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Letter from London

Ian McKay | October 13th, 2013

Ian McKay,

A  tureen from a stupendous silver service commissioned by Mimi’s mum, the Empress Maria Theresa, is one of the highlights of the longest of this month’s reports—focussing on four superior silver lots—but also included are a medieval ivory masterpiece, a couple of Monets, a few Old Masters, and a rather quirky old admission ticket.

Dated to 1310-20 and executed in a Paris ivory workshop, this detailed and beautifully carved triptych depicting scenes from the Death of the Virgin was one of those lots from the Gustav Rau collections that sold at Sotheby’s this summer to benefit the German committee of UNICEF. It sold for $4,208,310 on July 2.

Death of the Virgin—A Medieval Masterwork

Summer sales at Sotheby’s of paintings and sculptures from the collections of the German philanthropist Dr. Gustav Rau (1922-2002) include the El Greco and Monet paintings featured elsewhere on these pages, as well as the David le Marchand ivory bust of Sir John Houblon and the marble polar bear by François Pompon that I discussed in the September “Letter from London,” but for me, one of the more exciting Rau items seen during those summer months was this early 14th-century ivory triptych depicting scenes from the Death of the Virgin, offered in London on July 2.

Attributed to the “Master of the Amiens Triptych” after an example now in the Bibliothèque d’Amiens, it is also linked with yet another that was once in the Spitzer collection but whose whereabouts are currently unknown. The piece seen this summer at Sotheby’s stands 10½" high and in the graceful, fluid, and lifelike representations of many of the figures, as well as in the depth of carving that brings them into high relief, is reckoned by some to be one of the finer examples of medieval carving ever seen at auction.

It is a piece of such superb quality and craftsmanship that it must surely have been a royal, or at the very least high aristocratic commission for private devotional use, and most likely emanated from one of the many ivory workshops to be found in Paris at the time.

Once part of the collections of Paul Robert Gustav Horst, sold at Christie’s in 1961, it returned to the King Street salesrooms almost exactly ten years later, on which occasion it was the object of one of Gustav Rau’s characteristically quirky but determined bidding assaults, selling for a slightly higher sum and one that at today’s exchange rates would be close to $10,000.

An appreciation by Elizabeth Wilson of Rau and his collection printed in the Sotheby’s catalogue noted that he was “…never impressed by fashion in collecting, always buying from the heart and making up his own mind on his purchases.” Rau consulted dealers and experts, but the final decision was his. “He would appear at the back of the salesroom…,” writes Wilson, “…popping his head out from behind the pillar, or another bidder, and raising the appropriate number of fingers to indicate his bid. Some auctioneers found it difficult to get the message.”

Rau was indeed a remarkable man, as Elizabeth Wilson’s recollections reveal. Born into a family whose business was manufacturing motor parts, notably for Mercedes, he was studying political science at Tübingen University when, during World War II, he was drafted into the German army. Rau deserted and, astonishing as it may seem, joined the British army instead. He later returned to Germany to complete his studies and work in the family business, but on reaching his 40th birthday decided to study medicine, specialising in tropical diseases and paediatrics.

Seven years later, in 1969, having inherited the family business, he sold it and went off to do medical work in Africa, at first in Nigeria and then in the Belgian Congo. This invaluable work was to occupy him for much of his life, but a youthful love of art remained. Two or three times a year he would leave Africa to stay at his apartment at Antibes in the south of France and/or to attend major sales in London, Paris, and New York with the aim of building a collection that would, at his death, be sold to fund his own medical foundation and, in the meantime, could be exhibited to augment his funds.

A plan to build and fill a museum near Marseilles did not work out, but in 1990 he gave the completed building that was to have housed his collections to the city—where it is now home to a museum of contemporary art—and in 2001, the year before he died, Rau donated the collection to UNICEF.

In this summer’s Sotheby’s sale, this wonderful 14th-century ivory triptych was sold to an anonymous bidder at $4,208,310.

A view of Strawberry Hill, the neo-Gothic residence of Horace Walpole at Twickenham, which after restoration costing around $14 million was opened to the public in 2010.

The broadside admission ticket-cum-set of rules issued by Horace Walpole to those wishing to visit his neo-Gothic home at Strawberry Hill. Bearing his autograph annotations, it was sold for $3520 by Thomson Roddick & Medcalf on August 1.

