Purchase Story

Letter from London, December 2017

 Ian McKay, <>

With a poet’s desk, an admiral’s armchair, and a hall settee that may well be the work of William Linnell, there is a certain celebrity element to the furniture content of this month’s “Letter,” and an undeniable one where the season-opening Audrey Hepburn and Vivien Leigh sales that provide this month’s longest report are concerned.

Yet another report features a femme fatale and star of the silent, silver screen era, Pola Negri, while an American-born countess once declared to be the “Best Dressed Woman in the World” adds even more glamour. An avian contender for the “world’s most beautiful” title also makes an appearance.


The Old Hall Settee with a Hint of Class

An October 25 sale held by Bonhams, called “Important Design: 500 Years of Fine Decorative Arts,” had its share of successes and disappointments, but scattered throughout the 97 lots it offered were some very fine pieces—and one or two that were quite exceptional.

One such was an elaborately engraved tortoiseshell and silver-mounted wig comb case, complete with two equally exquisite combs, that was made in colonial Jamaica in the late 17th century.

That lot, together with an engraved tortoiseshell powder box of the same age and origin, will feature in next month’s “Letter,” but in this issue the focus is on the elegant mahogany hall settee of circa 1760 shown below, which carried a modest estimate of $10,500/16,000 but ended up selling for $227,800.

The clue to that abrupt, but perhaps not entirely unexpected, change in fortunes may lie in comparisons that the Bonhams cataloguer made with other pieces of similar form and design.

The fluted seat frame, shaped panelled back, curving scroll-carved arm supports and twinned front legs of the settee offered in the Knightsbridge saleroom, it was noted, are all characteristics of a hall settee, dated circa 1760 and attributed to William and John Linnell, that Sotheby’s London offered in a March 2016 auction. Part of “Pelham: The Public and the Private,” a dispersal of the London and Paris stock and private collections of the old established dealers, that hall bench was sold at $434,125.

Also very similar, said Bonhams, were a pair of hall chairs sold by Christie’s London in a 2008 sale, “Simon Sainsbury: The Creation of an English Arcadia,” and there is the suggestion that this hall furniture may have been originally supplied to either Edwin Lascelles for Harewood House in Yorkshire or to David Lascelles for Goldsborough Hall, Yorkshire.

A serving table, also attributable to William Linnell and with similar bead-and-reel moulded and acanthus-carved, scrolled corbel legs, said Bonhams, previously formed part of the renowned Samuel Messer collection of English furniture, while a pair of hall benches supplied to William Drake at Shardeloes in Buckinghamshire by John Linnell has a related stylised foliate cresting surmounting its top rail.

Those Linnell links would appear to have been the reason for the high bidding the settee prompted.


The hall settee that was sold in October by Bonhams for $227,800 is seen above, and shown below is the bench, attributed to the Linnells, that in 2016 was sold by Sotheby’s for $434,125.



The Country Girl and the "Femme Fatale"

It took the English painter and sometime professor of painting at the Royal Academy Schools Sir George Clausen many years to finish the 46" x 33" portrait of a young girl taking a rest from her labours in the field that is seen here, though one should make it clear that it was because he had experienced a certain amount of upheaval in his personal and artistic life over that time—not because he couldn’t quite achieve the desired effect.

In a September 27 Bonhams sale of 19th-century European and British art that saw a high, 87% selling rate, Clausen’s Noon in the Hayfield was the star turn at $778,960.


Noon in the Hayfield by Sir George Clausen, signed and dated 1897-98, sold for $778,960 at Bonhams.

In a footnote to this piece*, I have pointed interested readers to a feature about Clausen and this picture that can be readily accessed online and was written for the Bonhams house magazine by a gentleman far better equipped than I to comment on the work. It is therefore on two less-expensive but, in their own way, very successful pictures that the rest of this piece is focussed.

Last seen at Sotheby’s in 2004, when it sold for $40,010, the oil portrait seen below left depicts one of the great stars of the silent screen, the beautiful, Polish-born femme fatale Pola Negri. Barely discernible in the dark hues of the painting, she is accompanied by her sometime lover, the great Italian-American heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, who here sits in the dark, holding a guitar.


