Following the great success of the last four “Of Royal and Noble Descent” sales, Sotheby’s London will present a further selection of 256 fascinating royal and aristocratic heirlooms on 17 January 2018. The sale is spearheaded by an outstanding group of objects celebrating Britain’s national hero and legend, Lord Horatio Nelson, including a large fragment of the Union Jack believed to have flown from his ship, HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar and captivating love letters Nelson sent to his famous mistress Lady Hamilton, shedding light on a liaison that scandalised 18th-century England. Covering centuries of history, the sale is further distinguished by furniture, paintings, decorative arts and precious objects having belonged to important European dynasties and historical figures, including the Duchesse du Berry, the House of Bourbon and a number of German princely families.
Discussing the forthcoming sale, João Magalhães, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist in Continental Furniture, said: “Four years in the making, our “Of Royal and Noble sale” sales have become an unmissable event for art lovers looking equally for fantastic property with great provenance and whimsical objects with a great story to tell. This year, we are delighted to have been entrusted with a collection celebrating Britain’s hero, Nelson, which not only contains fragments of history, such as the Victory Jack, but also treasured items, from paintings and sculpture to porcelain and silver tracked down for their links to Britain’s rich nautical past. Highlights in the sale also include table services which belonged to prominent families, important furniture and a replica set of the British Crown jewels.”
The name of Nelson is intimately woven into the thread of the British nation’s story. Born in Norfolk, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson and 1st Duke of Bronte (1758-1805), is one of England’s greatest heroes. Physically conspicuous, having lost both an eye and his right arm in battle, and brave to the point of recklessness, he was beloved by his men, idolised by a nation and feared by his enemies.
Famous for his inspirational leadership, superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, Nelson conducted the most decisive victory in naval history in the battle of Trafalgar. This victory spectacularly confirmed Britain’s global naval supremacy for the next hundred years. Nelson’s legend is only increased by his tragic death at the very moment of his greatest triumph – shot down in the heat of battle, in the midst of his men, leading from the front.
The sale features a group of 79 lots entirely dedicated to Nelson, Trafalgar and the British great maritime tradition. A number of these objects would have been with Nelson at his final hour, including an exceptionally large fragment of the Union Jack believed to have flown from his ship, HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar (lot 116, est. £80,000-100,000 / €90,000-113,000) and his grog chest, with its carefully cased set of fine decanters, that he kept in his cabin at sea (lot 137, est. £35,000-45,000 / €39,300-50,500).
Other personal items include his engraved glassware (lots 135 & 136, each estimated at £12,000-18,000 / €13,500-20,200) and a pair of silver sauce tureens emblazoned with his coat of arms (lot 155, est. £30,000-50,000 / €33,700-56,500).
Nelson’s personal life both fascinated and scandalised contemporary society. The collection includes a number of his love letters to his mistress, Emma Hamilton (lots 131-34) – a beguiling window into Nelson’s tempestuous personality and the relationship between the two most famous English people of their day. Written between October 1801 and May 1803, these letters also document key events in European history, from the Amiens peace negotiations to the battle of Trafalgar. Emma’s portrait, by the great Irish neo-classicist Gavin Hamilton, which once hung in her husband’s salon in Naples, is also offered here (lot 130, est. £150,000-200,000 / €169,000-225,000.
The sale also features exceptional table services, including the Matcham desert service emblazoned with a fouled anchor and depicting scenes of the battles of Copenhagen and the Nile in the borders. This service is thought to have been a gift from Nelson to his sister Catherine Matcham and relates closely to a set recorded at Merton, Nelson and Emma Hamilton’s house in London (lot 151, est. £40,000-60,000 / €44,900-67,500).
Coming from an important Berlin collection is a series of 24 plates circa 1821, painted with scenes from Goethe’s play Faust, after engravings by the German painter and draughtsman Friedrich August Moritz Retzsch (lot 17, est. £60,000-100,000 / €67,500-113,000).
Originally commissioned by the Neapolitan Royal Family, most probably by King Ferdinand IV, a rare and important group of Neapolitan porcelain by the Real Fabbrica Ferdinandea porcelain manufactory, later passed down to King Joseph Bonaparte. Dating from circa 1790-1800, this extraordinary ensemble comes with its original red Morocco leather case and a letter attesting to its prestigious provenance (lot 26, est. £30,000-40,000 / €33,700-44,900).
Among the impressive pieces of furniture in the sale is a George III gilt-lacquered-brass mounted mahogany and ebony strung bombé commode, circa 1770, attributed to Pierre Langlois. This commode was formerly at Bickling Hall, a grand Jacobean house built by Sir Henry Hobart in 1616 on the sight of an earlier house that had been in the Boleyn family. The commode was most likely commissioned by John, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire who succeeded his father to the Earldom in 1756 (lot 204, est. £ 50,000-80,000 / € 56,500-90,000).
A Swiss walnut armorial cabinet, probably made in Basel in the 17th century stands as an outstanding example of Swiss carving, reflecting stylistic features typical of the transitional period between late Renaissance and early Baroque (lot 35, est. 40,000-60,000 / €44,900-67,500).
Several replicas of the British Crown Jewels were made in honour of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June 1953 in order to be displayed to communities across the Commonwealth. The sale features one of these sets, consisting of five crowns (including the Imperial State Crown worn by the Queen for the ceremony), five sceptres, three swords, the Ampulla, modelled as a standing eagle, the Mace, the Sovereign’s orb, the Armills of Charles II, and the King’s Spurs (lot 74, est. £5,000-7,000 / €5,700-7,900).