Victorian & British Impressionist Art sale will offer 90 paintings and works on paper at auction on 15 December 2011, by a variety of artists ranging from the Pre-Raphaelites to the British Impressionists, including Millais, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Cowper, Munnings, Clausen and de Glehn, for an overall estimate in excess of £4.5 million.
The sale is led by the masterly panorama Derby Day by William Powell Frith, RA (1819-1909), which is the first original working of the famous Derby Day painting, the masterpiece of the artist at Tate Britain. Fresh to the market, this significant picture has been recently rediscovered in New England, North America where it hung on the walls of an unlocked beach house for the past 50 years - it is estimated at £300,000 to £500,000. Based on photographic studies by Robert Howlett, the Tate picture was so popular that it had to be protected by a specially installed rail and a police officer when it was initially shown at the Royal Academy of Arts. Frith rejected constrained academic high art in favour of genre painting and specialised in narrative subjects and panoramic depictions of the Victorian life. This richly detailed composition shows the crowds attracted to the Derby races at Epsom Downs and includes a complex series of vignettes representing a cross-section of British society: from the aristocratic family in the carriage with its footman laying down the picnic to the card sharps and tricksters besides the tents. The Royal Academician had the idea for the picture following a visit at the Derby in May 1856 where the picturesque crowd of race-goers gave him a taste of the diversity of his contemporaries and the desire to portray everyday life. The final subject took him several years of research, exhaustive preparatory studies and three completed sketches to achieve what is now known as the artists undisputed masterpiece.
Another important highlight of the sale is Frank Cadogan Cowpers (1877-1958) Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth, 1917, the artists classic representation of the Madonna and Child, blending Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite imagery into a memorable English icon in the national colours of red, white and blue, and sold in the original Italianate altarpiece frame. Painted at the height of the Great War, the religious and universal theme made it a symbol of life and hope at the time and has been popular as a Christmas card reproduction ever since. Estimated at £150,000 to £250,000, it comes directly from the Estate of Countess Margareta Douglas.
The Pad Groom (estimate: £120,000-180,000) is a fine example of the signature equine portraiture mastered by Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1878-1959). It depicts the little dapper second horseman Mr. Dale, who was a groom to the oldest Master of Hounds in England at the time. Coincidentally, the romantic and summery A Girl Reading by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) painted at a time when the artist described her pictures as an expression of joie de vivre, portrays the artists friend Florence Carter Wood, who married Munnings in 1912, only to tragically commit suicide two years later (estimate: £100,000-150,000 ). One of the most impressionistic works in the sale and ever painted by the artist, Jane Emmet de Glehn by a stream, Val dAosta (estimate: £80,000-120,000), is a romantic vision of the wife and muse of the artist Wilfred Gabriel de Glehn, R.A. (1870-1951), in the Italian meadow where the family was holidaying in August 1907 with fellow artist John Singer Sargent. Other significant sale highlights include two delicate portraits by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt., P.R.A. (1829-1896). The first is Mrs Sebastian Schlesinger, 1876 (estimate: £80,000-120,000), a very beautiful American and reputedly a muse to the couturier Charles Frederick Worth, and the other Miss Gertrude Vanderbilt, 1888, (estimate: £200,000-300,000), the thirteen-year old Vanderbilt heiress commissioned by her family from the artist. Gertrude would later become a serious artist and sculptor and found the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Pre-Raphaelite works in this sale are led by the Portrait of Annie Miller, 1866 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) which quietly displays the great beauty of the artists mistress. The drawing which once belonged to Audrey Withers, the editor of Vogue UK from 1940 to 1960, who gifted it to the present owner is estimated at £80,000 to £120,000. A Prelude by Bach, 1868 (estimate: £150,000-200,000) by Simeon Solomon (1840-1905), is one of the artists most important works to have remained in private hands and a work of exquisite harmony which embodies the ideals of beauty of the Victorian era. The Aesthetic Movement is a recurrent theme throughout the sale, reflecting the recent Cult of Beauty exhibition at the V&A now at the Paris Musée dOrsay and pioneered by artists such as Morris, Millais, Leighton, Rossetti and Solomon.