Pola Negri y Rudolph Valentino by Federico Beltrán Masses sold at $199,765.

Born Barbara Apolonia Chalupiec, Negri was a ballet dancer before becoming a successful actress and then a star of the silent cinema in Poland and Germany before, in 1923, she was signed up by Paramount—the first of many European screen stars to make the Atlantic crossing—and launched on a short but spectacular Hollywood career.

When Valentino died in 1926, aged just 31, Negri is said to have sent a thousand or more red and white roses that spelled out her name to be placed by his coffin.

The picture is the work of Federico Beltrán Masses (1885-1949), a Spanish-born painter who specialised in portraits of the rich and famous, of high-society figures and royalty, but who also had a particular liking for women who promised mystery and scandal. In the recent Knightsbridge sale, the 63¾" x 51" portrait sold for a ten-times estimate $199,765.

Something for the keen oarsmen and oarswomen among M.A.D.’s readers, the oil painting reproduced above is the work of Ferdinand Joseph Gueldry (1858-1945), a Parisian-born painter with a passion for boating, whether it be racing or simply “messing about” on the river.


Ferdinand Joseph Gueldry’s rowing study sold at $150,830 in the Knightsbridge auction.

A prize-winning pupil of the Orientalist painter Jean-Léon Gérome at the École des Beaux-Arts, Gueldry had concentrated in his early years on depicting the lives of the working classes and images of the industrial revolution, with occasional ventures into such standards as landscape, portrait and historical subjects. But he was always a keen rower, and after he set up a studio at Bry-sur-Marne, a riverside town about eight miles to the east of the centre of Paris, rowing scenes and regattas became a regular feature of his work.

The English title given to this undated oil, measuring 20" x 26", was given as “Launching the Boat” in the Bonhams sale, where it sold for $150,830—some four times the high estimate.

*George Clausen and the Picture of English Rural Life by Kenneth McConkey, Emeritus Professor of Art History at England’s Northumbria University, was published in 2012, but an article by McConkey relating to this and other Clausen paintings, called “Field of Vision,” published in the Bonhams house magazine, can be found at (www.bonhams.com/magazine/24353/).


Audrey Hepburn & Vivien Leigh Star in London Season Premieres

The sale at a far, far higher than expected $848,340 of Audrey Hepburn’s 140-page working film script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (A), one that included deleted scenes and her own extensive annotations, was just one of many of the extraordinary results that emerged from the two “film star” sales that got London’s new season auctions under way.

A: Audrey Hepburn’s working script of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, $848,340.

On September 27 the first, a live sale called “Audrey Hepburn: The Personal Collection,” totalled $6.215 million at Christie’s, with a further $1.88 million added by a second, online-only sale that closed on October 4.

“Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection,” a live sale held at Sotheby’s on September 26, totalled a shade over $3 million.

Truman Capote, who had published the novella in 1958, had wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly in the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but she was reportedly advised by her acting coach, Paula Strasberg, not to play a woman of the night, and Hepburn, too, was at first reluctant to take on the role, fearing that the character was out of her range. In the event, it proved to be Hepburn’s defining role, the one that established her as one of the great screen legends and style icons.

The Christie’s sale included a good number of her carefully annotated scripts and, predictably enough, that used for the film version of My Fair Lady was another notable success at $277,560.

Among the many, many photographs of Audrey Hepburn offered by Christie’s—singly or in multiple lots—a 1957 Funny Face portrait by Bud Fraker (B), seen above right, was one notable success. A 14" x 11" silver print, it has the photographer’s Paramount Studios credit stamped on the back, but there is no inscription or signature of the actress to be found. Association was enough.

B: Bud Fraker photograph of Audrey Hepburn, $75,415.

Valued by the auctioneers at around $1500, it sold instead for $75,415, but bid to $126,165 (around 30 times estimate) was a dark-hued Cecil Beaton photograph of Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle!

Among the clothes and accessories, a three-quarter length Burberry trench coat of the early 1980s made a ten-times estimate $92,175, and a paste tiara worn by Audrey Hepburn to the London première of The Nun’s Story in 1959 and as Joanna in the 1967 movie Two for the Road sold at $58,655. Even a blue satin sleep mask of 1960s vintage made $8380!

C: Audrey Hepburn’s Cartier lipstick holder, $75,415.

According to her son Sean, an elegant Cartier of Paris lipstick holder (C), along with an en suite powder compact, were both cherished by Audrey Hepburn. Perhaps a gift from James Hanson, to whom she was engaged before she married Mel Ferrer, they accompanied her to ceremonies and soirées throughout the 1950s and ’60s. Initially valued at $3000/4500, the lipstick holder with its cushion-shaped cabochon sapphire thumbpiece was sold for $75,415; of reeded and rounded rectangular form, and again with an oval cabochon sapphire thumbpiece, the matching compact made $36,870.

Audrey Hepburn’s love of her garden at La Paisible, her Swiss home, is well documented. It was there, following her marriage to Andrea Dotti in 1969 and whilst pregnant, that she painted two oil paintings of the garden and flowers she so loved. One remains with the family, but the other was offered by Christie’s and sold at $302,455—a sum that was once again far in excess of the estimate, I need hardly add.

D: The bangle given to Audrey Hepburn by Steven Spielberg, $447,795.

Presented to Audrey Hepburn by Steven Spielberg after filming the 1989 movie Always, a Tiffany bangle of hinged hoop form (D) was estimated to make around $5000. Engraved “You are my ‘inspiration’ Always, Steven,” it went on to sell for $447,795—but then it was the last lot in the sale and the last chance to get an Audrey Hepburn memento.

***

Christie’s were not alone in offering cinematic-cum-literary treasures. At Sotheby’s, on the previous day, the Vivien Leigh collection sale had seen $67,285 paid for an exceptional copy of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

Not a first, but a two-volume edition of 1939, it was given by Mitchell to the actress when they met at the film’s première. Leigh later asked Mitchell to inscribe it, but the writer’s response explained that she had long since vowed to give up inscribing copies. “There is no one for whom I’d rather do this favour than you who brought Scarlett to life in a way that left me shaken and almost speechless. But I just can’t do it. I hope you’ll understand.”

E: Margaret Mitchell’s note to Vivien Leigh, $67,285.

And then Margaret Mitchell did something even better. She sent Vivien Leigh a card (E)—now laid down at the front of Vivien Leigh’s copy of Gone with the Wind—that reads:

“To Vivien Leigh – / ‘Life’s pattern pricked with a scarlet thread / where once we wove with a gray, / to remind us all how we played our parts / in the shock of an epic day’ / Margaret Mitchell.”

Sold for $79,060 by Sotheby’s was Leigh’s copy of one of the 53 specially illustrated and bound copies of Sidney Howard’s film script for Gone with the Wind that the producer, David O. Selznick, gave as Christmas presents in 1939. It might have made even more had his presentation inscription not been cut out at some later stage.

The paintings, jewellery, clothes, books from Leigh’s library, Hollywood memorabilia, furniture and objets d’art celebrating all aspects of her life, from the pre-war years up to her death in 1967, all came from family sources. Among them were many lots drawn from the city and country homes that Leigh had once shared with Laurence Olivier.

F: Roses painted by Winston Churchill and sent to Vivien Leigh, $859,590.

The most expensive of them, at a nine-times estimate $859,590, was a 20" x 14¾" oil painting of roses (F), executed in the 1930s by Winston Churchill but given to Leigh in 1951. During a visit to Chartwell, Churchill’s country home, and a tour of his studio, Leigh had particularly admired the picture, and was astonished when Churchill asked her if she would like it.

 “I practically fainted, I didn’t know what to say. I believe I gave him the understanding that I would be more thrilled and honoured than I can possibly say if I could have it.” Churchill had the painting framed and sent to her.

Obviously a great admirer of the actress, Churchill had earlier responded to her request that he sign her standard copy of his 1948 book, Painting as a Pastime, by sending her instead one of the few copies that had been specially bound for presentation. It sold at Sotheby’s for $20,185.

Truman Capote’s name also popped up in this sale, when a 1966, first U.K. edition of In Cold Blood that he inscribed “for dearest Vivien / with much love / Truman” sold at $21,870.

G1 & G2: Vivien’s Leigh’s Blanche DuBois wig, $10,095. At right, the wig as worn.

Sold for $10,095 was the wig (G1 and G2), deliberately fashioned by Wig Creations Ltd. of London to look “untidy, unkempt, poor and tatty,” that was packed off to Hollywood and worn by Vivien Leigh in her role as Blanche DuBois in the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Finally, one more lot that just took off. Roger Furse’s 15¾" x 13¾" watercolour portrait of Leigh reading, her cat Tissy at her side (H), was valued at $1500 or so. It sold instead for $84,110.


H: Vivien Leigh reading with Tissy, a watercolour by Roger Furse, $84,110.


A Pair of Peacocks Display Their Enamelled Plumage

Part of a “Historical Design” sale held by Christie’s on October 18, this enamelled silver scent flagon was made around 1900 by Eugène Feuillâtre.

Having learned his craft from an acknowledged master, Louis Houillon, he experimented with enamelling on silver rather than the usual copper or gold, a process that imbued his work with a new and distinctive luminosity.

Feuillâtre’s talents were recognised by René Lalique, who in 1890 appointed him head of his enamelling studio, but seven years later Feuillâtre established his own workshop. By the following year, he was exhibiting at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français and saw an example of his work acquired by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

In 1900 he displayed his Peacock flagon at the great Éxposition Universelle in Paris, and in more recent times examples of his work featured in Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851-1939, an exhibition seen in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Charlotte (North Carolina) in the years 2012-13.

The peacock flagon seen at left was sold for $197,775 by Christie’s, but another example was sold by Sotheby’s in July 2017 as part of their “Treasures” sale. That one, seen at right, made $177,680.


Climbing the Jungfrau: The Hard Way and the Railway

In the February 2016 “Letter,” under a deliberately curious but hopefully eye-catching headline, “Isn’t it a pity, Muffie, that we married an artist,” I featured a charming painting by Sir John Lavery called Japanese Switzerland. Depicting his wife, Hazel, and his stepdaughter, Alice, it had sold for $785,940 at Sotheby’s.

The Laverys had been winter holidaying in the Swiss Alps rather than taking their usual winter sun farther afield, in Tangier, because Lavery had a commission to paint the British royal family that required him back in England and on easel duty at Buckingham Palace by February. One of the highlights of that holiday was a journey up to the very recently opened Jungfraujoch station, the terminus of the splendid Jungfrau railway.

Back in December 1894, Adolph Guyer-Zeller, a Zurich financier, had submitted ambitious plans to take a little rack-and-pinion train to the top of the mountain, but this enormous engineering feat, which ate up large sums and cost 27 lives in construction, took almost 18 years to complete—opening only just in time for the 1912-13 winter season.

Lavery was thus able to make his ascent with a full painting kit, stopping en route at the Eismeer viewing station. In all, three Lavery views of the Jungfrau are known, along with another of the Mönch, which together with the Jungfrau and the Eiger form a very distinctive group of three Alpine peaks.


Sir John Lavery’s 25" x 15" oil painting of The Summit of the Jungfrau, dated 1913, sold for $284,905.

The Mönch painting hangs today in the Ulster Museum in Belfast (Northern Ireland) and two of the Jungfrau pictures are in private collections. One of the latter, probably painted from Eismeer station, depicts the steep flanks of the mountain, while the other shows a group of Alpinists setting off to climb the mountain.

The third was offered for sale on September 27 by Sotheby’s, as part of an “Irish Art” sale. In that picture, seen here, those same climbers, just tiny insect-like shapes against the snow, are seen continuing their trek to the summit.

“As an ensemble, this simple series of lyrical curves, leading the eye to the pinnacle, is the most iconic of the three,” said the cataloguer*, and it was this picture that Lavery selected from all his recent Alpine scenes for inclusion in that year’s Royal Academy of Arts exhibition.

