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Letter from London

Ian McKay | September 15th, 2013

Ian McKay,

This month’s “Letter,” I indicated last month, might include quite a few paintings and drawings, some clocks, some silver, and a few furnishings. There are indeed a number of old master drawings and a few Dali concoctions in this “Letter,” along with a superb bronze and a lot of boxes, but as has happened before, I have first gone off on an entirely different tack—in this instance on the Carrick Roads, the deep water estuary of the River Fal in Cornwall, in pursuit of an old-fashioned country house sale with a Copeland bone china difference that was the July 23 and 24 Bonhams sale at Feock of…

Trelissick House and a view from the house across the Fal estuary. Travel options printed in the Bonhams sale catalogue included ferries that run from Falmouth, Truro, and St. Mawes, but warned that those choosing this romantic-sounding option faced a steep uphill walk from the ferry pontoon.

Purchased in 1927 for what would then have been around $125, this massive Spode stone china punchbowl, some 17" in diameter and decorated in the Chinese Famille Rose taste with mandarin ducks swimming amidst lotus plants, and with the eight Taoist immortals featured around the inner rim, was sold for $9980.

A charming little Spode chamber candlestick of circa 1820, painted with exotic birds to a yellow ground, did much better than expected in selling at $1440.

Pictured is part of a 39-piece Spode dinner service of circa 1826, originally given by Josiah Spode II to Sarah Yates on the occasion of her marriage to William Taylor Copeland in that year, that sold for $28,785.

Painted with landscape panels depicting “Warkworth Castle, Northumberland” and “Trematon Castle, Cornwall,” this 13¼" tall, dark blue and gilt decorated Spode ice pail with pineapple finial (circa 1825) made $10,555.

The Contents of Trelissick House

Trelissick’s history stretches back to the mid-18th century, when the original house was built for a John Laurence. In 1805, the house and estate were bought by Ralph Daniell, a man whose fortune was based on tin and copper mining, and then passed to his son, Thomas, who added two wings and the Georgian portico seen in the accompanying photograph.

However, though he lived in grand style, Thomas Daniell was also living beyond his means and, rather than face his creditors, he eventually fled to France. The estate was then bought by the Earl of Falmouth and passed from his hands into those of the Gilbert family before—as legend has it—Leonard Cunliffe fell in love with the house as he sailed past it on his yacht, Laranda, in the early 1900’s.

Many years later, and also afloat in the beautiful Fal estuary, I took a shine to Trelissick as well, but I fear that Cunliffe had the jump on me—both in years and personal finances.

A merchant banker, sometime deputy governor of the Bank of England, a director of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and a major investor in one of the world’s great department stores, Harrods, Leonard Cunliffe already owned half a dozen houses in London and the country, but in 1913 took a lease on Trelissick and 15 years later bought it outright.

Cunliffe travelled extensively and either personally, or via brokers and agents, spent heavily and regularly on works of art for his various homes, and at his death in 1937, a magnificent bequest enriched just about every department of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. There were Chinese ceramics, Limoges enamels, furnishings, paintings, and much more besides.

In 1898, however, Cunliffe had married Evelyne Isabella Fenzi (née Galton), the widow of Camillo Fenzi of the Florentine banking family, and it was to Ida, his stepdaughter, that he eventually left Trelissick House.

In 1915, young Ida had married Ronald Copeland, president and chairman of the Spode-Copeland ceramics business, and for over 30 years Ronald and Ida lived at Kibblestone Hall in Staffordshire. In the early 1930’s, Ida served as Member of Parliament for the capital of the potteries country, Stoke on Trent, just as one of her husband’s forebears, William Taylor Copeland, had done in the mid-19th century.

Then in 1948, Ronald and Ida moved into Trelissick House, focussing their efforts on creating the gardens for which the house is best known today, and in 1955 they gave both the gardens and the house (but not the contents) to the National Trust, whilst retaining the right of the family to live there. It was not until this year, when Ronald and Ida’s grandson and his wife, Will and Jenny Copeland, decided to downsize to a more manageable sized house, that the Cunliffe-Copeland reign at Trelissick was ended.

Whilst still living in Staffordshire, Ronald Copeland had built up, within the factory itself, a major collection of early Spode bone china, along with later products of the company—a collection that he hoped would inform and inspire the workforce as well as become a record of their manufacturing history. But in 1966, when the family relinquished control of the business, Ronald’s son, Spencer Copeland, moved that collection to Trelissick House and continued to add to it, notably in the area of Victorian and later products.

