Posted on: 28 January 2022

Conquering the Classics : January 2022

There’s no sign of the ‘January Blues’ at Trevanion Auctioneers. We started the year in spectacular fashion, with the highest-grossing January auction since opening our doors in 2014. At the heart of the auction was the Alison Barker estate, a collection of art and antiquities from a collector in Sussex. “Alison was an incredible woman – she was a successful barrister, and a lifetime collector of the curious, the carved and the archaic,” says Christina Trevanion. “I had the pleasure of meeting her in 2019 when she personally gave me a guided tour of her collection. Walking into her Chichester town house was a little like walking into a carefully curated (and very full!) private museum. It has been an honour and a privilege to handle and catalogue the contents of her home, in her memory.”

Some of the best results of the day came from a selection of Roman marble carvings, which drew the attention of antiquity collectors and classical art dealers from across the globe. Associate Director, Ashley Jones, commented “Classical sculpture, especially Greek and Roman marbles, are incredibly sought after in the current market, both for their decorative merit and their historical importance. We have seen that the demand for such pieces from seasoned dealers and new, emerging millennial collectors has soared over recent years, the results from our auction reinforce this. The classical sculptures featured reflect an ancient time which is ever-popular, especially with buyers wishing to recreate their very own ‘Grand-tour’ interiors.”

Christina Trevanion with the Roman marble bust which sold for £27,000

The top result was taken by a much sought-after Roman marble bust depicting the top half of a torso with beautifully detailed draped tunic. Many bidders travelled from across the country to bid for the bust live in the saleroom. In the end however, the battle to own it came down to an online bidder and a phone bidder, with the piece eventually selling to a London based antiquities collector for an astonishing (and estimate busting) £27,000.  “This piece is reflective of the dominant presence that portraiture held in the Roman Empire. Grown from the traditional emphasis on family, worship, and ancestors, displaying busts and life-size models of Emperors and Gods became ubiquitous within the Roman State. This particular piece is believed to date from circa 2nd Century A.D, and despite not supporting a head, it is an important representation of its period. The tradition of displaying classical sculpture continues today in palaces and country houses across the world, in-turn this ensures that the popularity of classical sculpture is upheld,” said Ashley. Other lots of note included a trapezophoros carved as a griffin, which achieved £6700 and a carved stone head which sold for £4000.

Following the success of the antiquities section, the auction moved swiftly on with a collection of paintings, many inspired by some of the greatest artists of the 16th and 17th centuries. “It was amazing to unpack the collection and discover works in the manner of Sir Godfrey Kneller, Sir Peter Lely, Michael Dahl and Sir Anthony Van Dyck,” commented picture valuer Simon Grover. 

Follower of Hans Holbein (German, c. 1497-1543),
A portrait of Henry VIII which sold for £5,000

“There was a tremendous amount of pre-sale interest across the board for this collection, but one of the most curious lots was a small portrait of notorious monarch Henry VIII, by a follower of Tudor court painter Hans Holbein the younger. Holbein’s original was created as part of a larger mural which once hung in the palace of Whitehall, and many copies were commissioned by nobles as a show of loyalty, or gifted by the King himself to friends and ambassadors. The original was destroyed in the fire of Whitehall in 1698, but thanks to these copies, the picture has become without doubt one of the most iconic images of Henry VIII, and one of the most famous portraits of any British monarch.  Alison’s copy appears to have been cut from a larger work, possibly to save Henry’s head from retribution by Mary Tudor when she came to power, and the portrait was not without fault, with parts being “unskilfully restored” as the historic label on the reverse noted! However, it was a unique opportunity to purchase an iconic image from British history.” The portrait sold to a collector in the room for £5,000, and was followed by an attractive pair of portraits depicting a noble lady and gentleman in the manner of Flemish artist Sir Anthony Van Dyck, which sold for £3,200, and a distinctive 17th century portrait of an enigmatic lady drinking from a vessel, which achieved £2200.

A late 15th century and later carved pine niche which sold for £6,500

Later in the auction a collection of European wooden carvings took centre stage, with examples dating from as early as the 15th century. Amongst the top-selling lots was a 15th century carved pine niche, which sold for £6,500 to a Welsh collector, and a curious 15th century carved oak misericord or ‘mercy seat’ which made £2,800. ‘Misericords are a curious part of the European church history,’ says furniture valuer Ian Woodward. ‘They originated in 11th century Germany as a small ledge which can be found attached to the bottom of the folding seats of a church’s choir stall, to provide a seating aid for elderly or infirm monks who had to stand for periods of long prayer. Only the most skilled medieval craftsmen would have been commissioned to make a church’s misericords, so they are often beautifully carved and highly detailed.  However, often the most curious thing about misericords is their subject matter; even though they were created for the church, they were hidden from public view a lot of the time. This gave the artists more creative freedom and allowed them to draw inspiration from more secular sources, such as folklore and fairy tales. The example in this month’s sale was carved with the mask of The Green Man, which was a popular decorative motif with many craftsmen. Thanks to the Reformation, Iconoclasm and The Napoleonic Wars, few Misericords survive today. As a result, they generate a lot of buzz when they come up for sale!”

Reflecting on the success of the auction, Alison’s nephew James said “The auction was the perfect tribute to our beloved Aunt Alison, a unique and wonderful lady. The family have all been blown away to see how expertly and carefully her varied and eclectic estate has been displayed and sold under the hammer, and its popularity is testament to her lifetime passion of collecting. We hope the new custodians of her pieces will enjoy them as much as she did.”