Circe rediscovered after a century

Briton Riviere’s ‘Circe and the Companions of Ulysses’

It’s  been over 100 years since Briton Riviere’s Circe and the Companions of Ulysses was last seen in public.

The work, which features in Toovey’s September Fine Art Auction, propelled Riviere to fame after it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1871.

Circe and the Companions of Ulysses is arguably Riviere’s most significant work to come to auction in recent years. It was first purchased by John Kynaston Cross, industrialist and Member of Parliament for Bolton, who served as Under Secretary of State for India during William Gladstone’s tenure as Prime Minister, until his death in 1887 when it was inherited by his wife. The first –  and we understand – only time it appeared at auction was in 1911, at Tooth & Tooth’s, where it sold to the enigmatic art dealer William Walker Sampson with the gavel falling at £385 (an enormous sum at that time). Since then its whereabouts was unknown until it was recently discovered by Toovey’s at a local deceased estate.

The oil on canvas painting depicts a scene from Homer’s Odyssey – Circe, a beautiful maiden who possesses magical powers, lures Ulysses’s men to a feast and slips a potion into their drinks that transforms the men into swine.

In an interview with Harry How published in The Strand Magazine, (1896), Riviere elaborated on the conception of the work:

 ‘I was living in Kent at the time I painted it, and I kept pigs there; as a matter of fact, three of them. I had styes made at the end of the garden. By-the-by, pigs are remarkably good sitters. I have had a pig in this very room. They are very easy to manage, and will do anything you require; they really become quite sociable in time. I painted the figure of Circe in London, having by that time moved to the Addison Road. I put in the figure two or three times from a model, but could never get it to my liking. At last I found a lady friend who suggested the long haired daughter of Helios admirably, and I got her to sit’.[1]

The picture was met with critical acclaim for the depiction of the swine after the picture’s first outing at the Royal Academy in 1871. Visitors to the exhibition also revelled in the enchanting scene; John Pye, the celebrated engraver and J.M.W. Turner’s great friend, wrote ‘a charming letter of thanks to the young painter for the pleasure his work had given.’[2] Frederick Stacpoole was engaged to engrave a reproduction of the painting in 1875 – the first of Riviere’s works to have had this honour – and both the painting and the engraving were sent to Philadelphia for the International Exhibition of 1876 where Riviere’s painting was singled out for a medal. Circe, by now world-famous, was exhibited for the final time in 1887 at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition in Manchester.

Circe and the Companions of Ulysses will be offered with an estimate of £30,000-50,000* in our Sale of Fine Art on September 5th at 10am.

[1] The Strand Magazine, vol 11, 1896, p.8

[2] Armstrong, Walter ‘Briton Riviere R.A.’ in the Art Annual, supplement to the Art Journal 1891, p.10

*excluding buyer’s premium see www.tooveys.com for details

The West Horsley Place Collection

West Horsley Place – Photo © Richard Lewisohn

Toovey’s are pleased to announce that our forthcoming specialist sale of books on 15th May includes a collection of volumes from the library of West Horsley Place, the medieval manor house in Surrey.Lots 3001-3179 in this auction have been consigned from the library of West Horsley Place, the medieval manor house in Surrey.

The estate was inherited in 2014 by Bamber Gascoigne from his great aunt, Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. In 2015 Bamber gave ownership of the house and estate to a newly created charitable trust: the Mary Roxburghe Trust. The Trust’s mission is to restore the Grade I listed manor house (currently on Historic England’s ‘Heritage At Risk Register’) and its estate, with the aim of creating a vibrant centre for the performing and visual arts as well as the teaching of crafts. An expert on prints and the writer of many books himself, Bamber is popularly known as the original host of University Challenge. While not living in the house itself, he has been overseeing its conservation and transformation, which has included the building within the grounds of the 700-seat Theatre in the Woods by Grange Place Opera, who hold a summer opera season at West Horsley Place. Funds raised from this sale of selected volumes from the library will be used towards the ongoing restoration work, all part of the Mary Roxburghe Trust’s long-term plan. For more information on the house and the work of the Mary Roxburghe Trust, visit www.westhorsleyplace.org.

The Library at West Horsley Place

The library was assembled by Robert Milnes-Crewe, 1st Marquess of Crewe (1858-1945) and his father Richard Monckton-Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton (1809-1885). Lord Houghton was a great man of letters, a poet, politician and patron of literature. He wrote the first biography of Keats in 1848, was a close friend of Alfred Lord Tennyson and helped to make Ralph Waldo Emerson become known in Britain. His particular interest was in French literature, especially of the revolutionary period.

Lord Houghton’s son, Lord Crewe, (bookplate above) was a Liberal statesman, who served as Secretary of State for India between 1910 and 1915. He was also Leader of the House of Lords, where he played a very significant and progressive role in removing their own veto, as well as various positions within the education sector. He was a contemporary of Winston Churchill, friend of H.H. Asquith and son-in-law to Prime Minister Lord Rosebery. The astonishing library of books, collected over generations, mainly reflects Lord Crewe’s wide interests, including his literary friendships with war-time poets, his travels to India and the East, his political career and his cultural connections. The books provide an intimate window onto the period and give the sense of a decent, moderate man who was administratively overseeing considerable change.

