An auction of highly prized and valuable artworks many of which come from Brentford’s historic Syon House has raised a staggering £100 million*.
The series of sales at Sotheby’s in London, yesterday (Wednesday) and Tuesday (8) saw His Grace Ralph Percy the 12th Duke of Northumberland put dozens of artefacts and treasures from his vast collection under the hammer.
The duke’s estate, which includes the main seat at Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland, needed to generate capital to cover recent heavy costs caused by the heavy rains of 2013.
A culvert in Newcastle which the estate was responsible for burst and caused massive flooding with the damage and compensation claims running to many millions of pounds.
Among the most interesting items sold from the treasures collection, in which 57 lots generated £23,593,850 alone, was a Roman marble statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, from all the way back in the first century AD and modelled on a Greek original from 430BC.
It was a familiar site to Syon visitors as it had stood for years on a plinth in the Great Hall which is the first room you experience on entering the house.
According to the listing the piece was owned by the famous Robert Adam who was responsible for the design of Syon House and also Osterley House which is nearby.
It was acquired by Sir Hugh Percy, the 1st Duke (1714-1786) and brought to Syon where it then passed down through the family until reaching the present incumbent.
It had been valued at between £4-6 million but ended up selling for a whopping £9,378,500.
Among the many paintings to pass through the auction, was a particularly striking portrait by Gilbert Stuart of Mohawk chieftain Thayendanegea who was also known as Captain Joseph Brant.
He had served with the 2nd duke, who commissioned the painting and was also called Hugh Percy, in America in 1776.
The painting, which hung in the Print Room at Syon, has passed from father to son, son to brother, over the years and also had been exhibited at the British Institution in London in 1857 and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2004/05.
It was modestly valued at £1-1.5 million but actually went for £4,114,500.
According to a blog posting on the auction house’s website there are just over 30 dukes in Britain, with the title coming from the word dux - meaning leader.
It says: “Think of Britain and you think of country houses: They are a national glory. Foreign visitors can be astounded to discover how many are still occupied by their traditional families, surrounded by contents that have been acquired over generations.
“While elsewhere in Europe, historic artefacts have been dispersed by war or revolution, the last successful invasion of England by a foreign army took place in 1066.
“One of the families who came over at that time took their name from Perci in France. The Percys rose to become Dukes of Northumberland.
“Relied upon to fight the Scots, they also contended against other powerful magnates in the high stakes game of court politics, sometimes with dire results.
“Their dazzling country houses, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland and Syon House, which has survived, by a miracle, on the edge of London at Twickenham, could stand as symbols of Britain.”
It may have the location of the house wrong, but as any visitor to it or the park in which it stands would agree it is a certainly a grand sight to behold.
There are four more auctions planned before the end of the year, with the next one taking place this Tuesday (15) when many great works of literature and manuscripts will go under the hammer.
Amongst these will be a letter from Queen Elizabeth to Lord Hertford ordering him to move her imprisoned cousin Mary Queen of Scots.
There is also a letter from King Charles II to Tom Eliott in which he blames his delay in writing on money troubles but explains he is sending him 50 pistoles ‘which is all I can do till my bills come from Madrid. In the meane time I must charge you that you keepe this secret.’
* This was the total raised from all the lots at the auction, which included those being sold by the duke.