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Sotheby's to Hold a Sale of the Contents of One of England's Most Romantic Country Houses
Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680), An Allegory of Love, thought to represent William, 1st Earl of Craven and Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, Est: £20,000 - £30,000. Photo: Sotheby´s.

LONDON.- Ashdown House - an idyllic 17th-century Dutch-style country house - carries a tragic history of love, loss and steadfast loyalty and has a unique, ethereal charm. Situated in a valley within the rolling Berkshire downs, Ashdown was built in the early 1660s by one of history’s most patient and faithful lovers, William, first Earl of Craven, for the object of his adoration - Elizabeth of Bohemia, The Winter Queen. The sister of King Charles I and a celebrated romantic heroine of the Stuart period, Elizabeth captured the hearts of many, but it was Lord Craven who was her most devoted servant, and who spent much of his life attempting to secure her happiness and protection. It is thought that Craven built Ashdown House for his beloved Elizabeth after hearing of her ‘longing to live in quiet’, Ashdown – built on the site of a medieval deer park – would have been a most fitting refuge for the Queen who had spent many years living in forced exile at her impoverished court in The Hague. Sadly, it was not to be, as before the house was completed Elizabeth died suddenly in February 1662, whilst visiting her nephew King Charles II in London.

The Craven family lived in Ashdown House until its donation in 1956 by Cornelia, Countess of Craven to the National Trust, which has leased the property to select individuals since its acquisition. The present tenants have lived at Ashdown House since 1984, and with leading international interior designer David Mlinaric, masterminded a complete refurbishment that has returned Ashdown to its former glory, and made it one of Britain’s greatest Restoration houses. The lease of Ashdown has been sold and Sotheby’s has been asked to hold a sale of the contents of the house, which will take place on October 27th in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries.

Harry Dalmeny, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s UK, said: “Many great houses have stories attached, but few can tell a love story as compelling as that of Ashdown House. That story is, of course, embedded in the fabric of the building, but it is also, to a large extent, played out in portraits and furnishings that make up October’s sale, each of which was sought out with a careful and sympathetic eye, and many of which – the portraits especially – not only depict the protagonists in the tale, but were also once a part of the fabric of their lives.”

Richard Henderson, General Manager for the National Trust, Oxfordshire, describes the house in this way: “Ashdown House has provided a much-loved home for its tenants, who have been extremely sympathetic to the history and beauty of the house. In recent years, the Trust has acquired additional land to create what is now a 500 acre estate which is made up of farmland and semi-ancient woodland. The house has a dolls house like appearance and is laid out over four storeys, and is constructed of locally sourced chalk blocks. The main staircase, which remains open to the public, occupies a quarter of the house and is hung with portraits, mostly members of the Winter Queen's family”.

The Winter Queen and her Cavalier
Elizabeth married Frederick V, Elector Palatine of the Rhine, in 1612 at the age of sixteen, and the couple became King and Queen of Bohemia in November 1616. However, their good fortune was not to last as they were overthrown and forced to flee into exile at the end of the winter, hence Elizabeth being known ever after as The Winter Queen. After the death of Frederick in 1632, the devoted Lord Craven became the family’s most trusted supporter, even giving Elizabeth money during the Interregnum when his own estates had been sequestered and he was in financial difficulty. When she was finally able to return to the country of her birth Craven acted as Elizabeth’s representative at Charles II’s newly-restored court and hosted her return to London in 1661. As testified by Samuel Pepys, among others, in the last six months of her life Elizabeth was rarely out of the company of her ‘faithful friend’. In her will Elizabeth stated that Lord Craven should inherit both her family paintings and her private papers. He survived her by thirty-five years and is said to have spent his declining years surrounded by ‘hundreds of portraits of the Winter Queen, her family and her circle’ in the houses consecrated to her memory.

Old Master Paintings
The collection includes a remarkable group of portraits which together tell the story of Elizabeth and her family, and their connection with Lord Craven. A fine portrait by the studio of Gerrit van Honthorst shows Elizabeth in mourning after the death of her husband (est: £8,000-12,000). This is complemented by Honthorst’s charming 1635 rendering of Elizabeth and Frederick’s fifth, and most handsome, son Eduard (est: £15,000-20,000). Honthorst had been recommended to the family by Elizabeth’s brother, Charles I, and from 1628 he acted as their official court painter. Craven himself was also painted by Honthorst: in a striking portrait of 1642, the loyal Lord is shown dressed in the full armour in which he so often displayed his legendary courage on the battlefield (est: £15,000-20,000). Lord Craven appears again in a remarkable full length portrait painted by van Dyck at the end of his life with assistance from his studio (£80,000-120,000). When Elizabeth died in 1662, she left her personal papers and portraits – including all of those mentioned above - to Lord Craven. Each of the portraits mentioned above, together with a beautiful self-portrait by Louise Hollandine, descended through the Craven family and, with the exception of Elizabeth’s portrait, were all bought at the famous Craven family sales held in 1968 and 1984.

The furnishings and other contents were carefully chosen to complement the interior of Ashdown House with strong Baroque influences. Sympathetically decorated by David Mlinaric, each room contained much to surprise and delight. Typical of his style, the house exudes great warmth and comfort achieved by the juxtaposition of the important pieces with the highly decorative pieces unified as a scheme with well chosen fabrics. Although the furnishings reflected a strong English taste, the Continental influences of the history of the house are also shown throughout.

The key pieces of the collection were found in the hall, which contained a rare set of six George II mahogany hall chairs, in the manner of William and John Linnell and in the drawing room, which contained an early 19th century English free standing bookcase with inset Italian pietre dure panels of exceptional quality, from the Grand Ducal workshop, Florence. Also notable are a 17th-century Italian marble topped center table on a giltwood dolphin base with a provenance of the Sitwell family, and a magnificent carved English 18th-century giltwood mirror. Other major pieces were housed in the library adjoining, which contained a fine Regency mahogany bookcase attributable to Gillows of Lancaster matched with a remarkably well-made copy, and also a late 17th-century Anglo-Dutch giltwood cabinet stand. Maintaining an element of surprise, the next floor contained a fascinating group of Anglo-Indian furniture including a highly impressive tester bed, a large ebony library bergere and a ‘Koftgari’ occasional table.

The remaining rooms housed four poster beds and predominantly 18th-century and early 19th-century English pieces, well chosen to suit the architecture, reflecting an overall ambience of sophisticated comfort and taste.

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