The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys: ‘The story of a single English aristocratic family over the course of more than 400 years’
Treasures being offered from Ombersley Court in the heart of England — amassed over several centuries — range from Old Master paintings to Chinese porcelain, silver and militaria
The Great Hall at Ombersley Court. Typical of English Palladian architecture, the double-height entrance hall features a galleried landing and a series of Ionic pilasters interspersed between arched doorways
Set in beautiful parkland in the Worcestershire countryside, Ombersley Court was the seat of the Sandys family for more than 300 years. The present house was built by Francis Smith of Warwick for Samuel Sandys, 1st Lord Sandys, between 1723 and 1726. It was substantially altered in the early 19th century by John Webb for Mary, Marchioness of Downshire, who was the niece of Edwin, 2nd Lord Sandys. Webb modified the façade and added a handsome portico of paired Ionic columns. He also built a new wing containing the principal dining room and additional bedrooms, one of which was named after the Duke of Wellington, who stayed at Ombersley on several occasions.
Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) and studio, An English Two-Decker at Sea. 95⅝ x 137¾ in (243 x 350 cm). Estimate: £300,000-500,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
It is to these two periods that many of the works in the collection of Lord and Lady Sandys belong. ‘A number of the pieces were acquired or commissioned for Ombersley, both at its inception and subsequently for the Marchioness of Downshire, with others coming to the family by inheritance,’ says Adrian Hume-Sayer, director of Private and Iconic Collections and Country House Sales at Christie’s in London. ‘It’s very unusual in modern times to offer an English country-house collection with so many indigenous objects and works of art.’
Following the sale of the house in 2017, some important works were gifted to institutions across the UK, most recently Sir Thomas Lawrence’s Portrait of Lord Marcus Hill, Later 3rd Baron Sandys to Historic Royal Palaces for Hillsborough Castle and Gardens in Northern Ireland, the historic seat of the Hill family, Marquesses of Downshire. On 29 November, Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys will be offered at Christie’s in London, featuring more than 200 lots ranging from Old Master paintings to English furniture, Asian art and European decorative arts, including silver, porcelain and militaria.
A pair of Chinese blue-and-white ‘soldier’ vases and covers, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period, 1662-1722. 40 in (102 cm) high. Estimate: £60,000-80,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
It includes examples by some of the most celebrated English artists and makers of the 18th and 19th centuries, from Enoch Seeman and Joshua Reynolds to Ince and Mayhew and William Kent. Crowning the collection is an important group of four naval scenes by Willem van de Velde the Younger and studio, which have been in the family since they were commissioned in the 1690s.
Enoch Seeman (c. 1694-1744), Group portrait of Letitia, Lady Sandys, née Tipping (1699-1779) with her two eldest sons, Edwin, later 2nd Baron Sandys (1726-1797), with a cockatoo in his left hand, and Cheke Sandys (1727-1737), in brown coats and breeches with red waistcoats. 60¾ x 74½ in (154.3 x 189 cm). Estimate: £30,000-50,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
‘This remarkable collection tells the story of a single English aristocratic family over the course of more than 400 years, while also charting the evolution of the English country-house aesthetic,’ says Hume-Sayer. ‘It’s a rare opportunity for collectors to acquire works that not only have unbroken provenance, but are also fresh to market.’
Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A. (1723-1792), Portrait of Edwin, 2nd Baron Sandys (1726-1797), half-length, in a pink and green velvet waistcoat and jacket. 29⅞ x 25 in (76 x 60.5 cm). Estimate: £200,000-300,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
Around the table in the Great Hall is a set of George I walnut furniture, circa 1725 (estimate: £4,000-6,000). Above the coat of arms hangs a portrait of Montague Blundell, 1st Viscount Blundell (1689-1756), attributed to Charles Jervas (£6,000-9,000). Overhanging the hall from the gallery is a painted and gilt silk heraldic banner, late 18th/early 19th century (£1,200-1,800), and to the left of the door is a late 16th-/early 17th-century English or Flemish close helmet (£5,000-8,000). All offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London. Photo: © Rory Rae Photography
The main rooms on the ground floor at Ombersley Court, with the exception of the library and the principal dining room, were conceived by Smith of Warwick, an English builder and architect responsible for the design and construction of many country houses in the Midlands. Typical of English Palladian architecture, the double-height entrance hall features a galleried landing, a series of Ionic pilasters interspersed between arched doorways and recesses, and a ceiling decorated with detailed mouldings and cornicing.
