British Art Collection for London Auction

LONDON – Sir David Montagu Scott (1887-1986) and his wife, Valerie Finnis (1924-2006), were avid collectors of art – as well as devoted and celebrated gardeners – and during their lives they amassed an exceptional array of British pictures that incorporates Victorian and 20th Century British Art. In its range and freshness to the market, the collection is the last of its kind to remain in private hands; it will now be sold at Sotheby’s in London on Wednesday, November 19 this year in a one-off, spectacular single-owner sale. The appearance on the market of this remarkable collection, which was begun in 1914 and continued over many decades, is virtually without precedent in the post-war era. It will offer collectors a unique opportunity to compete for some of the most important British works, including many celebrated Victorian paintings which have been unavailable for generations.

Grant Ford, Senior Director and Head of Victorian Art at Sotheby’s, comments: “Sotheby’s is delighted to be bringing this extraordinary collection to the market. Victorian narrative works are the cornerstone of the collection and not in all my time at Sotheby’s – a period of 22 years – has a collection of this quality come on to the auction market. The Scotts were collectors in the truest sense; they had an individual and discerning taste and they only ever bought paintings that they truly loved and understood and which said something special to them. We look forward to exhibiting this wonderful collection around the world and are sure that the single-owner sale in November will be a real highlight of the Autumn sales calendar.”

The Scott collection comprises some 240 oil paintings and watercolours of predominantly British painting. At the core of the collection is an important group of more than 150 Victorian pictures which are also accompanied by a number of beautiful landscapes of the period. Highlights of a strong early 20th-century selection of works include examples by William Roberts, Robert Bevan, Percy Wyndham Lewis and Henry Lamb and there is also a number of superb pieces by the explorer artists, Edward Lear and John Frederick Lewis. The collection, which until recently had remained at the Scott’s home – the Dower House at Boughton House, Northamptonshire – is a testament to their achievement as collectors and demonstrates the Scotts’ maturing eye and ever-widening inquisitiveness. The collection is estimated to realise in excess of £5 million and the proceeds will go to the Finnis Scott Foundation, a foundation set up under the Will of Lady Montagu Douglas Scott to benefit charitable causes in both the art and horticultural worlds.

Sir David and Lady Scott
Sir David purchased his first painting before the First World War – a watercolour depicting a naval engagement by the British artist Thomas Whitcombe – and this was the catalyst for a lifetime of collecting. Sir David’s interest lay not only in the paintings, however, but in the artists themselves and their influences and connections with each other. He focused primarily on Victorian paintings at a time when they were entirely out of fashion and he did this, not for bargains, but because he loved them and because they told a story. Having been brought up in a household imbued with high Victorian values and principles, the art of the Victorian age had particular meaning to him. He was a steadfast enthusiast for this genre at a time when its reputation was at an extremely low ebb.

In an introduction to an exhibition of pictures from his collection at the Alfred East Art Gallery in Kettering in 1959, Sir David Scott wrote: “I bought these pictures simply because I liked them and wanted to have them on my walls… and for no other reason. I think you will find that there are pictures to suit most tastes and you may wonder how I can possibly like so many different styles. I fancy that the answer is that if a picture has balance, pleasing colour and that odd thing we call quality – and I hope that most of mine have – then I like it. He was later quoted as saying: “I cannot describe the exquisite enjoyment I get from looking at certain pictures.”

After a long and successful career in the Foreign Office, Sir David continued to pursue his two great passions of art and gardening even more vehemently in his retirement. It was at this time that he met his second wife, Valerie Finnis, a well-known and much-loved figure in post-war British gardening. Devoted to each other, Valerie shared both of her husband’s interests. For both of them, a garden was a living thing, and just as they could never resist buying one more picture, so they were forever creating new borders and settings for the plants about which they knew so much. Valerie was very knowledgeable about the picture collection, and wrote often to museums and galleries concerning the paintings and their painters. After David’s death, Lady Scott kept on with the garden they created together, and added to the picture collection herself. The pictures were certainly a shared passion, and after David’s death she remained the ardent custodian of them.

The Collection
The star of the collection is a masterpiece by Sophie Anderson (1823-1903) entitled No Walk Today. Purchased for a total of 14 guineas in the 1920s this was one of Sir David’s earliest purchases. When he was a young man working at the Foreign Office, Sir David regularly decided that instead of eating a heavy lunch in a Pall Mall club – as most of his contemporaries seemed to do – he would cycle around the West End visiting the galleries and salerooms. No Walk Today is Anderson’s most famous painting as well as one of the most enduring and well-loved of all images of Victorian childhood; it is also one of the paintings in the collection in which Sir David took most delight. Estimated at £600,000-800,000, the well known image of a child in her taffeta, velvet dress and feathered straw hat was chosen for the cover of Graham Reynold’s groundbreaking book, Victorian Painting, and also featured in numerous other publications. Furthermore the painting, which dates from the 1850s and displays all of the qualities associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, represented mid-19th century painting at the great Treasure Houses of Britain exhibition which was staged at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in 1985.

