A TREASURE TROVE OF BRITISH HISTORY
CONTENTS OF WESTON HALL FAMILY SEAT OF THE SITWELLS FOR 300 YEARS TO BE OFFERED AT AUCTION
Dreweatts is delighted to have been appointed to sell the contents of Weston Hall in Northamptonshire, a seat of the illustrious Sitwell family since the early 20th century and their ancestors since the 18th century. This spectacular sale charts the history of an eminent family of esteemed writers, eccentrics, pioneers and creatives through the centuries. Weston Hall was also the family home of journalist and renowned food critic and MasterChef judge William Sitwell. The sale, titled Weston Hall and the Sitwells: A Family Legacy, offers a once in a lifetime’s chance to capture a piece of literary history the like of which has not been seen on the market for some time. It will take place at Dreweatts on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.
Amongst the maze of principle rooms and nine attics at Weston Hall lay untold stories and exciting finds. From a Tiepolo drawing discovered in the safe, to clothes and jewels that adorned the writer Dame Edith Sitwell, known for shocking society with her eccentric behaviour and fashion sense, during the infamous era of the Bright Young Things.
From Weston Hall’s 18th century library are wonderful tomes, comprising works by this unique literary family, amongst primary editions by other great writers, such as Milton, that would satisfy any bibliophile. Art works and photographs by some of the greats, such as Thomas Lawrence and Cecil Beaton offer us a pictorial history of the Sitwell family and their ancestors and transport us through the history of England from the 1700s to modern-day. The Sitwell family were the subject of a critically acclaimed exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery in 1994, titled: The Sitwells and the Arts of the 1920s and 1930s and many of the exhibited works will be offered in the sale.
WESTON HALL – A TREASURE TROVE
As some parts of the house were untouched since various generations of the family left, it has been a treasure trove of exciting discoveries that tell their own story of Weston Hall, alongside the people who occupied it and their passions for collecting, writing and creating. Weston Hall is a veritable time capsule of British history, with its 18th-century library, 19th-century Justice Room and Victorian conservatory. William Sitwell, who continues the family’s literary legacy, relays in his first manuscript of his proposed new book, that gathering the contents of Weston Hall together for this sale, took him on a wonderful journey of discovery, exploring, even, rooms he hadn’t ventured into before.
Commenting on the sale, William Sitwell said, This sale offers countless individuals and collectors the chance to own items and collections that are part of the fabric of English history. It’s extraordinarily diverse, representing the wide interests and experiences of my family and our ancestors. After the sadness of leaving Weston it will be heart-warming to think that works of art and furniture, which are like so many close friends to myself and my family, will find new homes and become part of new, wonderful collections.
Joe Robinson, Head of House Sales at Dreweatts on taking up the mammoth challenge of cataloguing the works, said, Weston Hall was a fascinating encapsulation of not just the Sitwell family history, but also the social history of Britain over the last few centuries. With the extensive collection of works having been preserved in the house for so long, it has been thrilling to go on a journey of discovery with the family, to uncover so many hidden treasures with such wonderful provenance. The stories behind the works truly enrich the pieces and when you purchase a work from this sale, you know you are buying a true piece of history.
One such discovery was of Dame Edith Sitwell’s clothes in the attic, which are included in the sale, alongside some of Edith Sitwell’s jewellery. A large rusty old trunk in one of the house’s attics revealed love letters from several women, to a married soldier in the 1800s, believed to be Colonel Henry Hely-Hutchinson, who had lived at Weston Hall with his wife Harriet Wrightson. The Colonel had a romantic affair with Napoleon’s younger sister Pauline Borghese (1780-1825), who sent love tokens to him, which were found in the house, including a fan and a pair of kid skin gloves in a walnut shell. Having fought at the Battle of Waterloo, it seems strange for the Colonel to consort with ‘the enemy’, but William Sitwell explains that history shows us that this was actually not unusual and that it was even considered appropriate on occasion to dine with the enemy before a battle! Among the Colonel’s other great love affairs was one with a Countess from one of the wealthiest families in Poland. He must have made quite an impact, as on her death she left her entire estate to him.
Amongst other wonderful finds in the house is a series of books from the 17th to the 18th centuries that have their own place in the library at Weston Hall throughout the centuries. It is comprised of recipes for both cooking and ailments, as well as general tips for maintaining a home. Each lady of the house from the 18th century onwards added their own personal tips and recipes to help the next.
While some of the personal items have been saved as keepsakes to pass on to future generations, this unique sale will offer a wonderful opportunity to purchase many spectacular works by important artists that have been in the same family collection for many years, as well as exquisite furniture, ceramics, silver and textiles amongst other objects that have never come to market.
