By Terry Ingram, on 17-Jul-2016

The great Old Master collection which Melbourne born former model Bambi Tuckewell found herself living among on her marriage to the Seventh Earl of Harewood in 1951 has given up one of its greatest treasures to the international art market.

The preparatory drawing for the Renaissance painter Veronese's The Apotheosis of Venice commissioned for the Doges Palace in Venice after two disastrous fires had broken out and wiped out the existing works there has been sold privately for £15.4 million by an unnamed auction house or dealer to an anonymous buyer and appears headed in that direction failing the intervention of any UK institution to come up with matching funds to acquire it after an export embargo was slapped on the work.

From the Old Master collection of the Seventh Earl of Harewood, a preparatory drawing (left) for the Renaissance painter Veronese's 'The Apotheosis of Venice' (right) commissioned for the Doges Palace in Venice has been sold privately for £15.4 million by an unnamed auction house or dealer to an anonymous buyer. Melbourne born former model Bambi Tuckewell found herself living among the collection on her marriage to the Seventh Earl of Harewood in 1951.

While the separation of the bulk of the collection from Harewood House, the huge John Adam mansion built for a plantation owner near Leeds in Yorkshire is unthinkable, it leaves one less work for Australian art lovers to wish the now Countess of Harewood might spirit away to Australia, should family and circumstances change and export restrictions change governing the status of the collection.

That said, the buyer of the drawing is unknown. At least one Melbourne hedge fund operator has endowed the National Gallery of Victoria with a major old master work valued at $6 million and Kerry Stokes paid $15.5 million to secure a prayer book known as the Book of Hours before a recent move to block a similar illuminated book under the same heritage restrictions.

Stokes succeeded in obtaining another banned export item, the collection of Thomas Baines paintings and drawings relating to the North Australian expedition of 1838, from the Royal Geographical Society in London after a UK buyer was also unable to come up with matching funds for that purchase.

Sales of national treasures are held up in the UK giving local buyers a chance to match them and if they are not found in time the original sale is allowed to go ahead. Alan Bond, a big spender on overseas art in the 1980s boom, was able to purchase a Portrait of Sir Joseph Banks by Benjamin West only on the condition he not take it out of Britain.

The Harewood estate is now under the aegis of members of the family of the recently deceased 7th Earl Harewood.

His widow, Patricia is a patron of several institutions and charities including the football team, Leeds United.

According to Wikepedia, Patricia Elizabeth Tuckwell was born in Melbourne in 1926, the daughter of Charles Tuckwell  and his wife Elizabeth, and an older sister of Barry Tuckwell.

She was also a fashion model and a favourite model of photographer Athol Shmith, who became her first husband. While they were married, Patricia often modelled for him, under the name Bambi Smith. In 1951, she was one of the founders of the Mannequins' Association of Victoria. She also ran the Bambi Smith Modelling College in Melbourne.

J M W Turner went to Harewood House aged just 22 and left a legacy of majestic watercolours which remain in the collection to this day.

The reason for the sale has not been given. The 7th Earl Harewood died in 2011 and Harewood House has been presumably faced with the same "Downton Abbey" upkeep syndrome so common to old country houses - except these would be magnified by the size and importance of the mansion.

It was built between 1759 and 1771 for Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood and is still one of the treasure houses of England, sitting in a landscape designed by the celebrated Capability Brown and filled with paintings by masters of the Italian Renaissance and portraits by Reynolds, Hoppner and Lawrence. It also houses modern art collected by the 7th Earl and Countess.

The price is the third highest for a European watercolour and had been in the 7th Earl’s family since 1917.

On a different note of "loss", British art loving commuters on their way to work were horrified last Thursday to see billowing flames coming from storage depots adjacent to the Clapham Junction Railway Station.

As The Sun newspaper, reported a huge blaze next to the Cafe Nero coffee warehouse caused misery for commuters regardless of the contents.

The building concerned was near to the Fine Art Society's storage. It seems the fire brigade arrived just in time for the FAS ,just as they did in Sydney when a church went up in smoke in the 1980s next to a building housing the Laurie Connell collection that the dealer Tony Cowden was selling.

The FAS stock, down the road from the coffee roasting building which appears to have been at the centre of the fray, belongs to one of the finest and oldest dealerships, especially in Australian related art, in Britain. The FAAS Gallery is in New Bond Street almost opposite Sotheby's.

It has steadfastly held the spot against the advances of the high priced women’s fashion retailers on the street, maintaining a must-visit presence for curators and private collectors particularly those interested in the aesthetic movement and New Sculpture of the late 19th century.

During this time, many a painting by Anglo Australian Impressionist Charles Conder and bronzes by our Art Nouveau sculptor Bertram MacKennall have passed through its hands.

It has also handled many of the etchings of Mortimer Menpes, a South Australian etcher who was a great admirer and promoter of the work of Whistler.

A number of major Australian works from the Alan Bond collection were destroyed in a warehouse fire during storage.

Fires are major fear among Australian art collectors due to the incidence of those which rage in the bush, one of which swept through Victoria's Mount Macedon and could have consumed several major antique and art collections but for a fast exit.

On yet another front a collection of a man and woman who did much to boost the international respect for Australian Aboriginal art is to be sold.

Worth an estimated €160 million, the 7000 work Essl collection of Karlheinz and Agnes Essl was built on bathroom fittings and is being sold to save 4000 jobs. A lot of money went down the gurgler when the Essl Baumax company based in Vienna expanded in Eastern Europe.

Some of the Aboriginal works have already been offered for auction.


About The Author

Terry Ingram inaugurated the weekly Saleroom column for the Australian Financial Review in 1969 and continued writing it for nearly 40 years. His scoops include the Whitlam Government's purchase of Blue Poles in 1973 and repeated fake scandals (from contemporary art to antique silver) and auction finds. He has closely followed the international art, collectors and antique markets to this days. Terry has also written two books on the subjects