LONDON - Sotheby’s London announced that it will offer for sale the collection of renowned arbiter of taste and fêted London club owner Mark Birley (1930-2007), on 21st March 2013. The auction will comprise property fro Thurloe Lodge, his home in Kensington for nearly 30 years. With his refined sense of style and unerring eye for detail, Mark Birley furnished Thurloe Lodge as the ultimate bachelor’s residence. The mastermind behind a portfolio of exclusive members-only clubs, including the legendary Annabel’s, Mark’s Club, George’s Bar, Harry’s Bar, and The Bath & Racquets Club, Birley was for more than two decades, the innovator of aristocratic nightlife, creating a world where royalty and rock stars partied together in an atmosphere of sophisticated country house glamour. From works by Rossetti, Landseer and Munnings to monogrammed table silver, superb bronzes and a bespoke Hermès backgammon board, the sale reflects Mark Birley’s private world -– his love of understated luxury, entertaining and his dogs. The auction will present over 500 lots which span 12 different collecting disciplines. With estimates ranging from £50 to £250,000, the sale is expected to realise a total in excess of £1.3 million.
India Jane Birley recalled: "My father, Mark Birley, was renowned for creating beautiful rooms whose atmosphere enchanted everyone who sat in them. He lived in discreet splendour at Thurloe Lodge. Its style revealed his great depth of character and knowledge of furniture and paintings. I remember the backgammon evenings, the rooms blue with cigar smoke and the dogs. The food was invariably delicious and, in contrast to the food at the clubs, simple and English. I was only ever given roast chicken and, as he put it, 'something decent to drink.' Thurloe Lodge provided perfect accommodation for one man, several dogs and an occasional guest. It had not been designed for family living. Hence the difficult decision to sell the old house and its beautiful contents. His ashes are near me on the drinks tray. Better there than in a wet garden. And I like to think he approves of the sale, for being an artist he understands my need to carve out my own space too."
Henry Wyndham, Chairman Sotheby’s Europe Commented: “Sotheby’s sale of property from Thurloe Lodge provides a glimpse into the hidden world of one of the leading tastemakers of the 20th century. Although Mark Birley’s clubs were, and continue to be, internationally renowned, in reality he presided over a very private world. The selection of works on offer, from his cigar cases, to portraits of his beloved dogs and a treasured backgammon board, give a very personal glimpse into his extraordinary life.”
When Mark Birley founded Annabel’s in 1963, he revolutionised night life in London. After the austerity of the post-war years, a new generation of pop-stars, royalty and politicians flocked to the club’s elegant, luxurious and very private surroundings. Founded beneath the Clermont Club, England’s first gambling club run by John Aspinall, Annabel’s was, in its own way, avant-garde. It was the first of such members-only clubs in London which did not require its members to wear dinner jackets, and openly welcomed women into a night-time world traditionally dominated by men. Here, Birley brought the ‘Swinging Sixties’ to London - inviting the leading stars of the day to perform - including Diana Ross, Ray Charles and the Supremes - and hosting legendary themed events. While Birley introduced high-society London to a relatively informal dining and dancing experience, he also maintained impeccable levels of service and presentation. Thurloe Lodge encapsulated much of the elegance and charm of his celebrated clubs.
Elvira Maria, Mark Birley’s housekeeper at Thurloe Lodge for 23 years, recalled: “There was a lot of entertaining at Thurloe Lodge and it was always done so beautifully. Mr Birley was a perfectionist and liked everything to be carried out to the highest standards. Every little detail had to be right. For his dinners, we used the best linens. silver candlesticks, small sculptures of dogs in silver and silver plates were laid out on the table, with wonderful arrangements of garden flowers in the Lalique vases. The cutlery was placed in a very specific way. (Even when he was dining on his own, Mr Birley used silver cutlery.) He was such a generous host and always served good food and the best wine.” Mark Birley’s wine cellar will be sold alonsgide his collection of furniture and art. It includes various vintages of Châteaux Cheval Blanc , Haut Brion, Petrus and Yquem as well as Champagne from Krug and Ruinart , plus exclusive bottlings including Mark's Club Saint-Emilion 2003, bottled by J P Mouiex and 7 bottles of Private Collection Porto Velho 1930 Vintage Port.
Throughout the well-appointed rooms at Thurloe was an eclectic mix of objects, from personal mementoes to well-chosen works of art, reflecting a career as an arbiter of taste. Interior photographs give a glimpse of a truly extraordinary space. In addition to works by important 19th century and Edwardian artists and 20th century sculptors, there is an array of items by the very best makers, from Tiffany’s and Asprey’s to the smallest and most luxurious of items - one of Mark Birley’s tie pins by Cartier, estimated at £400-600, and his Art Deco solid silvered enamel bath taps estimated at £300 – 500.
