Mementoes of former glory in Ickworth sale

Sotheby’s were successful; the National Trust furious


The sale of paintings and works of art from the East wing of Ickworth, Suffolk, a leading British house and home of the Hervey family, proved a financial success, bringing in £2,365,700 ($3,630,044), more than double the initial estimate. The sale was 98% sold by lot and 96% by value.

Only eleven of the 776 lots remained unsold at the Sotheby’s auction and a spokesman for the Marquess of Bristol said he was “pleased with the result”.

Although the National Trust owns Ickworth, it was not offered first refusal on the sale items, which all came from the private apartment leased to Lord Bristol. At the 11-12 June house sale in the East Wing, the Trust succeeded in buying seventeen lots. The £242,000 cost was financed with the help of a 75% percent contribution from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Among the ten paintings bought by the National Trust were Old Masters which had originally hung in the drawing room and library of the house’s Rotunda. These were copies of a Claude landscape (£69,700) and Guercino’s “Sybil” (£65,300), as well as lesser works catalogued as After Annibale Carracci, After Guercino, Manner of Reni, Circle of Venusti, Attributed to Zoffany, English School, French School and German School. Other lots acquired were a pair of chandeliers, a mantel clock, two busts, a print and two plans of Ickworth.

The major disappointment for the National Trust was not acquiring a set of seven photographic albums, which included views of Ickworth, family portraits and an 1895 holiday to Norway. Although estimated at £200-300, the albums went for £2,300.

The two top lots at the sale both far exceeded their estimates. The painting by the Studio of Van Dyck, “Self-portrait with a sunflower” fetched £210,500 (estimate £15,000-20,000) and the painting attributed to Van Dyck, a “Portrait of the Marchesa Balbi” went for £33,500 (estimate £4,000-6,000). The State Coronation portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte by Ramsay and Studio sold at £117,000 (estimate £50,000-80,000).

Two eighteenth-century inlaid fireplaces (estimate £30,000-40,000 and £10,000-12,000) were withdrawn after complaints from the National Trust that they belonged to the house (the Sotheby’s catalogue had warned that the chimney pieces would “be removed at the purchaser’s own risk and expense”). Four other items were also withdrawn for similar reasons: two curtains, a lead fountain and a weathervane. Lord Bristol himself is believed to have withdrawn many lots before the sale.

The Ickworth sale catalogue makes poignant reading, emphasising the extent to which relatively modest items relating to the house and the family are being dispersed. Symbolically, Lord Bristol even put up for sale a painted copy of the family tree, with an estimate of £150-200 (it was subsequently withdrawn). In a separate auction, eight lordships of the manor were also sold, raising a further £50,000.

Although the Ickworth sale represents a tragic loss for English heritage, it was a relief for Lord Bristol. Just before the Sotheby’s auction, he explained, “I am going to feel a tremendous burden lifted when I shed this responsibility which has been round my neck for twenty years”. The Seventh Marquess of Bristol, aged forty-one, is now using the proceeds to build a beach house in the Bahamas.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 61 July 1996