The Paula Peyraud Sale at Bloomsbury Auctions NY a Resounding Success

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Adam Buck (1759 - 1833). A lady and gentleman looking at a crouching Venus in a landscape. Watercolor and charcoal heightened with wash.

Adam Buck (1759 - 1833). A lady and gentleman looking at a crouching Venus in a landscape. Watercolor and charcoal heightened with wash.

$1.6 million realized. 85% of lots sold. Sale concluded with 114% sold by value. Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi’s annotated copy of The Spectator sold for $115,000; first edition of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility for $38,000; first edition of Fanny Burney’s Evelina for $17,000, almost three times the high estimate, and many autograph letters exceeded their high estimates by impressive margins. Click here for details.

Paula Fentress Peyraud (1947 – 2008) was an avid reader and collector from a very early age. Fortunately she lived in her family’s substantial house in Chappaqua, New York, which, over a period of some thirty years, she filled principally with books, but also with manuscripts, autograph letters, paintings, drawings and prints. She also accumulated a vast collection of modern editions, dealer and sale catalogues—she discarded nothing—that caused her to have built a tower addition to the house, with a book room, about twenty-five years ago.

Paula held a position as reference librarian and head of technical services at the Chappaqua Public Library after graduating with a master’s in library science from Columbia University and a four months’ internship at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Earlier, she had been an honors graduate from Hollins College, VA in 1969, majoring in French literature with minors in Spanish and art history. Like her Bluestocking heroines, the Thrales, the Burneys et. al., she had a great ability with languages: she was fluent in French and Spanish and had a reading knowledge of Italian and Russian. She travelled extensively over the years in Western Europe, but England was always the base camp and it became her spiritual home. Paula’s life was tragically cut short by cancer. She was unmarried, and when her illness was diagnosed in 2005 she moved to be close by her sister and her family.

The core of Paula’s collection was Samuel Johnson, Hester Thrale Piozzi, Fanny Burney, and  other women writers in Georgian society. In this she followed a distinguished tradition in American book collecting in the post-war years, following the emergence of Mary and Donald Hyde as Johnson collectors at the A. E. Newton sale in 1941, their en bloc purchase of the R. B. Adam collection in 1948, and Mary’s determined continuation (always with the Houghton Library at Harvard University in mind) of their Johnsonian library following Donald’s death in 1966. Herman W. (Fritz) Liebert, Yale University’s first librarian of the Beinecke Library, and Donald D. Eddy of Cornell University are but two of the inspirational American university figures who championed this area of specialization. The international community of booksellers customarily responds to such a demand by efforts made to supply, thus creating opportunities for the collector. Paula found her way to Seven Gables Bookshop and to Ximenes in New York, to C. A. Stonehill in New Haven, and to Kenneth W. Rendell in Boston, all in the 1970s. The London firms of Clarke-Hall, Maggs, Pickering & Chatto and Quaritch became regular suppliers, as did Blackwell’s and John Wilson in Oxford, and Hofmann & Freeman in Sevenoaks. More recently, James Burmester and Christopher Edwards have played their part in the collection’s growth. Most notable, perhaps, among her auction purchases is Mrs. Piozzi’s annotated eight-volume set of The Spectator from the Pforzeimer Library, via a four-year sojourn in the collection of Gerald E. Slater, until its sale at Christie’s New York in 1982. (Perhaps Mary Hyde – soon to become the Viscountess Eccles – had not paid enough attention to that sale and it was recently rumored that she bore a grudge over Paula’s membership in the Johnson Society!) A year later, Maggs catalogue 1038: Samuel Johnson LL.D. (1709 – 1784) was published, and it became Paula’s bible. Aided by her training as a librarian, she kept meticulous acquisition notes and correspondence (she actively consulted with and gave access to scholars).

Highlights include Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi’s copy of The Spectator (1794), which contains extensive autograph manuscript margination on its 786 pages. It is signed on the front flyleaf (est. $25,000-35,000.) The are two copies of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (first edition 1755– $9,000-15,000), and first edition, second issue of the plan for the dictionary (1747), the Life of Savage (first edition 1744), the Vanity of Human Wishes (first edition 1749), Rasselas, (first edition 1759), the first edition of the original 208 issues of The Rambler (1751), Hannah More’s copy of A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland (1775). Typically for Paula Peyraud, these are accompanied by the Opie mezzotint portrait of Johnson, caricatures of him by George Dance, very handsome watercolors of his haunts by Edwin Hull, and many autograph letters by Johnson, Boswell, Piozzi, and others. Also notable is the first edition of Fanny Burney’s Evelina, or a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (1778—$4,000-8,000) and Edmund Burke’s well-known manuscript letter to her, in which he praises her Cecilia ( July 29 1782), not to mention first editions, autograph letters, and manuscripts of her father, Charles Burney, the great musicologist. Not surprisingly David Garrick and other theatre people enter into the picture.

