Chinese porcelain to provide windfall for Russborough House
Items from Sir Alfred Beit’s collection to be auctioned at Sotheby’s
A rare coral-ground famille-verte bowl from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735), one of the pieces from Russborough House due to go under the hammer at Sotheby’s on November 6th.
Interior at Russborough in the 1950s
Hidden treasures from Russborough House in Co Wicklow – one of Ireland’s grandest “stately homes” and a popular visitor attraction – are to be sold at auction in London next month.
The house, and its world-class collection of art and antiques, was left to the people of Ireland by the late Sir Alfred Beit.
A collection of Chinese porcelain – valued at €350,000 – has been deemed “surplus” to requirements by the charitable foundation which runs the house and will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s on November 6th.
In a statement, the Alfred Beit Foundation said the money raised would be used to “help secure the long-term future of Russborough, its demesne and its diverse collections so that the visiting public from both Ireland and abroad may appreciate and enjoy it for many decades to come.”
The foundation said the Chinese items to be sold, consisting of 20 pieces – including antique porcelain bowls and dishes – were “surplus to the main collection” and had been “held in storage for many years”.
Robert Bradlow, a Sotheby’s expert on Chinese fine arts, said Sir Alfred had “a marvellous eye for exquisite pieces of Chinese porcelain”.
Among the highlights are two hand-painted and enamelled bowls – made during the reign of the 18th-century Emperor Yongzheng – each expected to sell for around €100,000.
Imperial Chinese porcelain is greatly sought-after by newly rich collectors in Asia and desirable pieces regularly sell at auction for significantly more than the estimated price.
Sir Alfred, who died in 1994, was a wealthy English aristocrat and former Conservative MP who became one of Ireland’s most generous philanthropists. He had inherited a South African diamond mining fortune and a collection of art masterpieces. In 1952, he bought Russborough House, an 18th-century Palladian mansion near Blessington.
He and his wife Clementine moved to Ireland with their art collection, entertained at Russborough on a lavish scale and also added to their collection of antiques.
The couple had no children and eventually transferred ownership of the house to the specially created foundation and opened it to the public. An estimated one million people have visited the house since 1978.
The foundation has previously sold items to pay for the house’s upkeep, notably in 2006, when a collection of 16th-century Italian bronze sculptures made €3.8 million at a Christie’s auction in London.
In addition to Russborough House, the Beits’ legacy to the State includes a collection of paintings – worth at least an estimated €100 million but regarded as priceless – donated by the couple, in 1987, to the National Gallery of Ireland. Among them is Vermeer’s Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid.
Some of the paintings had previously been stolen from Russborough House (but were later recovered) during heists by the IRA’s Rose Dugdale in 1974, and by Dublin criminal Martin “The General” Cahill in 1986.