Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.


A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Johannes Kip’s View of London

View and Perspective of the City of London, Westminster, and St James’s Park

The Dutch engraver & printer Johannes Kip had worked for the stadthouder William of Orange in Amsterdam and unsurprisingly followed the prince to London after the English Revolution of 1688.

This view of London and Westminster is most notable for the unique perspective it takes: a bird’s eye view from above the Duke of Buckingham’s house, later acquired by the Crown and now, as Buckingham Palace, the primary royal residence.

This printing of Kip’s view, which comes up for auction soon at Daniel Crouch Rare Books, must have been printed after 1726 as it incorporates Gibb’s steeple of St Martin-in-the-Fields.


October 25, 2016 12:05 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

The Historical Sale at Adam’s

800 Years: Irish Political, Literary, and Military History – 18 April 2012

THE ANCIENT PRACTICE of lèche-vitrine is one hallowed by time and tradition. I remember one December day I had a lunch appointment with a friend who worked at the late, lamented Anglo-Irish Bank on Stephen’s Green in Dublin and, being early, I nipped a few doors down to the auction house Adam’s to engage in a bit of what I like to call thing-avarice (which the Germans probably have a word for). We do enjoy taking the occasional peek round the Dublin auction houses to see what’s what, and to examine the cabinet of curiosities that come out from ancient houses and rotting flats and appear in these bright places where commerce and refinement play their strange little waltz. When it comes down to it, though, it’s really just about having nice things — the sort of stuff you want lying around the house inexplicably.

Anyhow, the historical auction at Adam’s is coming up on 18 April and sure enough their senior rival Whyte’s is having a similar sale just a few days later on 21 April. We’ll only look at Adam’s here — if we considered Whyte’s as well, we’d be here all day. (more…)

April 9, 2012 12:45 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Old Master Paintings at Sotheby’s

A Florentine Artist, The Madonna & Child Enthroned Flanked by Saints Bridget & Michael
1450; Tempera on panel, 72 in. x 85 in.

QUITE A FEW interesting pieces up for auction today as part of Old Master Week at Sotheby’s in New York. The above altarpiece has been attributed to various artists. For much of its life was called the Poggibonsi Triptych, but scholars now believe it to be the work of the Master of Pratovecchio. This attribution was supported by no less an authority than Roberto Longhi, who (as the catalogue notes point out) “considered him an artist of note who contributed to the Florentine transition from the early fifteenth-century serenity and intimacy of Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi to the more dynamic forms found later in the century.”

The altarpiece, commissioned from a certain Giovanni di Francesco in 1439, was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, which is now auctioning to raise funds for future acquisitions. (more…)

January 27, 2011 6:04 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

In a Westchester auction house

Saturday I popped in to have a friendly chat with Paterfamilias Gill, of which the usual topic of conversation is the decline of civilisation and the amusing side effects thereof. We had reached Afghanistan when Mrs. Gill eventually joined us, and, after showing me the latest addition to the Gill collection (a splendid maritime scene by William Edward Norton), Mr. Gill suggested an expedition to the auction house down a back alley in neighbouring Larchmont, and I happily agreed.

Above is a gilt bronze and patinated metal clock in the French style. I’m rather fond of the curvature of spherical clockfaces, and the serpentine hands are a nice detail as well. This clock would fit in at 15 East Ninety-sixth Street. Estimate of $800-$1,000. (more…)

June 30, 2010 11:12 am | Link | 3 Comments »

Old Master & 19th Century at Christie’s

Being something of an auction-house dilettante — I last brought you a virtual update from the Dublin bidding chambers — there are a number of works up for grabs in tomorrow’s Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings, and Watercolors auction at Christie’s here in New York that caught my eye. A few other items sold in recent auctions follow at the bottom. (more…)

January 26, 2010 8:02 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

In the Dublin auction houses

THOUGH THE BORING brains of tawdry metropolitan Londoners are all too quick at relegating Dublin to the provincial periphery of the mind, the Irish capital is a perpetual treasure trove for the old-fashioned and right-minded. A number of items of interests have recently been sold at the auction houses of the fair city, including two ceremonial uniforms (above) of that famous Dubliner, Sir Edward Carson QC. Carson was the lawyer and statesmen who passionately, but without bigotry, opposed the cause of Irish home rule. He was the defending barrister in the Archer-Shee case and led the Marquess of Queensberry’s team in Oscar Wilde’s doomed libel action. Carson and Wilde had been at Trinity together (where — little known fact! — Carson was a keen hurler), and the famous wit quipped of Carson “I trust he will conduct his cross-examination with all the added bitterness of an old friend.”

Having a fine mind for the law and being politically active meant that Carson moved through several layers of British government, holding numerous offices and positions. He was a Privy Counsellor twice over (of both Ireland and the United Kingdom), a Queen’s Counsel, served in the House of Commons as leader of the Irish Unionists, and held portfolios in the British Cabinet. The two ceremonial uniforms auctioned at Whyte’s of Molesworth Street are from his appointment as Solicitor General for England & Wales in 1900. (He had been Solicitor-General for Ireland in 1892, and was later Attorney General for England & Wales, in which position he was succeeded by the F.E. Smith of Chesterton’s famous poem).

The two black wool morning coats feature gold bullion trimming and buttons, and are sold with a pair of trousers with gold filigree stripe matching the lesser uniform, and knee breeches & silk stockings for the greater uniform. The vellum appointment as Solicitor General was also included, in a red leather box with a gilt impression of the royal arms. Whyte’s estimated a sale of €50,000-€70,000, but the lot’s realised price was €42,000. (more…)

December 21, 2009 3:52 pm | Link | 14 Comments »

The Badge of the Cincinnati

George Washington’s Society of the Cincinnati medal was auctioned off at Sotheby’s last year for a whopping $5,305,000. Founded by General Washington and other officers of the Continental and French armies who served in the American Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati is the oldest and most prestigious of America’s many hereditary societies. Louis XVI was himself a member, and the Society was known as the ordre de Cincinnatus in France, where it was added to the hierarchy of orders (even though it was not, strictly speaking, an order) as ranking just below the Order of Saint Louis. General Washington’s Cincinnati badge was, after his death, given to the Marquis de Lafayette whose descendants kept it in the family until the auction last December.


October 8, 2008 8:24 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

The Bad Shepherd

Pieter Brueghel II, The Bad Shepherd
Oil on panel, 29 in. x 41¼ in.
c. 1616, Private collection

With an original estimate of £1,000,000–£1,500,000, Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Bad Shepherd sold at a final hammer price of £2,505,250 at Christie’s in London this July. As the house lot notes state, it is “one of the most original and visually arresting of all images within the Brueghelian corpus of paintings”.

The story of the good and bad shepherd is told in John (10:1-30), and is based on the notion of Christ as the embodiment of the good shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.

It is significant that the distant horizon behind the sheep is broken only by a solitary church spire and a small farmstead. They seem to suggest that in abandoning his responsiblities the shepherd also rejects both the church and the community as he rushes headlong in the opposite direction. The mental anguish experienced by the shepherd is mirrored in a remarkable way by the barren landscape, shown from a dizzying bird’s eye perspective, stretching back into infinity. Interwoven only by vein-like tracks and ditches that lead the eye into the distance, the landscape is one of the artist’s most extraordinary achievements and very much a precursor to the psychological landscapes of the 20th century.

There is something arrestingly modern about this painting that fascinates me.


September 11, 2008 10:21 pm | Link | 5 Comments »
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