NEWBURY, Berkshire, U.K. – 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, pioneers and creatives through the centuries. The sale, titled Weston Hall and the Sitwells: A Family Legacy, offers a once in a lifetime chance to capture a piece of literary history the likes of which has not been seen on the market for some time. The auction will take place at Dreweatts on Tuesday, November 16 and Wednesday, November 17. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
The maze of rooms and the nine attics at Weston Hall yielded untold stories and exciting finds ranging 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 behavior and fashion sense.
The first folio atlas ever printed in the Islamic world was found in one of Weston Hall’s nine attics. The Ottoman atlas is by Mahmoud Raif Efendi and is titled Cedid Atlas Tercumesi (A translation of a New Atlas). It is one of only 50 ever produced.
The maps are based on William Faden’s General Atlas and are accompanied by Raif’s geographical treatise. When it was produced, several copies were reserved for high-ranking officials and important institutions and this copy is thought, therefore, to have been brought back to Britain by a Sitwell family member (perhaps General Lord Hely-Hutchinson, who might have obtained it during his military campaigns in the Middle East). The remaining copies were partially destroyed in a warehouse fire during the Janissary revolt of 1807-1808, during which Raif himself was killed. It is thought that a maximum of only 20 complete copies survive, which are held in institutional or private libraries.
This complete copy is a single volume and features a hand-colored, engraved pictorial title with the tughra (monogram) of Sultan Selim III. The text is in Ottoman Turkish with 24 hand-colored terrestrial maps, including two twin-hemispheres and one world, all double-page, with a plain celestial chart. It is stamped and dated 1804 and estimated at £20,000-£30,000.
While stories about Weston Hall and its occupants abound, a particular jaw-dropper involves a burr walnut William and Mary style cabinet-on-chest with fitted interiors. Susanna Jennens, who was the first of the Sitwell ancestors to occupy the house in the 1740s, apparently 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 jewelry hidden in it. Susanna popped the note into a bedside drawer, recounting the strange dream to a friend a few days later, then forgot 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 ebonized oak four-poster bed incorporating decorative George III needlework hangings. The stunning crewel needlework, carried out by Susanna Jennens, was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and is a technique that is more than 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. The impressive bed was housed in a bedroom particularly favored by Dame Edith Sitwell on her visits. It now carries an estimate of £8,000-£12,000.
As well as being quite a character, Dame Edith 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. One of her favorite hats is being offered in the sale – the famous one she wore during a sitting with high society photographer Cecil Beaton. A statement feather-trimmed hat in Christian Dior style, it dates to the 1960s and is estimated at £30-£50.
There are several pieces of Dame Edith’s clothing 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 he recounted that her outfit and demeanor 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 an estimate of £80-£100.
Among the important art works in the sale is an Old Master drawing by the Italian artist Giovanni Batista Tiepolo (1696-1770). The work features a group of 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 that 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 as gluttons preparing food, overeating, drinking, passing out from inebriation and suffering the digestive consequences of excessive consumption.
The drawing was purchased by the Sitwells at the Henry Oppenheimer sale of Old Master Drawings at Christie’s in 1936. It was recently rediscovered in one of the attics at Weston Hall, and carries an estimate of £150,000-£250,000.
FAMILY PERSONALITIES CAPTURED IN PORTRAITS
The sale will also feature an array of portraits of the Sitwell family’s ancestors, led by a work by Thomas Lawrence. He depicts Harriet Wrightson’s father-in-law, the Rt. Hon. Sylvester Douglas, later Baron Glenbervie of Kincardine (1743-1823), who 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. The portrait is estimated at £60,000-£100,000.
One of the most unusual items in the auction is a Victorian Brougham carriage, painted in blue and black with cream-colored trimming to its interior. Built in 1857 and carefully restored by the family, it is estimated at £10,000-£15,000.
The current generation of Sitwells tried hard to keep Weston Hall going. After attempting many initiatives, such as supper clubs, AirBnB hosting and guided tours, it was finally sold last year after having been a family seat for more than 300 years.
The current rate of exchange is £1 = $1.37.
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