The set of Walpole’s Anecdotes of Painting in England… from the Stuart Schimmel library sold for $15,000 at Bonhams New York on June 25. This set contains a letter from Walpole to the original owner, telling him of the devious practices of a rascally bookseller.

“They Who Have Tickets Are Desired Not to Bring Children”

Before the National Trust and English Heritage came along to look after and to show off so many of England’s great country houses and castles to the public, there were still private opportunities for the curious—or at least, for approved gentlefolk—to look round a few of the country’s finest residences and admire the treasures they held. A printed broadside offered on August 1 by Thomson Roddick & Medcalf of Carlisle (Cumbria) is a fascinating reminder of that tradition.

The house in question was Strawberry Hill, in what is now the southwest London district of Twickenham—the recently restored neo-Gothic home of Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717-1797). The youngest son of one of England’s more distinguished Prime Ministers, Sir Robert Walpole, Horace had an undistinguished career as a Whig politician, but the fantastical creation that is Strawberry Hill was a forerunner of the Gothic architectural revival of the 19th century, just as the fashion for the Gothic novel was inspired by his 1764 work, The Castle of Otranto.

Horace Walpole was also an art historian (see below), a Grand Tourist, a dilettante, a collector, a pioneer of the private press movement, and a man of letters whose reputation is owed as much as anything else to his voluminous and entertaining correspondence on a wide variety of subjects. Horace Walpole’s remarkable, fashion-setting house attracted the interest of the great and good of the land—members of the royal family included—but while Walpole was, by and large, gratified by the enjoyment that a tour of his home gave visitors, it also brought inconvenience. Walpole often felt obliged to “retreat to his cottage in the flower garden,” while his housekeeper conducted the tours.

In a letter to Horace Mann, a British diplomat he had met in Florence whilst on the Grand Tour, and with whom he maintained a correspondence over 45 years (though they never again met), he wrote: “I have but a minute’s time in answering your letter; my house is full of people, and has been so from the instant I breakfasted, and more are coming; in short, I keep an inn; the sign ‘The Gothic Castle’…my whole time is passed in giving tickets for seeing it, and hiding myself when it is seen. Take my advice, never build a charming house for yourself between London and Hampton-court: everybody will live in it but you.”

In the broadside that gained visitors admission, Walpole points out that it is only reasonable that visitors should comply with the house rules.

Despite what is implied in the letter to Mann, it states that only one party a day was admitted, and only “…between the Hours of Twelve and Three before Dinner.” Tickets, valid only on the day agreed, admitted a maximum of four, and woe betide anyone who turned up with more than that number in their party. “The Housekeeper has positive Orders to admit none of them.” Other admonitions and instructions follow, but he ends with a line that will resonate with some present-day visitors to great houses: “They who have Tickets are desired not to bring Children.”

At the bottom of this example of the broadside, in Walpole’s own hand, is a note, signed and dated August 19, 1791, in which he informs his housekeeper that she may “ my House on Thursday morning next to Mr. Berwick & three more, on their delivering This to you.”

John Thomson, the auctioneer, told me that he found it almost impossible to value, but lot no. 229 nevertheless attracted a great deal of interest in this Cumbria sale and in the end changed hands at $3520.

It is not my usual practice to introduce items sold at U.S. auctions into this column—unless it is to make price or subject matter comparisons—but as books from the library of Stuart Schimmel sold at Bonhams New York on June 25 included a superb set of Horace Walpole’s Anecdotes of Painting in England (and) A Catalogue of Engravers, first issued in the years 1762-71 and a work that was the major production of his Strawberry Hill Press, I thought I might be permitted this exceptional incursion.

Uniformly bound in period tree calf with red morocco gilt lettering- and number-pieces, this set showed occasional insignificant spots and a few toned or browned leaves, but was in otherwise splendid condition—and bound into Volume IV was a revealing letter of 1790.

It was sent by Walpole to the book’s original owner, Sir James Colquhoun of Luss, a Scottish bibliophile who was finding it difficult to complete his set and had sought the author’s assistance. Walpole, ever obliging, sent him an unbound fourth volume from his own stock.

