Highlights from January's Fine Furniture & Works of Art auction
Douglas Girton, head of our Fine Furniture & Works of Art auctions, looks at just some of the highlights of our first sale of 2015 - Fine Furniture & Works of Art held on 14 January 2015. These highlights cover several of the core disciplines of this varied sale, including sculpture, paintings, and fine furniture which forms the heart of the sale.
HARRIET HOSMER (AMERICAN 1830-1908)
PUCK ON A TOADSTOOL, CIRCA 1856
white marble, signed 'HARRIET HOSMER FECIT ROMAE'; on a scagliola Sienna marble square plinth
79cm high; pedestal 93cm high
SOLD FOR £31,250 (inclusive of buyer's premium)
Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908) was arguably the leading female sculptor of the 19th century. Throughout her career she battled against the myth that sculpture was physically beyond women's capabilities.
Coming from a privileged background outside Boston, Massachussets, she studied anatomy with her physician father before moving to Rome aged nineteen to continue her training under the Welsh sculptor John Gibson. While in Rome she associated with a group of ex-pat artists and writers including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thackeray, George Eliot and George Sand. Hosmer's privilege enabled her to overcome female restrictions to a certain extent, her family was wealthy enough to support her through her studies and she attended respected schools making valuable connections that would lead to beneficial patrons. It was financial security that allowed her to choose her own subjects and ultimately her skill as a sculptor that won her recognition.
She became known for her untraditional depictions of female subjects and was considered at the time an "emancipated female" as she undertook everyday activities unaccompanied. Critics resorted to highlighting her unfeminine childhood in which she ran, swam and rowed to explain her "masculine" ambitions. Many of her works explored female figures in either captive or desperate situations at the hands of men. Often choosing classical tales, she would depict moments of despair, such as her Medusa (1854) at the moment she loses her beauty to become a monster, or her Oenone (1855) as she is left by her husband Paris. The most famous sculpture in this vein is her masterpiece, Zenobia. Queen Zenobia ruled Palmrya until it was sacked by the Roman Emperor Aurelian and she was taken prisoner. Hosmer studied various literary and historical works for her portrayal, all written by men, describing Zenobia as defeated and weighed down with jewels and unable to walk. Hosmer's Zenobia refuses to conform to this historical account, she stands defiant as a prisoner with less jewellery and the only chains on her wrists being manacles. The figure is stoic, head held high, carrying her restraints and exuding authority in a situation to be overcome rather than defeated by.
The fine figure of Puck on a Toadstool demonstrates Hosmer's talent for capturing the spirit of her subject. Literary themes were very popular in the 19th century and Hosmer chose the mischievous fairy from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Executed at a time when her finances were running low, the figure was immediately successful, being purchased by the Prince of Wales and the Crown Princess of Germany who, upon seeing the work, remarked, "Oh, Miss Hosmer, you have such talent for toes!" The commercial success of Puck on a Toadstool enabled the sculptor freedom to explore other subjects. "I have another order for Puck; he has already brought me his weight in silver." Harriet Hosmer, in Cornelia Crow Carr, ed., Harriet Hosmer: Letters and Memories, 1913.
In 1858, two years after creating Puck, Hosmer created a companion piece to the work, this time borrowing from folklore with her treatment of Will-o-the-Wisp which didn't achieve the same level of popularity as Puck on a Toadstool.
SIR JOHN STEELL, RSA (SCOTTISH, 1804-1891)
ALEXANDER TRAINING BUCEPHALUS, 19TH CENTURY
bronze, inscribed JN. STEELL SCULPT EDINBR. 1833
SOLD FOR £3,750 (inclusive of buyer's premium)
The son of an Edinburgh sculptor, Sir John Robert Steell (1804-1891) worked at the top of his profession, creating sculptures destined to be landmarks of his native city. A member of the Royal Scottish Academy and appointed sculptor to Queen Victoria, there is little Steell failed to achieve in his career. His statue of Sir Walter Scott for the Scott Monument on Prince's Street, was the first marble statue ever commissioned in Scotland from a native artist.
Beginning in his father's shop age fourteen, he went on to study at the Edinburgh Life Academy and soon began independent sculptural projects. After travelling to study in Rome in 1829 he was overwhelmed with commissions on his return, mainly from wealthy residents requiring busts. Having established his reputation, he began work on one of his finest and most famous sculpture, Alexander Taming Bucephalus. Commissioned by the North British Fire and Insurance Company, the piece was first carved in wood and displayed in London. This brought him the attention of not only a wider public but also influential patrons, and though he received numerous requests to stay in London, he was resolute about returning to Edinburgh. He was conscious of his responsibility to develop Scotland's artistic character and his foundry was the first in Scotland to introduce artistic casting.
The sculpture's subject is taken from one of the early defining moments in Alexander the Great's life. The legend tells of how an untameable horse was presented to King Phillip, Alexander's father. After the king refused the beast, a twelve year old Alexander claimed that he could tame the horse. He took the reins and spoke softly to it, turning him to face the sun as he realised Bucephalus was afraid of his own shadow.
Through a lack of finances the statue's journey from inception to realisation would take over fifty years and Steel would only live for eight years after the large version was finally cast in 1883. The huge bronze was presented to the city of Edinburgh in 1884 and originally resided in St. Andrew Square until it was moved to the City Chambers in 1916. This reduction would have been cast as part of a group in Steell's workshop, probably in 1833.
