have missed the chance to acquire four paintings which are appearing again at King Street thirty-two years later: Sir John Everett Millais' For the Squire (lot 12); James Tissot's 'Good bye' - On the Mersey (lot 21); Edith Hayllar's A Summer Shower (lot 104) and Benjamin Williams Leader's The Sandy Margin of the Sea (lot 224). For he who controlled the purse strings, it was very much a case of 'do as I say, not as I do'. Never shy, Pop was delighted (and his enthusiasm for the growing collection enhanced) when the sale received extensive press coverage, including the Evening News headline 'Mr. Forbes Adds a Tearjerker' - a reflection of the reporter's opinion of the Millais for which a breathtaking 1,800 guineas had been paid!
When I officially entered the Department of Art and Archaelogy at Princeton that autumn I was highly flattered that the then Chairman, Dr Wen Fong, immediately invited me for lunch. As it happened, one of the senior professors, Dr John Martin, wanted to borrow a splendid Rubens, Cupid supplicating Jupiter's Consent for his Marriage to Psyche, which my father had recently acquired from the Newhouse Gallery, as the centrepiece for an exhibition being organised for the University Art Museum. This seemed an opportune moment to raise an objective of my own: instead of writing a conventional thesis, could I prepare a catalogue of the collection of Victorian paintings which I was putting together for Forbes Inc.? Furthermore, as there was no programme at Princeton devoted to nineteenth-century British art, could I get credit for taking Allen Staley's graduate course at Columbia? To cut a long story short, Princeton received permission to exhibit the Rubens (which ultimately my father bequeathed to the University), I was granted 'visiting-scholar' status, and the catalogue was accepted as my senior thesis.
Princeton and my father both felt vindicated when The Metropolitan Museum of Art requested that the collection we were forming should open there as the first venue of a five-museum nationwide tour. The invitation from the Met came about through the good offices of Dr Everett Fahy, who, before leaving to take up the Directorship of the Frick Museum, gave this undergraduate the honour of preparing the catalogue for the Met's exhibition of the extraordinary collection of paintings by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema assembled by 'Candid Camera' creator Alan Funt. Victorians in Togas was enough of a success for Fahy's successors, the late Tom Clarke and John Walsh (who has recently retired as the Director of the Getty Museum), to give The Royal Academy (1837-1901) Revisited their full support. The alliterative title came about as I became aware that every significant artist working during Queen Victoria's reign (including even the Pre-Raphaelites with the exception of Rossetti) submitted what they considered their most important pieces of any given year for possible inclusion in the Academy's annual summer exhibition. This was the single most important public forum for artists and collectors alike. It is hard to conceive of today, but these shows attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and received endless reviews in the press, while artists were lionised by the public in a fashion comparable only to the attention awarded to Hollywood stars today. By limiting Forbes Collection purchases to Academy pieces or related works, not only were we assured that the artist considered them worthy, but from the numerous reviews - whether by anonymous writers for the penny press or such luminaries as John Ruskin or W.M. Thackeray - we could gauge contemporary reaction to the works as well. By the late 1970s the Academy 'rule' was being relaxed, as were the confines set by Queen Victoria's reign (1837-1901). However, as the collection expanded from the sixty-nine paintings which toured the U.S. in 1975 to the 361 here at Christie's, most acquisitions still 'qualified'.
At the same time as we embarked on the Collection, we acquired a wonderful setting in which to install it. After a stint on the front counter at Christie's, fellow New Jerseyman Warner Dailey, with backing from my father and others, began dealing on his own out of unheated Ali Baba-like premises on Addison Bridge Place. It was he who hoisted Pop over the garden wall to view the dry-rot-ridden shell that was Old Battersea House in 1970. Such was its state of dilapidation that the Borough of Wandsworth readily agreed to lease it to Forbes Inc. for ninety-nine years for a peppercorn with the proviso that the house be completely restored. After four years of painstaking work under the aegis of architect Vernon Gibberd, my wife (whom I met while she was working with Warner Dailey - best deal I ever made on his premises!) and I became the first members of the family to spend a night in the almost completed Old Battersea House. Vernon was responsible not only for restoring the house but for introducing us to his cordon-bleu trained secretary, Patricia McCaldin. It is in Trish's most capable hands that the running and caring for this splendid house has remained for three decades. She has coped with three generations of Forbeses (the fourth may descend upon her this summer), as well as an assortment of princes, presidents, prime ministers, corporate chieftains and Hollywood divas, with unflappable aplomb, affection and a sorely tested sense of humour. As the collection expanded, she and the faithful Ted Theobald have had to oversee at least two major re-wirings to accommodate the ever increasing number of picture lights!