It did not live up to the saleroom’s highest expectations, but The Summit of the Jungfrau did sell a little over mid-estimate at $284,905.

* Professor Kenneth McConkey, whose expertise was called upon by Bonhams in cataloguing and promoting the George Clausen painting Noon in the Hayfield, featured elsewhere in this “Letter,” also helped Sotheby’s prepare the catalogue entry for the sale of the Lavery picture.


The Poet, His Desk, the Portrait and His Hair Brushes

A Yeats “Family Collection” sale held by Sotheby’s on September 27 offered large numbers of paintings, drawings and prints, together with letters, furnishings, silver and other personal items that relate to John Butler Yeats, his four remarkable children, William, Jack, “Lily” and “Lolly,” as well as W.B. Yeats’ daughter, Anne.

All the material came from Cliff House at Coliemore, in Dalkey, County Dublin, the former home of W.B. Yeats’ son Michael, a Fianna Fáil senator who died in 2007, and his wife, Gráinne, who died in 2013. The material had been sent for auction by their children.

It was a sale that generated some consternation and condemnation in Ireland, with many prominent figures urging the Irish government to step in and secure some items for the state—notably a lot comprising 133 letters from W.B. Yeats to his first lover, then lifelong friend, Olivia Shakespear.

In the end, that particular lot, valued at $335,000/470,000, failed to sell. Many others, however, sold well.

As a writing bureau, plain and simple, it is not terribly prepossessing, but the fall-front bureau of circa 1770 seen below, with its pigeonholes, small drawers and four concealed compartments arranged round a central cupboard, is one with added literary and political appeal.

It was used regularly in his later years by the poet W.B. Yeats and possibly for an extended period after his move back to Ireland during the momentous, revolutionary years of 1916-21, when he and his new young bride, Bertha Georgie Hyde-Lees, first settled into the old Norman castle at Ballylee, in Gort, County Galway. From 1922 to 1932, the couple lived in Dublin but then, following the death of Yeats’ friend and collaborator in artistic, literary and dramatic matters Lady Gregory, they moved out of the city to a small country house with a large and charming garden at Rathfarnham.

Throughout this period, Yeats not only wrote some of his most memorable verse but was engaged in Irish political affairs; “…campaigning against Catholic social teaching, the prohibition on divorce, and, perhaps most stridently, artistic censorship,” said Sotheby’s cataloguer.

From his desk there issued a great deal of correspondence, not only with other writers and artists and members of his own extended family at home and abroad, but also with statesmen, politicians, patrons, and members of the international literary community, especially after Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. In addition, said the cataloguer, Yeats maintained correspondence with past lovers, such as Olivia Shakespear, and sustained “intense collaborative friendships” with many other women.

The Yeats writing bureau ended up selling at a considerably higher than predicted $251,385.


W.B. Yeats’ writing bureau sold for $251,385.

Signed, dated and inscribed in October 1907, the 23" x 18" coloured chalk on paper portrait of W.B. Yeats seen above is the work of Antonio Mancini (1852-1930). Yeats liked it enough to have a monochrome version used the following year as the frontispiece of the fifth volume of the Shakespeare Head Press edition of his The Collected Works in Verse and Prose (1908).

In one of the sets of that edition owned by the great Irish-American lawyer and collector John Quinn, Yeats wrote “…if I only looked like the Manchini [sic] portrait I should have defeated all my enemies here in Dublin. Manchini did it in an hour or so working at the last with great vehemence and constant cries, ‘Cristo, O,’ and so on.”

Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, the dramatist, folklore lover, theatre manager and co-founder with Yeats and Edward Martyn of the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, passed on Yeats’ account of the sitting in one of her books, Sir Hugh Lane: His Life and Legacy.

“The pastel, which I still have, was an evening’s work. Mancini put his usual grill of threads where the picture was to be and another grill of threads corresponding exactly with it in front of me. He did not know anything about me, we had no language in common, and he worked for an hour without interest or inspiration.


The coloured chalk portrait of W.B. Yeats by Antonio Mancini sold at $150,830 by Sotheby’s.

