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Contents of Cairness House to go under the hammer

Cairness House in Buchan, Aberdeenshire


Contents of Cairness House to go under the hammer

Dreweatts will sell the contents of Cairness House in Buchan, Aberdeenshire in an auction next month.

One of the most historically important houses in the region and more specifically, the history of Neoclassicism in Scotland. The house was designed and constructed between 1791 and 1797, by esteemed Scottish architect James Playfair (1755-1794), who was championed for his innovative designs in the Neoclassical tradition. Sir John Soane (1753-1837), who was also famed for his Neoclassical designs, assisted in the final phase of the build following Playfair’s death in 1794.

Having been a spectacular home for residents such as Charles Gordon of Buthlaw and Cairness (1749-1796), who commissioned it to be built, Major Thomas Gordon (1788-1841), a friend of Lord Byron, to the Gordon family who sold the estate to the Countess of Southesk (1893-1945), in 1937 (granddaughter of Edward VII), the house fell into disrepair until 2001. The new owners who were both knowledgeable, as well as passionate about collecting, embarked on the enormous task of restoring the house and grounds. They carefully curated each interior with important art works, furniture, decoration, lighting and textiles, that would bring the house back to its former glory.

This included the library, designed as an Etruscan room, with its colours derived from ancient painted terracotta vases, to the Egyptian Room featuring hieroglyphic symbols, which was believed to be one of the earliest surviving rooms of its kind in the world. The success of this exceptional restoration was marked by the winning of the Georgian Group Architectural Awards prize for the best Georgian country house in Britain in 2009.

Among a range of important paintings in the sale is a portrait of H.R.H. Prince Frederick Augustus, Duke of York (1763-182), who commissioned the work himself directly from the celebrated English portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A. (1769-1830). Another important portrait in the sale is by Royal Academician Francis Cotes (1726-70), one of the most fashionable portrait painters in London during the third-quarter of the 18th century.

An equally significant painting in the sale is a portrait of Charles Hamilton, 5th Earl of Haddington (1650-85), known as Lord Binning until he inherited his father’s titles in 1669. The painting is the work of Jacob Huysmans (1630-1696), a Flemish painter born in Antwerp around 1633, who was renowned for his portraiture in England during the late seventeenth century. An oil portrait by the British artist William Etty (1787-1849), the only important British painter before the 20th century to have dedicated his career to painting the nude and semi-nude, is another exciting addition to the sale. The painting in the sale portrays the highly successful actor and theatre manager William Charles Macready (1793-1873), famous for his Shakespearian roles.

Elsewhere in the sale is a historical Flemish tapestry depicting the Coronation of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), who single-handedly changed the nature of the ancient world in little more than a decade. The tapestry derives in part from designs by Peter Paul Rubens of 1616.

Among a selection of sculpture is a carved marble bust of the Anglo-Irish statesman, diplomat and politician Robert Stewart, 2nd Marquess of Londonderry (1769-1822), who commissioned Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841), one of England’s foremost sculptors to make his bust for the price of 150 guineas.

Joe Robinson, Head of House Sales and Private Collections at Dreweatts:

“It is an honour to present such a special collection from one of the most important houses in the history of Neoclassicism in Scotland. It is rare for a collection to come to market that has been so thoughtfully curated, with such impressive academic vision and decorative flare. The sale offers a fascinating insight into the art of collecting and demonstrates the dedication to quality and provenance that the owners put into obtaining the works.”

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