LONDON, UK.- If you have a passion for collecting, you share it with John and Judith Adler, whose lifetimes have been spent amassing an extensive private collection, comprising inspirational works from across Europe. Sotheby's is delighted to offer the opportunity to purchase a selection of works, including European Sculpture, Works of Art and Early Furniture from this distinguished collection in London on Thursday, February 24, 2005.
The story of the Adlers and the foundation of their collection begins with John Adler. Born in Czechoslovakia, he came to England at the age of 12 and was at school in Bristol during the Second World War. His desire to help the war effort led him to work for the engineering firm Acrow and having learnt his trade, he left to set up his own business. He met his wife Judith in London and they married during the 1980s.
Judith Adler accompanied her husband on regular business trips to the Americas and the Far East. They took full advantage of any free time they had to soak up the surrounding culture and widen their appreciation of the arts - emulating the romantic notion of the 'Grand Tour.'
Their love of beautifully crafted works by talented makers began with an interest in ceramics, paintings and 18th century furniture. With their base in London, they soon struck up a rapport with several key London antique dealers, an affinity which, over the years, developed into lasting friendships.
It was a dealer by the name of Mary Bellis that prompted their foray into the field of medieval furniture and works of art. John Adler recounts: "One afternoon, coming back from another dealer's I popped in to see Mary Bellis who gave me a cup of tea and a piece of cake and we talked. I told her that my interest lay in 18th century furniture, but she said: "Why don't you start to collect something that is more challenging to find? You should try early furniture - you'll find one or two pieces a year if you're lucky." The seed was sown and the collection in Sotheby's sale is a testimony to the fruit born from that conversation.
Among other London dealers with whom Mr. Adler formed firm friendships, was Herman Baer. Mr. Adler recalls: "One of my key mentors was Herman Baer - I lived near his shop and he and I would breakfast in Curzon Street before visiting Sotheby's to view their sales. Such close friendships made it an interesting life - the people are the thing that made collecting so pleasurable."
John Adler's attention to detail - derived from years as a skilled engineer, manifests itself in the choice of works in the collection - from the intricacy of the carving, to the breadth of reference books he sought to research their history. The skill and acumen with which the Adlers have gathered, curated and cared for the pieces in the collection is truly commendable.
Works range from exquisite alabaster reliefs, to intricately tooled chests, narwhal tusks and rare carved oak saints in excellent condition. Sourced from across Europe - France, Germany and Italy, as well as throughout the UK, many of the works are widely recognised as the best examples of their kind and feature in numerous reference works.
Among important works in the collection is a three figure oak group of the Magi, attributed to the sculptor Henrik Douvermann (pictured on the cover page and in detail, left). The three kings would have originally formed part of a larger adoration group and are intricately carved with wonderful detail such as sweeping cloaks and textured beards. Produced during the 16th century, the group is estimated at £100,000-150,000.
One of the highlights of the collection is a wonderfully preserved carved oak screen (below right), which Mr. Adler amusingly recounts he saved from a less worthy fate: "Someone asked me to come down to Wales to see a four poster bed on a farm. At the same place was a screen, stored in a cow shed. Originally it must have been from a local chapel and I asked the farmer: 'What do you want for it?' Best five pounds I ever spent!" The oak Romayne screen which could also have derived from panelling in a grand hall, or been used above a fireplace, features King Henry VIII's cipher. The name 'Romayne', in its title pertains to the Italian Renaissance influence on late Gothic sculpture in England, which took place on King Henry VIII's ascension to the throne. It is estimated at £15,000-20,000.
Some of the Adler's favourite works characterise the quality of the collection. Among such pieces is a 16th century Italian walnut figure of Mary Magdalene, which demonstrates the exceptional skills of the master craftsmen of the period. Unpainted, the maker would have been unable to rework the piece, or fill any mistakes, making the flawless nature of the carving even more exceptional. (Estimate: £6,000-8,000).
A highly decorative pair of carved panels from Rouen in France, cleverly captures the exuberance of fish being chased by sea monsters! The panels (pictured below) are 23cm high, by 2m 9cm long and were designed to hang on the side of a house at the level of the eaves. The pair dates from the 15th century and is estimated at £4,000-6,000.