Our Old Master, British and European Art auction on Thursday 27 May, features a wonderful selection of fine art from the selected contents of Berwick House, Shropshire.
In August 1875, James Watson bought Berwick House at auction, with its fine well-timbered park and estate. He prospered as a shipbroker and merchant miller in the period following the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. This legislation introduced by Sir Robert Peel’s Conservative administration, served to supply the fast-expanding cities of the Victorian age with cheap bread from imported wheat and without tariffs in order to relieve inner city hardship.
Berwick House, at the time of acquisition, comprised the splendidly neat George II Smith of Warwick Baroque brick and sculptured stone (southerly façade), together with impressive service ranges and stables. To this he added the magnificent west façade with its suite of reception rooms with plate glass windows facing a meander in the River Severn. To the east a new entrance was created with a porte-cochere topped by a belvedere tower. The alterations undertaken by George Stevens and Osborn & Reading were completed within four years and produced the ultimate in Victorian comfort and convenience. Internally the alterations included an impressive double height inner entrance hall, top-lit with medieval revival style stained glass depicting military heroes. Everywhere was embellished with exquisitely carved woodwork in the living room hall, staircase, library and dining room. This complements the Smith of Warwick former entrance hall (oak room) with its remarkable virtuoso carved door cases attributed to Warwick’s renowned carver Edward Poynton. Unfortunately, at the time of Watson’s purchase, Berwick House lost the superb Robert Bakewell wrought iron screen which was removed by the former owner Rudolph Feilding 8th Earl of Denbigh, to his seat at Newnham Paddox, Warwickshire.
With the mansion house nearing completion, by 1879 Watson turned his sights to forming a collection of suitably impressive paintings and furnishings, a collection which reflects the late Victorian taste for Old Masters, European travel, maritime pictures, and romantic English landscapes.
Thomas Jacques Somerscales was a Yorkshire born English teacher who taught in the Navy. In 1865, after travelling around the Pacific he was put ashore in Chile due to ill-health. Whilst there he began teaching at the Makay School in Valparaiso, and it was during this time that he began to paint professionally. After almost thirty years in Chile, Somerscales returned to England in 1892, and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1893.
Through his Chilean landscapes and paintings of notable events in Chilean naval history, Somerscales established a large following in the country which remains to this day, and, despite spending the last thirty-five years of his live working in England, he is arguably far better known in Chile where many of his works are still viewed as patriotic national icons.
A striking painting is Lot 12, The Evening Gun - A Calm on the Shore of England, by British artist James Francis Danby, after Francis Danby.
The Evening Gun was first painted by Francis Danby in 1848 and became his most well-known later work. It was widely praised in the Athenaeum when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy that year and at the Paris International exhibition in 1855 David Roberts declared it `the picture - all the painters were talking about it’ and at the Art Treasures exhibition in Manchester in 1857 Ford Maddox Brown called it `a most solemn and beautiful work’.
James Francis Danby was the eldest son and pupil of Francis Danby and brother of Thomas Danby, also an artist, with whom he travelled to France, Switzerland and Italy. His work resembled that of his fathers, and it is not surprising that he produced this replica. It hung alongside his fathers work in the collection of Thomas Pemberton and was sold at his sale at Christie’s in 1874 with his father’s Ulysses at the Court of Alcinous and Phoebus Rising from the Sea where they entered James Watson’s collection, first at Warley Hall Birmingham and then Berwick House from 1879.
Like his mentor Richard Parkes Bonnington, a generation before him, Frederick Lee Bridell died young, in his case at the age of thirty-two. Had he lived he may well have enjoyed the success of the greatest British Landscape painters of the 19th Century such as Edward Lear and David Roberts, whose monumental Italian pictures can be favourably compared to the two works in our sale (Lot 55, The Temple of Saturn, the Forum and the Colosseum, Rome and Lot 56, The Arch of Titus at Rome looking towards the capital).
From the early 18th Century, the lure of Italy and the ruins of Classical Antiquity has proved irresistible to artists and travellers. The Grand Tour became a rite of passage, but the Napoleonic Wars disrupted travel and the Continent was effectively cut off from Britain for many years. With the end of hostilities in 1815 travellers returned and Rome became the epicentre for a new generation, drawn to the ruins of an ancient world and a favourable climate. Artists moved away from mere topographical representation towards a Romantic vision. The landscape is seen as a link with the classical past but there is an increasing emphasis on the subjective experience of the artist. With the inclusion of shepherds, herdsman and townspeople going about their everyday work they vividly capture the atmosphere of life in the eternal city.
Bridell was born in Southampton in 1830 and was the son of John Bridle a carpenter, From the age of nine he was avidly drawing and writing verse and his early promise was spotted by Edwin Holder a picture restorer, to whom he was apprenticed. By eighteen he was painting portraits and signing his works Frederick Lee Bridell and in 1851 exhibited his first picture at The Royal Academy. With Holder’s support he spent three years on the Continent, copying pictures in the Louvre, then in Munich and the Tyrol where he was inspired by the Alpine landscape. On returning to England, he worked up his studies into large scale studio pictures which he exhibited at the Royal Academy, the British Institution and the Liverpool Academy and attracted the attention of many wealthy collectors in his hometown. James Wolff, a shipping merchant became his most notable patron and built a Bridell gallery, to house twelve of his large-scale landscapes, at his home at Bevois Mount, in the outskirts of the city.
