Jul 18 2007
CALLOUS thieves have stolen a pair of sandstone eagles from Gracefield Arts Centre.
The three-foot ornamental birds — which could be worth up to £1,500 — are believed to have been chiselled off their perch in Edinburgh Road at some time during Friday night.
Mark Devlin, gallery technician, said: “We are shocked. Shocked that it’s happened and shocked that someone has had the brass neck to do it.
“They are a hefty weight and sit on a plinth that is about five feet high.
“It would definitely have taken two or three guys to get them off. And it would have taken some time.
“We’ve been asking all the neighbours if they saw or heard anything but it was quite a rough night on Friday, it was really wet so there wouldn’t have been many people hanging about.
“Whoever took them, clearly had them earmarked, they have obviously turned up with chisels and they must have had a van or something to take them away.
“The birds are very much associated with the arts centre.
“People use the griffins as a guide to find the entrance.
“The worrying thing is, what if these people had been challenged? They clearly had no regard whatsoever.”
The unique ornaments have been a welcoming piece of the arts centre for more than 50-years, since it was an art gallery.
The eagles could date back to the 19th century when the house was built but nobody is sure if they were added later.
Kate Davies, temporary arts officer, added: “One of the entrance pillars is now fairly well covered by a tree and leaves which would have meant that anyone taking them would have been hidden slightly on that side — but the opposite side is in full view of the road and pavement which is lit by street lamps.
“It would have taken some time, heavy lifting and a large vehicle to carry out the theft and therefore we hope that any passing traffic or pedestrians may have noticed something unusual even late at night or early in the morning.”
Anyone with any information should contact police on 0845 6005701.
Prince saves jewel in Scots crown
£45m raised to keep Dumfries House - and its unique Chippendale collection - from being sold and split up
Severin Carrell and Maev Kennedy
Thursday June 28, 2007
One of Britain's most significant architectural jewels, a stately home near Glasgow which boasts a unique collection of Chippendale furniture, has been saved for the nation after a last-minute intervention by Prince Charles.
He engineered a £45m deal to prevent Dumfries House in East Ayrshire and its contents from being split up and sold off by its owner, the Marquess of Bute.
David Barrie, the director of the Art Fund, which launched a national fundraising campaign backed by its largest ever grant, of £2.5m, said: "This is an extraordinarily unique survivor. It's an intact house with contents from the 1750s of the highest quality. When it's opened to the public, it will be absolutely jaw-dropping. Everybody said that saving it was impossible, but we've proved it could be done. We've just saved it at the 11th hour, the 59th minute and the 59th second."
Mr Barrie described the house as a sleeping giant. "It's an absolute jewel of architecture - designed by the Adam brothers. Its original contents represent the absolute height of taste and fashion of the 1750s." The building - a Palladian masterpiece designed in the 1750s by John, Robert and James Adam, the pre-eminent architects of the Scottish Enlightenment - was due to have been sold by private auction yesterday along with 1,945 acres of landscaped grounds and farmland.
Yesterday it emerged that the prince guaranteed a £20m loan which was raised by his charitable trust, enabling the campaign fund originally set up by heritage activists to find the £45m needed and stop the sale.
The last piece of the funding jigsaw - a £5m grant from Historic Scotland - only came in on Monday night. Campaigners originally estimated they would need to raise at least £35m to stop the house and its furniture being sold off. Increasingly frantic efforts to prevent its sale by Save Britain's Heritage - which originally audaciously offered to buy the whole estate without any notion of how to pay for it - and the Art Fund seemed doomed to failure.
The deal, which is expected to see the house opened to the public for the first time next year, includes the purchase of its entire contents, the house and grounds, and a 66-acre plot of development land where the prince hopes to build a new village to help pay off the loan, adjoining land he already owns. The £45m cost, which includes the expense of running the property and opening it to the public, was reached after several independent valuations.
Despite its significance and rarity, Dumfries House was barely known outside architectural circles - and even most historians only knew the interiors from a set of black and white photographs taken over half a century ago. Clive Aslet, the architectural historian and editor of Country Life, spent 30 years trying to get in to see it - and described the threatened sale as the greatest heritage disaster in decades.
The marquess, Johnny Bute, a former racing driver whose main home is on the Isle of Bute, announced plans to sell the building in 2004, saying it was no longer financially tenable for his family to maintain a property they so rarely used.
Negotiations with the Scottish National Trust collapsed, and it seemed inevitable that the estate would be broken up and the collection scattered: since the Christie's auction was announced, inquiries have come in from all over the world.
The house was described by Marcus Binney, president of Save Britain's Heritage, as "exquisitely built and perfectly symmetrical in plan". Its furniture spanned "the full range of kit that could be bought or commissioned from England's most famous cabinet maker."
The threatened loss of the house was seen as a heritage disaster on the scale of Mentmore: the palatial Buckinghamshire house and its sumptuous contents were offered to the nation in the 1970s in lieu of death duties, but rejected by the government. They were then scattered at auction for 10 times the amount owed in taxes.