Nestled behind a sumptuous sofa in a corner of the drawing room, Birley placed two sublime equestrian bronzes (est. £50,000- 70,000) by Antoine-Louis Barye, one of the greatest 19th century animaliers (and illustrative of a superb selection of bronzes in the collection) next to a rare and exquisite porcelain Imperial Russian plate (£12,000-18,000) and a charming Coalport casket and cover (£150-250) all beautifully lit by atmospheric Empire-style table lamps (£800 – 1,200).
Birley’s superb Hermés leather and needlework backgammon board with ivory and ebony counters is estimated at £500 -£1,000. At the age of 30 Birley was chosen to manage London’s first Hermés store. This backgammon board was always laid out, ready for play, in the sitting room. This travelling set was commissioned specially with a tapestry playing surface - to reduce the noise when the dice were rolled.
Animals feature throughout the collection and dogs in particular. One of Birley’s greatest loves, and a very personal item in the sale, is a portrait of Blitz, his Rhodesian Ridgeback, who often sat beside his master on the front seat of his Bentley. Carved from pine by Nicholas Johnson, it is estimated at £2,000 - £3,000. This specially commissioned sculpture sat beside the fire in the Drawing Room at Thurloe Lodge.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE MARK BIRLEY COLLECTION
Henry Herbet La Thangue (1859-1929)
Resting after the Game, 1889 (est. £250,000 - £350,000)
La Thangue’s Resting after the Game, is one of the artist’s finest works. This portrait depicts his wife, elegantly posed in a wicker chair relaxing after a game of the newly popular lawn tennis. In the background sits their bloodhound Bor, wonderfully painted and no doubt a deciding influence in Birley’s decision to purchase the work. La Thangue was a pioneer of the open air naturalism movement in Britain which was spearheaded by Jules Bastien-Lepage in France. This is championed here with the bold, broad brushstrokes to convey the warm, dappled light.
Charles Burton Barber (1845-1894),
Good Friends, 1889
(est. £80,000 – £120,000)
A very fine example of the work of Charles Burton Barber, the foremost late 19th century painter of children and their pets, and an artist favoured by Queen Victoria. This evocative painting is illustrated hanging above a chic 19th century English console table attributed to William Cripps (£3,000-5,000) under which is placed a charming bronze portrait of ‘Jack’, one of Mark’s adored dogs, by Nicola Hicks (£3,000-4,000). The placement of these works, against walls covered in burnt orange Fortuny silk fabric, was a deeply considered process.
Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873),
Sir Edwin Landseer was revered in Victorian Britain as the greatest of animal painters, receiving many commissions from the Queen herself. Dash is one of four works by Landseer in Birley’s collection.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882),
Aggie Maretti Holding a Dog, c.1862
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s fondness for animals is well known, however, this is the only known study by the artist showing one of his models with a pet. This pre-Raphaelite drawing depicts Aggie Maretti (known as ‘Fatty Aggie’ in Rossetti’s circle). She was, according to William Michael Rossetti, a Scotswoman with a beautiful profile, and modelled for several of Rossetti’s pictures around 1862. Previous owners of this drawing include Kerrison Preston and Evelyn Waugh. Indeed, Preston reproduced the drawing in his renowned book Blake and Rossetti (1944), in which he advanced the theory that the two artists (Blake and Rossetti) shared a soul.
David Hockney (b. 1937),
A delightful drawing of one of Hockney’s beloved Dachshunds, Boodgie (the other was called Stanley). This is one of several intimate pencil portraits and paintings Hockney produced of his dogs around this time following a period when a number of the artist’s close friends had died. Hockney explained 'I started painting the dogs and realized that this was a marvellous subject for me at this time, because they were little innocent creatures, creatures like us, and they didn't know about much. It was just a marvellous, loving subject.'
John Stanton Ward, R.A. (1917 – 2007)
Study for the Founder Members
(est. £1,000 - £1,500)
Mark Birley was a close friend and patron of the painter, illustrator and teacher John Stanton Ward. From around the year 1975, Ward made a number of watercolour drawings of the staff and interior of Annabel’s, and, in 1983 produced a triptych of the founding members to celebrate the club’s 20th anniversary. This watercolour is one of several studies of Annabel’s to be offered in the sale. Ward also painted portraits of the royal family, including Princess Diana, Prince William and Prince Harry.