A new auction record for Edward Barnsley was among the many highlights of the remarkable Minoprio Collection of Cotswold School furniture sold in our January auction. The first sale of the year for the Design department was a ‘white glove’ event with all 66 lots sold.
John Mackie, Head of Decorative Arts & Design commented:
“The phenomenal interest we had is testament to the quality of the furniture offered and reflects the rare opportunity to buy from a collection which had been commissioned and purchased by the same family from the 1930s almost to the present day.”
John Minoprio had grown up surrounded by superbly made Arts & Crafts furniture by two key makers. Some pieces, made at the Chalford workshop of Peter Waals (1870-1937) in the 1930s had been designed by his father Anthony Minoprio (1900-1988). Others from the mid-century era, were by Edward Barnsley (1900-1987) and made by his craftsmen at Froxfield in Hampshire.
To these, John would add his own commissions and purchases, creating an archive that covered almost the entire career of Edward Barnsley and his contemporaries. There were strong prices throughout.
As an ambitious young architect setting up home and business in the late 1920s, Anthony Minoprio had held clear ideas of his own about furniture design. His collaboration with Peter Waals produced a group of pieces that combined classic ‘Cotswold School’ features (such as revealed construction, inlaid lines and solid English timbers) with elements that were distinctively of their time.
Typical of this group were a walnut cocktail cabinet with chequer beaded inlay and pink mirrored interior c.1935 sold for £6,250* and a walnut cellarette with carved decoration by the Royal Academician John Skeaping that brought £3,000*. Skeaping and Minoprio were friends: they had met as students in Rome.
Later, in 1952 Anthony Minoprio approached Edward Barnsley to commission new work. At the time Barnsley was only starting to introduce machinery into the workshop – driven by economic necessity and after World War II Barnsley had developed a lighter style reflecting his interest in 18th century furniture.
The first commission, a freestanding boot and shoe cupboard made in walnut with ebony and sycamore inlay, had cost £161.10. Sixty years later, it was bid way past its estimate of £2,000-3,000 and sold for £30,000* – a record for furniture by Edward Barnsley.
Like father, like son, in time, John Minoprio would enjoy his own relationship with the Barnsley workshop. When left a legacy in 1966, he spent it on his first three pieces of Cotswold School furniture, beginning a close friendship with Barnsley, who would stay with him in Cheshire on his way to walking holidays in the Lake District.
Among the pieces commissioned was a writing cabinet fashioned in Indian rosewood inlaid with sycamore and ebony with a walnut interior. It bears an inscription under a drawer reading "This writing desk was designed for Mr John Minoprio by Edward Barnsley and made by assistant George Taylor in the Froxfield Workshop in 1971.” It was estimated at £3000-5000 and sold for £22,500*.
Pieces made for Minoprio’s office at Training Films International in 1981-2 were the very last designed by Edward Barnsley himself. These included a desk circa 1981 made in Indian padouk, with sycamore and ebony inlay which sold for £18,750* and an en-suite two drawer filing cabinet sold at £5,250*.
After Barnsley's death, Minoprio continued to commission new work from Jon Barnsley and James Ryan at the Edward Barnsley Workshop.
The most recent piece in the collection was a striking oak writing table from 2015. Ryan designed this sculptural table – shown at the Masterpiece fair in London in 2015 - "to look as though it has been formed from a single block of wood”. The black, open-grained finish was achieved by scorching, then wire brushing the surface before applying a solution of vinegar and iron oxide. This very different aesthetic was rewarded with a bid of £6,875*.
John Minoprio also found himself attracted to earlier Cotswolds School and related Arts & Crafts work which he enjoyed finding at specialist dealers in Burford and London.
Among the finest of these was a Barnsley walnut secretaire desk from c.1933 with brass handles by Waterlane metalworker Alfred Bucknall. It sold together with an original drawing signed and dated May 1933 for £22,500*.
The same price was awarded an oak and walnut kitchen dresser of a similar date that had once belonged to Herbert Simon (1898-1974), the industrial archaeologist and rail enthusiast who turned the Kynoch Press into one of Britain’s leading fine printing houses.
A beautifully made four panel oak and cedar blanket chest with a domed lid by Barnsley pupil Oliver Morel (1916-2003) dated 1969 sold for £4,750*, while a walnut and yew table lamp, with sewn parchment shade c.1950 was the work of the Warwickshire craftsman Hugh Birkett (1919-2002). It proved the day’s most eagerly contested lot when, estimated at £400-600, it sold for £8,750*.
Lyon & Turnbull’s Decorative Arts & Design specialists are renowned for both their knowledge and their sales of artworks conducted from our Scottish auction house based in Edinburgh and via our live online auctions. Our specialists are experts not only on design from 1860 to the present, but also on current market conditions, an essential combination to any successful auction.