It is recorded that the edition sold out quickly, and Walpole later complained at having to buy back a copy for his own use at an inflated, marked-up price. In the letter to Sir James, he explains: “A rascally bookseller to whom I entrusted publication of my 4th volume of the Anecdotes of Painting, would part with but very few, tho pretending to me that he had sold many; till he stamped an imaginary value on them by saying he had scarce any left, & then sold them for four times more than they were worth. Thus many persons were prevented from compleating their sets; and compleat sets have been sold for such ridiculous prices, that I have since published a cheap edition without prints, for the use of Artists, & to hinder anybody from paying extravagantly if they do not chuse it.”

The set in the Schimmel library had remained in the Colquhoun library until it was sold off in the 1980’s and, offered by Christie’s in London, brought a bid that would today be around $4450. This time it reached $15,000.

Acquired by Gustav Rau from the Galerie Julius Böhler of Munich in 1970, this El Greco oil of Saint Dominic in Prayer was sold for $13,924,300 to benefit UNICEF at Sotheby’s on July 3, setting a record for the artist and indeed any Spanish Old Master at auction. This El Greco went to a European collector, and it was another private buyer who gave $5,236,150 for another of his paintings, Christ on the Cross.

A New Era for Old Masters?

A $53 million sale of 48 Old Master and British paintings held by Sotheby’s on July 3 saw the participation of buyers from an unprecedented 33 countries, say the auctioneers, and record numbers of those registering to bid were from Asia and the Middle East. In all, eight new artist records were set, prompting what Sotheby’s called “A New Era for Old Masters.”

The best Old Master result of the summer season in London, an El Greco oil of Saint Dominic in Prayer that sold for $13,924,300—one of two works by the artist in the sale—and the set of six panels of The Celebrated Deeds of the Porto Family of Vicenza by Giandomenico Tiepolo that reached $4,895,440, were among the pictures and sculptures from the Gustav Rau collections sold this summer at Sotheby’s to benefit UNICEF. (See this month’s “Death of the Virgin…” story for more background on this German philanthropist and his collections.)

In financial terms, Christie’s had one picture in their $36 million Old Masters sale of July 2 that came a close second to the El Greco—a Canaletto view of The Molo, Venice, from the Bacino di San Marco, which more than doubled its estimate to sell for $12,870,510. One of a famous sequence of views of the Molo from the Bacino, showing the great religious and secular monuments at the heart of Venice, it was originally supplied to Edward Howard, 9th Duke of Norfolk, and remained in the family until the 1970’s, when it was packed off to Christie’s for the first time.

It is almost heretical, I realise, but given a certain sameness when it comes to Canalettos, however accomplished, I have opted for something else from that Christie’s sale to illustrate here—a superbly preserved oil on panel vision of The Tower of Babel that sold for $1,491,000.

Along with El Greco and Giandomenico Tiepolo, the 18th-century French painter Claude-Joseph Vernet also chalked up an artist record in the Sotheby’s sale of July 3, when this 1757 View of Avignon, from the right bank of the Rhône near Villeneuve sold at $8,132,190. Last offered at auction more than 200 years ago (in London in 1806), it is regarded as one of the artist’s greatest achievements and is also the only recorded view by Vernet of his birthplace.

Last seen at Sotheby’s in 1986, when it was catalogued as the work of Jan Brueghel the Younger, this small oil on copper panel painting of Monkeys Feasting reappeared this summer in a July 3 sale in the same rooms, this time as the work of Jan Brueghel the Elder. Monkey pictures, or “singeries,” became popular in North European art towards the middle of the 17th century, and such scenes were intended to allegorise the futility of man’s possessions and actions. In a 1987 study, Dr. Klaus Ertz suggested that the seven monkeys that populate the foreground and the four sitting on the draped table surrounding the plate of fruit were by Jan Brueghel the Elder, with the remaining parts by his son and chief studio assistant at this time, Jan Brueghel the Younger.

Charles de Pauw (1920-1984), who owned this painting until his death, amassed what must be one of the largest collections of paintings by the Brueghel family ever put together. In the 1986 landmark sale of his collection at Sotheby’s, no fewer than 22 works from the Brueghel family workshops were offered, of which only two remained unsold. This summer, the price was $916,420.

Painted by Giandomenico Tiepolo, circa 1760, this is one of a set of monochrome frescoes with trompe l’oeil frames commemorating the glories and achievements of the Porto family from the 11th to the 17th centuries. These once adorned the walls of three rooms of the Palazzo Porta, built in the 16th century by Palladio for this wealthy patrician family in Vicenza, but in 1900 the frescoes were removed and transferred to canvas—along with an oval fresco depicting The Apotheosis of Orazio da Porto by Giandomenico’s father, Giambattista Tiepolo, that is now in the Seattle Art Museum.