This collection of some 2500 pieces, ranging in date from 1770 to modern times and rivalled only by that in the Spode Museum in Stoke-on-Trent, was a major, perhaps the main, attraction of the Trelissick House sale.

They are fewer and farther between nowadays, but everyone loves a grand country house sale, where everything from old skis in the attic to bottles of cognac and malt whisky in the cellars was up for sale, but many of the estimated 2000 people who made their way to Trelissick House to view or buy at a sale held in a marquee in the old stable yard were drawn by the Spode collection.

There would also be those who were drawn simply out of curiosity, for though the gardens have been open for many years, the house and its contents have never before been accessible to the public.

And with absolutely everything sold in a “white glove” sale, the National Trust, which seems not to have been able to agree to a deal on the contents, now has a large, empty house on its hands. They did buy back some things at the sale—generally more modestly priced lots with direct family links—but what will happen to Trelissick House now? Will it become one of those popular country house wedding venues? It certainly has stunning views for the guests to admire, but we shall have to wait and see.

For this report, I have illustrated and briefly described a selection of the Spode lots, along with a couple of pieces of furniture that came with the original Harrods invoice—and did Cunliffe get a special deal, I wonder?—plus a fine barometer. I have also included a couple of views—the facade of the house and that lovely view across the Fal estuary.

In today’s market, it was inevitable that one or two of the Chinese pieces should head the list—a Qianlong bottle vase with a flambé glaze, for example, topped the bidding at $518,055—and some readers may remember that in the August “Letter” I featured two 16th-century Iznik pottery water bottles that Leonard Cunliffe had bought in 1919 for the then enormous sum of $2000, but which at Bonhams in April sold for a combined total of $1,157,450.

Before the sale, Will Copeland, when asked to identify some of his favourite things in Trelissick House, mentioned this pair of Copeland “ginger jars,” painted by a man he regards as “surely the best ceramic artist of the Victorian era.” Charles Ferdinand Hürten was considered by some to have no superior in flower painting, and in 1860, after nearly two years of persuasion, he left Paris to join the Copeland studio at a salary far in excess of anything paid to the factory’s other artists. Dated to circa 1868, and a wedding present to Will Copeland’s great-grandparents, Richard Prie Copeland and Emily Wood, these covered jars sold in the end for an under-estimate and rather disappointing $13,435.

Although another Hürten lot (not shown), a massive, 41¾" high Copeland plaque made especially for display at Kibblestone Hall, circa 1879, did sell, the price of $17,270 was very much a low-estimate one. Executed in an impasto technique using textured coloured clays beneath a rich glaze, the plaque was painted with a vase of roses and other flowers..

The Spode star turn of the Trelissick sale, at $60,865, was this special pair of Copeland & Garrett presentation cabinet cups and salvers. The signing of a partnership deal between William Copeland and Thomas Garrett in 1833 was celebrated with an ox roast, at which somebody had the bright idea of gathering up the remaining ox bones and turning them into bone china. From the special clay, four souvenirs were created. Two punchbowls were made for the Talbot and the Wheatsheaf inns, the venues for the celebrations, while two salvers and matching cups, each bearing the appropriate armorials, were made for the new partners.

Copeland’s cup remained in the family, but Garrett’s cup found its way into the collection of T.G. Cannon—and is illustrated in his Old Spode (1925)—before being sold at Christie’s in 1918. Twelve years later, however, it reappeared in a Puttick and Simpson auction in London and for a sum of around $50 was reunited with its companion. The punchbowl made for the Wheatsheaf Inn is also in the Copeland collection, but has been retained by the family.

Bought for a bargain $12 by Ronald Copeland in 1931, and for many years to be found at Kibblestone Hall, this Spode “Krater” vase of circa 1820 made $9210 in the Trelissick sale.

Pictured at left above is a George II period mahogany partners’ desk, in the manner of Thomas Chippendale, that sold for $90,400 at Trelissick House, and seen above right is a Régence marquetry and gilt-bronze-mounted commode, in the manner of Hache, that reached $66,435. Both items appear on a Harrods invoice for items bought by Leonard Cunliffe in January 1914, at rather more modest sums.