Of all the additions made since 1975, two were particularly gratifying for me. Regarding the first, the old saw among collectors - 'What's your favourite work? The one I didn't get' - is particularly apt. In the early 1970s we were offered by Oscar and Peter Johnson Landseer's Death of a Wild Bull (lot 6). The asking price was £15,000. At the time, you could have bought the greatest Pre-Raphaelite painting or work by Leighton, Alma-Tadema, Moore or Tissot etc., etc. for such a sum (Huntington Hartford had quoted $50,000 to me at Lyford Cay for Millais' A Hugenot). I reluctantly advised my father that it was just too expensive. Twelve years later it was a challenge to convince him that, at over ten times the price, it was now 'reasonable' in comparison with the sums currently being realised for major works by the above-mentioned artists. Having had similar experiences in his pursuit of Fabergé Imperial Eggs over twenty years, Pop understood that one has to constantly keep making adjustments if one is to remain a player in one's given field of collecting, and I was allowed to set an auction record for Landseer at Sotheby's.
A full decade later, I learned just how expensive a half-hour between appointments could be. To fill such an interval between calls on two important advertisers in Forbes Magazine, I walked into Peter Nahum's premises on Ryder Street. There, leaning against the walls in the cramped confines of the basement viewing room, was John Martin's Pandemonium (lot 3). It inspired a lust to possess that happens rarely even in the life of an addicted collector. While it knocked my socks off, the price quoted knocked the breath out of me. I spent a sleepless night at Old Battersea House deciding what paintings could be sacrificed to make the Martin possible. While Pop was alive, Forbes Inc. functioned in his words as 'a perfect democracy - "one man, one vote"'. Now, however, I had to persuade my four siblings to agree on any major purchase. The most effective argument I knew of was to raise most of the cost through de-accessioning. Thus, some forty paintings were sent off to the block to secure the Martin. So frequently requested has it been for various exhibitions since its acquisition seven years ago that Pandemonium has, alas, reigned far too briefly over the front hall at Old Battersea House.
Part of the pleasure of assembling any collection is the sharing of it. Since its inception, such, certainly has been the case with the present Collection. In addition to opening Old Battersea House regularly to interested groups, themed selections have been shown around the world from Tokyo to Mexico City, from Bournemouth to Boston. Dr Susan Casteras alone organised three such shows around topics as diverse as 'Childhood', 'Virtue Rewarded' and 'The Defining Moment'. None of these exhibitions, nor for that matter the Collection itself, would have been possible without almost thirty years of advice and oversight from Margaret Kelly Trombly, who started at FORBES as Assistant to the Curator (me!) in 1974, and now serves as Vice-President of the Forbes Collections. For the last decade she has been ably seconded by Bonnie Kirschstein, Managing Director of the Forbes Collections. All of us owe the ultimate debt of gratitude, however, to Simon Edsor. From the time he first greeted my father when he called at The Fine Art Society in 1970, he has given unstintingly of his time, enthusiasm and friendship. Whether bidding on baubles by Fabergé, delivering toy soldiers to Tangiers, or fashioning the discreet doors behind which to display Queen Victoria's drawers at Old Battersea House, Simon has always been cheerfully there to help.
Now has come the time of reckoning. The forthcoming sales will see whether my youthful boast that we would be better off with the 'best' collection of Victorian paintings owned by an American family or one of Monet's four hundred Waterlillies, was justified!
The Captains and the Kings
If you cross Battersea Bridge and turn right down a narrow riverside road that twists and turns as it runs parallel to the Thames, you eventually come to a high wall over which you might just be able to see a steep roof interrupted by mansard windows. During the past thirty- five years, the captains, the kings, princes, presidents, museum grandees, film stars, art historians and Victorian painting enthusiasts without number have made their winding way to Old Battersea House, and been charmed by the baroque hall, the wide staircase, the exquisite panelled drawing-rooms, the pictures that are hung to the ceilings on the walls, but above all by an ineffable sense of the personalities of the Forbes family who, led by Malcolm Forbes, have given this historic and unique London house an extraordinary new lease of life.