Acquired for the Berlin industrialist and collector Eduard Simon, the six frescoes were later owned by the Swedish entrepreneur Axel Wenner-Gren, one of the wealthiest men of his age, but in the 1960’s were sold to the Hallsborough Gallery in London, from whom they were bought by Dr. Gustav Rau. This summer, the set of six sold anonymously for $4,895,440.

The panel reproduced here shows Donato Porto being co-opted among the Venetian patricians in 1379, in recognition of his help in their victorious Battle of Chioggia, a fishing port that gave its name to a wider conflict with Genoa, Venice’s great maritime rival.

Italian drawings from the collections of the art historian, university lecturer, and gentleman connoisseur-collector Ralph Holland (1917-2012) that came up for sale at Sotheby’s on July 5 included this brown ink and wash drawing over black chalk of soldiers outside a marine fortress. It is the work of Jacopo Zucchi (circa 1540-1596) that he bought at Christie’s in 1976, though in that sale it was catalogued as the work of Jan van der Straet (also called Stradanus). Holland later recalled that the dealer he had to outbid to secure it was Richard Day, bidding on behalf of Edmund Pillsbury, who two years earlier had published a defining group of drawings by Zucchi in Master Drawings. Holland realised that he and Pillsbury had reached the same conclusion—that this was not by Stradanus, but by the artist they both admired. It sold at $165,550.

Abel Grimmer let his imagination loose on The Tower of Babel several times from the last decade of the 16th century to the first years of the 17th, and this superbly preserved 20" x 26" panel, dated (16)04, is among his more ambitious and refined works. The account in Genesis of how the people decided to “build ourselves a city and a tower, with its top in the heavens” and appointed Nimrod, the mighty warrior, to oversee its construction, proved a rich source of subject matter and inspiration for several Flemish painters, though their representations of it were ultimately shaped by the earlier works of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Christie’s note that Grimmer collaborated with several different figure painters in his works and that in this example the figure group that occupies the lower left corner has clearly been added by another hand. It sold for $1,491,000 at Christie’s on July 2.

Monet’s Le Palais Contarini, (above) sold for $30,751,900 at Sotheby’s, and Le Pont de Bois, (below) another of the Dr. Gustav Rau gifts to UNICEF, which made $9,753,280 in the same June 19 sale.

Double Your Monet—and Strike It Rich

Two Monets from an evening “Impressionist & Modern Art” sale of June 19 at Sotheby’s are featured here. The 1872 view of Le Pont de Bois was yet another of the lots from the collection of Dr. Gustav Rau sold this summer to benefit UNICEF, and it reached $9,753,280, but rather more money was expended on Le Palais Contarini, a 1908 oil depicting a Venetian palazzo that reached $30,751,900.

Monet and his wife, Alice, visited Venice for the first time in the autumn of 1908, at the invitation of Mary Young Hunter, a wealthy American to whom they had been introduced by the painter John Singer Sargent. They spent two weeks as her guest at the Palazzo Barbaro before moving to the Grand Hotel Britannia on the Grand Canal, but from the balcony of the Palazzo Barbaro they had been able to see three of the great palaces that Monet was to paint during his two-month stay in Venice: the Palazzo da Mula, the Palazzo Dario, and the subject of this painting, the Palazzo Contarini.

A few years after the painting’s first exhibition—along with the majority of the 37 works that resulted from his Venetian trip—held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris, Le Palais Contarini was acquired by Adolph Lewisohn (1849-1938), a German-born businessman who had made a fortune in the United States out of copper mining and investment banking. Lewisohn’s outstanding collection of art included celebrated paintings by van Gogh and Gauguin that now hang, respectively, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., but this Monet remained with his family until 1996, when it was acquired at Christie’s New York by the consignors.

Le Pont de Bois, bought by Dr. Gustav Rau at a 1971 Christie’s sale for Norton Simon, was painted in 1872, the year that Monet created his famous L’Impression, soleil levant, the work that gave the Impressionist movement its name. “Here,” said the Sotheby’s cataloguer, “we see similar brushwork and a deep interest in fleeting effects of colour and light. The reflections in the water that are such an important element of this composition fascinated Monet for the rest of his career, as evidenced by his crowning achievement, the Water Lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris.”

