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Our first sale was held nearly 30 years ago as part of Sotheby's Country House saleroom at Summers Place in Sussex, since which time the sales have flourished, establishing a global reputation. Following restructuring, the department is staffed by a team who, between them, have nearly 200 years of Sotheby’s experience.
(closing for entries early March) See below details of three exciting collections already consigned.
There aren’t many silver linings to the Covid cloud which has hung menacingly over us for much of the year. Many of us, however, in our enforced isolation have rediscovered our gardens and all the joys therein.
The great diarist, Samuel Pepys, as the first infections of Bubonic plague began to spread in London, observed in a diary entry on April 30, 1665: “Great fears of the Sickenesse here in the City,” he wrote, “it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve us all.”
The present pandemic has been made worse by globalisation and ease of travel, which certainly didn’t exist in the 17th century. Those who were able to travel then included the young nobility embarking on Grand Tours of Europe, ostensibly to further their education in the classics and arts, but often to sow a few wild oats in the fleshpots of Italy which would certainly not conform to the present day rigours of social distancing. Many brought back sculpture and pictures as souvenirs of their “education”. One such object was included in our March sale;
A good 18th century carved marble Medici urn, based on an ancient original which made £9750, despite damages and extensive weathering from being left outside.
Our March sale took place the day after the country went into the first lockdown, and we were one of the first to hold an auction with no members of the public in our gallery, relying entirely on commission and internet bidding. Taking an auction to an empty room, was a novel experience and although it felt like conducting the orchestra on deck as the Titanic went down, we were heartened by just how buoyant prices were.
We were blessed by some historically interesting and rare pieces, including a life size lead figure of Hygieia made by the Bromsgrove Guild, best known for making the gates of Buckingham Palace. The only other known example of this figure is at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence.
Lot 89 March - An early 20th century lead figure of Hygieia made by the Bromsgrove Guild. Sold for £39,000.
Over the last 30 years we have sold more Coade stone than any other auction house. It holds a particular fascination for us since it was one of the very few Georgian businesses owned and run by a woman; the redoubtable Eleanor Coade. Most of what her company made were outdoor architectural fixtures and garden ornament which took advantage of the durability of the material. As such the intimacy of a small 29cm high portrait bust of the relatively unknown Anglo Portugese merchant, Gerard de Visme makes it a very rare object which was reflected in its selling price of over £4000.
One of the joys of the auction business is the history associated with many of the objects we sell. This last year has been extraordinary in so many ways, not least the reappraisal of our history as a nation and what we can learn from it. Many of these pieces of art open a window to the past and act as reminders that ignoring or erasing history leaves us open to making the same mistakes all over again.
Mindful of this, we offered for sale a monumental 2.5 metre high powerfully carved sandstone figure of the Russian Revolutionary Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev, one of six statues commissioned from leading Soviet sculptors in 1950 to serve as propaganda symbols and placed on the roof of the Communist party headquarters in Prague before being removed in the Velvet Revolution of 1991. Over the last few years we have sold 4 of the six original statues in the wonderfully capitalist system that is auction!
Lot 353 A monumental carved sandstone figure of Vasily Ivanovich Chapaev, sold for £37,700
As tastes have evolved over the last decade or so, we have sold more contemporary sculpture in our sales, often promoting up and coming sculptors. Although Giles Penny is now based down in Bruton in Somerset, he started his sculptural career close to us in Sussex with the installation of 23 large scale sculptures for the Body Shop headquarters in Littlehampton back in 1990. He has produced many variations on his Man on Bench series of sculptures and we were delighted to offer this life size version from an edition of only 2.
Lot 103 March - Man on Bench, by Giles Penny. Sold for £45,500.
Amongst the glittering array of fossils and minerals we have sold this year in our natural history sales, was an exceptional 150 million year old fossil plaque of a Crinoid (sea lily) from the Jurassic deposits in Holzmaden, Germany. Measuring 1.3 metres wide and the result of thousands of hours of expert preparation, it shows that despite all the art in its many forms which we sell over the year, sometimes Mother Nature is the best artist of all.
Lot 61 Evolution - A Jurassic sea lily plaque from Holzmaden, sold for £41,600
A new addition to our auction calendar this year we’ve put on 4 online only sales which have provided a new bidding platform for our many clients stuck at home. The addition of video commentaries on some of the lots together with turntable videos of smaller lots, especially minerals and natural history which has given buyers the confidence to buy online, knowing exactly what they are getting.
Sadly this year we have said goodbye to two longstanding members of staff. Firstly, early this year, Les Baker, our gardener who started with Sotheby’s Sussex in 1979 and at the end of the year, Letty Stiles who also started with Sothebys in 1984, before becoming head of the accounts department and then a leading member of our team when we took over from Sotheby’s in 2007. Many of you will have had dealings with Letty and will attest to her friendliness and efficiently buoyed by a wonderfully irreverent sense of humour. We wish Les well in his well earned retirement and Letty lots of luck in her next venture.
We already have some interesting collections earmarked for our Spring sale, scheduled for the 13th-14th April.
In 1993 as part of Sotheby’s, we put on a house sale at Heathfield Park in Sussex for the renowned doctor and artist Gerry Moore which was filmed by the BBC as a documentary. Gerry was the undoubted star with many of us playing bit parts to his extraordinary enthusiasm and artistic drive which made for gripping prime time TV viewing. Gerry sadly passed away in 2018 at the ripe age of 91 and merited a half page obituary in The Times which observed
”Gerry Moore was an oral surgeon with the soul of an artist, a doctor with a Harley street practice whose paintings were good enough to be exhibited alongside David Hockney”.
His family have asked us to dispose of his sculpture and his studio of pictures in our Spring sale followed by the contents of his Devon farmhouse and further pictures at Bellmans auctioneers down the road from us in Wisborough Green.
Following on from selling the Cotswold collection in September we will be offering an equally enticing collection of garden statuary and ornament acquired over in Ireland by an Irish businessman from the 1960’s onwards. From his house in the middle of Ireland he was able to cover all the large country house sales at a time when so many were being sold and their contents dispersed.
More local will be the sale of the garden ornament from the home of Tim Wonnacott, a former colleague of ours at Sotheby’s but better known as the BBC TV personality well known for hosting Bargain Hunt as well as showing the country his athletic prowess in Strictly Come Dancing a few years ago. Included in the collection is one of the cows presented to Tim by Ester Rantzen, in his capacity as auctioneer and Chairman of Sotheby’s Olympia after he had successfully raised £600,000 for a herd of sixty cows decorated by well known artists. Tim is kindly donating the proceeds to Childline and we will be offering the piece with no vendors commission.
One of the cows presented to Tim by Esther Rantzen, in his capacity as auctioneer and Chairman of Sotheby’s Olympia
The safety of our staff and visitors is our primary concern and we are therefore closely monitoring and adhering to the advice provided by the UK government and Public Health England. All carriers/members of the public are asked to comply with current social distancing rules and wear appropriate PPE.