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Sotheby's to offer property from the Forbeses of Pitsligo and the Marquesses of Lothian
Horace Hone, Sir William Forbes. Est. £3,000-5,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Two remarkable collections will make the journey from Scotland to Bond Street in London this March, when Sotheby’s showcases the legacy of two great Scottish families. Each tells the story of an important family steeped in the history of Scotland: the Forbeses of Pitsligo, tastemakers rooted in 18thcentury Edinburgh, and the Marquesses of Lothian, an ancient and noble lineage. Property from Fettercairn House, for centuries the home to generations of Forbeses, leads the pair, with over 400 lots spanning the 16th century to the present day, followed by some 70 lots from the Stores and Attics at Monteviot House. The items which filled these homes will be offered in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries on 28 March 2017.

Harry Dalmeny, Sotheby’s UK Chairman, said: “These two collections, rich in content, say as much about the history of Scotland as they do about the families who assembled them over nearly four centuries. The Forbes family of Aberdeenshire, a clan replete with bankers, statesmen and Jacobite rebels stand here united with the lowland Kerrs, Stuart courtiers, soldiers, politicians and collectors. The items present an encyclopaedic array, and whilst each lot tells its own tale, together they paint the most vivid picture, and celebrate the unique families and country from which they have come.”

David Macdonald, Sotheby’s specialist in charge of the Fettercairn House sale, said: “In some respects, this is the story of Scotland over the last 250 years. From Jacobite swords and sporrans, and late 18th-century decorative pieces, to Grand Tour souvenirs – all these treasures found their way to Fettercairn House from the families’ historic estates at Greenhill, Morningside, Colinton, Invermay, and their Edinburgh town house. The lives and loves of the Forbes family, their academic interests and passions were reflected in the objects they acquired and treasured. Now these carefully displayed, stored or locked away heirlooms come to light to be shared and discovered.”

‘This beloved old house is not merely a building: it has a great personality with endless charms, and it discloses new beauties perpetually.’ Jane Grey Forbes Trefusis, the chatelaine at Fettercain House, ‘Happy Hours in a Scottish Home’, 1902
Over the centuries, Fettercairn House in Kincardineshire became a depository for a trove of treasures passed down through generations of Forbeses, from the romance of Alexander, 4th Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, one of Scotland’s most heroic figures fêted for his participation in the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1745, to his descendants, the extraordinary gentlemen Sir William Forbes, 6th Baronet (1739-1806) and his eldest son, Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet (1773-1828), sons of the Scottish Enlightenment. The 6th Baronet, a key player in the Enlightenment, took as his main residence 86 George Street in Edinburgh. The estate of Fettercairn was brought into the family’s possession when his son Sir William married Williamina Belsches, Sir Walter Scott’s great love. This was the moment when treasures from the magical houses in the Forbes name began converging on Fettercairn, a home for possessions amassed by some of Scotland’s finest.

His Remarkable Life Told Through His Possessions

William was just four when his father died, leaving the family little except a title and, importantly, a Nova Scotia Baronetcy, an honour given to the family in 1636. William’s mother Christian provided the springboard for his successes, calling upon her friends to help with her son’s education. William took an apprenticeship in 1754 under the Coutts brothers at their counting house in Edinburgh. This path in banking was to change his life and establish him as a powerful and wealthy figure in Scotland and England. An authority on finance, he was often consulted by William Pitt, the Prime Minister.

Accruing a substantial amount of wealth following the successful formation of his own bank, ‘Sir William Forbes, James Hunter & Company’, Sir William moved his young family from the Old Town in Edinburgh to James Craig’s New Town, specifically No. 86 George Street. Many of the items acquired by Sir William for his new home feature in the sale and surviving bills, preserved in the National Library of Scotland, tell of their point of purchase. Sir William and his wife, Lady Elizabeth (1750-1782) were well travelled. They regularly visited London for work and pleasure and on one of their sojourns, Sir William acquired a set of four George III table candlesticks which he had engraved with a coat-of-arms, crest, and two mottos (est. £6,000-8,000).

Sir William and Lady Elizabeth did not confine the furnishing of their house to objects sourced in Edinburgh and London – the European Continent also beckoned. In 1792-1793 they embarked on an extensive Grand Tour, on which they could indulge their passion for art. Travelling over 5,000 miles over the period of one year and five days, Sir William diligently recorded their experiences in seven volumes and noted assiduously the distances using his own pedometer (pictured right, est. £400-600).