Silver Service, or, Nothing Succeeds like Excess

Four silver, or silver-gilt lots from London summer sales are featured here, all of them with what I feel are fascinating background stories and, in a couple of instances, an excess of enthusiasm and conspicuous display of wealth.

The Sachsen-Teschen tureen, once part of a magnificent silver service commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria for her favourite daughter, “Mimi”—sold for $676,910 at Bonhams on June 19.

The Sachsen-Teschen Tureen

I was particularly drawn to the great Sachsen-Teschen tureen illustrated at right, part of a grand dinner service commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa for a favourite child, but then I am currently reading Danubia, a very personal view of the Habsburg Empire and its centuries-long domination of large parts of Europe, a newly published book by Simon Winder that is informative and at times, in a Bill Bryson sort of way, rather funny.

Raised on elaborate entwined dolphin supports, and with a domed cover surmounted by a cast and detailed finial formed as a crab resting on a rocky bed of seaweed, coral and shells, this magnificent—and at 407 ounces, heavy—tureen was part of a service of almost unimaginable grandeur ordered by the Habsburg Empress of Austria, Maria Theresa, for her fourth and favourite daughter, the Archduchess Maria Christina, known to her imperial family and chums as “Mimi.”

(It is another of Maria Theresa’s daughters whose name will be more familiar to M.A.D. readers, I suspect—that of Marie Antoinette, whose marriage to Louis XVI of France ended abruptly at the hands of Madame Guillotine in Paris in 1793. Marie Antoinette’s lavish lifestyle did not endear her to the majority of French people, for whom times were hard, and she became one of the more exalted victims of French revolutionary zeal.)

Unlike Marie Antoinette and her many other siblings, Mimi had been allowed to choose her own husband, and though Prince Albert Casimir, a son of Frederick Augustus II (Elector of Saxony and King of Poland) and a cousin of Mimi’s mother, was only sixth in line to a relatively impoverished title, the Empress was fond of him and assisted with his suit, against the wishes of her husband, the Emperor Franz I.

To help Albert get a few more rungs up the socio-financial ladder, he was given the Duchy of Teschen, appointed Governor of Hungary, which post came with a significant stipend, and given a vast dowry of four million guilders. There was also a commitment from the Empress to subsidise the newlyweds’ household and, having wed in 1766, the couple immediately began the accumulation of pictures, drawings, porcelain, and objects that would in time become the core of the Albertina Museum, housed in their palace in Vienna.

Maternal favouritism of this kind led to discontent and the odd cold shoulder on the part of her sisters, and it seems that they were never reconciled. It is said that when Marie Antoinette was beheaded, Mimi remained cool and remarked that her sister should never have married.

Maria Christina’s dowry had included a Viennese silver service by Franz Casper Würth, but it had always been her mother’s intention to give the couple a much grander service and Würth’s son, Ignatz Josef, was eventually given the commission—though Maria Theresa died in 1780, before it was completed.

It was also in that year that Franz I’s successor, the Emperor Josef II, appointed Albert and Mimi as governors of the Netherlands. There they created a dream palace, Schönenberg, now called Laeken and still the seat of the Belgian royal family.

The couple were forced to flee from Napoleon in 1793, and five years later Mimi died of typhus, but Duke Albert spent the next 24 years consolidating his art collection, and, despite the recall of silver by the Austrian mint in 1810 to fund the Napoleonic wars, his heirs were left with sufficient wealth to ensure that the silver service by Würth largely stayed within the family. This was the case up until the middle of the 20th century, when a descendant, Albrecht (1897-1955), elected for a morganatic marriage—that is to say, he married a “commoner” rather that someone of royal or noble line, as in the case of Edward VIII of England. This was the move that resulted in the dispersal of the Teschen inheritance.

The extent of the original service is not absolutely clear, though the overall weight has been estimated at 680 kilograms, and a 1910 survey listed 16 tureens, eight ewers, 16 covered dishes, 12 candelabra, 32 candlesticks, 39 serving dishes, 15 salts, and 240 dinner plates. Astonishing as this list may seem, it may even then not tell the whole story. The compiler counted only two of this type of large oval tureen and yet there were eight in the 1947 sale at Galerie Fischer of Lucerne, Switzerland that began its dispersal.