This time, a £7m grant came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which was set up as a fund of last resort in the wake of the Mentmore fiasco; the Garfield Weston foundation gave £1m, and the Monuments Fund charity first offered £4m, and then more than doubled that when it looked as if the funding gap was unbridgeable. More than £1,000 and 1,000 signatures were also collected in two afternoons from passersby in the high street of the nearby town of Cumnock.
Prince Charles's deputy private secretary, Mark Leishman, said the prince was worried that unless it was saved, Dumfries House could suffer the same fate as other great buildings - being dismantled, neglected or even destroyed.
The prince now wanted the property to become an "engine" for economic regeneration in the area, helping to create new craft-based enterprises as well as the tourism spin-offs for local businesses. It was not seen as part of his often controversial campaign to protect classical British architecture.
The Adam Brothers, Robert, James and John, are credited with shaping some of the finest buildings of the 18th century across Britain. Robert arguably left the greatest architectural legacy . He was the second son of William Adam, an eminent Scottish architect of his time. When Robert's father died his eldest brother, John, tutored Robert. As well as building Fort George on the Moray Firth, Inverness, the Adam brothers introduced Scotland to a new, lighter, almost rococo style of building. A significant commission of their early partnership was Dumfries House, Ayrshire, for the Earl of Dumfries. Robert then embarked on a grand tour of Europe, where he studied Roman ruins and learned draughting skills. When he returned, he moved to London and became one of the most sought-after architects of the time. One of his finest design achievements on his return was Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. Other designs include Airthrey Castle near Stirling.
Chippendale furniture by the roomful
Date: July 14 2007
£6.75m Dumfries House
£4m bookcase (above)
£1m oval mirrors
£800,000 overmantel mirror
£600,000 dining chairs
£500,000 card tables
TO USE a mining analogy, Britain's official reserves of Chippendale furniture seem to have risen by around one-third - possibly more.
The upgrade is thanks to the purchase for the nation of the Scottish mansion Dumfries House, designed by the Adam brothers and complete with roomfuls of furniture from Thomas Chippendale's important "Director" period. The era is so named because it immediately followed the first publication of his landmark book of designs, the Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Directory in 1754.
Chippendale's name lives on, of course, in references to furniture made in styles he pioneered - rococo, chinoiserie etc - but actual pieces documented as having come from the great man's London workshop are as rare as hen's teeth.
As this column has noted, the purchase of the property, which is set on 810 hectares in Ayrshire, along with its copious contents was secured by a number of bodies headed by Britain's Art Fund, on the promptings of Prince Charles.
The purchase came virtually on the eve of a major auction of the Dumfries House contents by Christie's in London. The firm's meticulous and highly detailed two-volume catalogue for the sale gives an insight into the styles of the day, building and furnishing of the property, and what it all cost.
Indeed Lord Dumfries, who owned it, had trouble paying some of his bills. Best of all, it throws light on a vast and important collection that had long remained out of the public view.
Dumfries House features princely drawing and dining rooms and grand bedrooms, plus any amount of minor bedrooms, dressing rooms, closets and servants' rooms.
Among the major pieces that can be directly attributed to Thomas Chippendale - via inventories and actual receipts from his workshops in London - is the grand padouk wood bookcase illustrated here last month.
Of course, it and all the rest of the remarkable Dumfries contents is no longer on the market.
Other fine Chippendale pieces catalogued include:
■ A pair of giltwood pier glasses with pagoda crestings that were supplied in 1759 at a cost of £36.15 which Christie's estimated would fetch up to £1 million ($2.36 million).
■ A giltwood overmantel mirror with Savonnerie tapestry panel which cost £17, estimated at up to £800,000.
■ A double-sided library table with drawers and folding reading slope supplied for £22, estimated at up to £500,000.
■ A japanned clothes press with Chinese lacquer panels, also supplied for £17, estimated at up to £250,000.
Then there's the set of elaborate giltwood pelmets 2 metres wide, four-poster beds, a pair of concertina-action mahogany card tables, numerous sets of chairs and sets of serpentine carved library armchairs, carved and upholstered sofas, carved mahogany pole screens - the list goes on.
In addition to the items than can be directly sourced to Thomas Chippendale, a host of items have been catalogued as "attributed to" or "possibly by" him. For these, documentary evidence is less unequivocal, but with such a time capsule as Dumfries House the connection is clear and adds considerable value.
In all, it lists perhaps 100 pieces of furniture by the man regarded as Britain's greatest and most influential cabinet maker that are now part of the nation's heritage.
Clearly it's a major boost, given that Nostell Priory and Harewood House, regarded as among Chippendale's major commissions, have less than 100 works apiece, and many of those are picture frames rather than actual furniture.
Meanwhile, Christie's has confirmed that its catalogue for the Dumfries House sale, a two-volume bumper issue that surely ranks among the great country house catalogues, is on sale at £20 plus postage and packing - perhaps among the cheapest books offering such detailed insights into Chippendale and several prominent Scottish makers.
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