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  • Sotheby's To Sell Collection of Works From Easton Neston
    February 26, 2005 LONDON, UK.

    Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Anna Maria Draycott, Countess of Pomfret.

    In May this year, Sotheby's will sell a large collection of selected paintings, furniture and works of art from Easton Neston house in Northamptonshire on behalf of the Lord and Lady Hesketh and the Trustees of Frederick, 2nd Baron Hesketh.

    Easton Neston has been the seat of the Fermor-Hesketh family since 1535, and the present house - built by Nicholas Hawksmoor around 1700 - is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful country houses in England. Its contents are no less magnificent: together, the pieces to be sold (some 1500 items of fine English and French furniture, Old Master and British Paintings, Tapestries, Silver, Books, Chinese cloisonné, Japanese lacquer work, European Porcelain and Glass) represent centuries of patronage and collecting at the highest level. The sale will be held at Easton Neston, near Towcester, and will take place over three days, from Tuesday, May 17, 2005 to Thursday, May 19, 2005, with viewing at the house prior to the sale from Thursday, May 12 to Monday, May 16, 2005.

    Henry Wyndham, Chairman of Sotheby's Europe, said: "The collection of works of art at Easton Neston is one of the most significant to have been put together by a British family over the last five hundred years. The house is full of rare and beautiful objects that reflect the changing tastes and fortunes of nearly 20 generations of the Fermor-Hesketh family, and Sotheby's is extremely honoured to have been chosen to conduct such an historic sale."

    It was announced in May of last year that Easton Neston - together with its 3,319-acre estate, its private racecourse and the entire estate village of Hulcote - was for sale. A number of offers have been received for the property assets, the majority of which will shortly be in the hands of the respective solicitors. While negotiations for the principal House continue with a preferred bidder, two significant new approaches were recently made to the agents.

    The Collection - Easton Neston is exceptionally rich in great works of art from different fields, making it one of the most eclectic and exciting house sales to have been organised by Sotheby's over the last 20 years. In terms of importance, it can be compared to the great Mentmore and Leverhulme sales, but it stands apart from these in that its history is much longer, dating back as it does to the Tudor period and including works of art commissioned by the families from the 17th century onwards. Fortunately, the collections were well inventoried in the 19th and 20th centuries, and so it has been possible to see both how the objects were originally acquired and displayed, as well as how they were re-sited at various moments in the last 200 years. Unusually, this is supported by a wealth of photographic material which has provided even further evidence of how and where certain objects were placed around the house.

    The sale is particularly rich in pieces of fine English and Continental Furniture. Among the former is a rare and important mid-18th-century Gothick cabinet estimated at £100,000-£150,000. Commissioned by the Countess of Pomfret (friend of Horace Walpole and, like him, an early enthusiast of the Gothick style) for her spectacular house ("Pomfret Castle", now demolished), in Arlington Street in London, the piece represents a early example of work from this exciting moment in design.

    Other examples of fine English Furniture include a suite of early George III gilt seat furniture attributed to John Cobb (to be sold in various lots, with estimates up to £90,000); and a giltwood sofa attributed to Thomas Chippendale (est: £40,000-£60,000).

    Much of the French and Continental Furniture in the house was acquired by Sir Thomas Fermor Hesketh and his wife Florence Emily Sharon (see 'Family History', p. 3) in the 19th century. Highlights include a pair of Louis XVI gilt bronze and marble candelabra attributed to Clodion (est: £70,000-£100,000); a pair of spectacular Neapolitan commodes (est: £50,000-£80,000); and an Empire cabinet attributed to Jacob (est: £40,000-£60,000).

    The house also contains an impressive collection of Old Master Paintings. Largely amassed during the 18th and 19th centuries, these include works by Jan van Goyen, Joseph van Bredael, Joost Cornelisz. Droochsloot and Pieter de Bloot, as well as an interesting group of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish still-life paintings. Alongside is a splendid array of English Portraits, including the fine portraits of Sir George and Lady Fermor attributed to Robert Peak, and a large group of family portraits by Sir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller. Later works include the full length portrait of the Countess of Pomfret (est: £60,000-£80,000) by Sir Joshua Reynolds and an unpublished portrait of George III attributed to John Shackleton, possibly presented to the 2nd Earl of Pomfret by the King himself. Further to the portraits, the sale will include a number of particularly good bird paintings by artists such as Peter Casteels.

    Sir Thomas Fermor Hesketh was a particularly keen collector of Oriental Works of Art, having visited Japan and the Far East during his World Tour 1879/80, and his interest is amply reflected in the sale. Related highlights include a stunning group of Chinese cloisonné amassed in the last quarter of the 19th century, in particular an incense burner (est: £100,000-150,000); some very fine Chinese lacquer vases and bowls; and a number of early Chinese bronzes, including a Ming baluster vase (est: £40,000-£60,000) and an Kangxi Imperial gilt bronze bell (est: £20,000-£30,000).

    European Sculpture & Works of Art in the sale include a pair of extremely rare mid-17th-century plaster busts of Sir William and Lady Fermor by Peter Besnier, Sculptor in Ordinary to Charles I. Dating from the early years of the Commonwealth, these beautiful plasters number among a handful of surviving works by Besnier and are estimated at £40,000-£60,000.

    Also of great rarity is a pair of Roman carved marble table supports circa 1626, each carved with the Howard armorials, which originally formed part of the furnishings of Arundel House in London. These came to Easton Neston with the Arundel Marbles in the late 17th century (est: £60,000-80,000).

    Alongside this, the sale will also include a fine selection of Flemish and French Tapestries from the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as some particularly handsome clocks.

    One entire section of the sale will be devoted to the family's collection of Silver and of particular note is a Charles II silver gilt toilet set circa 1680, made for Jane, Duchess of Norfolk (est: £150,000-£200,000). This will be accompanied by a wide range of predominately English silver from the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as American silver. Among a smaller number of pieces of Continental silver is a German silver gilt ewer and basin by Paul Kleebühler, made in Augsburg c.1620 (est: £60,000-£80,000).

    From the Library will be a number of books covering a wide diversity of subjects, many characterised by the fineness of the bindings. This part of the sale will also include early photographs and some manuscript material. Aside from the books acquired by the family at Easton Neston, the library also includes works from the Hesketh library at Rufford Hall.

    The House - The Fermor family (they became Fermor-Hesketh in mid-19th century) has owned the Easton Neston estate since 1535. Described in William Camden's Britannia (1586) as a "beautiful seat", the original house there was an amalgam of Tudor pitched roofs, gables, arched doorways and mullioned windows. This same house was home to six generations until, in the 1690s, Sir William Fermor (1648-1711) decided to consult Sir Christopher Wren (his cousin by marriage) for advice on building a new house.