Woolley & Wallis have proved that the Rothschild name still holds extraordinary cachet as the first sale of lots from Exbury House smashed estimates to sell for tens of thousands of pounds.
The June 17 auction of Venetian glass and European Ceramics in Salisbury included select items from Exbury, a seat of the Rothschilds since 1919.
Leading the way among the Rothschild lots was a very rare c.1560-90 Italian façon de Venise carafe or ewer that would have been made for the Austrian market. Estimated at £2,000-3,000, it sold for £14,000.
A 17th/18th century façon de Venise winged goblet, from Venice or the Low Countries, had a guide of just £600-800, but sailed to £8,500, while an Italian façon de Venise flacon and cover with matching 17th/18th century tazza pitched at £1,000-2,000 went for £5,500.
Hitting ten times its top estimate at £3,000 was a 17th century or later Venetian Chalcedony footed bowl. A pair of c.1770 Staffordshire enamel candlesticks that had been expected to sell for £400-600 took £2,200, while a set of four large Royal Worcester figures of the Season, carrying hopes of £600-800, made £1,600.
Whilst we noticed a general buoyancy in the market throughout the sale, there is no doubt that the Rothschild provenance helped these pieces to achieve such strong results, said specialist Clare Durham, head of Woolley & Walliss European Ceramics department.
The blue glass ewer is an exceptional piece, with only a few examples known, but the decoration is far from typical for Venetian glass. Yesterdays auction, our first in three months, provided real reassurance that the market is still there for pieces of quality and distinction, and it gives us great hopes for the forthcoming sales, many of which feature pieces with the same provenance.
All the pieces had come from Exbury House, a grand property set in acres of exceptional gardens at the south eastern edge of the New Forest in Hampshire.
Previously the estate of the historian William Mitford and then Lord Forster, a one-time Governor-General of Australia, by the time Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) acquired Exbury, the 18th century house was all but derelict, and he had it remodelled in the late 1920s.
It was the gardens that were Lionels true passion, as their unique micro-climate rendered them particularly suitable for the planting of rare rhododendrons, camelias and azaleas from Asia. Here he created an inimitable garden, employing 250 men to clear out the woodland so that it could be laid out, while installing an intricate irrigation system involving 22 miles of underground piping.
If the garden was a triumph, the house was more unfortunate. Barely a decade after Lionel had refashioned it to his liking, war broke out. Just over two years later he died and four months after that the Admiralty requisitioned the house, giving the family no more than 48 hours to clear their possessions and themselves out.
The legacy of its military occupation throughout the war meant that both house and gardens had to be restored once more, this time under the direction of Lionels son, Edmund (1916-2009), who opened the gardens to the public in 1955.
Edmund was also an art collector, but it is to another Rothschild that a number of the notable highlights consigned to Woolley & Wallis may be attributed. These heirlooms from Exbury entered the family via Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918), a director of the Bank of England by the age of 26 and Lionels uncle. In 1879 on the death of his father, Alfred had inherited the 1,400-acre Halton estate in Buckinghamshire, where he promptly built a sumptuous house in the style of a French chateau, and it was from here that these choice lots emanate.
What to look out for in future auctions this summer and autumn
Following the runaway success of the glass and ceramics, other pieces will be dispersed in a series of sales across the summer and autumn.
Pre-eminent is a pair of Louis XVI ormolu and marble models of the Borghese vase, a celebrated krater sculpted in 1st century BC Athens that now resides in the Louvre. Together the pair is expected to fetch £20,000 to £30,000.
Also originally from Halton comes a pair of 19th century continental silver-gilt figures of a rhinoceros and elephant with Eastern riders and attendants, with hopes of £10,000 to £15,000, and a set of eight giltwood and Aubusson tapestry fauteuil in Louis XVI style with a guide of £8,000 to £12,000.
Among the 19 pictures is Portrait of Thomas Arundell, 1st Baron Arundell of Wardour (1560-1639), an oil on panel dating to 1580 of the man later named (wrongly) by Guy Fawkes as being part of the Gunpowder Plot. Inherited from Constance de Rothschild, Lady Battersea (1843-1931), the picture has an estimate of £10,000 to £15,000.
The Portrait of a lady, traditionally identified as the Anne, Duchess of Cumberland (1743-1808) by Sir William Beechey RA (1753-1839), shows her seated in a white dress. The oil on canvas is expected fetch £6,000 to £8,000, while Mistress Dorothy, by George Adolphus Storey RA (1834-1919), is a painting whose history is well detailed in the artists autobiography, Sketches from Memory. Dating to 1873, it depicts a model, who he names only as Miss S., the daughter of a lieutenant in the navy, who was introduced to Storey via a mutual acquaintance. She sat for the artist once or twice a week for over a year, and was the model for some of the figures in the painting Scandal. The sessions were only to come to an end because Miss S. married. Upon hearing the news of her engagement, Storey started painting this work.
It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in year it was painted and Alfred de Rothschild purchased directly from the artist for 300 guineas after seeing it there. The estimate here is £2,000 to £3,000.
The next sale in the series is the Fine Chinese Paintings and Works of Art auction on July 1, which will feature a pair of large Chinese Qing Dynasty lapis lazuli models of elephants raised on elaborate rectangular stands. A decorators dream with their bronze branches of lingzhi from which hang bunches of leafy fruits, they are estimated at £20,000 to £30,000.
Woolley & Walliss former chairman Paul Viney, who remains an active part of the firm as a director, has been overseeing negotiations for the Exbury House consignment for the past three years.
For over 200 years the Rothschilds have been renowned as great collectors. The provenance of the lots we are selling, many of which have been through several generations of the family, can only enhance their interest, he said.
Bidders will be able to view the items online at www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk