he Family Collection of the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma offers a glimpse into the world of two legendary families with 385 lots spanning Jewellery, Furniture, Paintings, Sculpture, Chinese Works of Art, Silver, Ceramics & Objets d’Art.
Online bidding opens 12 March
Mountbatten | The Glamorous World of a Dazzling Dynasty
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For members of both the Russian Imperial and British Royal Family at the turn of the twentieth century, the House of Fabergé was the only destination for a lavish gift. As the last great court supplier, Fabergé flourished through its Royal and Imperial patronage, tailoring its creations to the taste and pursuits of its most important clients.
The tradition of presenting extravagant gifts from Fabergé started with Emperor Alexander III, who gave countless Fabergé objects of vertu to his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna and other members of the Imperial family. Notably the couple chose Carl Fabergé to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of their engagement by creating the first Imperial Easter Egg in 1885. That same year, Fabergé was named the official supplier to the Imperial Court and started the tradition of producing wonderful gifts for the Imperial family until the Revolution of 1917.
Emperor Nicholas II (1868–1918) and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918) continued the tradition of both exchanging and gifting beautifully crafted objects by Fabergé. The Imperial family prepared very carefully for important events and family celebrations, sometimes purchasing their gifts months in advance. When gifting an object such as the Mountbatten gold and blue guilloché enamel cigarette case (lot 290), the Imperial couple often shared the purchase equally and it was recorded in Fabergé’s records as a joint purchase. The popularity of smoking during the period made Fabergé cigarette cases an opulent and useful gift, the most expensive of which were made in the highest standard gold, enamelled and jewelled. This example purchased by Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna from the St Petersburg branch of Fabergé on 12 February 1901, cost a handsome sum of 200 roubles, with each of the Imperial couple paying half. The cigarette case presumably descended through the Empress Alexandra’s sister, to her son, the 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979).
In addition to joint purchases with Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra was an important patron of Fabergé in her own right and the firm quickly learned to cater to her taste in personal and presentation pieces. In addition to furnishing he lavish apartments of Imperial residencies, the interconnectivity of the Empress’s family with the great dynastic lines of the age created great demand for objects to exchange on her frequent visits to England and the continent. The handsome Mountbatten Fabergé clock with its subtly luminous blue guilloché enamel (lot 44) is a stunning example of a personal purchase by the Empress on 18 August 1897 for 200 roubels and was most likely a gift for Prince Louis Battenberg (1854-1921) or his wife Princess Victoria (1863-1950), who was the sister of the Empress. The close ties between Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her family are further represented in the Mountbatten collection, in the form of a two-colour gold pendant egg (lot 42), which contains a photograph of Princess Elisabeth of Hesse and by Rhine, later Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia (1864–1918), wearing the Feodorovna emeralds as a Kokoshnik tiara.
The dynastic ties of the period meant that equally in London, Fabergé embodied the prosperity and luxury that typified the reigns of King Edwards VII and King George V. The firm was the first choice for gifts amongst the Edwardian elite and weekend country house parties, weddings, birthdays and holidays were all celebrated by the exchange of pieces of Fabergé. This tradition, as well as the historic and personal exchange of the Mountbatten Fabergé cigarette case and clock make the choice of an elegant silver-gilt Faberge inkwell (lot 41) by Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma as an anniversary gift in 1966 for John, Lord Barbourne an even more historical, personal and significant choice. Typifying the way in which Fabergé made functional objects into works of art and their personal exchange between the Imperial and Royal family, the underside is inscribed ‘20 even more perfect years 26th October 1966 J from P’.
Sir Edward Knatchbull’s most ambitious commission was the huge canvas by the American artist John Singleton Copley. It was painted around 1800 although the composition had to change to contain Edward's ever-growing family and was not finished until April 1803. Copley came to London from his native Boston in 1774 and during the last quarter of the 18th century established a reputation for huge history paintings such as the The Death of Chatham (Tate Britain) and The Victory of Lord Duncan (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) . As Sir Ellis Waterhouse remarked Copley was “the most distinguished painter of the contemporary historical scene in English 18th century painting”. Here, for Sir Edward, he brought all those skills to work on the creation of a grand conversation piece. His overall concept is known through the lively sketch offered in this sale (see lot 170), but the sheer scale of the painting proved too much for the family and having being rolled up for years, it was eventually divided into a series of separate portraits. The section portraying Sir Edward’s sons Edward and Norton Joseph is offered in this sale (see lot 171). A preparatory drawing for the figure of Norton Joseph is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A portrait study of the sitter also exists and is being offered in this sale (lot 172). The separate portraits of Mary Knatchbull (d. 1843) playing a tambourine (seen in the centre of the sketch) and Sir Edward (on the far right, holding a gun) are in a private collection.
The large family group portrait was one of Copley’s most challenging and controversial projects, executed towards the very last years of his career. The original brief by the widower Sir Edward was to paint of a portrait of him with his ten children. The artist was already at work on the large canvas when Sir Edward married his third wife, twenty-year-old Mary Hawkins, and insisted that the composition be altered to include his new young bride, and, before long, more room had to be made on the canvas for an anticipated baby. Copley’s composition was further complicated when Sir Edward decided that he’d like his first two wives also to be included in some way. This caused some tension with Mary, but Copley sidestepped this difficulty by incorporating the women as angels in the sky (seen floating in the upper right corner of the canvas). This feature attracted reports of derision, and as a result Sir Edward decided it would not to be exhibited or engraved. It is of no surprise to find that there was intense disagreement over the price which should be paid - the dispute was eventually put to a committee of the Royal Academicians, with Copley receiving a total of £1400. The angel figures of Sir Edward's two wives were eventually painted out.
According to Dennis Holman, the author of an authorised biography of Edwina published in 1952, the Mountbatten’s London home was expressing ‘perfectly the character of its mistress’ (Lady Louis, Life of the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, London, 1952, p. 174). He wrote of tastefully decorated rooms containing pictures, including works by Dali, and described the jades, paintings and silver inherited from Sir Ernest Cassel (among them lot 201 in this sale). The biographer also noted ‘the Countess’s own contribution to the collections that are being handed down: she collects snuff boxes…’. Offered here is a small group, once part of a larger collection, of gold boxes – ranging in date from the late 18th century, (see lot 316) showing the fashion for delicate foliate enamelling, to the elegant geometry of the roaring 1920s (see lot 322). Whenever there is a contemporary photograph of Edwina in an interior ‘at home’, she is often shown next to a table which is arranged with photograph frames and gold boxes. Indeed, one of the earliest photographs of her with Patricia shows her bedside table with an arrangement of precious objets de vertu, extremely fashionable small and personal items made from chased gold, beautifully patterned hardstones and vibrant enamels.
Photographs taken in 1922 of her wedding gifts show the famous holly boxes of Fabergé, ostrich fans with jewelled guards and other precious objects. The gold boxes here, though, are not an academic assemblage, for Edwina was not a fanatical connoisseur like her grandfather, Sir Ernest Cassel, but rather someone who appreciated the decorative nature of the boxes she owned and their functionality (and tellingly portable nature). Her ‘collection’, one assumes, certainly based upon those offered here, was composed of many gifts. Precious objects given to celebrate, as in lot 309; important markers in key dates and as tokens of love.
Many people will have marvelled at architect George Aitchison’s masterpiece, Leighton House, built in Kensington for the President of the Royal Academy and one of the Nineteenth Century’s most popular artists, Frederic Leighton. However, less well-known is Aitchison’s interior designed for the South Audley Street townhouse of the banker James Stewart Hodgson (1827-1899), great-grandfather of John, Lord Brabourne. In storage at Leighton House and seldom seen, are the two vast canvases Music and Dance which were designed by Leighton for Hodgson as part of the decoration of Hodgson’s drawing room. The Family Collection of the late Countess Mountbatten of Burma will include a gorgeous oil sketch for Music, but also two further sketches by Leighton, A Sibyl and Bacchante, given by the artist to his patron as a mark of their friendship and Hodgson’s generous patronage of the arts.
