Lives less or­di­nary

Per­haps we should all aspire to his­to­ries as re­mark­able as these men who made an im­pact on the sale­rooms

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

IF ever a man de­serves a bi­og­ra­phy, it must be Peter Perez Bur­dett. Other than the Ox­ford Dic­tio­nary of Na­tional Bi­og­ra­phy en­try by Paul Lax­ton (who might, of course, be pro­duc­ing one), there is lit­tle in print about a man who seems to have been a tal­ented and en­gag­ing bounder.

He was born in 1734/5 and in­her­ited a small prop­erty from his grand­fa­ther, the Es­sex rec­tor after whom he was named. One won­ders whether he had some train­ing from Paul or Thomas Sandby at the Ord­nance Of­fice at the Tower of Lon­don, as not only was he a wa­ter­colour painter, but also an ac­com­plished pro­fes­sional car­tog­ra­pher.

In 1762, he was in Derby work­ing on an en­graved 16-sheet 1in-to-the-mile map of the county, which took five years to com­plete and pub­lish, win­ning him a £100 prize from the So­ci­ety of Arts.

He mar­ried a widow who was older, but also bet­ter pro­vided with money, than he was, and he made friends with the painter Joseph Wright of Derby, who in­cluded him in a num­ber of his best known works such as The Or­rery.

Wright also painted a su­perb dou­ble por­trait, now in the Národní Gallery, Prague, of the Bur­detts in full fig, he ex­ud­ing charm and hold­ing a te­le­scope, she with a flower bas­ket and look­ing dis­tinctly irked. From time to time, he bor­rowed money from Wright, which was not al­ways re­paid, but he also bro­kered com­mis­sions and sold paint­ings for him.

In 1768, he moved to Liver­pool with Wright and com­bined car­to­graphic projects with other artis­tic ven­tures, among them the found­ing of the Liver­pool So­ci­ety of Arts, of which he was first pres­i­dent. It is likely that he in­vented the aquatint process at this time—cer­tainly, he pro­duced the first English ex­am­ple in 1771—and he sold the process to Paul Sandby for £40.

Other schemes in­volved him with Josiah Wedg­wood, who even­tu­ally gave up on the idea to ap­ply aquatint to ce­ram­ics, Fred­er­ick the Great and Ge­orge Perry of the Coal­brook­dale iron works as well as Ben­jamin Franklin, who re­marked that the Colonies were not yet ready for Bur­dett.

In 1775, he left wife, debts and coun­try to take ser­vice with the Mar­grave of Baden. There, he sur­veyed the mar­gra­vate, founded a school of sur­vey­ors, was made a ma­jor, and de­signed a yacht for his em­ployer. His wa­ter­colours of it un­der con­struc­tion are ad­mirable. He also ac­quired a sec­ond wife and their daugh­ter mar­ried a lo­cal count. He died in 1793, thus avoid­ing the Revo­lu­tion­ary Wars.

A book sale held by Ten­nants of Ley­burn at the end of April in­cluded a copy of his Sur­vey of Der­byshire (Fig 1), which, as well as the map, has a Ro­coco car­touche, in­set plan of Derby, trigonom­e­try di­a­gram and vi­gnette of rocks and the out­lines are partly hand-coloured.

The auc­tion­eer noted it as a scarce ex­am­ple of the first edi­tion, which rarely ap­pears on the mar­ket, and it reached £1,344.

Some­one, a mem­ber of Glouces­ter­shire CCC, we learn, ev­i­dently put a great deal of work into as­sem­bling one of the more ex­pen­sive lots here, which sold for £14,664. Should one sus­pect a pun in the cat­a­logu­ing of ‘Wis­den (John). Wis­den Crick­eter’s

Al­manack An Un­bro­ken Run from 1864 (First Year) to 2000’?

It was a mixed set of orig­i­nal hard­backs (Fig 3) with re­binds in var­i­ous styles and con­di­tion was as­sid­u­ously noted: ‘The bind­ings var­i­ously bumped, rubbed and in some cases stained and scuffed, spines with vary­ing de­grees of wear and fad­ing, the usual signs of use for a read­ing li­brary of Wis­dens’.

There were 136 edi­tions in all, to­gether with two of Green’s four-vol­ume An­thol­ogy of Wis­den and the 1985 index vol­ume. The Rev Sir Ge­nille Cave-brownecave, 12th Bt, led a wan­der­ing life, but was prob­a­bly not a Bur­dett-like bounder. A sec­ond son, he com­bined the mil­i­tary and cler­i­cal tra­di­tions of a fam­ily that claims de­scent from a Nor­man con­queror.

He went to Aus­tralia, In­dia and Burma and was in­volved in some ca­pac­ity in the cam­paign against the Chi­nese Box­ers and in the Span­ish-amer­i­can war, also fight­ing the Bo­ers.

There­after, he was a mem­ber of the Le­gion of Fron­tiers­men, a Scout-like or­gan­i­sa­tion (or runa­gates’ club) founded in 1905 by ‘mostly but not en­tirely, men of mid­dle age—or older—who have “knocked about” a good deal’, which still ex­ists to­day. He was a cow­boy for some years, sensi- bly us­ing an alias. Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, May 12, 1908: ‘The room of “Mr. Harrison” in Mills Ho­tel at Thir­ty­sev­enth Street and Sev­enth Av­enue is va­cant, and a well-knit, cleareyed English­man of 38 will to­day be on the sea bound for Lon­don to meet his lawyers and to claim his ti­tle of Sir Ge­nille Cave­browne-cave, his old Nor­man cas­tle in Le­ices­ter, his 6,000 acres, and his right to ap­point a vicar for his do­main and his ten­ants.’

The same pa­per claimed that he had been a bar­man in Den­ver and the Los An­ge­les Times re­ported that he left be­hind a cham­ber­maid fi­ancée.

Dur­ing the First World War, he served in the Royal Gar­ri­son Ar­tillery, a coastal de­fence unit, and, after it, he took Holy Or­ders. All this, and much more, will no doubt en­trance the buyer of the an­no­tated type­script proof of his From Cow­boy to Pul­pit Be­ing Rem­i­nis­cences from my Life, which sold for £171 (Fig 2).

In this com­pany Wil­liam, 4th Lord By­ron (1669–1736), un­like his great-grand­son, seems to have lived a com­par­a­tively blame­less life. His high­est pub­lic at­tain­ment was em­ploy­ment as a Gen­tle­man of the Bed­cham­ber to Queen Anne’s hus­band, Prince Ge­orge of Den­mark of whom Charles II fa­mously re­marked: ‘I have tried him drunk and I have tried him sober, but there is noth­ing in him.’

How­ever, By­ron was also Chief Ranger of the Purlieus, which sounds more promis­ing. He was an ama­teur wa­ter-colourist and, at Fo­rum Auc­tions in late March, a 71 ∕8in by 10½in draw­ing of a tree blasted by light­ning reached £10,400 (Fig 4). The sale opened with a Beatrix Pot­ter col­lec­tion, headed at £15,600, by a first is­sue of the first edi­tion of The Tale of Peter Rab­bit, 1901 (Fig 5).

Fig 1 above: Sur­vey of Der­byshire by Bur­dett. £1,344 Fig 2 right: Type­script proof of From Cow­boy to Pul­pit. £171

Fig 5: First edi­tion of Peter Rab­bit. £15,600

Fig 3 left: Un­bro­ken run of Wis­dens from 1864 to 2000. £14,664. Fig 4 above: A tree blasted by light­ning by the 4th Lord By­ron. £10,400

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