Over the years, the room has featured a diverse range of furniture and decorative arts, including a George I walnut musical striking clock attributed to Windmills and Elkins; a set of six William III side chairs in the manner of Daniel Marot, from around 1700; and a rare pair of 17th-century Mexican polychrome-decorated and parcel-gilt earthenware jars. Adorning the walls was a selection of Old Master portraits and family militaria, including a pair of helmets dating from the late 16th or early 17th century, fitted with a crimson and giltwood griffin sergeant armorial crest for the Sandys family. Above each of the two stone fireplaces is a detailed moulding bearing the Sandys and Tipping coats of arms.
A pair of Mexican polychrome-decorated and parcel-gilt earthenware ovoid jars or búcaros, 17th century, possibly Tonalá, on late 17th-century English ebonised stands. 48 in (122 cm) high overall. Estimate: £30,000-50,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
A near pair of George I gilt-gesso side tables, circa 1725, in the manner of James Moore. 31¾ x 36 x 19¾ in (78 x 91.5 x 50.5 cm) and 30¼ x 34¼ x 19¾ in (77.5 x 87 x 50.5 cm). Estimate: £60,000-100,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
‘Samuel, the 1st Lord Sandys, was married to Letitia Tipping, a wealthy heiress whose fortune was estimated at around £170,000 [thought to be in excess of £50 million in today’s money],’ explains Hume-Sayer. ‘It was Letitia who inherited many of the outstanding Old Master pictures in the collection.’
Among them were the four naval pictures by Willem van de Velde the Younger and studio, which were displayed on the walls of the ground-floor dining room. They belong to a series of seven paintings probably commissioned between 1693 and 1698 by Admiral Edward Russell, 1st Earl of Orford, for his house, Chippenham Park, in Cambridgeshire. Russell played a key role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and famously defeated the French at the naval Battle of La Hogue in 1692. He was created Earl of Orford in 1697.
‘This is the most important single grouping of Van de Veldes to come to market in recent times,’ says Hume-Sayer, explaining that they came to Letitia from Russell, her great-uncle, following his death in 1727. ‘All four paintings depict naval activity that Russell was likely involved in, so they serve as symbols of his wealth, status and prowess in battle.’
Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) and studio, The Burning of the Soleil Royal during the Battle of La Hogue, 22 May 1692. 79½ x 120½ in (201.9 x 306.5 cm). Estimate: £120,000-180,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
Of the four Van de Veldes coming to auction, Hume-Sayer is particularly taken by The Burning of the Soleil Royal, a monumental canvas commemorating Russell’s success against the French at the Battle of La Hogue. ‘I find this one the most interesting, because it was clearly painted to impress,’ he says. ‘The fact that the Marchioness of Downshire gave the paintings pride of place in the dining room suggests she was proud of her family history.’
Complementing the canvases was a large George III mahogany triple-pedestal dining table and a set of 10 mahogany dining chairs with close-nailed red leather seats. Formal tableware offered for sale includes a George III silver epergne with a central basket engraved with the Sandys coat of arms, and the extensive Sandys silver dinner service, which includes a set of six silver meat dishes and a set of four silver vegetable dishes, both dating from 1770 and bearing the mark of Thomas Heming.
Adorning the wood-panelled walls of the drawing room, also known as the saloon, was a group of family portraits, among them a full-length portrait of Colonel Thomas Cheke by John Riley and John Closterman, and Enoch Seeman’s group portrait of Letitia, Lady Sandys, with her two eldest sons, Edwin Sandys and Cheke Sandys — one of whom is carrying a cockatoo.
