Our September 2020 Five Centuries auction featured excellent examples of British and Continental furniture, paintings and works of art, including specialist collecting areas encompassing clocks, bronzes, ceramics & glass, rugs & carpets. Our specialists chose a few of their favourite things to share as highlights from our September 2020 auction...
Giuseppe Piamontini was a close follower, only twelve-years younger, of Giambattista Foggini (1652-1725), founder of the school of Florentine late Baroque sculpture, which flourished under the last members of the dynasty of Medici Grand-Dukes [Kader 1996]. He studied in the short-lived, but effective, Medici Academy founded by Cosimo III in Rome between 1681 and 1686. When he returned to Florence, the heir-apparent, Gran Principe Ferdinando (1663-1713), took a special interest in Piamontini, perhaps partly because they were almost the same age, and commissioned from him many sculptures, the first, when the sculptor was only fourteen.
As to the present working model, it may be compared with one in terracotta for the Venus and Cupid in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin (Schlegel 1978 pp. 154-56; Pratesi 1993, pl. 433): from the Elector of Brandenburg’s Kunstkammer in Berlin Castle, and with remains of gilding (which indicates that it had been displayed as though it were a – more valuable - gilt bronze), it was catalogued in 1930 as ‘French 18th century’: indeed, specialists still perceive a strong French influence on Piamontini’s, as opposed to Foggini’s, sculptures, perhaps owing to some cross-fertilisation between the two foreign ‘national’ academies in Rome during his youthful training there.
One of my favourite pieces is lot 500, the Italian Baroque terracotta figure group of Bacchus and Ariadne attributed to Giuseppe Piamontini, circa 1715. It is a bozzetto, or experimental model, where the sculptor was working in fresh clay to establish the final composition. The piece has a wonderful immediacy about it, with marks in the clay where it has been scraped and modelled with a stylus, and one gets a real sense of the sculptor’s hands working their way around the figures. It’s intriguing to compare it to the finished bronze to see the subtle changes that were made, and the missing heads in a funny way help draw attention to the beautiful rendering of the bodies themselves.
-Douglas Girton, Head of Sale
Coverlets of this type are attributed to the area of Satgaon in Bengal, India and were produced primarily for the Portuguese market during the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries. The yellow tussah silk chain-stitched on a cotton ground in a monochrome palette are characteristic of these textiles and reflect European tastes, while the embroidery techniques are indigenous to where they were produced. They are often referred to by the Portuguese term ‘colcha’ or coverlet. Colchas demonstrate the exchange of goods and ideas between different cultures during the 1500 and 1600s, and indeed the mixed iconography depicted often reveal a concoction of mythological, Hindu, and Christian imagery. European textiles, tapestries and prints appear to have influenced their design, as well as merchants who would have provided their own ideas. Colchas were initially made as diplomatic gifts or souvenirs, but in time were brought to Portugal for domestic use, and through trade links made their way throughout Europe.
This piece is a wonderful and rare example of some of the earliest embroidered textiles to be exported from India. The undyed golden silk looks almost as fresh as when it was made, around 400 years ago.
The word ‘colcha’ is Portuguese for quilt and these pieces, which were produced in Bengal, sent to Goa, exported to Lisbon and then sold to Europe’s wealthy families, are a wonderful synthesis of Indian and Portuguese decorative motifs.
-Gavin Strang, Managing Director , Rugs & Carpets
This impressive daybed once belonged to the famed early Victorian British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. It descended in the family to the artist Juliet Lister, who was the second wife of John Bellany, the Scottish artist.
There is a lot to admire in this monumental Regency daybed with its curvaceous Grecian styling and high-quality timbers – not only would it be an impressive presence in a room but I could stretch out on it and not touch the ends! Apart from its beauty as an object, it has a rather marvellous provenance to the illustrious Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and, more recently to the Scottish artist John Bellany. All told it is a very special piece of furniture.
-John Mackie, Director, Decorative Arts & Design
I have a real passion for glass, so lot 172 caught my eye. It’s not often you come across a good group of stirrup cups like this, and the variety of sizes and colours are an added bonus. Some recent research also suggest they could have been used for snuff, with cork stoppers as lids. The jackboot shape was apparently created in response to the 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792), who after a controversial time as Prime Minister, mobs burnt ‘jackboots’ as effigies to insult him. These little glasses therefore reveal the links between material culture and political tensions of late 18th century Britain.
-Theo Burrell, Specialist
One of my other favourite pieces is Lot 2, a George I walnut secretaire chest-on-chest. When you open the cupboard doors of the top, the beauty of the figuring in the walnut is on full display and it has the most delicious dark honey colour. I also love the added detail of the concave arch in the bottom drawer which has been embellished with an exuberant marquetry sunburst. I’m a bit of an accumulator, so the more drawers for tucking things away the better, and this chest-on-chest has sixteen in total, an absolute dream!
-Douglas Girton, Head of Sale
As much as this jar would be unimaginable in a pharmacy today, back in the 19th century it would have been a beacon of innovation in medicine, the centre piece in the window of a respectable drug store.
The 19th century saw a “leech mania” in Europe and America, as people believed bloodletting with leeches could cure everything from headaches to insanity. The jar itself is quite a feat of ingenuity, as it had to keep the leeches both alive and contained inside, hard to do since they are talented escape artists, managing to squeeze through the tiniest of gaps.
-Kerstin Schaeffer, Sale Administrator
During the early 1800s, the Emperor Napoleon reinstated the gabelle, a highly unpopular tax on salt which brought much poverty to the North-West regions of France, who were not granted exemptions. Salt workers here, or paludiers, were exploited for their goods, only to see them being sold for high mark-ups in other regions. Yet the picturesque scenes of coastal France continued to bring many wealthy visitors, prompting locals to make souvenirs from shells and other items foraged from their shorelines.
These charming dolls, often referred to as Les Poupée du Paludier, were lavish in their decoration but reflected the traditional costume of the impoverished Breton paludiers. Their widespread appeal sparked a trend in 'shell art' and helped to sustain the livelihoods of coastal communities in France.
They are so dazzling and really catch your eye across the room. I love the artisanal quality about them and they also offer a fascinating insight into rural French life during the Napoleonic era – a real gem of a souvenir for holidaymakers.
-Olivia Ross, Junior Specialist
My favourite piece in the sale is Lot 11, the Georgian laburnum corner cupboard. It immediately stood out for the striking use of laburnum, which to me brings the cupboard to life. Laburnum of course, a timber so often associated with Scottish furniture. In addition the form, corner cupboards are often overlooked in our houses today, but they do provide useful storage and fit into those awkward spaces.
-Katie Hannah, Cataloguer