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Sir Bernard Eckstein (1894–1948)

Nicolas Lancret, The Four Times of Day: Morning, Midday, Afternoon, Evening (NG 5867–5870)
Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Alexandrine-Emilie Brongniart (NG 5871)

Sir Bernard Eckstein was the only son of Friedrich Gustav Jonathan, usually known as Frederick, Eckstein (born Stuttgart, 1857 – died London, 1930), and of Catharine (née Mitchell; died Manaus, Brazil, l935). Frederick was created a baronet in 1929 in recognition of his services to the Empire and to the Sudan.1 For many years Sir Frederick was chairman of the Sudan Plantations Syndicate, whose principal crop was cotton, but prior to that had been a partner in Wernher, Beit & Co., a firm with extensive mining interests in South Africa.2 Sir William Hinbury characterised him as ‘the last of a great trio of Empire pioneers in Africa, the other two being Sir Julius Wernher, and Sir Alfred Beit … [who] played a most important role in the development of the gold and mining industry in South Africa’.3 Indeed Sir Frederick was one of the executors of Sir Julius Wernher (1850–1912), who bequeathed Watteau’s La Gamme d’Amour (The Scale of Love) (NG 2897) to the Gallery.4 In 1910 Sir Frederick built an Italianate mansion in 950 acres at Ottershaw Park, Surrey,5 but ten years later acquired Oldlands Hall, near Uckfield, Sussex, where his son, Sir Bernard, was to live.6 This was set in 45 acres overlooking the South Downs and had been built in 1869 to the design of Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt for the Italian ambassador.7

On Sir Frederick’s death the Oldlands estate (now broken up) passed to Sir Bernard, who expanded it and carried out many alterations.8 Sir Bernard’s London residence was at 25 South Street, Mayfair, built for him in 1932–3 and augmented and decorated in 1936–7 in a style which has been said to combine Classicism of Rex Whistler’s variety and elements of jazz-moderne to convey freshness and humour. 9 The house still exists. Sir Bernard served in the East Surrey Regiment and became a director of various companies with an interest in the Sudan, including, like his father, Sudan Plantations Syndicate. In 1934 he donated two Persian paintings to the British Museum (invs 1934,1013,0.1 and 0.2), and during the Second World War he made various gifts, including £250 to the Lord Mayor’s London Air Raid Distress Fund, two cases of 1878 vintage port to the Red Cross Wine Sale, and £5,000 to the Property Owners’ Protection Association Spitfire Fund to help buy a squadron of fighters for the country.10 He died unmarried and childless, as had his only sister, Herminie, three years earlier. Both are buried in the churchyard of Christ Church, Fairwarp, near Uckfield, and, like their father, are commemorated by tombstones designed by Sir William Reid Dick.

Besides his bequests to the National Gallery, Sir Bernard bequeathed to the British Museum Persian drawings and miniatures, the acquisition of which were said to have ‘undoubtedly immensely increased [the national collection’s] importance and interest’,11 and important pieces of Bow, Chelsea, Meissen, Nymphenburg and Sèvres porcelain and a piece of rare Henri II ware.12 The bequest included a biscuit group of Pygmalion and Galatea of about 1764–73 based on a marble by Falconet exhibited at the 1763 Salon.13 Another bequest to the Museum was a pair of decorated lacquer book covers of about 1540, which, according to The Times ‘was in the Düsseldorf Museum until it was sold, shortly before the war, at Hitler’s orders, when it was bought through a dealer by Sir Bernard Eckstein’.14 Eckstein also bequeathed numerous pieces of china, glass and coins to the Ashmolean Museum, and a miniature portrait of the Duke of Reichstadt by Jean-Baptiste Isabey to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

These bequests scarcely dented his extensive collections, which were auctioned (mainly by Sotheby’s) in a series of sales during 1948 and the two following years: paintings (8 December 1948), Chinese jade and hardstone carvings (9 December), books (24 January 1949), autograph letters and documents (25 January), Persian and Moghul miniatures (7 February), silver (10 February), clocks, furniture and tapestries (25 February), English pottery and porcelain (29 March) – by which time the Eckstein collections had realised £196,000,15 equivalent to a present day value of some £6,300,00016 – portrait miniatures (31 March), Continental ceramics (30–31 May), musical instruments and tapestries (8 July), Chinese ceramics (8 November), jewels (1 December), ivories (26 January 1950), coins and decorations (21 February), arms and armour (24 March) and modern drawings (19 April). A summary of some of these sales was published in The Connoisseur in March 1949.17 A number of individual items were noted in that publication and in contemporary press reports, whether for their interest or their value. These included a letter of 2 July 1745 from Bonnie Prince Charlie about preparations for the invasion of Scotland;18 a small portrait of a ‘Persian Darwish’ sold to Thomas Bodkin, director of the Barber Institute;19 a Fabergé imperial Easter egg sold for £1,700, according to The Times of 9 February 1949 (p. 6), and which in 2002 was to realise $9,579,500 at Christie’s, New York; and another Thomas Bodkin purchase, namely of a James I silver-gilt salt for £4,400, which was the top price in the sale.20

