Monday 19 February 2018

Sale of ceramics secures future of Russborough

The future of Russborough House has been safeguarded thanks to the sale of a rarely seen collection of Chinese ceramics.

The 20 oriental treasures from the Sir Alfred Beit collection raised almost €1.3 million at auction last week which was more than twice the estimates. Auctioneers at Sotheby's London which handled the auction said the interest had greatly exceeded expectations.

'We are thrilled with the result achieved,' said Robert Bradlow, the auction house's expert on Chinese fine arts.

'It was a privilege for Sotheby's to offer these exquisite pieces which came to auction with exceptional provenance. Sir Alfred made considered choices when selecting objects for his collection, with the emphasis on quality and design, and these criteria are valued highly by today's collectors, as witnessed in our London saleroom.'

The rarely seen or displayed collection had been bought by Sir Alfred Beit in the 1950s, mostly from the dealer John Sparks but spent most of the time in storage.

The auction house said 14 lots sold for a total of €1.28m, well above the pre-sale estimates of up to €535,000 euro.

The top two lots in the auction were a rare black-ground famille-rose bowl, which dates from between 1723-1735 and sold for €517,099 and a pair of famille-rose balsam pear bowls sold for €131,506.

Speaking after the auction, the foundation's chief executive Eric Blatchford said he was 'absolutely thrilled' and that the money 'would go a long way in conserving and preserving Russborough for future generations'. The immediate priorities, he said, included repairs to the roof and dealing with damp.

The Russborough palladian mansion, near Blessington, was left to the state. Sir Alfred, who died in 1994, was a wealthy English aristocrat and former Conservative MP and one of Ireland's most generous philanthropists. He bought Russborough in 1952 and became renowned for throwing lavish parties there with his wife Clementine.

The foundation set up in the wake of his death has sold other items to pay for upkeep at Russborough, including a collection of 16th-century Italian bronze sculptures that made €3.8m at auction in 2006. The Beits' legacy also includes paintings donated in 1987 to the National Gallery including Vermeer's Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid. In 1993, the government honoured Sir Alfred and Lady Beit for their generosity to the State by making them citizens - the first time Irish citizenship had been awarded to British subjects.

Sir Alfred Beit died in 1994 aged 91; Lady Beit died in 2005 aged 89. They were buried at St Mary's church in Blessington.

* One of the Chinese ceramics which were sold at the auction.

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