Sotheby’s to Auction Collection of British Watercolours and Drawings

Sotheby’s London has announced that it will present for sale, in its New Bond Street galleries in London, An Exceptional Eye: A Private British Collection,o n Wednesday, July 14, 2010. The single-owner sale of some 250 lots will have at its heart an exquisite group of 18th and 19th century British Watercolours and Drawings and Portrait Miniatures, which ranks as one of the finest collections of its kind to have come to the market in recent memory. Magnificent Regency furniture will also be offered alongside English sculpture, vertu, clocks, ceramics, glass, silverware, design, books, manuscripts, rugs, and extends to prize winning steam model trains. The sale, which will be on exhibition at Sotheby’s London from July 10-14, is expected to bring in excess of £4 million.

J.M.W. Turner, “Coastal View at Sunset with Fishing Boat Returning to Port”. Estimate: £300,000-500,000. Photo: Sotheby’s

An exceptional depth of knowledge, together with an insistence on the highest quality, informed the purchase of each and every piece in the collection. This, combined with a rare compulsion, led to the creation – in the apartment at The Albany – of a time capsule of Regency style. A collector all his life, the man behind this extraordinary assemblage of pieces has amassed a truly first-class collection, with each object in the most perfect condition and presentation. Describing the personality behind the collection, Henry Wemyss, Senior Specialist in Watercolours at Sotheby’s said: “Once in a while someone remarkable comes along who stands out from the crowd. This collector is one such collector.”

British Watercolours and Drawings
The single-owner sale will resonate with the leading names of British watercolour painting and drawing – Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), John Constable (1776-1837), Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), Edward Lear (1812-1888) and John Robert Cozens (1752-1797) – and all will be superbly represented.

It was in the 1980s that the collector first discovered the watercolours of Cox, Varley, and Peter de Wint, and then a growing interest in the picturesque and the sublime led him to the genius of John Robert Cozens. It was his admiration for Cozens that in turn led him to William Beckford, a figure who would go on to have a significant influence over his collecting tastes for the next 20 or so years. On this, James Stourton comments: “It is with William Beckford and to some extent Thomas Hope that the collection then focused. Their eclecticism and the perfectionism are similar, and some of those items from Beckford’s own collection feature here.”

Leading the watercolours and drawings on offer will be John Robert Cozens’ majestic landscape of Lake Albano and Castel Gandolfo – Sunset (shown left), which comes to the market with an estimate of £500,000-700,000. This dramatic painting, which dates from circa 1780s and which has been widely exhibited and published, entered the collection at The Albany apartment in 1991, having been in the collection of the notable English painter and collector Sir Thomas Lawrence and later, the Girtin family. Cozens’ landscapes are ‘all poetry’, he was an artist who had a profound influence on the future generation of British masters such as J.M.W Turner, Thomas Girtin and John Constable.

J.M.W. Turner’s Coastal View at Sunset with Fishing Boat Returning to Port is a quintessential work by the artist and it will be offered for sale in fine original condition and with an estimate of £300,000-500,000; Turner is an artist with whom Sotheby’s has a hugely successful record at auction. Thomas Gainsborough’s Wooded Landscape with Herdsman, Cows and Cottage also carries an estimate of £300,000-500,000 and this picture arguably ranks as the finest Gainsborough watercolour remaining in private hands. Further works to be offered will include: an important view of Durham Cathedral by Thomas Girtin, estimated at £200,000-300,000; a Study of a Boy Reading by Joseph Wright of Derby, estimated at £200,000-300,000; and a self portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which was in the family collection of Reynolds’ niece until 2003. The portrait – undertaken in black and white chalk – depicts the artist at the age of 17.

Portrait Miniatures
The fascinating art form of painted portrait miniatures flourished in the Regency period and the sale will feature an array of portrait miniatures by many of the leading names in the field: John Smart (1742-1811), Richard Cosway (1742-1821), Samuel Cooper (1608-1672), Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), Andrew Robertson (1777-1845), Jean Baptist Jacques Augustin (1759-1832) and George Engleheart (1752-1829). The 30 or so portrait miniatures were housed in a cabinet of the great 18th centurycollector and grand tourist, Sir Andrew Fountaine.

