Crossing Battersea Bridge and turning right down a narrow riverside road that twists and turns as it runs parallel to the Thames, you will eventually come to a high wall over which you might just be able to see a steep roof interrupted by mansard windows.

Over the past thirty five years, captains, 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 paneled baroque hall, the wide staircase, the exquisite paneled drawing rooms, by the extraordinary collection of Victorian pictures that hung on the walls but above all by an ineffable sense of the personalities of the Forbes family who, led by Malcolm Forbes, gave this historic and unique London manor house a glorious new lease of life. Now the pictures that have hung on the walls of Old Battersea House for three decades are to be sold.

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 older Tudor foundations in the late 17th century, the village of Chelsea.

Was the house designed by Sir Christopher Wren?

Certainly its handsome baroque proportions both inside and out would indicate this as 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.

Passing through the hands of many owners, Old Battersea House ended up by being threatened with demolition in the 1920s which caused a considerable local outcry, led by Colonel Charles G. Stirling whose wife Wilhelmina had many family connections with turn of the century Old Chelsea and those artists who lived there.

When 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 (1939-1917). Mrs. Stirling lived on at Old Battersea House until her death in 1965 just short of her 100th birthday, but before her death 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, virtually a roofless shell until, as Christopher Forbes remembers in his fascinating essay in the catalogue to this sale, his father Malcolm saw it and, in spite of its sorry state, could see the possibilities of its handsome proportions and its unique riverside location and took it on a 99 year lease.

Four years later, after a careful program of restoration by the architect Vernon Gibberd, the house again came to life - not as an impersonal museum but as a real home for the Forbes family when they were in London. Mrs. Stirling would have been pleased that it housed a new collection of wonderful pictures painted by artists that she undoubtedly knew personally. She would have been particularly gratified to see that three of the principal rooms on the ground floor were devoted to works from the De Morgan Foundation collection. And she would also have been pleased to see paintings by her maternal uncle, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (l829-l908) and other paintings by his contemporaries purchased by the Forbes for their collection which are now, including a work by her sister Evelyn de Morgan, in the sale.

Yet in spite of the magnificent collection of Victorian pictures which has filled this house for the past thirty years or so, Old Battersea House in the Forbes years has never felt like a museum but always a private house; it has an intensely intimate ambience due in no small measure to the personality of Malcolm Forbes and his children, in particular his son Christopher who first persuaded his father to collect Victorian pictures.

The pictures in the Forbes Collection are so numerous the sale will take two days and three sessions at Christie's in February 2003. It is a collection remarkable for its breadth and diversity for every aspect of Victorian painting is represented, from genre to social realism, from biblical and classical themes to fairy painting.

The evening sale includes thirty-nine works including those by Walter Howell Deverall (Twelfth Night, Estimate: £800,000-1,200,000), one of the last major Pre-Raphaelite paintings to remain in private hands. Sir John Everett Millais, P.R.A. is represented by two works (Trust Me, Estimate: £800,000-1,200,000 and For the Squire, Estimate: £800,000- 1,200,000).

William Holman Hunt is represented in this collection by the first ambitious painting of a life-sized figure by this artist (Il Dolce far Niente, Estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000). From Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt, A.R.A. comes the fifth in a series of seven canvases depicting the legend of St George (St George and the Dragon: The Princess tied to a Tree, Estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000).

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A., one of Queen Victoria's favorite artists is represented by a work celebrating the epitome of the elegant Victorian sporting aristocrat ('Scene in Chillingham Park: Portrait of Lord Ossulston', or 'Death of the Wild Bull', Estimate: £800,000-1,200,000).

The leading sculpture in this sale is Frederic, Lord Leighton's best known composition, Athlete struggling with a Python, estimated at £600,000 to 800,000.

The day sales comprise over three hundred lots of rich and varied works of art, with items for all levels of collecting and for all tastes.

Apart from the extraordinary variety of canvases there are also drawings, watercolors and sculpture relating to other works in the collection, which were assembled by Malcolm Forbes and Christopher Forbes with careful attention to detail and academic research.

Sketches for major works include David Wilkie's Sancho Panza in the Days of his Youth, an oil sketch for William Powell Frith's 'For Better, For Worse' and a beautiful maquette study in plaster of Leighton's Athlete struggling with a Python.

Truly, the Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Works of Art offers collectors of every persuasion, whether old or new, an exciting opportunity to acquire superb works of Victorian art at every level.

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