The landmark sale of The Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Works of Art, the finest collection of Victorian art to come up for sale in recent auction history, will be sold in an auction spanning two days and three sessions at Christie’s London in February. The collection is expected to realize in the region of £25 million ($35 million) and is a comprehensive overview of Victorian art. The two-day auction will comprise 361 works of art by leading artists of the era including Burne-Jones, Holman-Hunt, Hughes, Millais, Landseer, Leighton, Rossetti, and many, many more.
The sale will also profile rare works by lesser-known artists of the Victoria period as the collection spans the key artists and the themes of the period to offer artworks to suit all levels of collecting.
"The Forbes Collection of Victorian art is remarkable for its breadth and diversity. Every aspect of Victorian painting is represented, from genre to social realism, from biblical and classical themes to fairy painting; these are major works by major artists," said Dermot Chichester, Chairman of Christie’s UK. "This landmark auction also offers new collectors to the field an exciting opportunity to acquire superb works of art at all price ranges as well as providing an occasion that cannot be missed for long-standing lovers of Victorian art," said Martin Beisly, Senior Director, Head of Victorian Art at Christie’s.
The Formation of the Collection
Over thirty years ago, the late Malcolm S. Forbes purchased William Powell Frith’s For Better, For Worse, the first major painting in this collection. From there, under the guidance of his son, Christopher Forbes, one of the most quixotic ventures of modern collecting began. "I was able to persuade my father that the Magazine could assemble the "best" collection of Victorian pictures … for the price of a lovely, but relatively unimportant, Monet Waterlilies which hung in his office". The ethos of the collection is reflected in the initial premise that every painting must have been exhibited at the Royal Academy during Queen Victoria’s reign, or be a study for a replica of a painting that was. No fewer than six Presidents of the R.A. are represented. However, over the years the guidelines were relaxed and there are examples that complement the core collection by artists such as Fuseli, who died twelve years before the Queen came to the throne, as well as Tuke, Steer, Stott and the Shannons who are generally considered to be Edwardians.
The collection today reflects the continued passion and commitment of Christopher Forbes. No aspect of Victorian painting is excluded from the collection which includes important examples of genre, fairy painting, social realism, biblical scenes, Scottish pictures, illustrations to Shakespeare, animal subjects, classical themes and landscape, making is a unique survey of the period. It also contains many examples by the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who, in 1848, mounted the most important challenge to academic conventions of the period. Not only the three major figures, Holman Hunt, Millais and Rossetti – but many of their followers, including Madox Brown, Deverell, Seddon, Hughes, Smetham and Simeon Solomon, are represented in the sale. There are also works by Burne-Jones, G.F. Watts, Albert Moore and Tissot, all of whom were exhibitors at the Grosvenor Gallery, which in 1877 had been launched as a liberal alternative to the Royal Academy.
Evening Sale Highlights – 19 February 2003 at 7.00 p.m.
The evening sale of thirty-eight works will offer a broad range of highly important works including stunning paintings by Pre-Raphaelite artists and followers. Walter Howell Deverell’s Twelfth Night (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000), is one of the last major early Pre-Raphaelite paintings to remain in private hands. This encompassing narrative work, inspired by the Shakespearean comedy, was painted when the artist (1827-1854) was only twenty-four. It is by far the largest of his few surviving paintings and undoubtedly his masterpiece.
Two exquisite works by Sir John Everett Millais P.R.A, (1829-1896) Trust Me (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000) and For the Squire (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000) show the range and virtuosity of this key Victorian artist. Trust Me is a narrative triumph and shows a young woman asked to surrender her letter to an older man in a dramatic moment of Victorian middle-class domestic life, full of nuance and speculation. The later work, For the Squire, exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1883, displays looser brushwork and effectively weaves together notions of the exemplary Victorian child and nostalgia for rustic life as an adorable little girl shyly delivers a letter.
The first ambitious painting of a life-sized figure by William Holman Hunt, A.R.S.A., R.W.S. O.M (1827-1910), is included in the Forbes collection. Il Dolce Far Niente, oil on canvas (estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000), shows a woman languishing, wistful, in an Egyptian chair. The initial sitter was Hunt’s fiancée, Annie Miller, but half-way through they separated and he finished the work using the features on Fanny Waugh, whom he married in December 1865. The chair used in this work is now in the Birmingham City Art Gallery.