In 1858, buoyed by his commercial success, Bridell travelled to Italy. The four years he spent in Italy from 1858 were the most successful and productive of his short career. He painted the present pictures at this time and for his patron James Wolff he produced The Coliseum at Rome by Moonlight which is now in Southampton City Art Gallery. He also travelled to the Italian lakes where is painted grand landscapes such as The Woods of Sweet Chestnut above Varenna, Lake Como (Tate Britain). The lake air was seen as beneficial to his health, but he returned to England in 1863 and succumbed to the Tuberculosis that he had suffered from for several years.
In his obituary in The Art Journal in 1864, the poet Sir Theodore Martin lamented ‘Had he lived, he must have earned a European reputation; and numerous and fine as are the works he has left, his early death is, in the interests of Art, deeply to be deplored’. His wife held a studio sale of his pictures at Christie’s the following year and his patron Wolff, who had run into financial difficulties, sold this 'Bridell Gallery' at Christie’s the previous year.
Another highlight is Lot 72, The Adoration of the Shepherds, Studio of Artus Wolfforts (Flemish 1581-1641). Early in his career Artus Wolfforts was influenced by the classical style of Otto van Veen. However, the work offered here is more typical of the artist’s later painting which adopted a more dynamic Baroque style, influenced by Rubens. It has therefore been suggested that this work can be dated to around c.1630.
Wolfforts was an accomplished Flemish artist known for his history paintings which depicted religious and mythological scenes. Most of his works were painted as private commissions and, as is the case here, depict large life-sized figures of Christ and stories from the Bible.
Upon completion of his training in 1615, the artist returned to Antwerp where he worked as an assistant in the workshop of Otto van Veen an artist who included Rubens among his past pupils.
Wolfforts himself would go on to work with Rubens in 1635, as one of the artists employed to work on the decorations for the Joyus Entry into Antwerp of the new governor of the Habsburg Netherland, Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand. Whilst Rubens was in overall charge of the project, Wolfforts was responsible for producing decorative paintings after Rubens’ designs.
After becoming a member of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1617, Wolfforts operated his own large workshop. During his career, it was not uncommon for several variant works to be produced from one common composition, as is likely to be the case with The Adoration of the Shepherds.
Indeed, the present lot can be compared with an altarpiece by Wolfforts in the church of St. Lawrence in Oostamalle near Antwerp (see Hans Vlieghe, Wolffort in the Wallraf- Richartz-Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, 1977, p. 116, fig. 41), a copy of which can also be seen in Leuven Museum.
Despite being a prolific artist during his own lifetime, with pupils including Pieter van Mol, Pieter van Lint, and his son, Jan Baptist, Wolfforts’ and his work appear to have been forgotten and until the late 1970s many of his paintings were listed as early works by Rubens. Gradually, his oeuvre has been reconstructed using the fully signed copy of a work titled Esther’s Toilet in the Harem of Ahasuerus, in the V&A museum, London (Accession No. DYCE.10).
Continuing through the collection we also have Lot 73, A basket, dish and plates of fruit on a table top with a jug, glasses of wine, Circle of Juan van der Hamen y León.
Juan van der Hamen y (Gómez de) León was a Madrid born Spanish painter of Flemish heritage, and master of detailed still lives or bodegón. Despite painting numerous accomplished depictions of allegories, landscapes, and large scale works for churches, it is these still life depictions of pantry items for which Hamen is best remembered.
Hamen’s still lives were arguably his most successful subjects and are painted in a markedly Flemish style. Indeed, the tradition of still life painting appears to have originated, and was far more popular in Flemish and Dutch art. In particular, the austere, muted style employed in his still lives can be seen in the present lot.
In terms of Spanish art, Bodegón derives from the term bodega which can be loosely translated to ‘pantry’, ‘tavern’ or ‘wine cellar’. As is the case here, a bodegón depicts pantry items including drink, drinking vessels, fruit, and often game, on a stone slab. As well as a clear Flemish influence, it can also be said that Harmen owed some of his compositional style to Juan Sanchez Cotan. This is identified by the inclusion of more elaborate objects including Venetian crystals, elaborate glassware, and ceramic vessels. The silhouetted objects are illuminated against a dark background and the zig-zag arrangement of the items creates an exaggerated sense of space.
The last piece in the collection is Lot 76, The Madonna and Child with saints, Attributed to Carlo Francesco Nuvolone (Italian 1609-1661). Carlo Francesco Nuvolone was one of Lombardy’s leading painters during the mid-17th century known for his portraits and religious scenes. Born into a family of painters, Nuvolone first worked with his father before studying at the Accademia Ambrosiana in Milan under Giovanni Battista Crespi.
The present lot is believed to be an early painting by the artist dating from between 1630 and 1635. During this period Nuvolone’s work shows the influence of recent developments in Lombardy painting technique. In particular, the close attention paid to the handling of light and shadow adopted from Giulio Cesare Procaccini, and a soft atmospheric quality reminiscent of Murillo’s work, are both displayed in The Madonna and Child with saints.
Thursday 27 April | 10.30am
Donnington Priory, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2JE
This is a live online auction with an auctioneer.
Viewing will be by appointment and in accordance with Covid-19 regulations:
Viewing in London (higlights only):
Dreweatts London, 16-17 Pall Mall, St James's, London SW1Y 5LU
Viewing at Donnington Priory (full sale):
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Our specialists will also be providing detailed conditions reports and additional images as requested.
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