T hrough a skylight the half-light of a Scottish wintery afternoon catches the gilding of an 18th-century mirror, long relegated to the attics in a great house. The distressed reflection of this mirror reveals the splendor of a turban worn in a 17th-century portrait of Suleiman the Magnificent. Stacked against an oak beam he surveys the contents of his attic home in the Scottish Borders as he once did the great State Rooms at Newbattle Abbey outside Edinburgh in the 1720s. John Macky recorded this picture and others which are in this sale there, 299 years ago, and was as excited as I was seeing them for that first time.
Further exploration beneath the eaves reveals a superb set of 18th-century torchères of the finest mahogany. It is like Christmas for they are encased in straw and brown paper tied with string and just visible, the tantalising word ‘Blickling’ scrawled in pencil when these graceful objects were put into store in the 1930s. A tea caddy reveals a diamond and gem set necklace, an Indian jewel nestles in a Regency silver chainmail purse and the hunt goes on till it is dark for objects acquired and commissioned by generations of the Lothian family.
Much that we have in this special sale, comes into the spotlight again after a long time hidden, and has been drawn from the attics and stores of Great Houses up and down this land. These atmospheric objects and pictures are joined by works from legendary Scottish art collector William Allan Coats – whose hunger and passion for acquiring great art at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century was matched only by his friend William Burrell. The Coats pictures join a superb array of wonderful Victorian and Edwardian pictures from Fenton House, Northumberland with works by such luminaries as Simeon Solomon, Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys and Edward Seago. Fenton was a shooting lodge for the Earls of Durham and the furnishings there, some of which came from other family estates, complement its gothic aesthetic and highlight its sporting heritage.
Most of the art and objects in this year’s Royal & Noble Sale were found far from where they were created and indeed intended, but now they sit together, presented here in the light again and await the next chapter in their extraordinary histories.
Ferniehurst Castle in the Borders, Blickling Hall in Norfolk, Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire and Newbattle Abbey in Mid-Lothian were or are seats of the Marquess of Lothian and his family. Pictures and objects drawn these homes features in this sale, having settled in the attics and stores of Monteviot, near Kelso, the home of the current Marquess.
Through fortuitous marriage, political and military successes, the family have remained custodians of great estates in England and Scotland for almost half a millennium. Their collecting demonstrated a range of tastes and styles befitting a family at the centre of Scottish, and then British, political and cultural life. Both Newbattle and Blickling were made over as generous gifts for the benefit of others in the 1930s. Much of the collection presented in this sale was at Newbattle Abbey, highlighted by numerous inventories. In 1937 the Lothians left Newbattle Abbey, and this sale gives an insight into this stately home and the key collectors who built it.
Robert, 1st Earl of Ancram (1578–1654), was a poet, philosopher and Captain of the King’s Bodyguard in Scotland. Ancram undertook numerous diplomatic visits on the Kings behalf; one such visit to Holland in 1629 elicited two of the earliest Rembrandt portraits to leave Holland.
His son William became, by right of his wife Anne Lothian, 3rd Earl of Lothian. He shared his father’s interest in collecting and brought together a vast number of paintings and books to add to his father’s. William’s love of art was fomented by his Grand Tour of 1624–25. He wrote to his father in 1641 of his desire to furnish Newbattle: ‘yow will fynde some rooms in Newbattle not ill dressed; they want only some of that kinde of stuff [sic.]’. In Paris, William met the Scottish merchant John Clerk (1611–1679) who supplied him with paintings and books for the next decade. Their mutual understanding is documented in an undated letter from William: ‘…you will knowe when you see a fine or curious booke or picture what will fitt me… [sic.]’. Some of the pictures offered here are acquisitions by father and son. It is assumed William acquired portraits of historic figures, including the ‘Newbattle Turks’.
His son Robert (1636–1703), became 4th Earl of Lothian. From 1651–57 he embarked on a Grand Tour. A supporter of William III, he was created Marquess of Lothian in 1701 and died in 1703.
William, the 6th Marquess (1763–1824) began a series of 19th-century improvements to his estates. His marriage to Harriet Hobart, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire led to the inheritance by the Lothians of Blickling in Norfolk.
The 8th Marquess, William Schomberg (1832–1870), was a connoisseur and a gifted scholar. His taste and knowledge was fuelled by reading the likes of Ruskin and though friends like John Hungerford Pollen (1820–1902), a major figure in the mid-century revival of appreciation for medieval decorative arts and craftsmanship. One can also appreciate this taste in his architectural choices at both Blickling and Newbattle.
The 9th Marquess (1833–1900) had both a military and diplomatic career. In 1865 he married Lady Victoria (1844–1938) eldest daughter of the 5th Duke of Buccleuch (1806–1884). He and her mother, Duchess Charlotte (1811–1895), assembled one of the most exceptional collections of Sèvres in Britain. The porcelain here was possibly acquired by or given to Lady Victoria. Certainly the 1901 Inventory of Newbattle shows her private apartments full of fine porcelain.
Nestled in the Northumbrian countryside, Fenton is a gothic hunting lodge built in the baronial tradition by Thomas Farrer for George Lambton, 2nd Earl of Durham, in circa 1870. Its long sporting heritage is perfectly encapsulated in the works offered here. Lots include imperious thoroughbreds captured by Edward Seago’s inimitable brush strokes, the raucous scene of A City Hunt, a country house dinner gong in the gothic taste and even an amusing pair of dueling taxidermy toads.
The Coats family were the owners of a large-scale Paisley textile manufactory, and their considerable influence over cultural and civic life can still be felt and seen today in many fields. While the family had been involved in weaving since the late 18th century, it was Thomas Coats (1809–1883) who, through his innovations in cotton thread, ushered in a period of sustained international growth in the mid-19th century. By 1912, J&P Coats was one of the largest companies in the world, and Coats remains an industrial thread manufacturer of colossal size.
The various members of the Coats family consistently and carefully patronised the arts over many generations, often with differing areas of interest. Thomas Coats had a strong community spirit, and he was the creator of Paisley’s first public park, Fountains Gardens. This still continues to serve the community today, alongside the prominent Thomas Coats Memorial Church – this magisterial Gothic Revival building recently benefited from a large public fundraiser, and is now used as an arts and events venue. Thomas Coats’ daughter, Janet Coats Black, created the UK’s longest running book award, the James Tait Memorial Black Prizes. Her charitable legacy has recognised the abilities of some of Britain’s greatest authors, including D H Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, Iris Murdoch and Zadie Smith.
However, the relationship between the Coats family and fine art is of particular interest. The Paisley Museum and Art Gallery, which houses over 800 paintings, was founded by Peter Coats (1808-1890), brother of Thomas Coats and a co-founder of the manufacturing business. Among the next generation of children, the most prolific collector was William Allan Coats, who built up an extensive collection across a range of eras and styles. One of his acquisitions was Vermeer’s significant early work, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, which is available for public view in the Scottish National Gallery. His taste for esteemed Old Masters is reflected in this sale’s veduta of Dresden in the manner of Bellotto, which was sold to him at the time as an original Canaletto. William Allan Coats also had a strong affinity for more recent nineteenth-century painting from France and the Netherlands, and benefited from the lively variety of dealers in modern European art that were available in Glasgow at the fin-de-siècle. In the Coats family dining room, Rubens and Gainsborough hung alongside the far more modern Jacob Maris, a prominent ‘Hague school’ painter whose Three Windmills is included in this sale.