Formidable dealer Eila Grahame’s personal collection is the subject of a triumphant sale, with the proceeds of many items far exceeding their estimates
ONLY once did I make the gauche mistake of immediately asking the price of something in the window on entering Eila Grahame’s Kensington Church Street shop, earning her trademark riposte: ‘You couldn’t afford it.’ Luckily, I was able to stammer out something that showed I actually knew a little about whatever it was I had been looking at. Thereafter, I was acknowledged as an acquaintance and occasionally allowed to buy things.
Even Lucian Freud found her intimidating. He would call in after buying his bread at Clark’s across the road and said that she looked like an Inuit soapstone carving, but those who knew her better put her formidable manner down to shyness.
No matter, she had a wonderful eye and great knowledge, some of it acquired from her friend John Hewett, the leading midcentury antiquities and primalarts dealer. Her specialities were early British ceramics and glass, but she also dealt widely in furniture and works of art.
She died in 2010 and hoped that her personal collection might find a permanent home in her ancestral Scotland—she was a kinswoman of Bonnie Dundee, the 17th-century Jacobite leader —but I am not sure whether this happened. In any event, on November 30, Cheffins held a successful sale from the contents of her London and Suffolk homes together with items of stock that had remained in storage. The proceeds are to be divided between the Art Fund and the Church of St Mary of the Assumption, Ufford, Suffolk, where she is buried.
They may have been pleasantly surprised by the amounts that they will have received, as a number of the most soughtafter lots turned out to have been estimated far below their value. Most notable was a set of three Neapolitan Doccia dishes painted with Ottoman figures and dating from 1740–5. The catalogue noted that only three others are known, all in museums, which might have prompted a higher estimate than £6,000. The price was £88,900.
Another of the most expensive lots, sold for £72,390 paid by a German dealer whose representative had travelled specifically to secure it, had been estimated to £5,000. This was a cork model of the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli (Fig 5), which was signed by Antonio Chichi (1743–1816). On February 10 last year, I noted that such things were first made for Grand Tourists by the architect Augusto Rosa (1738–84), followed by Domenico Padiglione, who
Figs 2–4: Austrian naturalist Franz Anton von Schiedel’s watercolour studies of an octopus, turtle and turtle shell. £13,970 the set Fig 5: Cork model of the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli. £72,390
Fig 1: Two-handled 1670s tyg or posset pot. £4,064