There were a few surprises in the Trelissick sale—not least a pair of Chinese vases that sold for $278,420 rather than the suggested $5000/8000—but while we have got used to that sort of thing where Chinese works of art are concerned, a bid of $46,085 for a barometer that had been valued at just $1500/2300 is a little different. A brass-inlaid stick barometer, it is signed “Made by G.ADAMS/ at Tycho Brahe’s head/ in Fleet Street London.”

A curious address, but Tycho Brahe, as some readers will doubtless know, was a great Danish astronomer who built a famous observatory at Uraniborg on the island of Hven, and George Adams was both a notable English instrument maker, whose family business was founded in 1735, and a scientific writer. It would seem that he was an admirer of Brahe and named his premises, near the Castle Tavern, for the great Dane, though whether this was a barometer made by the founder or his son, George Junior, is not clear—at least to me.

A pair of Spode pineapple stands of circa 1825. Such things are rarely found among the products of English porcelain factories, and the Trelissick pair sold at $12,475.

The only bronze cast of the first version of Camille Claudel’s La Valse, sold for just over $8 million at Sotheby’s on June 19.

“The Waltz,” but Not as You Know It

La Valse, the 37¾" high bronze seen here, is considered to be one of the most accomplished sculptures of Camille Claudel (1864-1943), who in the early 1880’s, as a young girl, moved to Paris from her family’s farm in northern France and who was not yet 20 when the sculptor Paul Dubois introduced her to Auguste Rodin. Within a year she had become an apprentice in Rodin’s studio and for ten years flourished both as an indispensable figure in his studio and a sculptor in her own right, producing elegant and sensual works such as La Valse.

Offered at Sotheby’s on June 19, it is the only bronze made of the first version of the plaster cast, which Claudel completed in 1892 and had cast in the following year by the Siot Decauville foundry in Paris. In the second version, the drapery is modified, so that the figures are naked from the waist up. Variations also ensued within this second series, where the base on which the figures dance was modified and the placement of the figures’ heads was varied.

Armand Dayot, a contemporary art critic, was very taken—almost carried away—by Mademoiselle Claudel’s work and described La Valse as “...a graceful entwining of superb shapes, balanced in a harmonious rhythm in the midst of whirling draperies. Ah, these draperies are indeed flimsy […] Melle Claudel wanted to sacrifice the least nakedness possible, and I can’t say that I blame her. They are, however, sufficient to cover certain details which are too visibly realist and, at the same time, to indicate the subject’s character. This light shawl which clings to the sides of the woman, leaving her body naked—a superb body which is gracefully arched as if to flee a kiss—finishes in a kind of quivering train. It is like a torn sleeve, from which a winged object seems suddenly to appear!”

Modern-day admirers were equally enthusiastic about this unique cast of La Valse, acquired by a Swedish collector in the 1950’s and last seen at auction in Stockholm in 1990, when it was bought by the Sotheby’s consignor. It was valued at roughly $2/3 million, but keen bidding saw the dancers swept on past the $8 million mark—to a treble-estimate $8,003,390.

Salvador Dali Gets Fruity


The “FruitDalí” series of lithographs with drypoint, commissioned from Salvador Dali by the Swiss publisher Jean Schneider, proved very popular with buyers in the 1970’s. Fourteen of the original artworks—in which Dali’s surreal imagination was translated into watercolour and gouache additions and alterations to stipple-engraved plates from major works* by two leading French botanical artists of the 19th century—were seen at Bonhams on June 18.

Three of these artworks, all of which sold for a total of $1,138,380, are reproduced here. From left to right, they are: Prunier Hâtif (Hasty Plum), which sold for $142,945; Fruits Troués (Pierced Fruits), which realised $77,150; and Poire Don Quichotte (Don Quixote Pear), priced at $77,150.

* The printed works were P.A. Poiteau’s Pomologie française…, a four-volume account of fruits cultivated in France that was published in 1846 with 420 stipple-engraved plates, and H-L. Duhamel de Monceau’s Traité des arbres et arbustes…, in this instance a seven-volume, 1800-19 edition of his work on trees, bushes, and shrubs, illustrated with 496 stipple-engraved plates.

The magnificent Roman antique marble inlaid tabletop that sold for $1,463,990 at Sotheby’s on July 3, and a detail of the acorn symbols in the corners that may give a clue to the identity of its original owners.