Some items sold in the Eckstein sales are now in British permanent collections. These include a Fabergé Convolvulus of about 1900, bought by the royal family as a birthday present for Queen Mary in 1949, now in the Royal Collection; a Beauvais tapestry after Boucher from the Loves of the Gods series now in the Fitzwilliam Museum; and a portrait by Sir Peter Lely of Lady Charlotte Fitzroy with her Indian page, now with York Museums Trust, which was lot 85 of Eckstein’s paintings sale of 8 December 1948. Also in the Fitzwilliam is Constable’s Hampstead Heath of about 1820 (lot 64 of the Eckstein sale). According to The Times of 21 June 1949 (p. 2), this was bought in at £13,000, the highest price in the sale, and then acquired by the Museum at a lesser cost thanks to the Finance Act 1930 (which exempted from death duties works of art sold or bequeathed to public collections or universities) and with help from the National Arts Collection Fund. A painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, now considered to be by Gainsborough Dupont, was sold as by Thomas Gainsborough (lot 71). Eckstein had bought it in 1937 at the Earl of Lincoln’s sale for £3,150 through the agency of Vicars Brothers Ltd., dealers who acted for him on other occasions. Another painting now in a public collection has had a more troubled history. Lot 25 of the 1948 sale was a Jan Steen, The Satyr and the Peasant Family now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. 69.PA.15). It was exhibited in 1947 at the Eugene Slatter Gallery, London, from where it seems to have been bought by Eckstein, who appears to have been a regular client there during the 1940s. Before that, however, it had been looted by the Nazis from the Philippson family in Brussels but had found its way to another London gallery by 1941. The painting remains with the Getty Museum pursuant to an agreement with the Philippson family.21

Relatively high prices were achieved in the 1948 sale for two paintings by George Morland (lots 86 and 87), which had been in the Leopold Hirsch sale in 1934, and for a Fantin-Latour painting of hollyhocks (lot 35). This had been in the Stephen Mitchell sale in 1933 where it fetched £819. At the Eckstein sale it fetched £4,200, an auction record for the artist.22 Eckstein continued to collect until the last year of his life, buying Pieter van Slingeland’s Girl feeding a Parrot at the Rothschild sale in February 1948 – that is to say, only three months before his death. In Eckstein’s sale, which comprised 128 lots, only the Fantin-Latour was by a French artist. Most of the old masters were northern, with some eighteenth-century Venetian pictures interspersed, but the greater part of the sale consisted of English watercolours and oil paintings, many of them landscapes. Unfortunately, it is not known how these pictures were hung, and whether in the Sussex or the Mayfair house.


1 ‘Eckstein, Sir Frederick’, Who Was Who; and The Times, 7 November 1929, p. 23.

2The Times, 11 June 1930, p. 16; and the Manchester Guardian, 11 June 1930, p. 13.

3The Times, 21 June 1930, p. 14.

4 Ibid., 20 July 1914, p. 4.

5 Ibid., 28 June 1930, p. 8.

7The Times, 12 November 1986, p. 33.

8 See Parks & Gardens UK website (

9 ‘The Architecture of the Estate: Modern Times’, in Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History), ed. F.H.W. Sheppard, London 1977, pp. 161–70. British History Online (, accessed 10 May 2012.

10The Times, 1 October 1940, p. 7; 29 January 1941, p. 7; and 30 August 1940, p. 2.

11Manchester Guardian, 3 June 1949, p. 5.

12 ‘Eckstein Bequest to British Museum’, The Times, 20 January 1949, p. 2.

13Illustrated London News, 29 January 1949, p. 153.

14The Times, 8 June 1949, p. 2.

15 The Times, 30 March 1949, p. 2.

16 See Measuring Worth website (

17 Grieg 1949.

18Manchester Guardian, 17 January 1949, p. 4.

19The Times, 8 February 1949, p. 7.

20 Ibid., 11 February 1949, p. 2.

21 Details and provenance available on the J. Paul Getty Museum website.

22The Times, 9 December 1948, p. 2.