From the attic

Morquette carpet by Piat Lefebvre et Fils, Tournai, early nineteenth century, lot 662 in the Chatsworth sale. ©Sotheby's

We have just secured two lots at the Sotheby’s Chatsworth ‘attic’ sale, at which the Duke of Devonshire was selling a few odds and ends which were clogging up his store rooms. There were actually about 20,000 objects in all, but that’s ducal housekeeping for you. 

The entrance front of Hardwick Hall. ©NTPL/Mike Williams

We were trying to get things that had been at Hardwick Hall, the iconic Elizabethan house in Derbyshire which used to be owned by the Cavendishes (Dukes of Devonshire). We were bidding for a number of items, but the competition was stiff, with many lots going way beyond their upper estimates.

The Drawing Room at Hardwick. The Tournai carpet was shown in this room in a late nineteenth-century photograph in Country Life magazine. ©NTPL/Nick Guttridge

It was an interesting example of the ‘country house effect’, where the association with a historic house and an old family causes bidders to compete for objects that might not get a second glance in another context. 

Cavendish family deed boxes, lot 902 in the Chatsworth sale. ©Sotheby’s

But then we understand the value of context at the National trust too – the Devonshire deed boxes we bought will add a bit of family atmosphere to Hardwick. And the proceeds of the sale are said to be going towards improvements at the Chatsworth estate, which already has an excellent conservation programme, so that must be a good thing.

13 Responses to “From the attic”

  1. littleaugury Says:

    Very exciting! I had seen that carpet and admired it in perusing the lots. pgt

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes it is a nice carpet in itself, as well as being relevant to Hardwick.

    Were you buying, or bidding?

  3. The Down East Dilettante Says:

    Oh how I wish I could have attended this one—wrong time of year and wrong side of pond, unfortunately for me—but how completely fascinating the catalogs were. And, as a dealer, I know too sadly well the ‘country house effect’ at auction.

    Terrific about the rug—I’m a firm believer in preserving with context

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    I was wondering: if you buy something at one of these country house sales as a dealer and then try to sell it on, can you still count on the provenance to justify a higher-than-normal price, or does the effect wear off after a while?

  5. style court Says:

    Fascinating as always, Emile. So happy you are sharing the insider’s perspective with us.

  6. Karena Says:

    Emile, thank you! I adore the rug and the deed boxes are indeeed fascinating historically.


    Art by Karena

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, yes the psychology of the auction room (or the auction marquee, in this case) is fascinating, isn’t it?

    Karena, glad you like it. Isn’t it interesting though that they had an early-nineteenth-century carpet at Hardwick in the late nineteenth century – one would have thought that that would have been rather unfashionable then.

  8. littleaugury Says:

    Emile, I was “browsing” the auction catalogs are some of the best new books out-so much to see and learn. I cannot wait to see these at Hardwick-I am sure you will be following up- what sort of work will be done to refurbish them if any?

  9. columnist Says:

    Hardwick is a gem. I didn’t know the Devonshire’s owned it at one stage, but most of the aristocratic families are intermarried, so I suppose it came about from that.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Gaye, I imagine the carpet will be inspected to see if it needs any work done to it, and it will probably get a light clean. Ditto the boxes will probably get a bit of a dust, but we will otherwise probably leave them alone, so that they keep their ‘patina’.

    Yes the catalogue was well produced, and the documentation about the architectural salvage from Devonshire House in London makes it an important record of that now demolished house (John Martin Robinson also did an article about that in Country Life recently, with beautiful isometric drawings).

    Columnist, the remarkable Bess of Hardwick, who built Hardwick Hall, had a string of consecutive husbands, making her ever richer. The second one was Sir William Cavendish, from whom the Dukes of Devonshire are descended, hence their former ownership of Hardwick (as well as Chatsworth and a number of other houses and estates).

  11. The Down East Dilettante Says:

    Emile, your question just caught up with me—-and oddly enough, my blog post last week was about provenance. Yes, absolutely, provenance does help the price and sale, although of course, one cannot and should not use provenance alone as an means for a ridiculous price. I like a piece to retain its history, also, so endeavor to make certain that it leaves here with provenance, although in recent years, customers care less and less (unless it belonged to a celebrity), and I can see them glazing over, and realize that the history will be lost with them…

  12. Guy Says:

    We had long conversations about the Chatsworth provenance and whether to buy…..the consensus was not to. With the likes of Artnet and of course Sotheby’s own results pages online there are many who begrudge the dealer making a profit – be it a modest one or a 100% mark up. It is forgotten that they ‘take the plunge’ financially and are prepared to give the pieces loving restoration, research and hopefully a good home.
    A topic for more discussion no doubt.
    Been away but catching up on posts.

  13. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Dilettante, how interesting, and how curious that some customers don’t seem to be interested in provenance. I suppose it comes from being accustomed to modern consumer goods, where style and functionality are all you get. Perhaps both our blogs can educate them 🙂

    Guy, I didn’t realise there was that aspect to it, but indeed sales like this one are very ‘public’. And of course it would have been very difficult to pick up any bargains!

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