A Florentine pietre dure panel, most likely made in the Grand Ducal workshops, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, around 1700. It sold for $238,760 at Bonhams on July 4.

And All Done with a Few Coloured Stones

At first glance, the work illustrated far right may look like a painting, but this Italian river or coastal landscape with figures is in fact a late 17th- or early 18th-century pietre dure panel—in other words, a picture built up using cut and polished coloured stone fragments, or stone marquetry work.

In its composition and use of particular stones, this 13½" x 23" example is closely related to a group of such panels, originally incorporated into a cabinet and featuring landscapes with ruins and fishing scenes, that are now in the Museo dell’Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence. Those panels are dated to 1709 and attributed to Baccio Cappelli, a leading artist in the city’s Grand Ducal workshops, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

It also can be compared with other works seen at auction in recent times, among them a panel that sold for just under $183,000 as part of the Bernard Steinitz collection at Christie’s in London in December 2007. That one used a similar type of translucent alabaster for the clouds, a comparable greyish-green stone for the water, a similarly striated pink/white marble for the clothing sported by some of the figures, and the same black marble for the tree trunks.

Earlier this year, this particular panel was taken along to one of the valuation days that Bonhams, like many other salesrooms, holds around the country—in this instance an event hosted by the Saffron Walden Golf Club in Essex, though it had in fact been trotted out some years earlier on an episode of the BBC-TV’s Antiques Roadshow. On that earlier occasion, it was valued at $15,000/20,000, but for a July 4 sale of this year, Bonhams reckoned $30,000/45,000 would be more realistic.

They were still well short of the mark, for it was bid to $238,760—a sum that also included the later English table into which the panel had previously been set.

When it comes to marble tabletops, however, that sum rather pales in comparison with the $1,463,990 paid for the Roman example seen above left, which dates from the last quarter of the 16th century.

Offered as part of the “Treasures, Princely Taste” sale held by Sotheby’s on July 3, this magnificent late Renaissance work, previously unknown and sent to auction from an unidentified but “prestigious aristocratic stately home,” has, say Sotheby’s, to be one of the largest (49½" x 70½") and most beautiful geometrically designed Roman antique marble inlaid commesso tabletops ever conceived. The word commesso derives from the Latin verb committere, meaning to join together—a reference to the design and construction techniques used in the manufacture of such pieces.

Employing rare antique marbles excavated from Roman imperial ruins and produced at a time when Roman intarsia craftsmanship and technical virtuosity were at their peak, and when the Renaissance princely dynasties—the Gonzaga, Farnese, and Medici—included the assertion of artistic patronage as part of their struggles for power, this tabletop, made available for study for the first time in its arrival at Sotheby’s, is a significant addition to the group of Roman commessi recorded and studied to date.

It is known that it was brought back to England from Florence in 1840 by a Reverend Sanford, who sold it a couple of years later to ancestors of the Sotheby’s consignors, but while Sanford believed it to have a Medici provenance, it is now thought that the acorns inlaid at each corner may give a clue to the identity of the original owner.

Acorns rarely appear as decorative emblems at this time and are not found on any of the other recorded Roman commessi, but the acorn and oak leaves were emblems found in the very elaborate arms of the Della Rovere family, who ruled the Dukedom of Urbino. Both Guidobaldo II (1514-1574) and his son, Francesco Maria II (1549-1631) were avid collectors, and there is an intriguing reference in a 1582 inventory of the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino that could well refer to this tabletop.

There are other naturalistic rather than purely geometrical elements in the design, three little birds and a cockerel, that might suggest the involvement of Florentine craftsmen, but whatever its true origins, it remains a stunning achievement and a reminder of the taste for marbles from antiquity that characterised the age.

As the Sotheby’s cataloguer explained: “With columns and fragments of every kind of marble and coloured stone found deposited everywhere in the city [Rome], Renaissance artisans would collect these, cut them accordingly, and use them to decorate the churches, palazzos, monuments and furniture. An example of this is visible on the present tabletop, which epitomises the zenith of Renaissance Roman craftsmanship and virtuosity.

“The present antique marble inlaid tabletop, a vision of elegance, grandeur and vibrancy, is a tribute to those extraordinary Imperial Roman marbles.”