Another work that truly captures the essence of the Pre-Raphaelite movement is Sir John Everett Millais’ (1829-1896) and Rebecca Solomon’s (1832-1886) Christ in the House of His Parents, which was one of the most remarkable images of Pre-Raphaelitism in its formative stage. The replica was commenced by Rebecca Solomon – herself a noted painter of genre and figurative subjects – but was then taken up and completed by Millias himself. Millais’ intervention is documented by an inscription that is recorded as having been made on the reverse of the canvas and it is possible that the entire canvas was in fact painted over by Millais. The painting, estimated at £400,000-600,000, was commissioned for Professor L.L. Grüner of Dresden. Millais is also represented in the collection by the oil, My First Sermon, which shows a young girl sitting in a high backed wooden pew in church. He employed his own daughter Effie as the model for the painting; Effie appeared in a number of her father’s paintings. The pendant picture for My First Sermon, which hangs at the Guild Hall in London and is entitled My Second Sermon, also captures the little girl.

A painting with Royal provenance is Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s (1805-1873) La Siesta, which is estimated at £60,000-80,000. The painting hung in Queen Victoria’s dressing-room at Osborne House from 1841 until at least 1876 and she would have seen it on the frequent visits that she and Prince Albert made to their Isle of Wight home. An entry in the Queen’s diary in 1841 conveys her excitement at the painting’s arrival from Paris. She wrote: “Today I got from Paris a beautiful picture by Winterhalter which I had ordered. It is quite small, representing a ‘Siesta’, three lovely Italian girls, with one of them asleep.” La Siesta was the first work that Queen Victoria purchased from Winterhalter, who later became the ex-officio court portraitist to the British Royal Family. In the early years of her reign, Victoria had become increasingly dissatisfied with the British artists to whom commissions for Royal portraits had been given and she was therefore delighted when Winterhalter was presented to her in 1842.

Among the most fascinating paintings in the Scott collection is John Anster Fitzgerald’s (1832-1906) The Stuff that Dreams are Made of, which is one of the finest and most important fairy paintings by the artist. Executed in 1858, the astonishing and vibrant work depicts a sleeping girl surrounded by
dream scenes and grotesque figures. It was first exhibited at the National Institution in 1858 and is also noted in publications by Jeremy Maas and Christopher Wood. It is expected to fetch £400,000-600,000. One of Richard Dadd’s (1817-1886) most recognised fairy paintings is also found in the collection and it marks this artist’s interest in this genre too. Entitled Puck, the picture is estimated at £300,000-500,000, and its companion piece, Titania Sleeping, today hangs in the Louvre in Paris. Both of these works take their inspiration from A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream, which was perhaps the best-loved of all Shakespeare’s plays in the mid-19th century.

A remarkable number of the works came to the collection from the renowned dealer Charlotte Frank, who was a pioneering enthusiast for Victorian Art during the post-war years and also the aunt of Anne Frank. Over a period of 30 years – from the early 1940s until the early 1970s – some of the finest and the best of Victorian Art passed through Mrs Frank’s hands. Charlotte and her husband Robert were highly percipient in discovering and selling the then unfashionable Victorian Art. Sir David made his first purchase from Mrs Frank in 1947 and paintings from this group include: William Dyce’s (1806-1864) Welsh Landscape with Two Woman Knitting and his Glen Rosa, Isle of Arran; R.W. Chapman’s (active 1855-1861) The First Letter; John Callcott Horsley’s (1817-1903) Showing a Preference; and Alfred Rankley’s (1819-1872) Old School Fellows. The first of the Dyce paintings is one of the most fêted of all the paintings in the collection, and one that has been shown in a succession of exhibitions of Victorian Art in Britain and North America. In 1992 Lady Scott described in a letter how her ‘late husband bought the picture from Mrs Frank years and years ago and [how] it remained his favourite painting all his life.’ John Callcott Horsley’s Showing a Preference was bought from Mrs Frank in 1947.

Another interesting element of the collection is a group of 20th century works which was purchased from dealers such as Colnaghi, Leicester Galleries, Redfern Gallery, Ernest Brown & Philip’s and Agnew’s between the 1940s-1980s. At the core of this group are four striking and colourful figurative works by William Roberts (1895-1980), the highlight of which is an oil that was painted between the two world wars, entitled The Park Bench. A further highlight of the 20th Century works on offer is Christopher Nevinson’s (1889-1946) study for La Mitrailleuse, an image that captured the terrifying inhumanity of industrialised war. Estimated at £40,000-60,000, the painting was previously in the collection of the author, Arnold Bennett.

Emily Mary Osborne’s (1834-1913) Nameless and Friendless is estimated at £300,000-500,000. This work shows a young female artist, and a boy who is presumably her younger brother, standing in a picture-dealer’s shop. She waits while the proprietor considers the work that she has offered for sale. The painting’s theme may owe something to Osborne knowing from first hand how hard it was to advance professionally. Nameless and Friendless has come to be regarded as Osborne’s most characteristic work; it is certainly the most familiar of her works having been included at the Royal Academy in 1968-9 and in the National Gallery in 2000-2001. Osborne is also represented in the collection by an oil entitled Home Thoughts, which is expected to fetch £50,000-70,000.