Ruined castle will lose star Jan Steen painting
The planned sale may be linked to the delay in restoring Lowther Castle into a public picture gallery
By Martin Bailey. Art Market, Issue 247, June 2013
Published online: 06 June 2013
A painting by Jan Steen, which has been with the same British family for 250 years, is to be sold at Christie’s, London, on 2 July, with an estimate of £7m to £10m. An Interior with the Artist eating Oysters, 1660 (also known as “Easy come, easy go”), depicts the leering Steen, accepting a glass of wine from a serving girl.
The painting, which is being sold by the Lowther Estate Trust, was to have been the centrepiece of a new picture gallery that is being set up at Lowther Castle, in the Lake District in the north of England. A spokesman for the estate trust says that until recently there was no intention to sell the Steen, but there are now “changed circumstances”. He was unwilling to divulge what these are.
The work was last sold in 1763, at an auction in The Hague, where it was bought for the 1st Earl of Lonsdale. The painting was on loan to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool from 2010 until last September.
Lowther Castle, near Penrith, in Cumbria, was occupied by the Lonsdale family until 1936 and it was later used by the military during the war. The neo-Gothic mansion quickly fell into disrepair and the roof was demolished in 1957, leaving the building as a ruin. In 2010, the castle ruins and grounds were leased to a charity, the Lowther Castle and Garden Trust, which is opening it up as a visitor attraction, with £9m from European and UK public development funds.
In an unusual venture for an aristocratic collection, a series of seven new rooms for displaying art is being created in the ruined castle. Building work was nearing completion, but problems developed last November after the contractor, Patton Construction, went into administration. This has delayed the opening of the gallery, but it is hoped it will be ready in July.
The plan is to show changing displays from the Lonsdale family collection, with paintings, decorative art, furniture and manuscripts. Pictures include works by Govert Flinck (1615-60), Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), William Hogarth (1697-1764) and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851).
The restoration of Lowther Castle follows the resolution of a bitter family dispute. Just before the seventh Earl of Lonsdale died in 2006, he partially disinherited his eldest son, who had accused his father of sexual abuse. The eighth Earl then initiated legal action against his father’s fourth wife and other family members and companies. In 2009 the eighth earl dropped the case, and it then became easier to proceed with the opening up of Lowther Castle to visitors.
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