St. George and the Dragon: Princess chained to a Tree by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Bt. A.R.A. (1833-1898), oil on canvas (estimate: £1,200,000-1,800,000), is the fifth in a series of seven canvases depicting the legend of St. George. The series, commissioned by the artist Myles Birket Foster, dates to a period when Burne-Jones began to move away from a narrative approach to encompass symbolist imagery. Princess Sabra is left to her fate in a flowery meadow while her maidens walk away in the distance. The first in the series is in the Musée D’Orsay, Paris. The magnificent painting by Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee, P.R.A. (1853-1928), Chivalry, (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000) utilises rich Venetian colouring and epitomises the Victorian concept of medieval virtue as a knight in shining armour rescues a beautiful damsel from captivity.
The Victorian celebration of the family is set beside a wider commentary on work in Arthur Hughes’ Home from Work, (estimate: £400,000-600,000). An intensely poetic tribute to paternal affection, a glowing sun sets in the distance while a woodsman returns home to his adoring children. This work by Hughes (1832-1915) was hailed at the time of its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1861 as ‘one of the best specimens of Pre-Raphaelitism’. In contrast, a celebration of the epitome of the elegant Victorian aristocrat is depicted in Scene in Chillingham Park: Portrait of Lord Ossulston also called, The Death of the Wild Bull, and oil on canvas by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, R.A. (1802-1873) (estimate: £800,000-1,200,000). This monumental picture is set on the Northumberland estate where there was a famous herd of wild cattle, one of the three surviving breeds from pre-Roman times.
The 19th century emigration to the new world is memorably recorded in a key work by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902). Goodbye on the Mersey, (estimate: £600,000-1,000,000), is filled with a degree of anxiety and anticipation for those who remain on the docks waving goodbye to loved ones on the steamer heading away from British shores. This highly finished work is full of period detail and sharp attention captured in the costumes, accessories and nuances of fashionable life. Tissot’s mistress, Kathleen Kelly Newton, is the model for both young women waving handkerchiefs.
The monumental sculpture, An athlete wrestling with a python, by perhaps the most prominent figure in Victorian Art, Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A. (1830-1896), (estimate: £600,000-800,000) is also one of his best-known compositions. It is the quintessential expression of Victorian academicism by the man who not only wielded more influence as P.R.A. than any incumbent since Reynolds, but dominated the whole Victorian art establishment. The powerful, complex design gives a sense of suppressed physical energy and opposing forces momentarily balanced at a point of supreme tension. Leighton chose to treat the male nude in heroic terms and was thus consciously pitting himself against the sculptors of antiquity and the Renaissance. His technique however is wholly modern and reflects his exposure to the influence of contemporary French sculpture.
Day Sales – 20 February 2002
Comprising over 300 lots, the two sales are rich and varied, with items for all levels of collecting and across all tastes. From early British pictures, including a stunning Johann Heinrich Fuseli The Deluge, an amazing series of William Etty nudes and a charming group of Thomas Rowlandson watercolours to works by the Modern British masters such as Sir John Lavery, Sir James and Charles Shannon and Edmund Stott. The sales encompass important works such as John Falconer Poole’s The Tempest to more modest sketches. Spanning various themes such as genre, social realism, the Pre-Raphaelites, Aestheticism, Scottish, biblical and classical subjects, fairy painting, illustrations to Shakespeare, animal subjects and landscape, the sales complement the major works in the evening sale.
Leading the Pre-Raphaelites are the engaging works of Ford Madox Brown William Tell’s Son, James Collinson’s eye-catching girls in To Let and For Sale and D.G. Rossetti’s Regina Cordium. Exquisite paintings by their followers include Michael F. Halliday, Study for the Blind Basket Maker and his Child, James Smetham, Christ at Emmaus and Augustus Sandys' Love’s Shadow.