Paula’s collecting interests extended into the nineteenth century. Here collection includes an important group of first editions of work by Jane Austen and the Brontës.  Along with first editions of Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Northanger Abbey, there is Sense and Sensibility (1811—$25,000-35,000), the rarest of her six major works. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—An Autobiography (1847—$30,000-40,000) was her first novel and the first novel published by any of the Brontë sisters. There are also first editions of Villette (1853) and The Professor (1857). There is also fascinating Byroniana, including a portrait profile taken of him at the age of eighteen, as well as material relating to “Monk” Lewis.

The many portraits, prints, drawings and watercolors in Paula’s collection give a rich and varied landscape of the periods which fascinated her. The paintings includes 58 oil paintings all of which are historical portraits from artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Wollaston, Johann Zoffany and Benjamin Van der Gucht. Admiral Keppel’s an oil on canvas ($15,000-20,000) is by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792.) A portrait of the actor David Garrick wearing a crimson coat by Benjamin Van der Gucht (1768) is an oil on canvas ($10,000-15,000.) The Portrait of Mrs. Thrale in a yellow dress at a writing table by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) ($30,000-50,000) and A Portrait of Peggy Simpson in a white dress and yellow jacket holding a sketch book and pencil is attributed to George Watson (1767-1837) Oil on canvas ($5,000-8,000.) A painting attributed to Sir William Beechey (1753-1839) Portrait of Mrs. John Archer in a white dress and yellow bonnet is also an oil on canvas ($15,000-20,000.) The collection includes a small group of miniatures and one of the finest miniature portraits by John Bogle of Fanny Burney in a library leaning on a green baize-covered table. Inscribed on verso “Miss Burney” 1783 ($15,000-20,000) and fair Miniature Portraits of Lady Bessborough and her daughter Caroline ($1,500-$2,000.)

The collection of 76 watercolors and drawings are mostly historical English portraits from the late 18th Century. The artists include Ozias Humphrey, Francis Cotes and Paul Sandby. The portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Ozias Humphrey is paired with a second drawing, which depicts Lady Elizabeth Foster, a close friend of Georgiana who also became the Duchess of Devonshire after Georgiana’s death ($15,000-20,000). The Senior Children attributed to Daniel Gardner (1750-1805) is a pastel on paper laid down on board, oval ($12,000-18,000) and from artist John Downman is a portrait of Miss Edgeworth (1807), half length seated wearing a blue dress with a landscape beyond ($7,000-10,000).

These works of art are in virtually every case of high quality and appealing to the eye, whether they are securely attributed to a major artist or not. Paula Peyraud collected people, in a way, and it is obvious that she was attracted to many of these because they are or are thought to be portraits of prominent (or notorious) women of the times, for example, Lady Duncannon, later Lady Bessborough , a Spencer, who was married to a cousin of the Duke of Devonshire and was well-known for her numerous affairs, or Lady Frances Vyse, wife of the famous Egyptologist, or “Peg” Woffington (1774-1760), who  was born in Dublin, began her career as a street singer, and at 10 she was acting in juvenile productions in Dublin. She came to London in 1740, fell in love with David Garrick, and was his lover for a few years. Later they worked together on the stage. On the other hand some of the most appealing of these depict less exalted people, like a haunting pastel of the Senior children attributed to Daniel Gardner, or generic scenes, like Adam Buck’s 1801 watercolor of a lady and a gentleman looking at a crouching Venus in a landscape, a charming image which evokes the classical sensibility in romanticism, as the young aesthetes enjoy an intimate moment in the appreciation of the classical ideal.

Fine examples by well-known artists include a vivid, sharply observed pastel by Maurice Quentin de la Tour of the Empress Maria Theresa, various caricatures by George Dance, and a significant group of pen drawings by William Lock of Norbury, an extremely interesting, but little-known artist who was influenced by Fuseli. The Bloomsbury catalogue provides some valuable biographical information that is not generally familiar to art historians. According to the entry, “Lock purchased Norbury Park in 1774, a large estate near Dorking, Surrey and here entertained his set including D’Arblay, Talleyrand, Johnson, Reynolds, Burke, Gibbon, Comte de Norbonne, and Madame de Staël. Fanny Burney visited often and fell in love with D’Arblay at Norbury. They married and Lock gave them a plot of land on the estate to build a home, ‘Camilla Cottage,’ named after her first book. She is said to have found inspiration in Norbury Park for her first novel Camilla.”

And, finally, what lover of 18th century England can do without views of Bath?  Paula Peyraud collected a fine group of views by Thomas Malton and John Claude Nattes, both drawings and aquatints. You will also find Thomas Rowlandson’s hilarious watercolor study for The Comforts of Bath: King Bladud’s Bath in his famous series of prints.

These are only some of the exciting opportunities offered by this sale.

Thomas Rowlandson (1756 - 1827), Comforts of Bath: King Bladud’s Bath, Pen and ink and watercolor, on a contemporary mount.

Thomas Rowlandson (1756 - 1827), Comforts of Bath: King Bladud’s Bath, Pen and ink and watercolor, on a contemporary mount

Parts of this article are adapted, with thanks, from the Bloomsbury auction catalogue.

About the author

Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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