Old Battersea House, thanks to Malcolm Forbes and his family, is a vivid and living relic of an older countrified London, situated opposite what was, when it was built on old Tudor foundations in the late seventeenth century, the village of Chelsea. Was the house designed by Sir Christopher Wren? Certainly its handsome baroque proportions, both inside and out, would indicate that this is more than a possibility. Whoever designed it created a perfect small manor house, surrounded in its earliest days by lavender fields and watercress beds sloping down to the Thames.
In the ensuing century and a half the house had many owners; some left traces of their occupancy, others passed through unrecorded. One owner who did leave his mark was a successful sea captain whose time at Old Battersea House was marked by the carvings over the door on the garden front. The last private owner was Sir John Shaw-Lefevre, a barrister who played a major part in many events of the nineteenth century. He was a member of the Reform Act Commission which changed the previously corrupt parliamentary electoral system, abolishing so-called 'rotten boroughs'. Shaw-Lefevre was also one of the Commissioners who established the colony of Australia. Eventually he was appointed Clerk of the Parliaments, an immensely powerful position.
When Shaw-Lefevre left Old Battersea House, the Church of England bought it for use as a training college for schoolmasters. During the next hundred years its surrounding demesne shrunk bit by bit, and the house acquired additions necessary for the school including a chapel, library, large kitchens and other extensions.
In the mid-1920s the school was amalgamated with another school in Chelsea, and the house was threatened with demolition by its new owners, the Battersea Council. This caused a considerable local outcry, led by Colonel Charles G. Stirling, whose wife, Wilhelmina, had many connections with turn-of-the-century Chelsea and the artists who lived there. The house was saved by an Act of Parliament but the gardens were taken over by the Council, who built blocks of flats (now in private ownership) on the land. The Victorian additions were demolished, and the house re-assumed its original proportions.
In 1931 Colonel Stirling and his wife rented the house. They brought with them a large collection of paintings by Mrs Stirling's sister, Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919), together with a collection of ceramics by Evelyn's husband, William De Morgan (1839-1917). The Stirlings furnished the house with Jacobean furniture and Arts and Crafts pieces from the circle of William Morris. For the next thirty-five years the house slumbered, almost forgotten until the film director Ken Russell, then directing short documentaries for Monitor, made a fascinating film about this living relic of late nineteenth-century artistic and cultural life. Mrs Stirling lived on at Old Battersea House until her death in 1965, just short of her hundredth birthday, but not before she had formed the De Morgan Foundation, to which she bequeathed her collection.
For the next five years Old Battersea House lay empty and neglected. Then, as Christopher Forbes remembers elsewhere in this catalogue, his father Malcolm saw it, thanks to the good offices of Christopher Wood and Warner Dailey. In spite of its sorry state, he saw the possibilities of its handsome proportions and romantic riverside location, and took a ninety-nine year lease with the Borough of Wandsworth.
Four years later, after a careful programme of restoration by the architect Vernon Gibberd, the house again came to life. Mrs Stirling would have been delighted that it housed a new collection of pictures, the Forbes Collection of Victorian paintings. She would also have been gratified to see that three of the principal rooms on the ground floor were still devoted to works belonging to the De Morgan Foundation. These included not only paintings and pots by the De Morgans themselves but pictures by J.R. Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908), Evelyn De Morgan and Wilhelmina Stirling's uncle, and other later Pre-Raphaelite artists.
Yet in spite of the magnificent collection of Victorian pictures which has filled the house for the past thirty years, Old Battersea House has never felt like a museum. It has always been essentially a private house, with an intensely intimate atmosphere reflecting the personality of Malcolm Forbes and his children. No-one has done more to create this ambience than his son Christopher, who played such a crucial role in forming the collection and has taken immense pains with its display.