The tureens in the service were designed for service à la Française, where food was placed on the table for dinners rather than being served in the sequential manner of service à la Russe, and there was a prescribed shape of tureen or serving dish for each stew or sauce. The finials provided a further clue to the contents of the tureen, varying from vegetables to crustacea, so it seems likely that this one was used for fish stews or bouillabaisse. Such tureens also served as sculptural table decorations, the food itself being brought later in the fitted liners, so there was no need for elaborate centrepieces.

This single tureen was sold on June 19 by Bonhams for $676,910.

Like Bonhams, whose catalogue description is extensively quoted and adapted here, I am, in consequence, indebted to the research and assistance of Wolf-ram Koeppe, the Marina Kellen French Curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Part of a vast silver-gilt dinner service commissioned in 1921 by the Maharaja of Patiala in honour of a tour of India made by Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor, and first used at a state banquet held in his honour. At Christie’s on July 4 it sold at $2,995,995 to a Russian private buyer.

The Maharaja’s Dinner Service

Born in 1891, Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala was just nine years old when he succeeded his father as ruler, though a Council of Regency ruled in his name until he was invested with full powers by the then British Viceroy of India, the 4th Earl Minto, in 1910.

Singh was actively involved in Indian politics, served on the General Staff in France, Belgium, Italy, and Palestine during World War I, and represented India at the League of Nations in 1925. On the home front, he married ten times and had 88 children by his ten wives and rather more numerous concubines.

The Maharaja’s great wealth and status was proclaimed in many ways. He was, for example, the first man in India to own an aircraft and was an avid motoring enthusiast. Legend has it that he would travel in a motorcade of 20 Rolls-Royces, and though in 1930 he had a falling out with the company, whom he felt had slighted him by refusing to accept an order, his power and influence in India was such that the Viceroy felt obliged to pressure Rolls-Royce into changing their decision.

The Maharaja and his wives patronised some of the leading jewellers and gold- and silversmiths in the world, commissioning Cartier to mount the 428-carat “De Beers” diamond as the centrepiece of the magnificent “Patiala Necklace.” Seen at Christie’s on July 4 was a vast silver-gilt dinner service that he ordered especially to mark the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII and, following his abdication, Duke of Windsor.

Edward and his party were entertained with polo matches, pig-sticking, and shooting in what was meant to be an informal rest period during his Indian tour, but on the last evening of his Patiala visit a state banquet for 200 people was held—a lavish send-off for the royal guest that saw the first use of this great service (illustrated, in part, above right).

Each piece has a scroll and foliage border above cast and chased panels of animals, separated by cast daggers, variously engraved or cast with coat-of-arms, crown, and initials. I initially planned to add up the number of items but lost the will long before I reached the 20 sauceboats, or the 183 dinner plates, the 43 finger bowls, and one dozen almond dishes, the salvers, the coffee-pots and so on, let alone the table service of knives, forks, spoons, etc., amongst which were also counted six pairs of asparagus-tongs, six ginger-spoons, three pairs of grape-scissors and much, much more besides.

The service has been sold before, at the now long defunct Sotheby’s Belgravia rooms in 1977. This time it went to a Russian private buyer at $2,995,995.

The “Marquess of Anglesey’s Candelabra,” a pair of 16¾" tall, two-light candelabra bearing the 1792 hallmarks of the London silversmiths John Wakelin and William Taylor—sold for $1,246,440 at Christie’s on July 4 to Corfield Morris, fine art advisors, acting on behalf of a client.

The Marquess’s Candelabra

Known as the “Marquess of Anglesey’s Candelabra,” the pair of elegant, swirling-armed candelabra seen here resulted from a commission given to the London silversmiths John Wakelin and William Taylor in 1792 by Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge. In fact, he ordered two such pairs but the crests that they bear are those of his son, Henry William, to whom they had passed at his father’s death in 1812—and therein lies the story.

This Henry was a distinguished cavalry officer who, just two years after the old man had ordered the candelabra, was off fighting the French in Flanders under the Duke of York. By the time, 1808, that he was being singled out for mention by Sir John Moore for his service in Spain during the Peninsular War, Henry had risen to become a Lieutenant General, but it was his appointment in 1815 to command the whole of the cavalry and horse artillery under the Duke of Wellington in the final confrontation with Napoleon’s armies at Waterloo that resulted in a celebrated incident that serves as an exemplar of both keeping one’s cool in moments of great stress and danger and the classic line in stiff-upper-lipped British understatement.

