Who is behind the great stately home art sell-off
We reveal the aristocrats who are raising funds by selling works that in many cases were on show to the public
By Martin Bailey. News, Issue 215, July-August 2010
Published online: 14 July 2010
A large number of major works of art are now being sold by aristocratic British owners (see p1). All come from stately homes, most of which are open to the public. The list of major works is worth around £80m; add in lesser works and those being marketed discreetly, and the total could exceed £100m.
Duke of Devonshire
One of the surprise sales is from Chatsworth, a £10m bronze relief of Ugolino Imprisoned with his Sons and Grandsons (around 1549, right), by Leonardo’s nephew Pierino da Vinci. The sculpture entered the Devonshire collection in 1764 and has been on public view at Chatsworth (Derbyshire) since 1833. Although admitting that any sales are unfortunate, the Chatsworth House Trust told us it is to “allow for responsible, long-term estate planning”. A £14m refurbishment of the house has also recently been completed. The Duke of Devonshire is deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, so it is assumed the auction house handled the £10m private sale to the Prince of Liechtenstein, for his museum in Vienna.
A UK export licence has been initially deferred until 13 September. Once a sale was agreed with the prince, Chatsworth was obliged to give three months’ notice to UK collections, because the Pierino had been conditionally exempt from inheritance tax. It failed to do this, so if a UK buyer expresses serious interest in matching the export price, then the second deferral period will include an additional three months, to 13 June 2011.
The Export Reviewing Committee has given the Pierino a starred status, which means that every effort should be made to save it. Both London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum would like the bronze relief, but the £10m price (around £7m with tax concessions for a public collection) may prove prohibitive.
Marquis of Lothian
In Sotheby’s “Treasures: Aristocratic Heirlooms” sale on 6 July, the major item was the Great Silver Wine Cistern (1705-06, est £1.5m-£2.5m), which went for £2.5m, a record price for English silver. The buyer was an Asian collector, so a UK export licence application is expected. Weighing 81kg, the silver wine cooler is 1.3 metres long. It was made for Thomas Wentworth and has passed down to the present Marquis of Lothian, whose seat is Monteviot House in southern Scotland.
Earl Spencer sales totalled £21.1m at Christie’s on 6-8 July. There were two major pictures in the old masters evening sale on 6 July. Rubens’s Portrait of a Commander (1614, right), estimated at £8m-£12m, had been at Althorp (Northamptonshire) since before 1802. It went for £9m. Guercino’s King David (1651), estimated at £5m-£8m, had been acquired for London’s Spencer House in 1768 and went to Althorp in 1924. It sold for £5.2m.
On 8 July Christie’s held the Spencer House sale, with 78 lots, mainly furniture and decorative art. This raised a total of £4.9m. However, the star lot, a Louis XVI ormulu-mounted commode and corner cabinets by Claude-Charles Saunier (1785-90), estimated at £2.5m-£4m, failed to sell.
An attic sale of Althorp items took place at Christie’s South Kensington on 7-8 July, with lesser items, as well as 19th century carriages. This raised a further £2m.
In his 1998 book on Althorp, Earl Spencer (brother of Diana, Princess of Wales) criticised his father for selling off art treasures. He revealed that dozens of paintings had gone to London art dealers in laundry baskets from Althorp’s back door.
In 2006 London dealer Simon Dickinson arranged the sale of eight of Lord Northbrook’s paintings to the Prince of Liechtenstein, but legal problems subsequently developed over an export licence application for Sanchez Coello’s Portrait of Don Diego (1577, right). A lengthy HM Revenue & Customs examination was only resolved in May when the investigation was dropped (see July-August 2010, p7).
With the matter concluded, London’s National Gallery looks set to match the Liechtenstein offered price of £2m.
Earl of Rosebery
The star lot at Sotheby’s old master sale on 7 July was the Earl of Rosebery’s Turner, Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino (1839, above). Estimated at £12m-£18m, it went for £29.7m, exceeding the previous record for a Turner, £20.5m for Giudecca, La Donna della Salute [sic], sold through Christie’s in 2006 for £20.5m. It was bought by the Getty Museum and will now require a UK export licence. Acquired by the 5th Earl in 1878, Modern Rome hung at Dalmeny House, near Edinburgh, but since 1978 it has been on long-term loan to the National Galleries of Scotland.
Harry Dalmeny, the son of the seventh earl, is deputy chairman of Sotheby’s UK and director of country house sales. It is believed that the National Galleries of Scotland was approached earlier this year about a private treaty sale, but it could not consider this because of the need to secure Titian’s £50m Diana and Callisto (1556-59).
Earl of Jersey
The Earl of Jersey has sold his Van Dyck Self-portrait (1640, right), which went for £8.3m at Sotheby’s on 4 December 2009. The painting had belonged to the family since 1712. There were pre-auction discussions with the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery on a private treaty sale, but agreement could not be reached on price.
At Sotheby’s it was bought by Milwaukee dealer/collector Alfred Bader and London portrait dealer Philip Mould. As The Art Newspaper reported, the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery later made a joint bid to buy the painting, at a negotiated price of £9.4m (April 2010, p6).
A grant request for £5.5m was made to the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), but on 25 May it emerged that this had been rejected.
Mould is now negotiating with other potential buyers. The Mauritshuis in The Hague was one of the underbidders at Sotheby’s. However, at a current market price of £10m plus, it is unlikely to be able to consider it.
Earl of Wemyss and March
The 13th Earl of Wemyss and March has been selling major paintings since the death of his father on 12 December 2008. The 12th earl, who was head of watercolours at Sotheby’s, had himself sold Botticelli’s The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child (1490) to the National Galleries of Scotland in 1999, for £10.25m. The family seat, Gosford House, is near Edinburgh.
The current sales by the 13th earl are passing through Simon Dickinson. Earlier this year the Prince of Liechtenstein bought Cornelis van Haarlem’s Saint Sebastian (around 1591, right), for £1.5m, via Vienna’s Galerie Sanct Lucas. Dickinson is also believed to be involved in the sale of two other Wemyss and March pictures—Poussin’s Baptism of Christ (1657), worth £7m, and Cavallino’s The Drunkenness of Noah (1640-45), £1.2m.
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