Christie’s to Offer Works of Art from the Althorp Attics

Christie’s London announced the details of the auction of works of art from the attics, stables, cellars and storerooms at Althorp which will take place at the South Kensington salerooms on 7 and 8 July.

The auction will also present the most important ancestral collection of carriages ever to appear at auction. Presenting over 700 lots and including carriages, European and Oriental porcelain, furniture, works of art, portrait miniatures, pictures, silver, militaria and textiles, individual estimates will range from £200 to £80,000. The auction is expected to realise in the region of £1 million.

In the same week at the King Street salerooms, Christie’s will offer an important selection of furniture, works of art and porcelain formerly from Spencer House, the London town house of the Spencer family until 1924 (which is still owned by the family, but is leased to tenants) which has been housed until recently at Althorp – the ancestral home of the Spencer Family currently undergoing a £10 million re-roofing and restoration project.

The sales, including masterpieces by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino (1591-1666) to be offered at the auction of Old Masters and 19th Century Art on 6 July, are expected to realise a combined total in the region of £20 million. They are taking place in order to allow for reinvestment which will underpin the long term future of Althorp and its Estate.

Andrew Waters, Director of Private Collections and House Sales, Christie’s London: “We spent three months exploring the attics and storerooms at Althorp in order to prepare this sale, and it was one of the most interesting experiences of my twenty years at Christie’s. The auction will present a unique glimpse into the history of one of the country’s most important aristocratic families, and with estimates starting at £200, will also offer a very accessible opportunity to acquire works of art with a fascinating and distinguished provenance.”

Christie’s specialists, porters and photographers spent three months working in Althorp’s labyrinth of attics, cellars and stables discovering, recording and researching a treasure trove of works of art, ceramics, portrait miniatures, silver, textiles, furniture, pictures and militaria. From Coronation chairs to Coachmen’s livery and Butler’s trays to riding whips and saddles – not to mention numerous kitchen copper jelly moulds, batteries de cuisine and several centuries of textiles – the unused contents of the storerooms of this fascinating house were revealed daily.

The auction will offer over 700 lots with individual estimates from £200. Selected highlights range from a magnificent set of four glass table display centrepieces, circa 1880 (estimate: £15,000-£25,000) commissioned by John Poyntz, 5th Earl Spencer while serving as Viceroy of Ireland; a Nantgarw part dessert service, circa 1820 (estimate: £8,000- £12,000); a portrait miniature of Lady Georgiana Cavendish and Harriet Cavendish – two daughters of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire – as children (estimate: £800 to £1,200); John, 5th Earl Spencer with Ward Union Hunt, 1877, by Michael Angelo Hayes R.M.A. (1820-1877) (estimate: £15,000 to £25,000); an English or French tortoiseshell dog collar with gold inlay circa 1840 (estimate: £500 to £700); and a quantity of sporting equipment including a pair of skis, three pairs of ice-skates, golf clubs and other rackets and bats, all from the early 20th century (estimate: £300 to £500).

The sale also includes The Spencer Carriages, arguably the most important group of aristocratic 19th Century horsedrawn family carriages that remains in existence and certainly the most extensive to survive in the family for which they were commissioned. Originally divided between the Mews behind Spencer House and Althorp, the group numbers over a dozen, and is representative of the needs of a leading English political family throughout the 19th century – and almost all are painted in matching Spencer livery of dark green and black with maroon-striped undercarriages. Some of the carriages will be sold with sets of harness mounted with the Spencer family coat-of-arms. The collection has been in secure storage since the Princess Diana award-winning exhibition was installed in the Stable Block at Althorp in 1998.

At the core of the group are three carriages by one of the leading London makers of the Regency period – Barker of Chandos Street. These include the state chariot (estimate: £50,000-£80,000), one of the grandest types of carriage and one designed with only two seats. It was intended to be used by Lord and Lady Spencer alone on state occasions.

The interior is lined in sumptuous ‘padua’ red watered silk, a family colour derived from the hunting field, and the roof is mounted with magnificent silvered coronets. As was customary, the coats-of-arms on the doors were updated over time and those on this chariot almost certainly date from its use for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902.

The other two carriages by Barker are extremely comfortable barouches, with huge C-springs suspending the body in luxury. One is a ‘posting’ or travelling barouche (estimate: £20,000-£30,000), with seats for coachman at the back although the actual steering would have been done by postilions mounted on the horses. Two postilions saddles are included with the lot, an exceptional survival. This posting barouche has a painted crest that suggests that it was used when the 5th Earl Spencer was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1868-1874 and 1882-1885.

The third Barker carriage is a park barouche (estimate: £15,000-£20,000), designed for the ritual of driving out on Hyde Park, with a front seat for a driver.

The other carriages reflect the complexity of the family’s lives between Spencer House and their various houses in the country. An early Victorian private coach or drag by the coachmakers Holland and Holland (estimate: £40,000-£60,000) is of the familiar stagecoach form and would be capable of transporting at least ten people, many of them in the discomfort of the top. Less chilly is an enclosed private omnibus of a slightly later date by Peters and Sons. Among the smaller carriages is a four-wheeled rally cart by Mulliner of Northampton (estimate: £2,000-£3,000), the leading 19th century coachmaker local to Althorp. Among the coach-making branches of the Mulliner family, one went on to become car coach-builders, creating the bodies for some of the most beautiful Rolls Royce cars of the mid-20th century. The name still survives as a special projects division within Bentley Motors.

Image: A collection of Victorian purple velvet, cut and mirrored glass table centrepieces, circa 1880. Estimate: £15,000-25,000. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2010