“Then I remembered a story of Lane’s. Mancini, Italian peasant as he was, believed that he would catch any illness or deformity of those whom he met. He was not thinking of microbes, but of some mysterious process like that of the Evil Eye. He had just been painting someone who had lost a leg, and whose cork leg he believed was having a numbing effect on his own. He worried Lane with his terror—‘My leg is losing all power of sensation,’ he would say at intervals.

“The thought of this story made me burst into laughter and Mancini began to draw with great excitement and rapidity.”

The portrait was thought likely to make as much as $16,000, but a great deal more, $150,830, was needed in the end.


This pair of hair brushes, probably a gift from his wife, Georgie (or George, as W.B. Yeats always called her), made $5865.

My third lot from the Yeats sale is something much more prosaic—a pair of rosewood and horse-hair brushes bearing his initials that sold for $5865. They could have been a gift from his wife, for in a letter to her dated 1932 he writes, “Thank you for hair brush. It has made me realise, that all my life I have wanted to scratch my head & have never been able to do so hitherto.”


Moving On, Downsizing and Selling at Auction

Earlier this year, the well-known and old established London dealers S.J. Phillips moved to Bruton Street, ending a 144-year presence on Bond Street. Nicolas Norton, director and great-grandson of the founder, said, “Owing to the smaller space we now have available, we are no longer able to display all of our collection successfully and have decided to part with a number of beautiful objects….” That decision was what lay behind a 260-lot sale held at Sotheby’s on October 18, from which the following lots are drawn.

When offered by Sotheby’s Monaco in 1986 as part of the collections of Countess Mona Bismarck, the 4" high jewelled gold and enamel frame seen right was mistakenly catalogued as of French manufacture. It is, in fact, a Russian, Fabergé piece and marked as such for the period 1899-1908.


Countess Bismarck’s Fabergé picture frame, part of the S.J. Phillips sale at Sotheby’s, sold for $69,220.

In pale greyish-blue translucent enamel over moiré engine-turning within a mullet and pellet border, the corners applied with collet-set cabochon rubies, and the oval bezel set with seed pearls below four-colour gold floral festoons, it sold at $69,220.

Countess Bismarck was actually born Margaret Edmona Strader in Louisville, Kentucky. She was a renowned beauty and socialite and, it seems, the first American to be named “Best Dressed Woman in the World,” and her fortune derived from her third of five husbands, utilities magnate Harrison Williams, who left her $90 million at his death in 1953. The title, however, came with her fifth marriage, to Albrecht, Graf von Bismarck-Schönhausen, grandson of Germany’s famous “Iron Chancellor.”

Cecil Beaton described her as “fascinatingly beautiful, like a rock-crystal goddess with aquamarine eyes.” In 2013 a portrait of the then Mrs. Harrison Williams by Salvador Dalì was sold at Sotheby’s London for $3.588 million—to benefit the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art and Culture in Paris.

Another Fabergé piece is seen above. The gold and enamel timepiece, just over 4½" high and made 1908-13 under the guidance of workmaster Henrik Wigström, sold at $189,535.


This Fabergé timepiece sold for $189,535.

Sold for $140,090 was a 9¾" high Hungarian silver-gilt cup and cover dated to around 1540 and bearing a maker’s mark of the letters “HB” conjoined above a trefoil. Engraved with scrolling foliage, the cup is surmounted by a swan with its wings spread.


Sold for $140,090 in the S.J. Phillips sale was this Hungarian silver-gilt cup and cover of circa 1540.

Three enamel and ruby necklaces modelled as snakes, their fully articulated bodies applied with coloured and white enamel decoration and the eyes set with circular-cut rubies, were offered in the S.J. Phillips auction. Only the example seen above right, around 21¼" long, found a buyer—at a low-estimate $65,925.


This enamelled and ruby-set snake necklace sold for $65,925.

Snake jewels came to particular prominence in the second quarter of the 19th century, said Sotheby’s. Queen Victoria herself wore a coiled snake bracelet for her first opening of Parliament in 1837, and later sported a snake ring set with emeralds that was presented to her by Prince Albert as a symbol of their engagement in 1840. The snakes offered in the S.J. Phillips sale were said to date from the mid-19th century, with Geneva as a possible place of manufacture.

