Works of Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolist art collected over 40 years by Isabel Goldsmith are expected to make over £1 million at auction.
The 68-year-old daughter of Sir James Goldsmith and Bolivian heiress Maria Isabel Patiño, bought prints of Pre-Raphaelite paintings at Bermondsey Market as a teenager before moving on to the real thing.
She is now selling 87 works including a The Return of Orpheus, by Sidney Harold Meteyard, a follower of Edward Burne-Jones, estimated at £200,000-£300,000, after relocating. “This is a fraction of her collection, hence our use of the word ‘selected’, said Peter Brown, senior director and specialist at Christie’s. “These were hung in a magnificent house off The Boltons in London and she’s subsequently living in an apartment and as with any collection it evolves — so that’s the reason for the sale.”
The Meteyard painting (pictured top) depicts the return of Orpheus from the underworld in Greek mythology, when a careless glance cost the hero his chance to bring his dead wife Eurydice back to the land of the living. Brown said: “Meteyard was a polymath, he was very interested in all the decorative arts. He worked in leather as well, hence his interest in the sandals, but you get a very strong sense of the plasticity of all the forms in that picture, which could equally work as a piece of stained glass — it’s a very, very striking design, which Isabel was drawn to, it was the first picture she bought.”
The collection of 19th-century works explores themes of sleep, dreams, the soul and the afterlife, spiritualism, beauty, literary and classical subjects.
Brown said: “It was formed through her early influences. Her mother died in childbirth. Her father was Jimmy Goldsmith and her grandfather was the Bolivian tin magnate Antenor Patiño — and from him Isabel inherited her fortune. She had a very Pan-European upbringing. So she’s talked about the The Mirror of Venus in the [Museu Calouste] Gulbenkian [in Lisbon] by Burne-Jones being an early formative influence. And obviously, she spent a lot of time in Paris with her mother’s family. She remembers going to exhibition on Symbolism in Paris in 1973 which made a huge impact on her, hence the works by Levy-Dhurmer and Khnopff in the sale.
“She has said that she doesn’t take an academic approach, so she’s got a very intuitive sense which is why I think this group coalesces as well as it does. She, of all the collectors that I know, has got a very, very coherent eye. And it has been interesting to find links between the artists . The linchpin is obviously Burne-Jones who is admired Europe-wide and and who was her great hero from school.
“She has reminisced about going to Bermondsey market and buying prints of his pictures in her teenage years and then, when she could, buying the real thing. So it has been a lifelong pursuit. I think because the Pre-Raphaelites offer an alternative world.
“A lot of these works are mysterious and there are very mystical and spiritual dimensions to them. I think, given her life journey, it’s understandable that she’s drawn to them.”
Other highlights of the Christie’s sale, which will be held online online from June 30 to July 14, include a drawing of Luna in chalk by the Pre-Raphaelite Burne-Jones, estimated at £70,000-£100,000 and a painting of The Search-Light by Evelyn De Morgan, the English Symbolist, at £70,000-£100,000. De Morgan’s piece depicts a confrontation of the forces of good and evil.
Brown said: “As a department we all love the [Lucien] Levy Dhurmer, La bourrasque [“The gust of wind”]. It’s such an incredibly vividly coloured and strongly imagined piece of symbolism.”
Estimates start at £600 and Brown said there was plenty at the more affordable end.