Duchess of Roxburghe’s estate sale to fund restoration of derelict mansion

Sotheby’s to auction the contents of West Horsley Place, including a study for Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June


The leaching of heirlooms from British stately homes continues this month, with the sale by Sotheby’s London of the contents of West Horsley Place, in Surrey, England. The home of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, who died last year aged 99, came as a surprise inheritance to her nephew, the former television broadcaster Bamber Gascoigne, aged 80, who wants to raise funds to restore the largely derelict 16th-century mansion, built on foundations that date back to the 11th century.

The daughter of the first Marquess of Crewe, grand-daughter of the fifth Earl of Roseberry and related on her mother’s side to the Rothschild family, Mary Crewe-Milnes was born into considerable wealth. But the fortune was dilapidated by her father’s extravagance, which is reflected in the relative paucity of major works of art among the 700 lots on offer at the sale on 27 and 28 May.

Among a handful of Old Master paintings, pride of place goes to a full-length portrait of Sir Thomas Crewe, second baron Crewe, by Peter Lely, estimated at £60,000-£80,000. But more interesting for collectors are several drawings by Pre-Raphaelite masters—Mary’s paternal grandfather, Richard Monckton Milnes, first Baron Houghton, was a patron of the movement’s artists.

A series of three heads that were preparatory studies for Edward Burne-Jones’s painting The Wheel of Fortune, now in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, is estimated at £40,000-£60,000. Meanwhile, a delicate pencil and white chalk drawing of a sleeping woman’s face is the only known head study for Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June, also estimated at £40,000-£60,000, will be offered at a separate Sotheby’s sale of 19th-century art on 15 July. Gascoigne spotted the work hanging behind the door of the duchess’s bedroom.