Earl sold family art 'in revenge': Son attacks sale of 200 Althorp works

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THE EIGHTH Earl Spencer, father of the Princess of Wales, sold art treasures from the family home of Althorp in Northamptonshire as revenge for not feeling loved as a child, his son claims today.

In an interview in the Antique Collector, Charles, the ninth Earl, speaks out about the estimated 200 works of art sold by his father and his former stepmother, Raine.

'I believe that my grandfather's compulsive devotion to this house caused great resentment in my father,' he says. 'By selling off the art, my father derived great pleasure in the knowledge that the seventh Earl would be spinning in his grave.'

He also criticises his stepmother's taste, which he describes as 'more London high society than English country house . . . Some rooms were successful; others had the wedding- cake vulgarity of a five-star hotel in Monaco'.

Lord Spencer's outburst comes too late to restore a collection of art and furnishings to the height of its glory. Eleven Van Dycks (one of which went to the Getty Museum in California, and others to private collections world-wide), as well as paintings by Reynolds, Reni, Avercamp and Teniers were dispersed in the last decade. An important Guercino, St Luke Painting the Virgin, was exported to Kansas City. The sale of these works was said to have paid for Raine's interior decoration.

Lord Spencer is disparaging of the art trade, which benefited from his family's collection. 'I think the real tragedy was that in their futile attempt to avoid publicity, they were taken to the cleaners by dealers. They took advantage of my father's naivety in business matters and my stepmother's overeagerness to sell.'

Lord Spencer has brought in an interior designer to 'regain the gracious charm of Althorp from under the glitz' created by his stepmother. The library, for example, has been returned to its former white colour scheme, restoring the 'Grecian purity' of the room.

He also tells of the difficulty of keeping the house financially viable. 'Visitors pass through the place and 'ooh' and 'ah' over what it must be like to live in such magnificent surroundings. They fail to realise that it is a full-time job just to keep one's head above water.'