A rare Giovanni Battista Tiepolo work on paper has been rediscovered in the attic of Weston Hall, a historic U.K. home—and could fetch as much as £200,000 ($270,000) at an auction of the Sitwell family’s belongings.
The pen-and-ink drawing, titled A Large Group of Punchinelli, is expected to be one of the highlights of the upcoming sale “Weston Hall and the Sitwells: A Family Legacy” sale at Dreweatts auction house in Donnington Priory, Newbury, about an hour outside London, reports the BBC. The two-day auction will run November 16–17.
“House sales like these are very rare in today’s market,” Joe Robinson, Dreweatts’s head of house sales and private collections, told Artnet News in an email. “The collection has provenances which stretch back 300 years and has never really been bought or sold. All items in the sale came to Weston through inheritance, they have stayed there and have rarely been seen by the public—it is like opening a time capsule for the first time.”
The family had been in talks with Dreweatts for nearly 20 years, so they had a good sense of the value of the various treasures accumulated over the past three centuries—but no one knew about the Tiepolo, which had lain forgotten for decades.
“The drawing was purchased by my great uncle Osbert Sitwell in the great Henry Oppenheimer sale at Christie’s in 1936. No one seemed to know where it was, or even give it a second thought, until one day last year when we were sorting through the many attics of Weston,” Henrietta Sitwell told Artnet News in an email. “We found it wrapped in bubble wrap, leaning against the wall.”
A former art history student, Sitwell instantly recognized the piece’s importance. The drawing depicts a group of Punchinelli, a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry that became popular in the 17th century. (Punchinello later evolved into Britain’s anglicized Punch of Punch and Judy.) Although undated, the drawing is further distinguished by its delicate sense of line and even washes of ink, hallmarks of Tiepolo’s mature style.
“Tiepolo is known for decorative schemes in churches and palazzos, but he was fascinated by Punchinello and drew the subject throughout his career,” Brandon Lindberg, the house’s head of British and European pictures, told Artnet News in an email. “This is one of the largest and most elaborate drawings he produced. The most comparable example to come up for sale sold in New York in 2013 for $542,500.”
Although the auction house wasn’t expecting such an important drawing to turn up at Weston Hall, the family—which includes the journalist and “MasterChef” judge William Sitwell and the famed poet Dame Edith Sitwell in its lineage—is known for its collective passions for collecting, writing, and creating.
“Osbert was a visionary collector and exhibited many modern masters, such as Modigliani, in London for the very first time,” Lindberg noted. “Walking through the attics was like uncovering an Egyptian tomb, with wonderful things emerging from layers of dust,” Robinson added.
Other significant works in the auction include portraits by Thomas Lawrence, photographs by Cecil Beaton, 18th-century first editions by authors such as John Milton, and one of as few as 10 surviving copies of the Ottoman Atlas, the first large-folio world atlas printed in the Middle East, from 1803–04.
But even amid the many pieces of art and furniture accumulated on the property over the years, a discovery like the Tiepolo stood out.
“It was thrilling to think that such a captivating and important work of art by such a revered Old Master was just lying there, gathering dust over the years,” Sitwell said.
“Weston Hall and the Sitwells: A Family Legacy” will be on view Dreweatts in Donnington Priory, November 10–15, 2021.