The Dancing Faun, 1989:


“No dealer around at the time will ever forget the momentous happenings at Sotheby’s on the morning of 7th December 1989. On that day a 32-inch-high bronze Renaissance sculpture of a dancing faun broke all auction records and made £6.82 million; unbelievably, six months earlier, the same piece of sculpture had been rescued from Sotheby’s sale of garden statuary in Sussex, where it was about to be sold as a 19th-century copy after the antique, with an estimate of £l,200-£l,800.”

The Sunday Telegraph July 7, 1991 reported, under the headline “How Lord Pearce made £6 million”:

“Even close friends of Lord Pearce, the former Lord of Appeal in Ordinary who died last November in his 90th year, were astounded to read his recently published will. He left almost £5 1/2 million gross, £4 million net. The son of a schoolmaster, Edward Holroyd Pearce was born to no great inheritance, and married a lady of modest means: Erica, daughter of the landscape painter Bertram Priestman RA. Nor did he earn exorbitant fees at the Bar, much less as a talented amateur painter who exhibited regularly at Burlington House.

Where then did the money come from? The answer could well be the theme of a barely credible novel. Pearce, who liked to dabble in works of art, bought a 3ft bronze of a dancing boy in 1951 for £7. It was much admired by visitors to his garden. In the last year of his life he anonymously put it up for sale at Sotheby’s. Identified as an Adriaen de Vries of about 1610 and estimated to fetch between £1 million and £1.5 million, it was knocked down to a London dealer for an unprecedented £6.82 million, then sold to the Getty Museum, Malibu. England now has only one known de Vries. It is in the V & A: a sculpture of the artist’s patron, the Emperor Rudolf II, who allowed him to install his workshop inside Prague Castle.”

[My cousin Bruce and I used to play hide and seek in Uncle Edward and Aunt Erica’s garden, and I remember the bronze statue very well. Alan Ray-Jones]