Malcolm Forbes was one of the great hosts of the twentieth century. Whether in his palace in Tangier, his château in France, his estate in Far Hills, New Jersey, or at Old Battersea House, he was the sort of man who attracted the brightest and best, the great and good of this world who were charmed by his enthusiasm and generosity. Eloquent testimony to this is provided by the truly extraordinary Visitors' Book open in the hall at Old Battersea House. Here are the Reagans, Elizabeth Taylor, politicians without number, artists and actors, heads of vast corporations, art dealers, art historians. To see the house, under the able stewardship of Patricia McCaldin, was to witness a rich and vivid spectacle shot through with the ghosts of yesterday, an experience almost unique in contemporary London.
The Forbes Collection: A Brief Appreciation
The revival of interest in Victorian fine and decorative art was one of the most remarkable aspects of late twentieth-century taste. Sparked initially by the wanton destruction of such masterpieces as Hardwick's Euston Station (1961) and the great Scott/Skidmore choir-screens in Salisbury and Hereford Cathedrals (1959 and 1967), the revival saw many achievements in a variety of fields. Ridicule gave way to restoration, as in the spectacular recent case of the Albert Memorial. Scholars produced ground-breaking monographs and organised unforgettable exhibitions. Dealers devoted their careers to promoting Victorian paintings and artefacts. And collections were formed such as had not been seen since the palmy days of Leyland, Aird, or McCulloch.
No collection represents a greater achievement, or better expresses the ideals of the revival, than that put together by Christopher (Kip) Forbes at Old Battersea House. A labour of love, spanning three decades, it is eloquent testimony to the sheer excitement of rediscovering Victorian art after over half a century of neglect and denigration. Today, when a generation has grown up which accepts without question that the Victorians painted masterpieces, and looks on Burne-Jones or Leighton with as much complacency as their forebears looked on Botticelli or Rembrandt, it is easy to forget the thrill of those heady days when the revival was in its infancy. To be sure, we had gurus as universally beloved as Betjeman, as widely respected for their learning as Pevsner, but our enthusiasm was nonetheless spiced with an exhilarating dash of wickedness. We were young Turks, tasting forbidden fruit, and all too gleefully aware that we were shocking those fogeys who insisted on maintaining that good taste had suddenly expired in 1837.
Given such a background, it goes without saying that we are not dealing here with a conventional rich man's collection, one of those depressing spectacles of a tycoon nailing pictures with all the subtlety of a sportsman bagging trophies. It is true the Collection could not have been formed without the considerable financial resources of the Forbes Magazine; true that it had a magnificent setting in Old Battersea House, the Queen Anne mansion overlooking the Thames which the Forbeses restored and decorated in such handsome style; true again that, as Simon Edsor records elsewhere in these catalogues, the owners had the constant support of the Fine Art Society, an invaluable ally from precisely that group of dedicated dealers mentioned above.
But none of those advantages would have been exploited as they were without the passion and commitment of Kip Forbes himself. Love, knowledge, patience, courage and tenacity have all gone into the creation of this astonishing assemblage of over 350 works, most of them oil paintings but not excluding drawings, watercolours and sculpture. It is no accident that Forbes was initially inspired by a chance encounter with Graham Reynolds's Victorian Painting (1966) in a Bermuda bookshop, for the Collection has the comprehensiveness with which this pioneering study treats its theme. Almost every aspect of Victorian art is represented - genre, social realism, religious and classical subjects, illustrations to Shakespeare, fairy painting, landscape, seascape, scenes focused on animals, and visions of the Orient. A high percentage of Scottish pictures reflects the Forbeses' regard for their ancestral roots, a piety of which Queen Victoria herself would have thoroughly approved.
Yet the purchasing policy was never haphazard; there was always a strong sense of direction. The Collection was launched on the premise that every painting 'must have been exhibited at the Royal Academy during Queen Victoria's reign, or be a study for or replica of a painting which was.' Needless to say, this placed the emphasis firmly on the academic approach. No fewer than five presidents of the RA - Eastlake, Leighton, Millais, Poynter and Dicksee - are represented, as well as many stalwarts of the institution in its Victorian heyday. No individual work is more prominent than the full-scale marble version of Leighton's Athlete wrestling with a Python (lot 28), that quintessential expression of Victorian academicism by the man who not only wielded more influence as PRA than any incumbent since Reynolds but dominated the entire Victorian art establishment. Barring some special exhibition on the subject, the Collection probably gives us the best impression of a visit to the Victorian Royal Academy that we are ever likely to experience. Indeed, The Royal Academy (1837-1901) Revisited was the title of an exhibition drawn entirely from the Collection which was shown at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the Art Museum, Princeton University, in 1975.