While stories abound, one particular story involves a burr walnut William and Mary style cabinet-on-chest with fitted interiors. William Sitwell and his mother relay the tale of how Susanna Jennens, who was the first of the Sitwell ancestors to occupy the house in the 1740s, had a dream that was so vivid, she wrote it down. In the dream Susanna recounted receiving a note to say that her sister had suddenly died. The note mentioned a secret drawer in the cabinet that had some valuable jewellery hidden in it. Susanna popped the note into a bedside drawer, recounting the strange dream to a friend a few days later, then forgetting about it. Two years later Susanna did indeed receive a note to say that her sister had died. Her friend reminded her of her dream and they immediately set about finding the secret drawer in the cabinet, unsure if it really existed. Eventually they found it and sure enough tucked away inside were some valuable jewels. The cabinet still features Susanna’s note in the drawer and will be offered in the sale with an estimate of £2,000-£3,000.
Also worthy of note is an ebonised oak four-poster bed incorporating decorative George III needle work hangings. The stunning crewel needlework, carried out by Susanna Jennens, was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and is a technique that is over a thousand years old. This bed comprises a spectacular example of the craft, with detailed floral sprays and a basket of flowers on the headboard. Highly decorative, the bed has ribbon-tied floral drapes and a tester with twin columns, which is joined by a ribbon-tied swag, as well as an ornate pelmet and valance in crewel work needlework. The needlework was carried out by Mrs Jennens in the 18th century and comprised a full suite of furniture for the room. In the 19th century Georgia, Lady Sitwell used the curtains, also in the same crewel work, to cover a set of chairs that adorned the room. The impressive bed was housed in a bedroom particularly favoured by Dame Edith Sitwell on her visits.
William Sitwell tells us that according to the family, It was on the grand bed that Edith Sitwell could be found, while visiting the family at Weston Hall. She would sit regally in bed propped up by so many pillows, her head adorned by some sort of turban and on a blue tray (still in the family), she would write her poetry. The bed will be offered in the sale and carries an estimate of £8,000-£12,000. The set of six George III side chairs with fluted legs are estimated to fetch £5,000-£8,000.
As well as being quite an eccentric character, Edith Sitwell was known for her bohemian dress sense. Described by her brother Sacheverell Sitwell as an altar on the move, she often wore flowing gowns and hats, feathers and multiple rings. William Sitwell tells us about an entry in Noel Coward’s diary describing an incident where, while on a visit to Weston Hall, Edith went missing after lunch. A search party was set up to look for her and she was eventually found amongst the cabbages! Noel Coward commented, she couldn’t see where she was going on account of her hat! One of her favourite hats is being offered in the sale, this is the famous hat she wore during a sitting with Cecil Beaton. A statement feather trimmed hat in Christian Dior style, which dates from the 1960s and is estimated to fetch £30-£50.
There are several pieces of Dame Edith’s clothing and jewellery in the sale, including a plush gown that she wore to the premiere of the musical My Fair Lady in 1965. She attended the event with her nephew, Francis Sitwell and Francis recounted that her outfit and demeanour made such an impression that the press spent more time gawping at her than they did at the cast of the film! The silk brocade dress in black, pink and green carries a conservative estimate of £80-£100.
Among Edith’s jewellery in the sale is a carved fluorite dress ring featuring two mythical beasts, described by The National Portrait Gallery in the 1994 exhibition titled, The Sitwells and the Arts of the 1920s and 1930s, as of 19th century Chinese workmanship and is believed to have been in Edith’s possession by 1950. It is estimated to fetch £800-£1,200. A selection of eight 19th century Chinese gilt-copper mounted semi-precious stone and jadeite brooches, converted from buckles are believed to have been brought back from China as a gift, by Edith’s brother Osbert Sitwell in 1934. The group is estimated to fetch £3,000-£4,000.
Among important art works in the sale is an important old master drawing by one of the greatest decorative painters of eighteenth-century Europe, the Italian artist Giovanni Batista Tiepolo (1696-1770). The work features Punchinello, the hook-nosed, humpbacked clowns who were one of the stock characters taken from the Commedia dell’ Arte, an early form of professional theatre, which began in Italy in the 16th century and became popular across Europe. The character fascinated Tiepolo and he returned to the subject throughout his long career, depicting them gluttonous, preparing food, overeating, drinking, passing out from inebriation and suffering the digestive consequences of excessive consumption. They were inspired by the Venerdì Gnocolar, a tradition in Verona on the last Friday of Carnival, where gnocchi, wine and polenta is given out to the crowds in the main square by Papà del Gnoco.
The drawing was purchased by the Sitwell’s at the Henry Oppenheimer sale of Old Master Drawings at Christie’s in 1936 and has remained in the family collection ever since. It was recently rediscovered in one of the safes at Weston Hall. It is estimated to fetch £150,000-£200,000.
