Reputed Nelson chimneypiece knocked down for £25,000
An exquisite George III serpentine commode led Bonhams Fine English Furniture and Works of Art sale on 13th June, selling for £175,250, well over the pre-sale estimate of £80,000 - 120,000. The commode, which has remained in the same family since the 19th Century, is a superb example of designs by the esteemed furniture-maker, John Cobb. In 1761 Cobb, who was known for the high quality of his pieces, was granted a royal warrant to supply furniture to the crown.
Other impressive results were achieved for a Queen Anne walnut miniature dolls armchair and a striking giltwood frame. After enthusiastic and competitive bidding, the miniature dolls chair sold for a total of £17,500, significantly over the estimate of £5,000 - 8,000. The chair is an extremely rare piece, not often seen at auction, with two other prized examples seen in the V&A Museum collection. Often wrongly thought to be 'apprentice pieces' it is likely that these chairs were created as toys and would originally be accompanied by delicately painted wooden dolls.
An ornately sculpted giltwood picture frame also drew much attention in the saleroom, selling for the great sum of £34,850 against a pre-sale estimate of £3,000 - 5,000. The frame has an interesting story to tell, once housing a 1764 Pompeo Batoni portrait of Edward Augustus, Duke of York (1739 67), which is likely to have been gifted to Earl Howe, as a mark of their enduring friendship. The frame reflects elements of two designs in Thomas Chippendale's book 'The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director'.
Further highlights of the sale included a George IV gilt brass eight branch chandelier, which sold for an impressive £39,650, over the £8,000 - 12,000 pre-sale estimate; a pair of late George II carved giltwood console tables with pier mirrors en-suite, sold for £46,850, against a pre-sale estimate of £35,000 - 40,000; and an early 19th century chimneypiece, with reputed provenance from Lord Nelson, which sold for £25,000.
The white marble chimneypiece, reputedly from the home where Lord Nelson planned to spend his retirement, is a fine example of early 19th century marble decoration, depicting an Isiac procession flanked by a continuous series of relief-carved Roman figures and pairs of Egyptian slave figures either side.
Lord Nelson bought Merton Place in 1801, fulfilling his dreams of buying a residence that he could share with Sir William and Lady Hamilton, his mistress, when on leave. He had also recently fathered Emma Hamilton's child, Horatia, spurring him on to make a comfortable home for the family.
Nelson's feverish letters to Lady Hamilton attest to his ambitions to extend and improve the property and it is conceivable that such a chimneypiece may have formed part of the decoration in this country mansion. Sadly, Nelson was never able to oversee his plans for renovation of Merton Place or to retire comfortably by the fireside. He only spent a short time with his beloved Lady Hamilton, at his new home, before he was called away to the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, where he met his untimely death.
Fergus Lyons, Director of the Furniture department commented "The overall results were very positive with keen interest translating into above-estimate results on the rare and important lots. I am particularly pleased with the outcome for the Cobb commode which demonstrates the market's long-term confidence in exceptional pieces by leading cabinet makers from early George III era"