Furniture and works of art from the film set of Withnail sell for four times its low estimate at Bellmans

03 March 2022

February saw the long anticipated Withnail and I auction at Bellmans with the collection selling for four times its low estimate for over £250,000 (£316,000 including Buyer's Premium and VAT), its proceeds benefiting UK charities. Will Pasfield, auctioneer for the sale, said: "I am thrilled that all the lots sold so well and that we had a packed room and lots of new bidders online. It was interesting to see that buyers did not just bid on items that were clearly recognisable from the film, but also other furniture and works of art. It shows what an amazing eye Professor Nevill had and while he saved so many pieces from certain destruction in the past, the auction has helped to find new homes for all of them."

Top lot of the auction was the beautiful portrait of Clara Flower from 1872 by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys (1829-1904) which sold for three times its mid-estimate for £21,000 (£26,544 incl BP and VAT) to a telephone bidder. The famous portrait of Lady Hamilton by Henry Harris Brown (1864-1948) from 1905 sold for £13,000 (£16,432) against an estimate of £1,500 - £2,500 to a private collector on the phone. The equally recognisable tapestry from the movie also sold to a private buyer for £13,000, but had been estimated at £2,000 - £4,000. The two famous sofas from the film had been estimated at £4,000 - £6,000 each and both sold to private buyers who paid £12,000 (£15,168) and £9,500 (£12,009) respectively.

Conrad Frankel, one of Bernard Nevill's godsons, was the successful bidder for the final lot - Uncle Monty's sofa, no doubt one of the most famous sofas in cinema history. He says: "Bernard was a wonderful godfather and he taught me a lot about art and design. I really wanted to buy a few things that reminded me of the times I spent in his magnificent house in Chelsea. I wasn't really going for any of the 'Withnail & I' lots, but when the sofa didn't seem to go for as much as the other one, I just couldn't resist….I thought I am the right man for that sofa! I have such great memories of spending part of my childhood on that sofa and I remember sitting on it with my grandfather and Bernard on my 21st birthday. It was the place to meet many well-known artists and I even had a cigarette with David Hockney on that sofa….there was always a lot of laughter in that room. I remember watching the movie when I was about 18 and thought it was great fun, but hadn't watched it for a while until after the auction with my wife. She hadn't seen it before, but watching the film made us decide where to put it in our house and we might even recreate Bernard's living room a little bit - that sofa will be a talking point at our parties and when it arrives here I look forward to having a sherry on it…Sherry! Sherry…..”

Given Professor Nevill's background as a textile lecturer and designer, it is not surprising that the tapestries, cushions and other textiles did particularly well with most of the cushions selling in the region of £800, eight times its low estimate.

The British black comedy from 1987, has been described by the BBC as "one of Britain's biggest cult films" and established Richard E. Grant's film career and celebrates its 35th anniversary this spring. Set in 1969, it follows two unemployed actors as they decide they need a holiday and borrow the cottage owned by Withnail's eccentric Uncle Monty, played by Richard Griffiths. Uncle Monty's luxurious house in Chelsea was in fact the home of Professor Bernard Nevill - West House, Glebe Place - and the scenes were filmed in his living room.

Bellmans was able to offer the furniture and works of art from this film location as part of the auction of his estate.

Professor Bernard Nevill (1930 - 2019) was well-known as a textile designer and educator. He taught as a lecturer at the Central School of Art and Design from 1957-60 and then at the Royal College of Art and St Martin's School of Art from 1959-74. He inspired his students by taking them to museums and galleries, turned them on to the aesthetic vocabularies of William Morris, the pre-Raphaelites and the Ballets Russes. Among the star designers he taught were Zandra Rhodes and Ossie Clark and he had a discreet, but powerful effect on more than half a century of British fashion and decor.

1961 the famous London department store Liberty & Co recruited him as a design consultant, then design director. Nevill's Liberty collections came out of the decorative encyclopaedia in his head and guaranteed the success of the printed textiles which were so important for fashion in clothes and homes from the 1960s to the 1980s. In his spare time he was a collector, in fact a hoarder of antiques, and his hobby was to restore houses and stuff them with the purchases he made all over the place.

The Trustees and Executors of the estate have confirmed that all the proceeds from the sale will be donated for a good cause to UK registered charities in loving memory of Bernard Nevill.

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