Amongst other works, is Nativity Scene in a Mountainous Landscape, after Poussin. The work is in oil on canvas and is estimated to fetch £3,000-£4,000. The sale includes several works by the Italian painter Gino Severini (1883-1996), including the design for a dust jacket for the book Cyder Feast, published in 1927 and one of over 50 volumes of poetry and 50 works on art, music, architecture and travel, written by Sacheverell Sitwell. In pen and wash and signed lower centre, the design has an estimate of £6,000-£8,000.
FAMILY PERSONALITIES CAPTURED IN PORTRAITS
The sale will also feature an array of portraits of the Sitwell family’s ancestors through the centuries, by important artists. These include an oil portrait of Anne, Lady Blencowe (1656-1718) seated and holding a spray of orange blossom. From the circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), it is estimated to fetch £2,000-£3,000. Lady Blencowe was Susanna Jennens’ mother and it was she who wrote the first recipe book, which would remain in the library at Weston Hall for centuries. The book was rediscovered by Georgia Sitwell on her move to Weston Hall and it was published in 1925, 200 years after Lady Blencowe ‘s death.
A portrait of Colonel Hely-Hutchinson in a brown suit, in oil on canvas, is by the British Pre-Raphaelite painter Valentine Prinsep (1838-1904). A close friend of John Everett Millais and Burne-Jones Valentine Prinsep’s work was much admired and he exhibited annually at the Royal Academy. The portrait has an estimate of £300-£500. A portrait of Richard Jennens (1709-1773), Susanna Jennens’ son is by important English portrait painter John Vanderbank (1694-1739) and is estimated to fetch £4,000-£6,000.
A portrait of Arthur Barnardiston (1685-1737) from the Jennens side of the family and formerly in the family estate of Brightwell, is by English portrait painter John Vanderbank (1694-1739). In oil on canvas, it is inscribed with the name and date of death of the sitter and is estimated to fetch £2,000-£3,000. Vanderbank was known for using rich pigmentation in the skin of his subjects, where pink tones were painted thinly over the cooler greys of the ground layer, to suggest light on the skin. His colour transitions are reminiscent of Rubens and very distinctive.
A painting of the Princess of Wales (1683-1737) and her daughter in the sale, was given as a gift to Lady Glenbervie, the mother-in-law of Harriet Wrightson (who inherited Weston Hall). Lady Glenbervie was lady-in-waiting to the Princess of Wales, who later became Queen Caroline, as the wife of King George IV. The portrait, painted by an Italian-English artist Maria Cosway (1760-1838) was not well-received by Caroline and she reportedly asked her lover, the painter Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), to repaint her face.
Thomas Lawrence was very popular at the time, for creating colourful portraits in vivid colours against landscape backdrops. The painting was given as a parting gift from the Queen, to Lady Glenbervie, when Lord Glenbervie was leaving to become Governor of Cape Town, a post he eventually declined. The work is estimated to fetch £2,000-£3,000. Another portrait by Lawrence in the sale is of Harriet Wrightson’s father-in-law, the Rt. Hon. Sylvester Douglas, later Baron Glenbervie of Kincardine (1743-1823). He was a British lawyer, politician and Chief Secretary for Ireland between 1793 and 1794. He was also a famous diarist, recording everything from travel notes, to political gossip and anecdotes full of scandal and intrigue. Lord and Lady Glenbervie lost their son Frederick Sylvester North Douglas (1791-1819) at aged 28, only a few months after he married Harriet Wrightson. The portrait is estimated to fetch £60,000-£100,000.
There are many portraits of Sacheverell Sitwell by a range of artists in the sale, including a work by Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), which is estimated to fetch £6,000-£8,000. Lewis was close to the Sitwells for some time, until his hopes of being sponsored by them were dashed, which caused him to criticise their artistic abilities in public. Before this happened, he produced several works of family members, some of which are included in this sale and one of Edith Sitwell, which is on exhibition at the Tate, London.
As well as a superb selection of fine art, this extensive sale, which is described as a living museum of British history, also includes Chinese works from several periods, decorative arts, furniture, ceramics, silver, militaria, period clothes and textiles, jewellery, toys, including a charming rocking horse and an extensive collection of books from Weston Hall’s 18th century library. However, perhaps one of the most unusual items, is a Victorian Brougham carriage painted in blue and black, with a cream trimming to its interior. Built in 1857 and having been carefully restored by the family, it is estimated to fetch £10,000-£15,000.
The current generation of the Sitwell family tried hard to keep Weston Hall going, however after many initiatives, such as supper clubs, AirBnB hosting and guided tours, it wasn’t to be and it was finally sold last year after being a family seat for more than 300 years.