“Sorting through and cataloguing the books of both father and son has been an absolute pleasure. It’s been a chance to speculate on the changes England underwent from Victorian times, through the trauma of a World War and into a changed 20th century” says Toovey’s Book Specialist Charlie Howe.

The collection will be offered at Toovey’s Spring Gardens rooms on May 15th 2018. View the collection via the online catalogue here.

Nellie Lenson-Smith Collection offered at Toovey’s

Nellie Lenson-Smith sign at Toovey's
Nellie Lenson-Smith sign at Toovey’s (Part Lot 2519)

Many items in our forthcoming March auction were consigned from the estate of the late Nellie Lenson-Smith (1928-2017). Further items from her estate will be offered in future sales.

A late 19th century enamelled copper rectangular panel by John William Bailey titled 'Winslow's dog - Champion' from the Nellie Lenson-Smith collection.
A late 19th century enamelled copper rectangular panel by John William Bailey titled ‘Winslow’s dog – Champion’ from the Nellie Lenson-Smith collection. (Lot 2565)

Nellie Lenson-Smith was born in Aix-la-Chappelle. Her mother was a Russian aristocrat who had fled her homeland during the 1917 revolution. Nellie grew up in Germany and Austria and was educated in Switzerland during the war. The last years of conflict, however, saw her interred in concentration camps until liberated by the Americans in 1945. She subsequently went to university in Paris, married notable pilot Ben Lenson DFC and became a British national in 1952. Ben’s post-war position as a chief pilot for El Al Israel Airlines enabled them to travel widely and they enjoyed a glamorous lifestyle. Nellie went on to work as a continuity director in the film business for a number of years.

A late 19th century Black Forest carved softwood three bottle tantalus from the Lenson-Smith Collection
A late 19th century Black Forest carved softwood three bottle tantalus from the Nellie Lenson-Smith Collection (Lot 2501)

Nellie and Ben divorced in 1976 and Nellie pursued a career in antiques. She met and married her second husband, Roy, and they traded together as Lenson-Smith over the next four decades, specializing in decorative objects. They had several shops and were regular exhibitors at the major antiques fairs. Roy died in 2015 but Nellie was still active in the business up to her final year.

Nellie Lenson-Smith was, by all accounts, quite a character and she is remembered fondly by many in the antiques trade.

View the collection by clicking here.

Ref: Obituaries, Nellie Lenson-Smith, Antiques Trade Gazette 2283, 18/3/17

Horsham Museum & Art Gallery Toy Valuation Morning

Toovey’s toy specialist Chris Gale with a rare Star Wars Han Solo Action figure
Toovey’s toy specialist Chris Gale with a rare Star Wars Han Solo Action figure

Toovey’s toy valuation event in support of the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery has become an extremely popular annual fundraising event. Toovey’s specialist toys valuer, Christopher Gale, will be at the museum on Saturday, 17th February 2018, between 10am and 12noon providing free auction valuations and advice on your toy trains, cars, Star Wars action figures, models, teddy bears, dolls and collectors’ toys.

A number of valuable toys have been discovered at previous events. Chris Gale who is donating his time explains: “A third of the seller’s commission for items subsequently auctioned by Toovey’s will be donated by us to Horsham Museum to help with its important work.”

Chris is excited by a Star Wars Han Solo action figure by Kenner in its original box which has already been entered for his toy sale in March. He says “This particular action figure depicts Han Solo wearing his Rebel Alliance Medal of Honour which Princess Leia presents him with in the closing parade of a New Hope after the Death Star has been destroyed. This particular model was never sold but was given to the cast and crew on the film. This one was purportedly given to the vendor by Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca- it’s worth hundreds of pounds!”

For a morning of fun and free pre-sale valuations come to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, The Causeway, Horsham, RH12 1HE on Saturday 17th February, 10am to 12 noon. Toovey’s next specialist toy sale will be held on 20th March 2018.

Leo Genn Archive For Sale at Auction

Lot 3271 Leo Genn Archive
Lot 3271 Leo Genn Archive

A large archive of material collected by Leo Genn (1905-1978), all concerning the investigation and prosecution of war criminals at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-1946. The archive comprises Genn’s original copies of the signed witness and prisoner statements, photographic evidence and images of the defendants, case files and other evidence. The majority focuses on Belsen and Auschwitz concentration camps, including statements and photographs of the defendants Irma Grese, Hilde Lohbauer, Karl Schmitt, Walte Steuer, Franz Harich, Jonas Levi and Willy Jong and others. Also included are Leo Genn’s identity tags and an army-issue canvas bag, in which the archive was discovered.

Lot 3271 Courtroom Scene
Lot 3271 Photogrpah of a Courtroom Scene included in the Archive

Leo Genn studied law at Cambridge and was a qualified barrister, but he also enjoyed a successful career in film and theatre. He volunteered his legal knowledge to the British Army unit involved in the investigation and prosecution of Nazi war crimes perpetrated at the Belsen concentration camp, and subsequently became an assistant prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.

One of the many photographs included in the archive of Irma Grese and Hilde Lohbauer