A travelling medicine chest with the most up-to-date remedies would have been a necessity on their travels, perhaps more so during their Grand Tour. Sir William records in Volume III of his Grand Tour diaries on 20 December 1792 that in Naples he has difficulties in acquiring a 'Bark' remedy he has omitted from his travelling chest. It is tempting to think that the George III mahogany chest offered for sale is the very one which lacked the remedy he so craved for Christmas in Naples (est. £1,200-1,800).

As well as acquiring fabulous objects for his home, Sir William was painted by the most fashionable portraitists of the day, including Pompeo Batoni, Sir Henry Raeburn (est. £6,000-8,000), Sir Thomas Lawrence (est. £30,000-40,000), Horace Hone (est. £3,000-5,000), James Tassie (est. £1,200-1,800) and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Many of these noble portraits migrated to Fettercairn.

Sir William made his mark not solely in finance, but also as a confidante who was welcomed into the salons of London and Edinburgh. A member of Samuel Johnson's literary dining club, he was one of Scottish biographer and diarist James Boswell’s closest friends. A gold and enamel mourning ring in Boswell’s memory, found in the library at Fettercairn, is a touching testament to their bond (est. £800-1,200).

Despite being an aesthete, with refined tastes in music, dancing and drawing (the sale includes a group of Scottish silver tokens to attend balls and dances at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, est. £120-180), Sir William was a family man with a strong philanthropic and moral compass. He typified the progressive nature of the ‘Enlightenment’ of Edinburgh and was a strong advocate for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Included in the sale is an extremely rare Wedgwood anti-slavery medallion inscribed in low relief 'AM I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER?' acquired by Sir William. The medallion was first modelled by William Hackwood in 1787, taken from the design of the seal of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The committee, founded in the same year, counted Josiah Wedgwood amongst its members (£800-1,200).

A star of the sale is an extraordinary treasure discovered in the library – the Fettercairn Jewel, a rare and special oval gold and enamel locket pendant from the late 16th century. The faceted stone jacinth was thought to protect the wearer against lightning strikes and the plague (est. £30,000–50,000). This is the centrepiece in a collection of jewels which range from Roman rings from 300 BC to glamorous Art Deco pieces by Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.

Sir William’s son, the 7th Bt., fell in love with the beautiful Williamina Belsches Stuart (1776-1810), marrying her in 1797 after a quick romance. Their union was to cause great heartbreak for Sir Walter Scott who was beaten to her hand by the much younger and wealthier William. As the sole heir to the Fettercairn Estate, Williamina played a pivotal role in the history of the house. After the death of her father in 1821, William inherited the estate and during the following decade spent lavish amounts on its refurbishment, making Fettercairn his family’s principal seat.

The 7th Bt. was the eldest of four sons and five daughters in a happy family. Tales of his parent’s Grand Tour and the journals produced by his father must have been inspiring. This passion was undoubtedly instilled in his son, who visited Italy in 1827. An extraordinary pietre dure table top in the sale could well have been acquired by him (est. £20,000-40,000). On his return, the panel was fitted onto a Scottish rosewood base by Edinburgh cabinet makers William Trotter & Son, a company the Forbes family patronised for three generations. This trip to Italy was to lead to the most important addition to the family collection, an extraordinary collection of Old Master paintings, drawings and prints, some of which feature in this sale and the 7th Bt. never got to see as he died before their arrival.

Pictures and objects relating to both the lovers of Bonnie Prince Charlie and Sir Walter Scott found their way into the collection at Fettercairn. Prince Charles or 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' (1720-1788) as he is more commonly referred to, was a leader in the Jacobite uprising where the House of Stuart fought the House of Hanover to claim the British Throne. This ultimately led to Prince Charles's defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1745 and his exile to Europe, where he lived mainly in France and Italy. An 18thcentury French School watercolour miniature of 'the Young Pretender', the moniker he assumed during his lifetime (est. £1,000-1,500) provides a wonderful companion to an evocative portrait by Allan Ramsay of Clementina Maria Sophia Walkinshaw (1726-1802), mistress to Bonnie Prince Charlie (est. £15,000-20,000). These form part of a small collection of Jacobite material, including the sword used by the 4th Lord of Pitsligo at Culloden and engraved with “Prosperity to Scotland and No Union” (est. £1,200-1,800).

During the Edwardian era, Fettercairn House was cherished by the person who would become one of the most important figures in caring for the collection within. Jane Grey Forbes Trefusis (18341904), the chatelaine at the house, found the old mansion and its ancient gardens and parks to be an incredibly romantic place. Jane’s love of the property and its many hidden delights is encapsulated in her privately published book from 1902, ‘Happy Hours in a Scottish Home’, in which she writes of nightly sojourns through the gardens and house: ‘…when all wellregulated are in dreamland, I often go and hunt among the funny old cupboards and unused rooms and have found many treasures.’ The reader is left to conjure the romantic image of her walking through the bluebell wood in the half light of dusk, her dresses trailing behind her as she surveys her Scottish kingdom.