The catalogue included a keyed guide to the various different marbles and precious stones, 17 of them, used in its construction, but dominating all is the extremely rare and very large breccia quintilina of the central oval, which adds considerably to the value and importance of this piece. Breccia quintilina, sometimes called breccia di Tivoli, was excavated at the site of the Villa Quintiliolo, Tivoli, near the villa of Emperor Hadrian, around 1565 and, being the most sought-after marble, almost disappeared. Its rarity meant that it was more likely to be used for small inlays, but when used in a larger quantity, it immediately magnifies the importance and the ambition of the work of art involved, as seen on the present tabletop.

Another of the Dormeuil drawings seen at Sotheby’s on July 3 was this Italianate park landscape by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, which sold at $843,410. Traditionally, it has been said to represent the park of the Villa d’Este, but it seems more likely to be a recreation from his imagination rather than any specific place. Very few Fragonard landscapes of comparable grandeur remain in private hands today.

Old Master Drawings—A First Offering

From the summer sales in London, I have selected for illustration here a first group of old master drawings, but I have reserved for next month’s column a further piece on a July 5 Sotheby’s sale of “The Ralph Holland Collection.” A collection of mostly Italian drawings, this sale did not see prices on the level recorded in those other sales featured here, but this collection was formed by a man described by Hugo Chapman, Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, as “the last of a very special generation of great English connoisseur-collectors,” and as such it is a sale to which I would prefer  to devote more space than is now available to me this month.

I have included one of the Holland drawings as a trailer, but the other five are drawn from more general Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales.

Italian drawings from the collections of the art historian, university lecturer and gentleman connoisseur-collector Ralph Holland (1917-2012)—a Sotheby’s sale of July 5 to which I will return in more detail next month—included this chalk design for a silver bust of St. Anthony Abbot. When purchased by Holland at Christie’s in 1977, it was catalogued as Circle of Carlo Maretta, but it was Holland who first suggested the now accepted attribution to Francesco Solimena (1657-1747), an artist whose involvement with silversmiths and sculptors is well documented. It sold for $84,275.

Bid to $1,243,990 by an American collector at Christie’s on July 2 was the sheet of five red chalk studies of (two?) children by Jean-Antoine Watteau, seen above—one of three items sent for sale by the Estée Lauder Fund of the Neue Galerie of New York City. The central image of a smiling boy in a cap was used as a model for one of the figures in Watteau’s painting Les Champs-Elysées (circa 1716), a picture now in the Wallace Collection in London. Another Watteau chalk drawing, this time depicting an actor costumed for the part of a commedia dell’arte character, the clown, Mezzetin, seen to the right, was sold for $752,150 at Sotheby’s on the following day. Like the Boucher and Fragonard drawings included in this piece, it was part of the Dormeuil collection.

Eleven lots offered as part of a Sotheby’s sale of July 3 came from the collections formed by Georges Dormeuil (1856-1939). These were wide-ranging, from medieval sculpture, ivories, and enamels to bronze, Chinese porcelain, and furniture, but French drawings were a real passion for the last 50 years of his life. This sheet of studies of a turbanned head, feet, and hands in red, black and white chalk is the work of François Boucher and relates to two figures seen in his monumental painting La Chasse du Léopard, an important early commission for the Petits Cabinet du Roi at Versailles but a painting that now hangs in the Musée de Picardie in Amiens. It sold for $770,400.

Sold twice in Paris in the last quarter of the 19th century, but last seen at auction at Christie’s in London in 1987, this ink and wash drawing of a hunter by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, inscribed in pencil (in Spanish) “If you miss the mark!”, was sold for $2,308,690 at Christie’s on July 2. It came originally from the “Black Border Album,” one of those celebrated private albums whose contents were not preparatory studies for his paintings or prints, but independent studies that acted as a sort of visual journal and, as the Christie’s cataloguer notes, provide “a tantalising glimpse of Goya’s attitudes to the moral, political and social predicaments of contemporary Spain.” Over the last 30 years of his life, Goya produced some 550 drawings of everyday life and situations that illuminate all aspects of human nature, drawings that were intended for his own contemplation and amusement or shown only to his close circle of friends.

Despite the fact that he seems to have carried out a great many commissions for his royal patrons—diplomatic gifts among them—boxes produced by Daniel Gouers (or Govaers) are now rarely found, and this lapis lazuli and gold-mounted snuffbox, probably dating from the 1720’s, was sold for $86,325 among the Wellington lots at Bonhams. The underside of the cover bears an en grisaille miniature on vellum of Venus at her toilette, painted by Gustav Klingstedt, whose faintly racy scenes are quite often found on the interiors of boxes at this date.

