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Drawings by Thomas Rowlandson from The Alfred Morrison Collection, Fonthill House, sold by order of The Lord Margadale of Islay, D.L.
Alfred Morrison (1821-1897) was the second son of the millionaire textile merchant James Morrison (1790-1857). Alfred enjoyed the comforts of a town house in Harley Street and country estates at Fonthill, Wiltshire and Basildon, Berkshire. He attended Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities and travelled regularly on the continent spending over three years criss-crossing North America on behalf of his father's merchant bank. While travelling with him in 1842, his elder brother Charles wrote home: 'I have been observing Alfred - & do not think he will become a working man of business... I think that nothing but necessity will induce him to become the inmate of a countinghouse... [he] does not value money & does like his ease'.
Fortunately for Morrison he would never be forced to become the 'inmate of a countinghouse'. When his father died in 1857, he inherited the Fonthill estate and £750,000 in stocks and shares. His country home was called the Pavilion, the surviving wing of William Beckford's Fonthill Splendens (the ruins of the famous Abbey were close by).
Perhaps Morrison was inspired by William Beckford, he filled his houses with paintings and sculpture, Persian carpets, tapestries, lace and embroidery, coins and medals, Greek antiquities, autographs and letters, as well as Chinese porcelain, adding three top-lit galleries to Fonthill in the 1880s. He bought works by contemporary artists including Frederic, Lord Leighton and John Brett. A description of Fonthill Splendens written early in the century could as easily have been applied to his own achievements in his London and Wiltshire houses: 'an astonishing splendour is shown here, combined with the finest taste, and one can say without exaggerating that those who are in the business of decorating for the great and rich, to perfect their art would find in Fonthill the most excellent examples' (C.A.G. Goede, England, Wales and Ireland, Dresden, 1805, vol. 5, p. 116).
The last sale, on 9 November 2004, was the third major sale of important Chinese art from Morrison's Fonthill Heirlooms Collection at Christie's. The first took place on 31 May 1965, when the famous Xuande cloisonné enamel jar and cover now in the Uldry Collection was among the pieces sold. The second sale was on 18 October 1971, which included fine Qing cloisonné and porcelain.