Victorian Never Looked So Good

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The New York Sun

If Sir David Scott was anything like his peers in the 1920s, then he would have spent his lunchtime dining at one of the Pall Mall clubs. But Scott preferred to bike around London’s West End and visit art galleries, a habit that helped him amass one of the greatest collections of Victorian art in the 20th century.

Sotheby’s American preview of the Scott Collection is on view until tomorrow evening at the York Avenue showroom. It is a chance to see works by artists that have only recently met with the acclaim they deserve.

Among the 240 oil paintings and watercolors are 150 Victorian works that hung for decades in Scott’s home, Dower House at Boughton House, Northamptonshire. “Sir David began collecting Victorian paintings in 1910. The last year he made a purchase was 1986. I don’t know of another collection in England that’s so fresh to the market,” the senior director for post-1850s British & Irish Art at Sotheby’s, Grant Ford, said.

One of Mr. Ford’s earliest assignments with Sotheby’s, in the late 1980s, was to appraise certain paintings in the Scott Collection in the year after Scott had died. He walked around the rambling country house with Scott’s widow, Lady Montagu Douglas Scott, who told him to scribble down his comments about each painting on the wall nearby. “Next to each work, you’d see the pencil marks by all sorts of specialists over the years. When there was no wallpaper to write on, we’d write our notes directly on the plaster,” Mr. Ford said.

It was in and around Dower House that Sir David Scott lived the life of an eccentric British aristocrat. He and Lady Scott spent most of their time in their gardens. Proceeds from the auction, which Sotheby’s will hold in London on November 19, go toward the Scott family’s foundation supporting gardening and the arts.

Throughout his 75 years of collecting, Scott rarely spent more than $55 on a painting, according to Mr. Ford. “In the early- to mid-20th century, Victorian paintings were quietly forgotten,” he said.

But the field came back to the forefront when the art dealer Graham Reynolds wrote a book about the 19th-century works, “Victorian Painting,” and used one of the paintings in Scott’s collection — “No Walk Today” by Sophie Anderson — on the cover. “Sophie Anderson never painted anything as beautiful as this. It’s got that Pre-Raphaelite quality about it,” Mr. Ford said of the painting, which has an estimated worth of between $1.11 million and $1.48 million.

Three years ago, Christie’s auctioned the vast collection of Victorian paintings belonging to Christopher “Kip” Forbes, who in the late 1960s reportedly told his father, Malcolm Forbes, that for the price of a minor Monet hanging on the wall of his office, he could assemble one of the world’s great collections of Victorian art (which he did).

Mr. Forbes’s collection brought attention to the Victorian field over recent decades, according to Mr. Ford. The difference with the Scott Collection is that Scott amassed his paintings for more than twice as long and in relative obscurity. “The Scott paintings were tucked away in a private collection that nobody knew about, and hadn’t come up for auction in at least a century,” he said.

One of Scott’s paintings, Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s “La Siesta,” belonged to Queen Victoria. The painting is popularly known today as “Winterhalter,” and is expected to fetch between $111,000 and $148,000.

Two significant paintings in the collection are expected to sell for between $742,000 and $1.11 million: Sir John Everett Millais’s and Rebecca Solomon’s “Christ in the House of His Parents” and John Anster Fitzgerald’s “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.”

Richard Dadd’s “Puck” is a painting of a fairy, a common theme in Victorian art. It’s expected to sell for between $556,000 and $928,000; its companion piece hangs in the Louvre.

jakasie@nysun.com


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