English Reformation painting brings important history to Melbourne auction

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 2nd November, 2019

Gibson’s Auctions Spring Auction Series has delved deep into English history with its offering of a Reformation work by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680), leading portrait artist to the English court of his day.

Carrying a catalogue estimate of $15,000-$25,000, the painting (lot 119) is part of the auction house sale that begins on 10.30am Monday November 11 at 885-889 High Street, Armadale.

Painted about 1660, the subject matter is Margaret Waller (1627-1694), eldest child of English Parliamentary general during the 1642-45 English Civil War Sir William Waller (1597-1668).

Born Pieter van der Faes to Dutch parents at Soest in Wesphalia in northern Germany, after extensive artistic training Lely (who adopted his surname from a heraldic lily on the gable of the Hague house where his father was born) moved to London about 1643 where his portraits were well received.

Painting mainly mythological or religious scenes, or portraits set in rural landscapes, he succeeded Anthony van Dyck (who died in 1641) as England’s most fashionable portrait artist.

In 1647, Charles I took him on as his portrait artist and his talent ensured that his career survived the monarch’s execution for high treason two years later after civil war leader Oliver Cromwell’s men had defeated the Royalist forces.

With the establishment of the republic Commonwealth of England (which survived until 1660), Lely served Cromwell and painted him “warts and all” followed by renditions of his son Richard Cromwell.

Lely lost no friends with the English Restoration of the monarchy and in 1661 was appointed Charles II’s Principal Painter in Ordinary – and the following year became a naturalised English subject.

One of the more interesting auction furniture pieces is a 19th century rare Chinese jade embellished hardwood corner-leg table (lot 567) that carries the same catalogue estimate as the Lely painting.

A similar example sold in 2014 in New York through Christie’s for $US365,000.

Other furniture items of note include a rare early 19th century set of 14 Regency Etruscan revival painted dining chairs (lot 509) that have been listed at $10,000-$12,000 and a late 18th/early 19th century French Directoire period gilt bronze mounted parquetry inlaid marble top commode (lot 139 - $5000-$8000).

A large and impressive circa 1810 Regency bronze mounted ebonised and giltwood convex girandole (lot 196) is another strong drawcard – along with a pair of 19th century French Louis XVI style gilt bronze mounted marble fire surround (lot 402).

Among the jewellery on offer is a pink sapphire and diamond ring (lot 68), an antique style emerald and diamond pendant (lot 48) and a ruby and diamond bracelet (lot 51).

Unusual is a large circa 1900 Wemyss ware carp tureen and cover (lot 198) attributed to Karel Nekola, a Czech decorator who, with pottery owner Robert Heron, introduced the pottery line in 1882.

The pottery was named after the Wemyss family – titled incumbents of Wemyss castle on Fife’s east coast – who were enthusiastic patrons of the pair’s ceramic creations.

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