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15th August 2021

A rare preliminary study for the ceiling decoration at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire has been reunited with the main work after being bought at auction in Salisbury.

The 18th century oil painting by Italian artist, Francesco Sleter, (lot 361) is one of only two initial sketches known by him and has been in a private collection since the mid 20th century. The other sketch (for the State Dining Room at Grimsthorpe) is in the collection of the Tate Museum.

Venetian Francesco Sleter was first recorded in England in 1719 and his work at Grimsthorpe is believed to have been some of his earliest in the UK. The 2ft oil, depicting the Triumph of Cybele, came up at auction with Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury, where it was bought by the estate for £6,875.

“I’m delighted that the sketch is returning to its rightful place,” said Ed Beer of Woolley and Wallis, following the auction on 11th August. “It provides a wonderful opportunity for the artist’s initial ideas to be compared to the finished artwork. Very few preliminary sketches survive from this period and only two by Sleter are recorded, so it’s a remarkable painting.”

The oil came onto the market after over 50 years in the collection of Major Edward Croft-Murray, former curator at the British Museum. The painting featured in a Country Life article he wrote in 1970 on Decorative Painting in England, and has remained with his widow following his death in 1980. His collection has been sold at Woolley and Wallis across a series of sales since Spring 2021.

Sleter is believed to have painted the staircase ceiling and State Dining Room at Grimsthorpe in the 1720s, when famed architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, redesigned part of the castle at the request of Robert Bertie, 16th Baron Willoughby de Eresby.  

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