Henry is remembered as the officer who lost his leg whilst riding alongside Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. Upon receiving a grapeshot hit to his right knee, he is supposed to have said to his commander, “By God, Sir, I’ve lost my leg!” to which Wellington wittily replied, “By God, Sir, so you have.” The limb in question was later amputated and buried beneath an elaborate memorial in the village of Waterloo, where it was for some years a tourist attraction.

A revealing passage in One Leg, a 1961 account of the life and career of his forebear by the 7th Marquess, who died only a couple of months ago, is an aide de camp’s report of the 1st Marquess’s nonchalance while having his limb amputated: “He said quite calmly that he thought the implement was not very sharp. When it was over he did not appear in the least shaken and the Surgeon observed his pulse was not altered. He said, smiling, ‘I have had a pretty long run. I have been a beau these 47 years, and it would not be fair to cut the young men out any longer’ and then asked us if we did not admire his vanity.”

It was for his gallant service and sacrifice that Henry William Paget had been made 1st Marquess of Anglesey. In the Duke of Wellington’s subsequent term as Britain’s Prime Minister (1828-30), Henry William was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, but his relationship with Wellington became increasingly strained, and he was recalled from Ireland by the end of his first year in office, only to be reappointed by Wellington’s successor as P.M., Earl Grey, in 1830. He was made a Field-Marshal in 1849, but was by that time in his 80’s, and active service was a thing of the past.

The two pairs of candelabra were sold together at Christie’s in 1976 but were subsequently separated, and at King Street this summer, in their July 4 “Exceptional Sale,” this pair sold at $1,246,440.

The other pair was last seen at auction at Christie’s in December 2007, when as part of a sale of works of art from the Turin, Corfu, and London homes of Giorgio Marsan and Umberta Nasi, the pair sold at $681,565—as reported in the March 2008 issue of M.A.D.

The silver-gilt Skovgaard/ Parsberg marriage cup of circa 1574—sold for $788,655 at Sotheby’s on July 3.

The Skovgaards’ Marriage Cup

Engraved, embossed, chased, and cast with strapwork, monsters, putti, maidens and female masks, and supported on a heraldic stem of a bird of prey repeated three times above three engraved tortoises and scale work on the foot, and with a finial supporting the engraved marriage shields of Skovgaard and Parsberg, the silver-gilt cup and cover seen above right, 9½" tall, was the very first lot to be offered as part of the July 3 “Treasures, Princely Taste” sale held by Sotheby’s.

The arms are those of Hans Skovgaard and Anne Parsberg, who were married on January 10, 1574, and both this and a companion cup (now lacking its cover) that can be seen in the Kävlinge Church at Skåne in southern Sweden are thought to have been a wedding gift from King Frederik II of Denmark.

Skovgaard was for many years a trusted advisor to Frederik II and a first secretary of the Danish Chancellery, one of the two principal administrative organs of government. Not only was Frederik the guest of honour at the couple’s nuptials, which took place at Copenhagen Castle, he was present at the baptism of and stood sponsor to their first son.

Shortly after these events, Frederik himself was presented by his Queen, Sophia of Mecklenburg-Güstrow, with his first son, Christian (1577-1648), who succeeded him as Christian IV in 1588, and according to Dr. Poul Grinder-Hansen, curator of the Danish Middle Ages and Renaissance collections at the National Museum of Denmark, Hans Skovgaard was one of the prince’s godfathers, and with his wife, Anne, who hung the tapestries in an official capacity for the christening, he presented the Queen, on the infant prince’s behalf, with a large silver communal drinking cup.

That cup, the richly symbolic “Rosenblommen” or Rose Flower cup, which takes the form of a generous barrel with handles for communal drinking, survives to this day as the only remaining gift of the godfathers. Now in the Danish National Museum, it is regarded as one of Denmark’s great treasures of the 16th century.

Significantly, the cup in the Sotheby’s sale, together with its companion cup in Kävlinge Church, as well as that Rose Flower cup, all bear the maker’s mark “AE,” and this has been cautiously attributed to Aelisaeus Englander, a Danish Royal Goldsmith and armour maker who was active between 1566 and 1572.

Valued at $90,000/140,000 by Sotheby’s, the Skovgaard/Parsberg marriage cup went on to sell for $788,655.

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

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