Over the years, however, the guidelines became less rigid. The cut-off dates were moved both backwards and forwards. Pictures were added by such earlier masters as Fuseli, Ward, Wilkie, Martin and Danby. Fuseli is particularly significant of this development. He alone of this group died before Victoria even came to the throne, and his melodramatic, sexually-charged paintings must have scandalised many of her subjects. His place in the Collection perhaps rests on the fact that he was the most charismatic teacher in the whole history of the RA, and trained many artists who came to prominence during the Queen's reign. As for the other end of the spectrum, the Collection began to embrace artists such as East, Clausen, Gotch, La Thangue, Edward Stott, Lavery, Tuke, and the two Shannons. All launched their careers under Queen Victoria, but we think of them as essentially Edwardians.
The emphasis on academic painting was also relaxed. In fact artists who, whether deliberately or not, directly challenged academic conventions, are now one of the great strengths of the Collection. Here, for instance, is Richard Dadd (lots 86, 228), no-one's idea of an academic artist, at least not during the forty-two years when he was recording his tortured visions as an inmate of Bethlem and Broadmoor hospitals.
Dadd, of course, was an extreme example of those isolated eccentrics who, whether one likes them or not, are such a distinct feature of the English school. A much more considered and sustained critique of academic values was launched with the founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. This all-important movement is richly represented in the Forbes Collection, not only in terms of the three leading members of the PRB, Holman Hunt, Millais and Rossetti, but many of their associates and followers: William Dyce, William Bell Scott, Noël Paton, Ford Madox Brown, Thomas Seddon, James Smetham, Michael Halliday, James Collinson, Walter Deverell, Frederick Sandys, Henry Wallis, Arthur Hughes, Simeon Solomon, and that most elusive of all the more obscure adherents, E.W. Rainford. Rainford seems to have exhibited a mere six pictures, of which only two have been identified. One is at Old Battersea House (lot 37).
Nor has Forbes neglected the Aesthetic Movement. Needless to say, by the time we reach this phenomenon, boundaries have become more blurred. Aestheticism may owe much to Pre-Raphaelitism, and Sir Coutts Lindsay may have conceived its temple, the Grosvenor Gallery, as a liberal alternative to the RA; but pillars of the older institution, including Leighton himself, supported the new venture. Whatever the complexities, however, they are reflected in the Collection. There are examples of the Grosvenor's star exhibitor, Burne-Jones (lots 24, 33), and one of his most important followers, Walter Crane (lot 236). A galaxy of major works represent the RAs who succumbed to Sir Coutts's blandishments - Watts, Leighton, Millais, Poynter, Alma-Tadema, and William Blake Richmond. Last but not least is a painting from the English phase of the Frenchman whose work seemed so knowing and sophisticated in the earnest, high-souled ambience of the Grosvenor, James Tissot (lot 21).
Every collection worthy of the name has its peaks, things which stand out and cast reflected glory over the whole ensemble. The Forbes Collection is no exception; in fact it is so rich in highlights that it is difficult to know which to name first. Few would deny that the great Landseer (lot 6) is pre-eminent, but perhaps no more so than Deverell's Twelfth Night (lot 36), the undoubted masterpiece of this short-lived Pre-Raphaelite; John Phillip's Early Career of Murillo (lot 8), a 'museum picture' if ever there was one; Waterhouse's Mariamne (lot 32), the work which marks the climax of his 'Alma-Tadema' phase; or the wonderful early La Thangue (lot 19). Equally remarkable in their very different ways are John Martin's Pandemonium (lot 3), Linnell's overtly Claudian Return of Ulysses (lot 4), G.F. Watts's Sir Galahad (lot 34), the earliest and most sensitive version of this famous composition; Orchardson's Queen of the Swords (lot 9); or a picture by another Scot that is perhaps too easily overlooked, John Pettie's Chieftain's Candlesticks (lot 64). A pattern is clearly emerging. Within the context of the period, we are talking about major works by major artists, pieces the loss of which would seriously diminish the oeuvre of the master concerned; and on this analysis there are yet more candidates: Mulready's Train up a Child (lot 5), Maclise's Wrestling Scene in 'As You Like It' (lot 38), Poole's lyrical illustration to The Tempest (lot 225), Frith's 'For Better, For Worse' (lot 10), Poynter's Prodigal's Return (lot 29), Arthur Hughes's Birthday Picnic (lot 11), Herkomer's First-Born (lot 18), Dicksee's Chivalry (lot 35), or Tuke's Midsummer Morning (lot 23). The list could easily go on.
