Objects of desire: The legacy of a lady

Uncovered in a Yorkshire spinster’s flat... an Aladdin’s Cave of art and antiques. John Vincent reports.

Caroline Ellisons collection includes an Edward Bawden linocut, Autumn
Caroline Ellisons collection includes an Edward Bawden linocut, Autumn

WHEN valuers entered Caroline Ellison’s small flat in a modest apartment block on the edge of the Duchy Estate in Harrogate following her death in her 80s they found it filled almost to overflowing with the purchases of a lifetime.

But what made them take notice was not the quantity of the items crammed into every available space – but the quality. For Miss Ellison had accumulated a magnificent collection of art and antiques, much of it bought from leading Bond Street galleries in the 1960s and 70s.

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Now the treasure trove of plaques, patch boxes, jewellery, paintings, maquettes by Henry Moore, portrait miniatures, linocuts, early silver and Georgian furniture is being sold by her executors at Morphets of Harrogate on March 6 when it is expected to raise more than £150,000.

Miss Ellison had more than 80 Pearlware and Prattware plaques from the 19th century hanging on the walls of her flat, depicting royalty, celebrities, morality, romance and classical themes – an amazing number for a single collection.

Important portrait miniatures are much in evidence, many of them featuring 17th-century crowned heads of Europe and of exceptional quality. One of them is a full-length portrait of French king Henri III (1551-1589) standing in an interior, from the studio of Francois Clouet, circa 1570. The son of Henri II and Catherine de Medicii, he was responsible for instigating the slaughter of the Parisian Huguenots at the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572. He claimed the throne after the death of his brother Charles IX and was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic called Jacques Clement. The tiny watercolour on vellum, last auctioned at Christie’s in 1953, is expected to realise £4,000-£6,000.

Exquisite Battersea, Bilston and South Staffordshire patch boxes in gold set with precious and semi-precious stones also emerged from the modest flat, along with 1960s designer jewellery by Ingeborg Bratman and early English silver including a dozen 16th and 17th-century apostle, seal, slip and trefid spoons, which will go under the hammer for the first time in decades.

Among the religious works is a panel, estimated at £1,000-£1,500, depicting Madonna and Child with St Peter and St Sebastian.

Another outstanding offering is a 1950 linocut, the much-reproduced Autumn, by Edward Bawden (1903-1989), regarded as the leading British exponent of linocuts. It is estimated at £2,000-£3,000.

Pride of place, naturally, goes to that great Yorkshire sculptor Henry Moore. Three of his maquettes (small preliminary models) are for sale, including the 13cm high limited edition bronze Reclining Figure from 1960, expected to fetch £25,000-£35,000.

Miss Ellison was obviously a lady of means. But she had a good eye too – an essential attribute to buying things which give lasting enjoyment and accrue in value over the years.