True to the Scottish ancestry of the Forbes family, their collection is strong in Scottish masters. Throughout the day sales there are works by leading names, such as Joseph Farquharson, Alexander H. Burr, John Burr, Robert Gemmell Hutchison, Robert Scott Lauder, Robert Walker Macbeth, Erskine Nicol, Sir Joseph Noel Paton and David Scott. This section is headed by the dramatic The Chieftan’s Candlesticks by John Pettie and David Roberts’ epic landscape View Showing the Entrance to the Firth of Forth.
Often neglected, there is a strong display of works by female painters, including Sophie Anderson, Henrietta Rae, Rebecca Solomon, Emma Sandys, Eloise Harriet Stannard, Helen Allingham and Evelyn de Morgan. There are excellent examples by five of the Hayllar family of painters including the iconic A Summer Shower, by Edith Hayllar and the poignant A Coming Event by her sister Jessica.
Throughout the day sales are drawings, watercolours and sculpture that relate to other works in the collection that has been assembled with significant attention to detail and academic research. Sketches for major works include David Wilkie’s Sancho Panza in the Days of his youth. There is also a charming pencil sketch; an oil sketch for William Powell Frith’s For Better, For Worse, a pencil study of the damsel’s head in Sir Francis Dicksee’s Chivalry and a study of the dog in Briton Riviere’s Requiescat. Leighton’s Athlete Struggling with a Python also has a beautiful maquette study in plaster.
Complementing the wide variety of works by artists of the St John’s Wood Clique is a rare cabinet of sketches by the copyright committee members. The also sale includes four unique fans which are individually signed and annotated by such illustrious Victorian figures as Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Sir Francis Dicksee and Marcus Stone.
Old Battersea House
The Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Works of Art have all been hung and enjoyed in the stunning interiors of Old Battersea House, the late 17th century Thames-side mansion which is the London home of the Forbes family. The Victorian works of art have not only filled the formal reception rooms, hall and dining rooms, they have also been thematically hung and enjoyed in the bedrooms, bathrooms and upstairs hallways of the house to create an extraordinary and unique interior environment. It is now intended that other paintings in the Forbes collection will be hung at Old Battersea House. Souvenirs and paintings relating to Queen Victoria including a formal coronation portrait.
A special press tour of Old Battersea House will be arranged in early December 2002, for registration and further details please contact the press office on 0207 389 2664.
Regional and International Exhibitions Tours
Highlights from the sale of The Forbes Collection of Victorian Pictures and Works of Art will be exhibited in a special national tour as well as at Christie’s in New York.
Edinburgh 27 – 30 October 2002
A strong selection of works by Scottish artists or of Scottish subjects will be exclusively on exhibition at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh.
Harrogate 4 – 5 November 2002
Works relating to the North of England will be on view at Christie’s Harrogate office.
New York 24-30 January 2003
Major highlights of the collection will viewed at Christie’s Americas headquarters, 20 Rockefeller Plaza.
London 11 – 19 February 2003
The whole of Christie’s King Street will be entirely devoted to the Forbes collection in an extended viewing period in February 2003. Hung to the standard of the most prestigious museum exhibition, the pre-sale viewing with give the nation an extraordinary opportunity to view this most comprehensive of overviews of art of the period free of charge.
Special Online Promotion of The Forbes Collection of Important Victorian Pictures and Works of Art
A tailor-made subsite entirely dedicated to the Forbes collection will be available to view on www.christies.com from early January 2003. A virtual tour of Old Battersea House will be one of the main attractions of the Forbes Collection subsite. Visitors to christies.com will also be able to view full catalogue entries via Lotfinder® Christie’s cutting-edge online search engine. Collectors will be able to browse the sale, purchase the catalogue and leave online absentee bids at any time they choose. They will also be able to make enquiries directly to specialists about particular works of art.
The collector’s edition of a groundbreaking academic box-set of auction catalogues
A highly academic box-set of the three volume auction catalogues together with a Gallery Viewing Guide will elucidate the various themes of the Collection through a series of essays and extensive catalogue entries for each lot. To complement the pre-sale exhibition of all the works of art, a special series of lectures by renowned experts in the Victorian art world will take place during the pre-sale viewing at King Street.
William Holman Hunt, A.R.S.A., R.W.S. O.M (1827-1910)
Il Dolce Far Niente,
oil on canvas