Exbury House portrait breaks auction record

9th September 2020

Multiple-estimate prices for the Exbury House pictures in the Old Masters, British and European Paintings sale of September 8 have resulted in a premium-inclusive total of close to one million pounds for the Rothschild consignment.

Dispersed across a series of sales that were rescheduled in the wake of the pandemic, the 85 Rothschild lots culminated in a sale-topping £122,500 price for the 1580 Portrait of Elizabethan courtier, Thomas Arundell, by George Gower (lot 511) against an estimate of £10,000-15,000. The price is thought to be a new auction record for the artist.

Other highlights included £70,000 for the c.1650 Portrait of a Gentleman holding a compass from the Dordrecht School in the Netherlands; £47,500 for Portrait of Monsieur Aubert, General Director of the Bridges and Roads of France Nicolas de Largillière (lot 516); and £31,250 for Sunset over a riverside village by Aert van der Neer (lot 509).

The eighteen paintings in total concluded the first consignment from Exbury and brought the sale total across four months to just over £911,000 from specialist auctions of ceramics and glass, Asian art, silver, furniture and paintings.

Woolley & Wallis Chairman John Axford said: “I’m delighted that the final sale of the original Rothschild consignment from Exbury House has produced such great results and brought in a number of new serious buyers of fine works of art. The name of such a recognisable family of art collectors has attracted significant attention and I’m pleased to announce that off the back of this success we have further consignments from the Trustees of Exbury House – more details of which will be announced in the coming months.”

The striking Arundell portrait, which attracted the biggest single price of the Old Masters auction, shows the young Elizabethan courtier (1560-1839) at the age of 20, in the months before he embarked on his adventures. He was created a count by the Holy Roman Emperor for heroics against the Turks, shipwrecked on his return to England, thrown in prison by Elizabeth I, disinherited by his jealous father and unfairly accused by Guy Fawkes of being part of the Gunpowder Plot.

Arundell was the eldest son of Sir Matthew Arundell of Wardour Castle in Wiltshire and was first imprisoned (at the time that this portrait was painted) for his fervent Catholicism. Having secured financial backing from his father and the recommendation of Queen Elizabeth I, in 1595 Thomas set off to serve the Holy Roman Emperor in Hungary during the Long War against the Ottoman Empire, storming the breach at Gran and replacing the Turkish standard with the Imperial Eagle. This success led the Emperor, Rudolf II, to make him a Count of the Holy Roman Empire.

All went well until Thomas decided to return to England late in 1595, against his father’s wishes, only to be shipwrecked off the coast of Suffolk, losing all his possessions. His fortunes fell further when he outraged both the Queen and his father by failing to renounce his foreign title, a title that gave him superior rank to his father who disinherited him as a result. The Queen jailed him in the Fleet prison where he remained until 1597 when he was released but barred from court.

Even on his release he found no peace, almost immediately being arrested once more on suspicion of Catholic subversion, but was released into his unsympathetic father’s custody after no evidence could be found against him. The following year his father died and he succeeded to the title and becoming Baron Arundell of Wardour in 1605 just months before Fawkes accused him of being a conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot.

To view the full sale results please click here.


* All prices quoted include buyer's premium.


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