Art dealer Niall Hobhouse has been amassing beautiful curiosities for 30 years and, for more than a decade, has been decorating his 18th century Somerset home, Hadspen, with Western and oriental treasures. The Palladian villa, set in grounds created by Hobhouse’s garden designer mother, Penelope, has served as the perfect backdrop to his collection.
Hobhouse recreated the interiors when he inherited the house in the early 1990s, with the help of decorator Federico Forquet and architect Ptolemy Dean. The revamped living spaces were filled with a rich combination of Indian dhurrries and Persian carpets, French botanical watercolours and Javanese portraits.
More recently, Hobhouse’s enthusiasms have turned in another direction and he has commissioned works of contemporary design.
Nowadays, among the gracious 18th century architecture of his home stands an extraordinary oak-and-stainless-steel folly by Peter Smithson; he has transformed a 19th century farm building on the estate into a living space with glass underlit floors and movable walls. And, most recently, Hobhouse has looked at the collection with this new eye and decided that much of it must go.
Accordingly, Hobhouse is auctioning 400 lots from his collection at Christie’s on 22 May, with estimates from £300. Highlights are hard to pick, since every lot has charisma.
The historian’s favourite must be five panels from a rare panoramic wallpaper design by Pierre Antoine Mongin (c1806), which depict ‘Les Vues d’Indoustan’ - these dreamy, prettily coloured views of the shores of the Ganges and palm-shaded temples (lot 24, est. £8,000-£12,000) were exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2004.
For those on less ambitious budgets, there are some delightful decorative pieces, such as a Japanese chequered black-and-silver, lacquered kodansu (c1900), a 32cm-high box with six drawers (lot 31, est. £300-£500).
There are several rugs from north-west Persia, including a 10ft Heriz carpet (c1900), which is highly decorated with floral motifs on a rust red background (lot 40, est. £800-£1200).
Not all the objects are the staples of grand country-house living. There are plenty of small tables and stylish chairs, perfectly suited to London life.
A handsome colonial travelling games table has a folding top that opens to reveal a baize-lined surface, with whist boards and candle sockets (lot 74, est. £700-£1,000); while a deeply upholstered tobacco-coloured leather library armchair (c1890) may fetch £1,500 to £2,500 (lot 161).
22 May, WEST-EAST – The Niall Hobhouse Collection, Christie’s, 8 King Street, St James’s, London, SW1Y (020 7839 9060, www.christies.com). Viewing from 18 to 22 May; for details of online bidding, visit the website.