Nicholas Hilliard’s exceptional depiction of A Noblewoman, Possibly Lettice Knollys, dates from circa 1585-1590 and it will be the most valuable of the miniatures on offer with an estimate of £100,000-150,000. Further works of note will be a Portrait of a Gentleman, Possibly Sidney Godolphin by Samuel Cooper, estimated at £40,000-60,000, and two portraits by Richard Cosway. Cosway was perhaps the most famous of the 18th century portraitists and with his flair for enhancing the beauty and elegance of all his sitters, he was the preferred painter of the Prince of Wales in 1785. One of his portraits of King George IV, When Prince of Wales (1762-1830) will feature in the sale, with an estimate of £30,000-40,000, as will one of Lady Elizabeth Foster, Later Duchess of Devonshire (1760-1824). John Smart, arguably the greatest portrait painter of the 18th century, will be represented by his tiny depiction of Gilbert Ford, Attorney-General of Jamaica, which measures just 3.1cm in diameter.

Chosen with the same unfailing eye and exacting standards that belied the acquisition of each of the other works of art in the collection, the furniture in the Albany apartment was also key to the extraordinary – and very precisely Regency – ambience of the place.

Certain luminaries of the Regency period are everywhere present in the collection, among them William Beckford, whose silver-gilt teapot, stand and caddy, each engraved with his own coat of arms and together estimated at £3,000-5,000, were given to him at the time of his coming of age in 1781, and Thomas Hope.

Estimated at £60,000-80,000, a George IV mahogany writing table, circa 1810, in the manner of Thomas Hope incorporates all the elements that characterise the Neo-classical style for which Hope is so widely celebrated.

The spirit of Henry Holland – one of the leading Georgian architects of the period – also pervades. Of all the styles Holland (1745-1806) embraced, the most enduringly influential – and that which is most closely echoed in the collection – is French and classical in feel. It is a style best represented, perhaps, in at Southill in Bedfordshire, where Holland designed a beautiful home for Samuel Whitbread in around 1800.

In homage to Holland and his work at Southill, the Albany collection includes several pieces of furniture – made by one of today’s leading craftsmen, John Beavan – after designs for Southill by Holland. Among them are a pair of Regency style mahogany and parcel-gilt armchairs estimated at £12,000-18,000.

Enjoying the illustrious provenance that was so often a determining consideration in the choice of pieces for the collection, a black slate and gilt-bronze Egyptian style mantel clock by Benjamin Vulliamy (est: £40,000-60,000) is reputed to have been part of the extraordinary Egyptian Dining-Room at Goodwood House.

Among other pieces epitomising the best Regency craftsmanship and design is a thuya, ebony and parcel-gilt centretable, circa 1810, attributed to the celebrated furniture makers Morel & Hughes and estimated at £20,000-40,000.

Sculpture and Works of Art
It was the collector’s love of English churches and tomb sculpture that led him to the finest stone carvers in 18th century England, John Michael Rysbrack and Louis Roubilliac, and the collection includes two very important busts by these sculptors. A rare, original terracotta model by Michael Rysbrack (1694 – 1770) – one of the leading sculptors working in England in the early 1700s – is testament to the vivid, life-like modelling for which Rysbrack was so celebrated. This lively rendering of John Palmer – a distinguished 17th-century mathematician and astronomer – is a preparatory model for the marble bust on the latter’s tomb. As Rector of Ecton, in Northamptonshire, Palmer was laid to rest in the Ecton Church. It is there that the marble bust can be found, it was in the vicarage nearby that this marble terracotta spent much of its life, prior to taking its place in the current collection. The terracotta bust, is estimated at £200,000-300,000.

The second important bust is an English bronze of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773), circa 1745, cast from a model by Louis-François Roubilliac (1705-62). A whig and a leading political figure in the early 18th century, Philip Dormer, is best known for the letters he wrote to his son Philip Stanhope which, after their publication, have become one of the classics of the English language, known for their wit, wisdom and observation. Roubilliac’s marble bronze bust, dated 1745, is now in the National Portrait Gallery, and bronze casts can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum and Dublin Castle. Chesterfield promoted his image by having casts made of his portraits and then sending them as gifts. It therefore seems highly likely that all three bronze versions, including the present example estimated at £120,000-180,000 were cast shortly after the completion of the marble under the direction of Chesterfield and supervision of Michael Rysbrack.