These jewels, each so personal to Queen Victoria, evoke various aspects of her life: the years of happiness with Prince Albert, her friendship with her mother, her closeness to her daughter Alice, and her rigid observance of the custom of mourning. Enclosing a lock of hair and a portrait of the deceased, with name and dates of birth, death and sometimes a tribute inscribed, they express the strength of the ties binding the royal family together. Whereas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the majority of memorial jewels took the form of rings which were distributed at funerals, during the Victorian period this custom lapsed and the upper classes adopted bracelets and lockets to convey their sentiments for the living and the dead. Thus, the bracelet with a miniature of Prince Albert was Queen Victoria’s only ornament when she announced her forthcoming marriage to her Ministers in 1840. She explained that his presence on her wrist gave her the courage to fulfil her public duties, so much so that she always kept it there. This emotional attachment gives a special significance to the Anglo-Indian style lasque diamond bracelet enclosing a charming miniature of the six-year-old Prince Albert which the Queen had commissioned Henry Bone to copy from the original (lot 298). In addition, the setting demonstrates her lifelong partiality for Indian people and culture. She gave this precious bracelet to Princess Alice in gratitude for her selfless nursing of her father during the final phase of the typhoid which killed him in December 1861. Earlier that year the 18-year-old Alice had also kept an all-night vigil at the death bed of her grandmother, the Duchess of Kent. Again, in recognition of her devotion she was given the diamond starred memorial locket designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria as a memento of the mother and “best friend” who had brought so much joy and happiness into their family life (lot 299). As for the three sombre enamel and agate jewels (lots 300-302) marking Alice’s own death from diphtheria on November 14th 1878, they show a diversity of fashionable design: a button with a pearl initial ‘A’ enclosing a lock of hair and photograph, now replacing the traditional miniature as giving a better likeness, a pearl studded locket containing the intertwined tresses from the hair of Alice and her daughter Marie who had died earlier that year, and finally, the imposing cross with a heart at the intersection of the arms and upright created by the leading London jeweller, Robert Phillips of Cockspur Street. All these mementoes would have set off the very sombre mourning dress worn by Queen Victoria herself and by those around her, for according to Marie Adeane, who joined the royal household in 1887 “the Ladies in Waiting always wore black but the Maids of Honour, with regard to their youth were permitted to white, grey, mauve and purple except when one of the numerous court mournings occurred when all the Ladies wore unrelieved black.” These regal family remembrances remained with Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, the Marchioness of Milford Haven, and, cherished like precious gems, have been passed down to her Mountbatten descendants.
© Diana Scarisbrick
Diana Scarisbrick has written extensively on important jewels and gems, including Ancestral Jewels, André Deutsch, 1989, which features lot 343: The Banks Diamond brooch.
Thomas Chippendale’s name is synonymous with the very best of English craftmanship and of the many treasures at Newhouse, the furniture by him ranks among the most highly prized. Between 1767 and 1779, Chippendale decorated Sir Edward Knatchbull’s newly built mansion at Mersham-le-Hatch, supplying superb articles of furniture to compliment Robert Adam’s exquisite neoclassical interiors. The three pieces included in the sale are rare survivors, having descended through the Knacthbull line with most of the commission dispersed in the 19th and 20th centuries. These items epitomise the restrained, ‘neat’ style of Chippendale’s work at Mersham which include a bespoke stand for an exotic inlaid table-bureau from Vizagapatam, an elegant mahogany serpentine stool and a versatile spider-leg table whose simplicity belies the exceptional quality of materials and construction. The Mersham commission is further distinguished by an extensive archive of letters, estimates and memoranda which allow us to precisely date each piece and allocate it to its original location in the house. Through these documents and the pieces offered here, we are afforded a glimpse of the magnificent interiors of this much changed Adam house and are once again reminded of Chippendale’s peerless standing as the greatest English cabinet-maker of the 18th century.