IT WAS described by the great art historian Horace Walpole as “sublime” and became known as one of Britain’s greatest and most beautiful country houses.
But the last few months have been among the most tumultuous in Castle Howard’s centuries-old history.
Now the family behind the North Yorkshire house, made famous as the setting for television drama Brideshead Revisited, are hoping to look to the future by selling off some of its magnificent collection of fine art and antiquities to raise up to £10m to finance the upkeep of the property.
The sale at Sotheby’s London this July will reflect both the history of the house and the tastes of the men who built and shaped its collections. The works span a range of periods and media, from Roman antiquities to Old Master paintings and 17th-century Italian furniture.
Among the items on sale will be one of 15 works by Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto that were commissioned or brought by the fourth Earl of Carlisle, Henry Howard, on his second grand tour of Europe in the 18th century.
The collection of landscapes were painted by Bellotto when he was just 16 years old, while working in the studio on his uncle Canaletto. It has a guide price of from £2.5m to £3.5m.
Ferdinand Bol’s Portrait of Boy, bought by Frederick, the fifth Earl of Carlisle, in 1801, is estimated at around £2m to £3m.
A pair of extremely rare Italian cabinets are expected to make up to £1m, while a striking portrait of Henry VIII from the studio of Hans Holbein and dated 1542, is estimated at around £1.2m. The King’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was ancestor of the Earls of Carlisle.
While the lots are numerous, they represent just a tiny fraction of the Castle Howard collection and have been offered for sale of behalf of the Trustees of Castle Howard.
The day-to-day running of the home transferred from Simon Howard, who had been at the helm for 30 years, to his elder brother Nicholas in November.
While the reasons for the change in leadership were not made clear at the time, it was suggested that Simon had been urged to step down or face being outvoted by the directors of the company that runs the estate.
Speaking of the sale, Nicholas Howard said: “I am privileged to be able to say that Castle Howard is my family’s heritage and has been since it was built over 300 years ago.
“With that privilege comes the responsibility of ownership, and the Trustees’ unanimous decision to hold this sale is the exercise of that responsibility.
“If the sale helps to secure that heritage as the house moves into its fourth century then it will have achieved its goal. To this end, we have selected for sale at Sotheby’s a small number of works which, while of great intrinsic interest, have been carefully chosen so as not to detract from the overall integrity of the collection.”
Simon Howard added: “Running Castle Howard for the last 30 years has been an immense privilege. Now, as a new chapter in its history opens, the sales that we are planning at Sotheby’s will make an important contribution to the long term future of the Castle Howard estate and collections.”
The sales will take place at Sotheby’s London on July 8.
Henry Wyndham, chairman, Sotheby’s Europe said: “The collections at Castle Howard chart two millennia of history and 300 years of collecting, and rank among the finest private art collections in the world.
“The carefully selected group of works to be auctioned this summer is testament to the taste of a series of enlightened art patrons, starting with the visionary 3rd Earl of Carlisle, and continuing through his Romanophile son, Henry, collector of antiquities and Venetian vedute, to his diplomat grandson Frederick, 5th Earl of Carlisle, who is thought by many to have been the most refined English collector of the period around 1800.”
A collecting dynasty
THE HOWARD family is one of the most important collecting dynasties in Britain.
Charles Howard, the third Earl of Carlisle, whose vision and daring resulted in the building of Castle Howard, was an enthusiastic patron of Venetian painters, some of whom were commissioned to decorate the new house.
Henry Howard, the fourth Earl, shared his father’s passion, collecting Roman furniture, antiquities, gems and Venetian art.
Later, the ninth Earl, himself an artist, formed a famous collection of 15th and 16th-century paintings, many of which were gifted to the National Gallery after his death. Each generation contributed to the breath of the overall collection.