Property of a "Banjo-Playing Barmaid"

19th September 2019

An Egyptian bronze vessel that is said to have once belonged to a controversial Victorian figure has sold at auction for over £9,000.

Sold at Woolley and Wallis as part of the Ingrid McAlpine Collection, the 7th century BC bronze situla had formerly been in the possession of Valerie Susan Langdon – a banjo-playing barmaid and prostitute who met her later husband, Sir Henry Bruce Meux, while working at a casino in Holborn.

Never accepted by her husband’s family or polite society, the American-born Lady Meux was a flamboyant figure, given to driving herself around London in a high phaeton drawn by a pair of zebra. Her house, Theobalds, in Hertfordshire she had lavishly extended to include a swimming pool and an indoor roller skating rink.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler painted her three times, but only two of the portraits survive – the third believed to have been destroyed by the artist after a comment she made upset him greatly.

A lifelong collector of Egyptian artefacts, she displayed some 1,700 of them in a private museum at Theobalds, where guests included Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales. She tried to bequeath her collection to the British Museum, but it was sold after the museum declined to accept it.

The bronze vessel that was sold on Thursday 19th September had been acquired by renowned antiquities dealer, Ingrid McAlpine, in 1993. The incised panel on the deep ovoid body is decorated with a priest seated on a stool and another standing and pouring a libation, within fourteen rows of hieroglyphs. It sold to a Belgian buyer for a hammer price of £7,500 against an estimate of £2,000 – 3,000.

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