Take a detour to Durrow for dazzling mid-century finds and Georgian gems

Sheppards’ autumn auction offers a walk through the history of decorative design


The Legacy of the Big House is the title of the two-day sale at Sheppard’s Auction House in Durrow this week.  It’s the perfect title, too, because this is an auction on the grand scale – the printed catalogue has even been divided into two volumes of 200 pages apiece, in order to display the 1054 lots contained within. 

  What, then, is the “legacy of the big house”?  It’s historical, obviously; there’s a side table which was made at about the same time as King Billy was crossing the Boyne, and a painting which records Queen Victoria’s first-ever trip on a train. 

But it’s also wide-ranging – and surprising. Alongside the kind of elegant furniture and paintings you’d expect to find in the best-dressed Georgian and Regency houses, it features quirky mid-century pieces and decorative objects which would be at home in the funkiest of contemporary man-caves.  

 Viewing begins today at Sheppard’s premises on the main street of the pretty Co Laois village.  A series of rooms unfold like a narrative as the visitor passes through – beginning with a touch of high drama in the pair of enormous, imposing terracotta jardinieres which have somehow been manoevured into the front windows (Lot 389, €3,000-€5,000).   

  The story of that historic train ride, the first ever taken by a reigning British monarch, is told in James Pollard’s painting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert arriving at Slough Station (Lot 16, €8,000-€12,000).  A large, detailed and vivid canvas – a piece of visual arts reportage from 1842, really – it depicts the royal pair, the bustle which surrounded them, and a plethora of dignitaries as well as the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  

Graceful settees

The best libraries also require a comfortable chair such as the mahogany and hide-upholstered armchair (Lot 470, €1,500-42,500) – and if you’re going to put your feet on a stool, you might as well put them on a really top-notch Irish stool dating from 1760 (Lot 466, €3,000-€5,000). 

 Among the more unusual pieces of furniture at Sheppard’s are a set of Regency library steps which convert into a chair (Lot 444, €2,500-€3,500),  an 18th-century cabinet with satinwood inlay and an arched, glazed sliding door (Lot 841, €2,500-€3,500), and a Sheraton cylinder writing desk with a folding tambour top (Lot 847, €1,500-€2,500).  

There are some spectacular mirrors: an Irish giltwood mirror from 1740 (Lot 490, €1,500-€2,500), a pair of exceptional 18th-century carved mirrors in the shape of a double-headed eagle surmounted by a coronet (Lot 496, €1,400-€1,800) and a 19th-century painted and parcel-gilt pier mirror (Lot 510, €2,500-€3,500).

On-trend look

  At the moment, the most on-trend look is unquestionably a mid-century one, and the sale has a selection of these pieces, including a table and chairs in polished steel and wood by the American industrial designer David Rowland (Lots 408 and 409, €600-€900 and €800-€1,200),  an aviation-themed aluminium writing desk (Lot 476, €1,500-€2,500) and a two-tier Danish hardwood drinks trolley (Lot 410, €800-€1,200).   

   For those in search of exotic decorative objects, the auction offers everything from an early carved African polychrome mask (Lot 599, €300-€500) to a silver and copper-inlaid Cairo ware mosque lamp (Lot 676, €800-€1,000) via a miniature chrome Michelin man (Lot 575, €400-€600). 

A selection of bronze sculptures includes an art deco “butterfly” dancing girl by Otto Poertzel (Lot 612, €8,000-€12,000) and the head of an oriental scholar who floats above his marble plinth, attached only by his elegant beard (Lot 623, €800-€1,200).  There’s a large selection of rugs and runners, including  a 1940 Donegal rug by Charles Francis Annesley (Lot 277, €6,000-€9,000). There are clocks, taxidermy, antique Irish glass, continental and oriental porcelain. 

 On the other hand, what would you not find in this sale?  A vintage Farfisa piano organ?  Check.  (Lot 897, €300-€500).  A pigeon racing timer in its original box?  Check.  (Lot 573, €80-€120). A horse-drawn carriage?  Check.  (Lot 380, €5,000-€6,000).  Check it out for yourselves, folks: rarely will you find so many beautiful and intriguing things in one place at one time.

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