Lady Jane’s children (the ‘cats’), her family and the estate were her great passions, and she built a comfortable Edwardian life around the house and garden. The sale includes a pair of late 19th-century cast-iron benches from her garden (est. £2,000-3,000) and a late Victorian beech and cane child’s seesaw from the nursery, on which Lady Jane’s ‘cats’ may have played (est. £600-800). Amongst the personal items in the sale is a French silver boudoir clock that travelled with her everywhere (est. £300-400).

The sale continues with a selection of porcelain and paintings from the collection of the Marquesses of Lothian at Monteviot. The Lothians and the Forbeses have strong links (the 8th Baronet of Pitsligo marrying the daughter of the 6th Marquess of Lothian). Drawn from the stores and attics of the Lothians’ home in the Scottish borders, these items provide a glimpse inside the great houses formerly in the families’ possession, particularly Newbattle Abbey outside Edinburgh.

Speaking about the discovered horde of porcelain, Richard Hird, Sotheby’s Ceramics Specialist, said: “Coming across the ‘China Safe’ of Monteviot for the first time was a special moment, pulling back the protective sheets and seeing a kaleidoscope of magnificent French and German porcelain from a gloriously artistic period in its manufacture. Resting untouched for generations and unknown by scholars, I felt like Howard Carter at the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb – the glint of wonderful gilding, such treasure!”

The group is led by a magnificent Sèvres green-ground déjeuner, circa 1775, painted by one of the Royal porcelain factories most celebrated and distinctive painters, Charles-Nicolas Dodin (est. £15,000-25,000). Sèvres porcelain painted by Dodin infrequently appears at auction and a déjeuner has not surfaced for many years.

A rare and unrecorded Frankenthal armorial barber’s bowl – for a regal shave – is an important discovery, relating to the porcelain factory’s early history (est. £15,000-25,000). Bearing the marriage arms of Prince-Elector and Count of the Palatine Carl Theodore (1724-1799) and his wife, Elizabeth Augusta von Sulzbach (1721-1794), it may have been produced to celebrate their visit to the factory in 1756. The elector would later purchase the factory in 1762.

The important porcelain includes a James Giles-decorated Worcester dessert service (est. £15,000-20,000). The rare survival of so complete a service in outstanding condition would imply an unbroken provenance back to the time of manufacture. Lady Elizabeth Ancram, who married William John Eearl of Ancram, later the 5th Marquess of Lothian, was a client of James Giles, the Berwick Street based porcelain and glass painter; since her name is recorded in his ledger it is tantalising to speculate that an account book entry relates to this service. To find a service as it was originally intended for use in the 18th century is uncommon, since they were often split up and sold as individual pieces.

Other treasures include an important marquetry cabinet made 450 years ago, filled with casts taken of medals and ancient gems, probably acquired by Robert Kerr, 1st Marquess of Lothian (1636-1703), a powerful, intellectual and cultivated man. He went on an early Grand Tour from 1651 to 1657, when he possibly acquired this late 16th century cabinet (est. £20,000-30,000).

The collection includes several paintings most probably acquired by the 1st Marquess’s son, William, 3rd Earl of Ancram, who brought together a truly extraordinary number of paintings – on his death there were some 300 pictures, largely consisting of historical, court and family portraits (including a portrait of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange), as well as a select group of cabinet paintings. An equestrian portrait by Pauwels van Hillegaert is one such painting, which William acquired from his agent John Clerk in 1649 (est. £3,000-5,000). He clearly trusted Clerk to seek out exquisite, small-size and affordable works, writing to him: ‘... you will knowe when you see a fine or curious booke or picture what will fitt me…’

A portrait of Margaret Lemon, after Sir Anthony van Dyck’s original painting of circa 1638 in the Royal Collection, was also probably acquired by the 3rd Earl (est. £6,000-8,000). Margaret Lemon was Van Dyck’s mistress in London, and is traditionally believed, according to the account of Van Dyck’s contemporary, Wenceslaus Hollar, to have attempted to injure the artist’s right hand by biting his thumb off in her fury upon learning of his marriage to Lady Mary Ruthven in 1639.

Scottish scenery pervades the sale and is represented throughout. One of the most stunning landscapes on offer is a glorious view of Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh by Alexander Nasmyth, acquired from the artist by the 6th Marquess (est. £8,000-12,000).

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