Aristocrats sell off their heirlooms to keep the wolves from the door

The aristocratic owners of some of Britain's most famous country estates have sold off art treasures worth £100m since the start of the recession. Many are heirlooms and are being sold at auction – often to foreign bidders – to pay for the renovation and upkeep of country homes. Cuts in government spending have raised concerns that treasure with heritage value will increasing be sold abroad as museums and galleries are unable to afford them. All these artworks come from stately homes, most of which are open to the public. Around £80m worth of major works have been sold in this way, while additional, smaller works are being marketed discreetly, an investigation by
The Art Newspaper claims.

Artworks, furniture and porcelain from Earl Spencer's mansion at Althorp were sold at Christie's last week for £21.1m. The Trustees of Althorp Estate said they had chosen to sell the selection of works "while maintaining the breadth and integrity of the core Spencer collections".

Andrew Waters of Christie's noted that this was part of a collection amassed over hundreds of years by the Spencer family, making it one of the finest in Britain.

The sale caught the interest of collectors and institutions from around the world, clearly visible from the heavy volume of people that visited the London salerooms to view the pre-sale exhibitions.

Meanwhile, a descendant of the fifth Earl of Rosebery made headlines last week by selling a Turner painting at Sotheby's for £29.7m – a new auction record for the painter. It was originally bought by the aristocratic family in 1878. Many experts regard Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino as the most important Turner oil painting in private hands. Alexander Bell, co-chair of old master paintings at Sotheby's, said participation in last week's old master sales from private collectors – from all over Europe, Russia and North America – was "notably higher than usual and buyers came from some 25 different countries".

A £10m bronze relief by Pierino da Vinci, which is part of the collection on public view at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, was recently bought by the Prince of Lichtenstein, most probably for his museum in Vienna. The sculpture, 'Ungolino Imprisoned with his Sons and Grandsons', entered the Duke of Devonshire's collection in 1794 and had been on public display since 1833. The Chatsworth House Trust said the sale, while unfortunate, would "allow for responsible, long term estate planning".

A smaller heirloom, a silver wine cistern made for Thomas Wentworth and passed down to the present day Marquis of Lothian in Southern Scotland, was also sold last week.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the charity The Art Fund, believed the slew of sales from country homes was caused by a "combination of a different economic climate for owners plus a buoyant art market at the top end, an unusual combination."

However there was one encouraging sign in May when the National Gallery was able to find a purchaser for Domenichino's St John the Evangelist which Sir George Christie of Glyndebourne had previously been sold to a foreign buyer at auction for £9.2m. When an export license was deferred a UK buyer stepped in.

Going, going, gone: national treasures worth £100m

*Earl of Rosebery

JMW Turner's masterpiece Modern Rome: Campo Vaccino was sold at Sotheby's last week for £29.7m, an auction record for the artist. The painting was sold by a descendent of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, who acquired it in 1878, to the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. For the past 22 years, Modern Rome has been on long-term loan to the National Galleries of Scotland

*Marquis of Lothian

The Marquis of Lothian sold a giant silver wine cooler once belonging to Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby, at auction last week for £2.5m. The Great Silver Wine Cistern, which weighs around 75kg and measures 1.3m across, has been described as being as "large as a small bathing tub". The piece sold at Sotheby's to a private Asian buyer, supposedly setting a new record price for English Silver.

*Earl Spencer

Christie's auctioned a number of items from the Spencer estate last week, with a painting by Sir Peter Paul Rubens achieving over £9m. A Commander Being Armed for Battle went to an anonymous bidder at Sotheby's, the second-highest price a Rubens painting has achieved at auction. Other lots included Il Guercino's painting King David, pictured left, which achieved almost £5.2m, and a selection of George II furniture.

*Earl of Jersey

The Earl of Jersey sold Sir Anthony van Dyck's Self Portrait in December for a record £8.3m, smashing pre-auction estimates of £2-3m. The winning bidder at the Sotheby's action was TV's Antiques Roadshow fine art expert Philip Mould, in partnership with US-based art dealer Alfred Bader. Before the sale, the Self Portait had been in the Earl's family for almost 300 years.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy