A Torrid Tory Affair and a Victorian Love Triangle

24th September 2019

A table celebrating a marriage torn apart by a Tory politician, lamps that lit the workings of a Pre-Raphaelite artist, and a cabinet that housed the treasures of the Chief Manager of HSBC – just three of the exceptional pieces looking for a new home at our Furniture, Works of Art & Clocks auction on 2nd October.

“Provenance is always a key factor,” says Furniture specialist, Mark Yuan-Richards, “and some of these pieces have quite remarkable stories to tell.”

A William IV painted bird’s eye marriage table, inscribed ‘Clinton’ (lot 518), is believed to have been made to celebrate the marriage of Henry Pelham-Clinton, 5th Duke of Newcastle, and Lady Susan Hamilton in 1832. Despite having five children, the marriage was an unhappy one and Lady Susan (then Lady Lincoln) embarked on an affair with Conservative politician Sir Horace Walpole, running away with him and giving birth to his illegitimate son (also Horatio). The outraged Duke commenced divorce proceedings in the early 1850s, which dragged on for nearly a decade and were settled not long before his death in 1864 at the age of 53. Despite its negative connotations for the Duke, the table has survived in remarkable condition and carries a pre-sale estimate of £6,000-8,000.

Also the possible subject of romantic intrigue are the pair of Venetian giltwood and glass lanterns (lot 327) that belonged to the pre-Raphaelite painter, Sir John Everett Millais, but were likely acquired by his wife while on holiday with her former husband, the art critic, John Ruskin. Hampshire born Millais was a founder member of the pre-Raphaelite movement, strongly championed by John Ruskin, who married Effie Gray, the daughter of family friends, in 1848.  The following year the couple spent a significant time in Venice on a sort-of honeymoon, where it seems likely that the lamps were acquired by Effie. The marriage was famously an unhappy one and Effie grew increasingly close to Millais, causing a public scandal when she eventually left Ruskin for the painter – claiming that her marriage had never been consummated. The famous Victorian love triangle was the inspiration for several later plays and films and remains at the forefront of public consciousness today. The couple went on to have eight children, and the lamps have remained with the family until the present day.

Rather less turbulent in both his public and private life, Sir Thomas Jackson, 1st Baronet, was the Irish-born banker who became the third Chief Manager of HSBC (The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), for whom he started work just one year after its foundation. His skills led the bank to become the premiere bank in Asia, and he became known as “Lucky Jackson” while the organisation’s fortunes flourished. A statue of Jackson was unveiled in Hong Kong in 1906, where it remains to this day. The striking Flemish ebony cabinet on chest (lot 355) that features in the October auction is also rumoured to have once been in the possession of Napoleon Bonaparte, according to a page from an early 20th century description found in one of the drawers. The hardstone (pietre dura) pictorial panels date from the 17th century and use a type of Tuscan stone highly prized at the European Royal Courts. The cabinet carries a pre-sale estimate of £15,000 – 20,000.

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