Ultimately, however, these are only the peaks; equally remarkable is the preponderance of works in which lesser artists are seen at their very best. In fact it often seems as if the collector has had a special affection for these petits maîtres, and in assessing them has used his connoisseur's eye to particularly telling effect. Charles Landseer tends to be a humdrum artist, no match for the mighty Edwin, yet The Return of the Dove to the Ark (lot 220) is not only a delightful period piece, paradoxically succeeding by its very failure to live up to the grand manner, but has the additional interest of anticipating a famous Millais and a less famous Watts. Equally haunting is Charles Hunt's My 'Macbeth' (lot 249), which Anthony Powell once described as 'almost School of Magritte'. And where else will we find such an astonishing Eyre Crowe as The Foundry (lot 58), as simplified and schematic as an early Stanley Spencer, or a Henry Perronet Briggs, passages of which would not disgrace Delacroix (lot 59)? Sometimes a picture is so good of its kind that it has acquired (to use an overworked word) iconic status. Mention the little known artist John Burr and one immediately thinks of The Peepshow (lot 255), just as no Hayllars are better than Edith's Summer Shower (lot 104) or Jessica's Coming Event (lot 267).
It is no accident that all these pictures are genre scenes, and that even the exception, the Charles Landseer, has a strong genre element. Kip Forbes has always had a special feeling for this area. 'It was not the Turner galleries that drew me to the Tate', he has written of early influences, 'but William Powell Frith's Derby Day'. In fact it was his father, Malcolm Forbes, who pointed the way by buying that fine example of Frith's later work, 'For Better, for Worse' (lot 10), before the collection as such was launched, but Kip has built on this foundation to spectacular effect. In addition to Frith and the Hayllars, all the well-known names are represented: Thomas Webster, John Ritchie, Charles Green, George Elgar Hicks, James Collinson, F.D. Hardy, Erskine Nicol, Sophie Anderson, Emily Mary Osborn and many others. If there is such a thing as a 'Forbes picture', it should be looked for here.
Genre, of course, is a blanket term, divisible into many sub-sections. Here are examples of historical and literary genre, not only by C.R. Leslie, their greatest Victorian exponent, but James Archer and others. Here, too, are winning scenes of childhood, so much so that a whole exhibition was recently drawn from this area. And here, again, are remarkable pieces of social realism, whether, like Richard Redgrave's The Sempstress (lot 110), they date from the 'hungry forties', or are by masters of the later, 'Graphic' generation. Frank Holl's Doubtful Hope of 1875 (lot 114) is a deeply disturbing picture, though Thomas Faed's Worn Out (lot 15), shown at the Royal Academy in 1868, tugs at the heartstrings with even greater insistence.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Forbes taste is a refusal to be squeamish, a willingness to take on the Victorians at their own game of wallowing in emotion and angst. This has often resulted in a masterpiece which a more conventional collector would have shunned, and not only in the social realist field. Landseer's Death of the Wild Bull (lot 6) is an uncomfortable picture, perhaps more so to our eyes than to those of the Victorians. So is Richard Ansdell's Hunted Slaves (lot 361) and John Faed's sinisterly caricatural Boyhood (lot 7), another typically Forbsian 'icon'. Even the Tissot (lot 21) is an unusually dour and joyless example, though no less fascinating for that.
All good collections have a definite character, a strong sense of being a personal creation rather than a random grouping of miscellaneous images. Given Kip Forbes's hands-on approach, there was never much danger that his collection would fail in this respect. His commitment is not only revealed in his obvious fondness for certain themes; equally indicative is the extraordinary way in which he has tied the Collection together through a mass of internal links.