According to the Italian family who consigned this Saxon jewelled and gold-mounted, scallop-shaped bloodstone box to auction at Christie’s on June 4, it was given to an ancestor by Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies (1751-1825), who was a good friend and regular visitor to their Sicilian home. During World War II, however, it was buried in an ammunition tin in their garden for safekeeping. The 3¼" wide box was probably made in Dresden, circa 1750, but the gold-mounted flower spray of diamonds and rubies was added later, and the interior of the cover is set with a chased oval cartouche with glazed intertwined foliate initials “FR” beneath the royal crown. It sold at $314,785.

Simple in design and unmarked, but very attractive in its colouring, the 3" wide body of this 19th-century gold-mounted snuffbox is carved from a single piece of boldly striped jasper of purple and bluish green hue. It sold for $10,155 as a Wellington lot at Bonhams.

Little Boxes, Hard Boxes, Costly Boxes, and Some Coloured Glass Too

A couple of related hardstone works of art are featured elsewhere on these pages—see “And All Done with a Few Coloured Stones”—but gold-mounted and jewelled hardstone boxes, a tankard, and an extraordinary and costly Russian mix of coloured glass and hardstones are also the subject matter of this report.

A June 19 sale of silver, gold, and other fine boxes held by Bonhams opened with a selection of 58 hardstone boxes from the collections of the 7th and 8th Dukes of Wellington, and though the objects themselves—three of which are illustrated here—should be the prime focus of these reports, the historical and social background to their acquisition, as is often the case, can add so much to the story and is worth dwelling on for a moment.

Gerald Wellesley (1885-1972), a younger son of the 4th Duke of Wellington and known simply as “Gerry” to his friends, began collecting whilst still at school—Eton, of course—and continued to do so during his various postings to St. Petersburg, Constantinople, and Rome as a member of the diplomatic corps.

A piece on the sale by the broadcaster, writer, and royal biographer Hugo Vickers that was published in the Bonhams house journal records that during their Rome years, Gerry and his wealthy new wife, Dorothy Ashton, stepdaughter and heiress of the 10th Earl of Scarborough, used to “fill sacks with shining porphyry, verde antico, giallo antico, and so on,” and, to the great irritation of their nanny, would use their young son’s pram to bring their treasures home.

Their marriage did not last, but his wife’s money had allowed Gerry to give up the civil service and diplomacy to pursue a career as an architect, which he did with considerable success. In 1936, he was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works of Art, but then in 1943, everything changed. His nephew, “Morny,” the 6th Duke of Wellington, died during the Allied landings at Salerno in southern Italy, and Gerry found himself with a famous title and two ducal homes—Apsley House, or No.1 London as it was also known, and Stratfield Saye, a Jacobean house in Hampshire.

This was an inheritance that he once described as “having a glittering present every day,” though he was well aware of and certainly prepared to take on the responsibilities that his elevation imposed. As Hugo Vickers notes, the historian, writer, and expert on country houses James Lee-Milne described him as “a man of exceptional taste and knowledge of the arts [who] left more mark on Stratfield Saye than any predecessors since his illustrious great-grandfather”—Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, whose 1815 victory at the Battle of Waterloo had ended Napoleon’s ambitions.

Only a few years after inheriting the title and properties, Gerry realised that the costs of running two great houses would prove unsustainable, and in an extraordinary act of generosity—and without any suggestion of tax relief or concessions—gave Apsley House and its treasures to the nation.

In her own introductory piece in the Bonhams sale catalogue, Gerry’s granddaughter, Jane Wellesley, recalled her early memories of the 7th Duke, who was “always surrounded by beautiful objects, not just paintings and furniture, but smaller pieces too, including the boxes he started collecting when he was a young man. Often, when my brothers and I visited him at Stratfield Saye, he would show us his latest trophy. Many of them were kept in upright glass cabinets in the drawing-room, carefully covered to protect them from the sun. It was a great treat when we were allowed to handle these beautiful works of art.”

