EDINBURGH, Scotland – On Tuesday, June 28, Lyon & Turnbull will conduct a sale titled Hints on Household Taste: Paul Reeves, a 314-lot auction drawn from the stock and private collection of Reeves, an acclaimed interior decorator and dealer in antiques. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
The auction takes its title in part from one of the most influential design books of the Victorian age and its content from one of the most influential design dealers of the new Elizabethan era. Charles Eastlake (1833-1906) wrote his polemical guide to home furnishing more than one and a half centuries ago. But many of his thoughts on the use of materials and craftsmanship appear remarkably prescient. In Hints on Household Taste, he asked the rhetorical question, “What use is it to decorate the interior of our country-houses if we are to permit ugliness within them?”
Reacting against decorative excess and the social and environmental ills of the industrial revolution, he advocated relatively simple furniture, made in solid wood by traditional methods of manufacture. He aimed “to encourage a discrimination between good and bad design“ and concluded: “Almost everything which is produced by the labour of his hand and head is sure to be good and beautiful.” The book was reprinted four times in Britain and ran to six editions in the United States, where it gave rise to the Eastlake Style.
Design has also dominated the life and career of Paul Reeves. An acclaimed clothing designer in the 1960s and early 1970s, he then turned to interior decorating and to antiques dealing. Today he enjoys an international reputation as a passionate purveyor of 19th- and 20th-century furniture, objects, lighting and textiles and has worked with many leading private collectors, museums and galleries.
The sale brings together 314 lots from Reeves’ stock and private collection of that kind that Eastlake would doubtless have admired. Some are designed by Eastlake himself (an oak sideboard similar to one pictured in Hints on Household Taste is estimated at £3,000-£5,000). Some, such as pieces by the metalworkers Benham and Froud and the pottery painter William S. Coleman are by the artists and manufacturers he promoted. Others are by his contemporaries and subsequent generations of craftsmen who championed his values of simplicity and quality in design. From Aestheticism to Secessionism, pieces from all of the influential avant-garde design movements of the period are represented in a catalog punctuated by anecdotes from Eastlake’s seminal book.
In 1868 he wrote that “A feeling is, I trust, being gradually awakened in favour of ‘art furniture’.” Alongside pieces by Christopher Dresser, EW Godwin and Charles Robert Ashbee are a walnut oval center table with fruitwood inlay by Morris & Co from a circa-1880 design by Philip Webb, estimated at £6,000-£8,000, and a pair of circa-1860 Gothic Revival chairs designed by William White for the Garrett family at Bishops Court in Sowton, Devon, estimated at £3,000-£5,000.
Carrying the sale guide is a piece by Ambrose Heal. His painted pine Cottager’s Chest dates to circa 1898, the very earliest days of Heal & Co. Reeves has always had the confidence to mix different periods and styles in his interiors and he urges others to do the same, saying: “Don’t rely on the professionals. Be brave enough to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to mix things you like from different periods and in different styles and it will be successful.”
As a former clothes designer, Reeves has a particular interest in textiles. Striking printed and woven fabric panels by designers such as Christopher Dresser, William Morris, Charles Voysey, Sir Robert Lorimer and the Silver Studio appear in the sale. They include a table cover worked by May Morris in colored silks on a wool felt ground, estimated at £1,200-£1,800, and a circa-1893 crewelwork embroidery panel designed by Sir Robert Lorimer for Earlshall Castle Fife, estimated to bring £600-£800.
An interesting subset in this category are 18 works by the Birmingham School artist Mary Ireland (1891-1980). Working in the 1930s-1950s, she was most noted for her fabric mosaics, which incorporated fragments of antique textiles into the composition of the picture. Borrowing from the Georgian technique of enhancing an embroidery with painted features, Ireland would hand-paint elements (such as the hands and faces of figures) onto plain silk, then create the rest of the image from scraps and cuttings of 18th- and 19th-century applique and brocade.
In an interview in 1933 she explained her inspiration: “It was my interest in old fabrics that was really the beginning,” she said. “I hated to think of lovely materials ever being destroyed or lost to future generations. The idea of framing them behind glass seemed a good way of preserving them, and from this the first fabric picture originated.”
The 18 pictures have been collected by Paul Reeves during the last 30 years and include the circa-1935 Old Lady in Traditional Costume, estimated at £300-£500, and a three-panel work of the same date with the inscription verso Fairytale, A Fabric Triptych by Mary Ireland, estimated at £700-£1,000.
To borrow the words of Charles Eastlake, “It is hoped that a few familiar hints on what may be called ‘household taste’ will not be unacceptable to the readers of this” sale preview.
The current rate of exchange is £1 = $1.23.
View top auction results on LiveAuctioneers here: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/pages/recent-auction-sales/