upcoming sale Centuries of Style: Silver, European Ceramics, Portrait Miniatures and Gold Boxes offers collectors an incredible opportunity to purchase a unique treasure with exceptional provenance, on sale for the first time in nearly two centuries: a Meissen gold-mounted circular snuff-box and cover, circa 1738 (estimate: £25,000-40,000) illustrated above. This enchanting object last changed hands at the historical Christies sale of The Ralph Bernal Collection in 1855, and was bought for 16 pounds, 10 shillings.
Rodney Woolley, Director, Porcelain Department, Christies: Exceptional quality, popular subject matter and superb provenance combine to render this one of the most important snuff-boxes to come to the market in recent years.
Snuff-taking began as an elite pastime during the early 18th century, and snuff boxes were considered prized and distinctively personal items made of gold, porcelain and enamel, and were frequently embellished with precious objects; snuff-boxes did not only serve a functional purpose as a vessel for holding snuff, but were also often exchanged as love tokens or ambassadorial gifts in aristocratic and diplomatic circles.
Traditionally, the image on the inside of the lid of a decorated snuff-box would be the most intricate, with a particularly specialist miniaturist taking on the challenge, whereas another skilled artist might decorate the exterior of the box. The example included in the June sale is no exception, with the interior image taken from a detail of a print by B.Audrian illustrated left, after Watteau. The original painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), LAventurier, circa 1717, is currently in the collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Troyes, France.
The Ralph Bernal Collection, from which the snuff-box originated, was a monumental sale in the history of Christies, lasting thirty-two days and including over 4,300 lots of furniture, objects and works of art; it was also one of the first Christies catalogues ever to be illustrated, with woodcuts executed by A.J. Mason. The sale itself took place at the home of the late Ralph Bernal at 93 Eaton Square, London.
Ralph Bernal was a politician, but he was even more widely known for his knowledge and appreciation of art and antiques; he had such a reputation that whenever he was observed to admire anything it was quite enough to enhance its value in the eyes of the dealers. George Redford, F.R.C.S, of The Times, writing in 1888 named him as the most accomplished collector of his time, and in reference to the Christies sale applauded him for having rendered very considerable public service to art by thus affording the opportunity of acquiring some of the most important representative examples for the British Museum, the South Kensington Museum, and various private collections.
The Meissen snuff-box is to be sold alongside an incredible array of silver, European ceramics, portrait miniatures and gold boxes, including: an important George IV silver-gilt tray, made as part of a large service of plate that was made for Hugh, 3rd Duke of Northumberland in 1823 (estimate: £70,000-100,000); a Chelsea porcelain gilt-metal mounted striking musical table clock, circa 1756-58 (estimate: £20,000-30,000); and a beautifully detailed miniature portrait by John Smart of Lieutenant General Daniel Burr (1749-1828) (estimate: £20,000-30,000). The sale presents collectors and connoisseurs the ultimate opportunity to add to their collections with a wide range of beautiful and rare objects on offer.