GOOD GEORGE II MAHOGANY BREAKFRONT BOOKCASE IN THE MANNER OF VILE AND COBB
of shallow breakfront outline, the broken arch pediment above a pair of doors with arched glazed panels and foliate carved corner mouldings opening to shelves, flanked by further set back glazed doors; the lower part with a central cupboard door with oval mouldings marked at the sides with acanthus carving, flanked by cupboard doors carved with ribbon tied fruit and foliate trails, raised on shaped bracket feet
166cm wide, 250cm high, 40cm deep
SOLD FOR £68,500 (inclusive of buyer's premium)
Collection of B. Coppinger Prichard; Property from a Highland Estate.
Featured in The Dictionary of English Furniture, vol. I, Antique Collectors' Club, Woodbridge, p.84
The partnership of Messrs. Vile & Cobb was first listed in the London Directory in 1750 and continued with great success until 1765 when William Vile retired with John Cobb continuing to trade until 1778. William Vile is considered the principle cabinet maker of the two, while John Cobb was listed as an upholsterer. This arrangement was rather typical of the period for furniture makers. They are considered to be Thomas Chippendale's greatest rivals and their work of the period is arguably some of the finest English made furniture produced in the mid 18th century. Favoured by George III and Queen Charlotte, a great deal of their work was by Royal commission.
Although no published designs exist for the firm and they did not mark their furniture, known pieces produced by Vile & Cobb provide a visual guide to the characteristics they typically employed. Straddling the divide between the heavy architectural style of Palladianism as executed by William Kent in the 1730s and 40s and the lighter and more feminine Rococo style of Thomas Chippendale gaining popularity in the 1750s, Vile and Cobb produced furniture of the highest quality. A signature motif employed by Vile is the carved acanthus clad oval or circular moulding found on door panels, often flanked by further carved details like pendant fruit swags as seen on the present bookcase. A bookcase of similar proportion and outline illustrated in Anthony Coleridge, 'Chippendale Furniture', pl 33, and described 'in the style of Vile' is nearly identical to the present bookcase with the addition of more elaborate carved mouldings to the pediment and mullions.
The present bookcase appears in Ralph Edwards 'The Shorter Dictionary of English Furniture', pg 53, pl 9 with no attribution or mention in the text with the exception of the caption accompanying the illustration stating it comes from the Coppinger Prichard Collection. It is believed the bookcase was purchased by the present owner's family from Frank Partridge & Son from whom they purchased much of the furniture in the collection.
HENRY BONE (BRITISH 1755-1834)
The son of a cabinet maker and carver, Henry Bone was born in Cornwall in 1755. Appointed Enamel Painter to George III, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), and William IV, and a Royal Academy Member, he became famous for the skill and scale of his works, his copies after oil paintings gaining him the reputation as the 'Prince of Enamellers'.
Starting as an apprentice at the Plymouth Porcelain Works, he moved on to the Bristol China Works in 1772. Over the following six years Bone developed his talent, dedicating himself to china decoration and artistic studies. Upon the closure of the Bristol China Works in 1779, he moved to London and found employment decorating fans and watches before his first Royal Academy Exhibition in 1781. Following the exposure he gained from these exhibitions he decided to focus solely on enamel painting, a regular feature at the Royal Academy. He exhibited A Muse and Cupid in 1789, at the time the largest enamel painting ever executed. He later went on to surpass himself in 1811 with his most famous piece, a work after Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne. Previous work in enamel had only been a few inches across, featuring in miniatures and jewellery. At the time the process involved bonding the enamel paint onto a metal sheet, usually copper, through a firing process. The firing would often last for several hours but as the colours would fuse at different temperatures, there was a risk that certain paints may crack and buckle while others were still setting. To reduce the risk of deformation artists would only enamel onto small pieces. Bone experimented with the firing process as well as with his enamel paint formulas and developed enamel paints that would fuse reliably within a narrow heat range and true to colour, enabling him to produce such large, high quality works.
Henry Bone's stature had grown so much that he received 4,000 visitors while exhibiting Bacchus and Adrianne at his house in Berners Street, eventually selling it for the large sum of 2200 guineas. It is now in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, who purchased it at auction in 2013 for £313,875. His next great projects included a series of eighty-five historical portraits of figures from the time of Elizabeth I, a series of Civil War cavaliers, and also a series of portraits of members of the Russell family. While the Elizabethan portraits were not a financial success for Bone they are considered among his greatest works.
The portraits in our sale are prime examples of Bone's prowess, skill and attention to detail. The portrait of Elizabeth Carey, later Lady Berkeley (lot 24), is a cool study of Elizabethan composure, wealth and status. Bone's original pencil grid sketch for this portrait in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery illustrates his meticulous precision. So too does the extravagant portrait of a man wearing a white ostrich plume hat, originally believed to be Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester but now identified as possibly King Christian IV of Denmark or Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester (lot 25), which displays all the confidence and swagger of a gentleman at the top of his social and political world. Bone's annotated grid sketch for this large and fantastic portrait, a copy of an original at Knole House, survives and is also in the collection of National Portrait Gallery.
Suffering from failing eyesight and poor health, Bone offered to sell his collection of enamels to the nation but it was declined. After his death in 1834, it was dispersed and sold at auction by Christie's in 1836. It is believed these four came into the collection of the 5th Earl of Lanesborough, who was furnishing Swithland Hall at this time. It is a rarity to have four of Henry Bone's remarkable portraits available at one time and from one source.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Douglas Girton | 0131 557 8844 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Theodora Burrell | 0131 557 8844 | email@example.com
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
Wednesday 11 April 2015 | 11am | Edinburgh