As we have seen, the original brief included buying works connected with RA exhibits, even if they were not, or never could be, in the Collection. Hence the versions of, or studies for, such paintings as Webster's Village Choir (lot 46), Egg's Past and Present (lot 109), Collinson's For Sale (lot 98), Michael Halliday's Blind Basket Maker (lot 115), Yeames's 'And when did You last see your Father?' (lot 243), or H.J. Draper's Sea Maiden (lot 140). But there was obviously a double incentive to buy when the finished work itself was at Old Battersea House, and over the years this has been freely indulged and interpreted. We find, for example, not one version of J.R. Herbert's Saviour subject to His Parents, but two (lots 133-4), and no fewer than three of Leslie's Sancho Panza (lots 78-80), Dobson's David and the Children of Judah (lots 146-8), and A.H. Burr's Blind Man's Buff (lots 337-9). There are oil studies for Frith's 'For Better, For Worse' (lot 335), Poole's Scene from 'The Tempest' (lot 227) and Marcus Stone's My Lady is a Widow (lot 259). The Wilkie, the Poynter, the Albert Moore, the Dicksee, the Briton Riviere and Watts's Orpheus and Eurydice are accompanied by related drawings, while Leighton's Athlete has its plaster sketch (lot 150). Nearby, too, hangs Walker Hodgson's portrait of the President (lot 149), just as a 'Spy' cartoon provides a likeness of Frith (lot 334).
One of the most fruitful results of this passion for teaming-up is the bringing together of two long separated fragments of a painting by Val Prinsep (lots 293-4). The two Arthur Hugheses also make an interesting pairing, one (lot 13) having almost certainly led to the commission of the other (lot 11). Sometimes the links are more general, as in the case of the extensive series of Etty nudes, not unsupported, characteristically enough, by the occasional Frost. In this astonishing sequence the notion of seeing a collection in terms of variations on a theme finds its undoubted climax. Elsewhere it is not so much formal connections as friendships and family groupings that are celebrated. There are works by all the Hayllars, not only James but his four talented daughters; by the three Solomon siblings, Abraham, Rebecca and Simeon; by William Bell Scott, his elder brother David, and his mistress Alice Boyd. Even more evocative are the fans signed by circles of artists, writers and musicians (lots 125-6, 324-5), the cabinet of works by members of the St John's Wood Art Club (lot 124), and the panels contributed by Alma-Tadema's friends and admirers to the decoration of his house in Grove End Road (lots 274-7). Such items provide a unique insight into the workings of the Victorian art world, and it is enormously to Kip Forbes's credit that he has seen this and honoured the associations in such tangible form. One of the saddest aspects of the Collection's dispersal is that the links thus made will be severed, almost certainly never to be re-forged.
As Allen Staley writes elsewhere in these catalogues, the Forbes Collection is now entering its 'niche in history'. Its long-term significance will no doubt be assessed by art historians of the future, but it is safe to say that its place in the Victorian revival is a key one, and that the revival would have been a less vibrant and colourful phenomenon had it never been formed. While its impact must be attributed primarily to its intrinsic merits, the fruit of the intelligence and determination behind it, three circumstances have undoubtedly enhanced its profile. First, there was the fact that an institution as respected as the Forbes Magazine was prepared to underwrite the project. This can only have carried weight at a time when Victorian art was still facing an uphill struggle against ingrained prejudice. Secondly, the Forbeses were unfailingly generous in lending their treasures world-wide, whether contributing individual works to thematic shows or providing complete exhibitions. If many of these paintings have become 'icons', it is partly because they have been seen so much, not only on both sides of the Atlantic but in Japan, and reproduced in so many catalogues. Finally, for those fortunate enough to have visited Old Battersea House (never difficult since the Forbeses were as generous as hosts as they were as lenders), there was the pleasure of seeing the pictures in this noble and romantic setting. It was an unforgettable experience.
Although it was put together comparatively recently, the Forbes Collection is already something of a period piece. When Kip Forbes embarked on his gallant and quixotic venture, the comparative youth of the Victorian revival meant that the material he needed for the kind of collection he had in mind was, by and large, available. But this has long since ceased to be the case. As interest has grown and demand increased, so the supply of good Victorian pictures, drawings and sculpture has dwindled, leaving today's collector with far fewer options and far less room for manoeuvre. In fact it is true to say that to 'do a Forbes' now would be virtually impossible. It is equally true that never again will we see a collection like this at auction.