Visits to the “big house” were often full of fun, she continues: “My grandfather…had a very precise approach to arrangements and punctuality was a guiding star. My parents [her father is the 8th Duke, now 98] could cut it slightly fine, but sometimes we would tiptoe to the closed door of the drawing room, and stand there, gleefully bursting into the room at least two minutes past the appointed time, to find ‘Granfer’ standing in front of the fireplace, crossly counting the seconds on his gold pocket watch. Later, he might get his own back when he would keep us dangling, as we clamoured to see one of our favourite sights in the house: the First Duke’s false teeth.”

Jane Wellesley (whose book Wellington: A Journey through My Family was published in 2008) recalls her parents keeping up the family collecting tradition, as she and her siblings also did, and tells how her nephew, another Gerald, who was at the time serving with the army in Afghanistan, sent his grandmother a little polished slab of lapis lazuli. “I have no doubt that of all the presents she received in the last years of her life, this one was the most precious.” However, she admits that while there is some wistfulness in parting with these sentimental items (the 58 boxes sent to Bonhams), neither she nor her younger brothers are box collectors.

Three of the Wellington boxes in the Bonhams sale are illustrated and described here, along with a Nuremberg hardstone tankard from the Knightsbridge sale, two boxes sold by Christie’s during the summer months, and a spectacular pair of Russian glass and hardstone panels sold at Sotheby’s.

A rare and unusual 18th-century hardstone and “burgauté” snuffbox from the Wellington collection, probably made around 1750 in the Dresden workshop of Heinrich Taddel. The cover is carved from eclogite, an unusual form of rock that forms at pressures greater than those typical in the earth’s crust and shows the classic characteristics of pink/red garnets within a mass of green omphacite. The top of the box is piqué decorated with a courting couple, with gold wirework and flaked abalone shell (the “burgauté” work) for the gentleman’s frock coat and the lady’s gown. The gold dust ground is heightened with silver foliage, while in the background, a silver and gold arch is supported by Corinthian columns flanked by gold dust arbours, each centred by a gold or silver cypress tree. The base is also carved from eclogite and decorated in a similar manner with formal garden vignettes of arches, topiary, and pyramids. It sold for $7810.

This Saxon enamelled gold and hardstone snuffbox was made in Dresden, 1770-75, by the mineralogist and goldsmith Johann-Christian Neuber (1736-1808) and is one of a group of his snuffboxes in which beautiful and, as here, rare stones are given greater emphasis than the gold work. Prominent here is the use of lapis lazuli, which had to be imported from Afghanistan—notably in the medallions that are mounted en cage within chased gold borders banded in carnelian, with forget-me-nots in white and yellow hardstone, various fruits, and green jasper garlands. Neuber is credited with the development of the Zellen mosaik lapidary technique, in which hardstone panels are suspended en cage, or held in place within a fine geometric cagework of gold, similar to cloisonné enamel work. The box has made five previous auction outings since 1930, the last two at Sotheby’s Geneva in 1988 and 1990, but as part of “The Exceptional Sale” held by Christie’s on July 4, it made yet another successful return to the rooms in selling for a double-estimate $953,835.

The “Treasures, Princely Taste” sale held by Sotheby’s on July 3 included a stunning pair of Russian glass and hardstone panels, dating to 1765-70 and attributed to Mikhail Lomonosov’s glass workshops.

Lomonosov’s interest and research into glass as a decorative material began in the late 1740’s and early ’50’s, when two glass paintings from the Vatican workshops arrived in St. Petersburg, and in 1752 he obtained a Russian monopoly on coloured glass manufacture in workshops at Ust-Riditsa, west of St. Petersburg, that employed over 200 workers. These extraordinary panels, one depicting fruits and flowers, the other an almost comic-looking menagerie, are executed in pietre dure and glass and measure approximately 18" x 13". The pair sold for $533,120.

Not part of the Wellington collection, but offered immediately afterwards in the Bonhams sale of June 19, was this 17th-century Nuremberg hardstone tankard, 5¾" high, with silver-gilt and enamelled mounts. Keeping up this month’s pineapple theme, it has one as a finial to the lid, but far more obvious are the handle, curlicue thumbpiece, and decorative bands with their enamelled and chased silver floral decoration that contrast with the dark purple and white brecciated agate body. As early as 1932, when this tankard was on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, it was attributed by a distinguished ceramic historian, W.B. Honey, to Johann Heel, who was made a master craftsman in Nuremberg in 1668. A similar example with almost exactly the same mounts, though with relief lattice decoration to the body—again attributed to Heel—is to be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. At Bonhams this tankard sold for $39,060.

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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