In 1822, every item within the great Palladian palace of Wanstead House was sold at auction. Two hundred years later, historian Tim Couzens gave a talk about his work in tracing some of those items
On 27 October, I gave a talk via Zoom to the Friends of Wanstead Parklands. The subject was on the traced furniture from Wanstead House to mark the 200th anniversary of the great Robins Sale. Like any good antiques programme, there was an opportunity to guess some of the valuations.
I am a local historian who has been researching Wanstead House for 40 years. In 2001, my book, Hand of Fate, The History of the Longs, Wellesleys and the Draycot Estate in Wiltshire, was published. Since then, I have continued to research the owners, their correspondence and their houses. A second edition of my book is planned for 2023.
The talk was in four sections. Firstly, Wanstead items traced to public collections. Their advantage is that you can go and look at them in their new homes – at Chatsworth and Wilton House, for example. It is surprising that only one piece from Wanstead has entered the Royal Collection: Schmidt’s Nautilus shell and silver cup.
There are very few items of Wanstead furniture in museums. A commode, extremely close to a Wanstead piece, is in the Met Museum, New York. Wanstead urns, which used to be in the V&A, have returned to the National Trust.
The second part was on items traced to private collections. It allowed us to look at the amazing quality of the furniture, starting with the Riahi Collection Boulle table. The largest collection from Wanstead went to Leigh Court near Bristol. This is why the picture of the morning room was used in the publicity for the talk. It gives us the best idea of what the interiors of Wanstead looked like, after the purchases of William and Catherine Long Wellesley, in about 1815. They were contrasted with other pieces, original to Wanstead, by William Kent.
The third part was on silver. This included a pair of Mandarin silver candlesticks. It was noted that much of the family wealth was ill-gotten gain from the East India Company.
The last part was on the pictures and tapestries traced from Wanstead. Many of the pictures were copies, some done by Kent. Given that the art collection was of lesser quality overall, it has ended up in some odd places, like Runcorn Town Hall.
Wanstead furniture was world-class. In 2001, a record price was realised for a traced marquetry and Boulle table: £3.9m. There has been great interest ever since in attaching a Wanstead provenance to items of furniture, so the work will continue.
Only a fraction of traced items were included in the talk in October. A second talk is being arranged for the New Year.
For more information on the Friends of Wanstead Parklands, visit wnstd.com/fwp