Rome or bust

8th July 2021

A garden statue that was saved from being put in a skip has just sold at auction for £30,000.

The marble bust of Nero was sculpted in Italy during the late 17th or early 18th century, at a time when European tourists were travelling around the Continent and buying artworks and antiques for their collections back in the UK. For many years it lived in the Richmond garden of the late Edward Croft-Murray – a former British Museum keeper whose collection was sold at Woolley and Wallis auction house on 6th July.

The bust is in three parts – a white marble head (believed to be that of a young Nero), which sits on a decorative stone veneered chest and shoulders above a later painted white column.

“When the collection was removed from the house, the head of the bust was found, but not the rest. Because there are some damages to the chest part, it turned out that it wasn’t thought to have been worth anything and had been put aside to be chucked in the skip,” explained Woolley and Wallis’s Works of Art specialist, Mark Yuan-Richards, who was in charge of the auction. “Luckily the agent in charge of sorting the collection recognised its significance and managed to save it.”

Ironically, Edward Croft-Murray, to whom the bust belonged for many years, was a key part of a team responsible for rescuing important monuments and works of art from war-torn Europe in the 1940s. His love of antiquity was picked up from his uncle, with whom he became very close after losing his father at a young age.

“During his career, Croft-Murray must have rescued hundreds of historically and monetarily valuable artworks and artefacts for the various nations with which he was working,” continued Yuan-Richards. “It would have been a tragedy if, after all that, one of his own treasured pieces had been consigned to the rubbish heap.”

The bust was sold in Salisbury on 6th July, where it exceeded expectations to sell to a private collector for £30,000 (including buyer’s premium). The Croft-Murray collection (97 lots in total) fetched just under £200,000. Further artworks from the collection will be sold on 11th August as part of the Old Masters, British and European Paintings sale.

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