Reproduced below is the ink and blue wash original drawing for a cartoon by “Jak” (Raymond Jackson) that is thought to have been published in the London Evening Standard in 1977 and makes reference to both a famous series of auctions held by Sotheby’s to disperse the contents of Mentmore Towers and a popular TV antiques show. The caption reads, “I don’t know what it is, but it was going for a song at Mentmore!” It sold at $1320.


The original artwork for a cartoon inspired by the famous Mentmore sales of the 1970s sold at $1320.


Nelson's Other Emma--the Seagoing Version

Last seen at auction in 1980, the mahogany armchair pictured here has its story engraved in brief on the little brass plaque attached to the front of the seat.

It begins: “This Chair, called the Emma, was given by Lady Hamilton to Lord Nelson and was bought [sic] on board the Victory after his death by Admiral Sir Francis Laforey Bart., he being at that time a Middy on board….”

By a “Middy” is meant a midshipman, a young man and would-be officer, hopefully destined for greater naval rank, and Emma, was of course the name of the former actress and wife of Sir William Hamilton who became Nelson’s beloved mistress.

However, there may be some confusion as far as that later added plaque is concerned, because the abovementioned Virginia-born Francis Laforey was more than a “Middy” in 1805 when Nelson’s life ended at the Battle of Trafalgar. He was in fact the 38-year-old captain of a ship-of-the-line, HMS Spartiate, fighting alongside Nelson and later a flag bearer at his state funeral.

It seems that the chair, upholstered in leather, once had large pockets at the side that could be used to hold documents, but these were long ago sealed over, said Bonhams, who in a “Marine” sale held on October 18 sold this well-documented Nelson relic for $140,090.

What it made when offered by Christie’s almost 40 years ago, I cannot tell, but when it was advertised for sale by a London dealer in a 1920 issue of an arts magazine, The Connoisseur, the price was £200, a little over $260 at today’s exchange rates.


Durer's Artistic Melancholy

Sold for $135,135 by Christie’s in a September 19 print sale, the fine and early impression of Albrecht Dürer’s most famous print, Melencolia I, seen here dates from 1514, and this especially attractive example of it made its first auction appearance in a sale held by Christie’s almost 100 years ago.

It was one of the prize prints from a great collection believed to have been started by the Honourable John Spencer (1708-1746), father of the first in the line of Earls Spencer of Althorp and, of course, an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Many works in the Spencer family collections had previously been in that of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744), who had been a regular client of a famous Paris print dealer, Pierre Mariette.


Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I sold at Christie’s for $135,135.

Soon after a major Spencer family collection sale held at Christie’s in 1919, this example of Dürer’s famous print was acquired by Dr. William Sargent Ladd (1887-1949), sometime dean of Cornell University Medical College.

Melencolia I, said the Christie’s cataloguer in a bold claim, “…is the most discussed and debated image in the pantheon of Western art. The rich symbolism that still remains open to interpretation embodies the complexity of humanist thought in the Renaissance period.”

It is one of the artist’s three so-called Meisterstiche (master engravings) of 1513-14, the others being Death, the Knight and the Devil and Saint Jerome in His Study, which together define the forms of virtuous living—intellectual, moral and theological—as outlined in Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.

In Dürer’s time, said Christie’s, “…the nature of a virtuous life, and by extension of the ideal ‘Renaissance man,’ was a popular topic of conversation in literary and artistic circles.”

One explanation of the work’s meaning has the winged figure as an allegory of artistic melancholy and the tools of measurement in the image as a reference to the artist’s examination of the natural world.

Another explanation identifies the central figure as Lucifer, the best and brightest of the angels, contemplating his rebellion. Having been expelled from Heaven and condemned to the material world, represented by the instruments which surround him, he sits considering his fate. His act of defiance marks the beginning of sadness for mankind, but, according to this interpretation, the star and the rainbow on the horizon signify hope for mankind.


Originally published in the December 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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