The saloon or drawing room at Ombersley Court. Enoch Seeman’s Group portrait of Letitia, Lady Sandys, née Tipping, with her two eldest sons (estimate: £30,000-50,000) hangs over the fireplace, which is flanked by a pair of George II giltwood torchères (£20,000-40,000) and a pair of late George III mahogany sofas (£3,000-5,000). All offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London. Photo: © Rory Rae Photography
Daniel Mytens the Elder (c. 1590-1647), Portrait of Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford KB (1593-1625), full-length, in a purple suit, with his wand of office leaning against a table. 83 x 61⅝ in (210.7 x 156.5 cm). Estimate: £70,000-100,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
Other notable Old Master paintings coming to auction include Daniel Mytens’s full-length portrait of Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, and Sir Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Edwin, 2nd Baron Sandys, which was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in 1967. A noted Greek scholar and founding trustee of the British Museum, Edwin Sandys counted luminaries such as Dr Johnson, the playwright Oliver Goldsmith and the actor David Garrick among his friends. Known as the ‘Streatham Worthies’, they were all painted by Reynolds, and his portrait of Sandys was one of Ombersley’s greatest treasures.
The furniture in the drawing room included a pair of George II giltwood candle stands and a near pair of George I cut-gesso and giltwood side tables in the manner of James Moore, dating from circa 1725. With their finely cut bas-relief strapwork, the tables are a good example of the style of decoration favoured by the court of Louis XIV, popularised in Britain through engravings published by William III’s court architect, Daniel Marot.
‘They are described as a near pair because there are minor differences in detail and execution,’ explains Hume-Sayer. ‘This suggests that they were originally intended for different rooms, or that the second table was commissioned to make up the pair shortly after the first had left the workshop, although they are clearly by the same maker.’
A Country Life photograph of the Chinese Room, circa 1900-1910, showing a Chinese export black and gilt lacquer cabinet on stand (estimate: £6,000-9,000) between two of a set of four Regency bamboo and simulated bamboo side chairs, circa 1814, attributed to Tatham, Bailey and Saunders (£3,000-5,000). Both offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London. Photo: © Country Life Picture Library / Future Publishing Ltd
Most of the interiors upstairs at Ombersley date from around 1815 and were fine examples of Regency decoration. The star among them was the Chinese Room, decorated in beautiful blues and golds and furnished with Oriental-influenced works of art. The treasures coming to auction include a set of four Regency bamboo and simulated bamboo side chairs, attributed to Tatham, Bailey and Saunders, from around 1814.
‘By the turn of the 19th century, there was a resurgence of interest in Oriental interiors,’ says Hume-Sayer, who notes that George IV was a leading proponent of the decorative style now known as chinoiserie. ‘Interiors in this style often featured wallpapers and textiles with motifs such as dragons, pagodas and lanterns.’ Other important Regency furnishings from the Chinese Room have already been gifted to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Leeds Art Fund.
An Ottoman Turkish tortoiseshell, bone and mother-of-pearl inlaid walnut table cabinet, dated August 1690. 9¼ x 16¼ x 9 in (23.5 x 41 x 22 cm). Estimate: £12,000-18,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
A pair of Japanese pagoda-form gilt-metal-mounted, black and gilt lacquer table caskets, 17th century. 10½ x 12½ x 8¾ in (26.5 x 32 x 22 cm). Estimate: £30,000-50,000. Offered in Ombersley Court: The Collection of Lord and Lady Sandys on 29 November 2023 at Christie’s in London
Other standout lots coming to auction include an important pair of Chinese blue-and-white ‘soldier’ vases with domed covers, dating from the Kangxi period, and a pair of George II giltwood pedestals, possibly by William Kent, dating from around 1735.
Also noteworthy is an Ottoman Turkish tortoiseshell, bone and mother-of-pearl inlaid walnut table cabinet dating from 1690. It is fitted with eight small drawers, one of which has an inscription in black ink that reads: ‘This cabinet I brought out of Turkey, it was made there, August 1690, Eliz: Trumbull’.
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‘The inscription brings the object to life,’ says Hume-Sayer. ‘I can just imagine this aristocratic lady having her maid pack her leather-bound trunks and travelling back to England with her new treasures wrapped up inside.
‘I have a real affinity with these objects, because they provide a tangible link to specific people. This sale marks a new chapter in their story as they continue their journey and join new collections.’