Art collection gives insight into life at Norfolk country estate

A collection of artwork and curiosities compiled by generations of an influential Norfolk family is set to go under the hammer later this month.

The auction marks the end of the Birkbeck family's 113-year occupancy of West Acre High House, near Swaffham, after last month's sale of the property to 'Angel of the North' sculptor Antony Gormley.

The impressive Grade I listed mansion, built in 1756, was filled with a host of important artistic treasures alongside more personal artefacts of Norfolk country life.

Among the 200 lots are Tudor portraits, a pair of Regency-era Egyptian sofas and collectible antiques like a George II mahogany wine cistern, which is expected to fetch up to �10,000.

Auctioneers hope a painting of Henry VIII in the style of Hans Holbein the Younger, whose famed original portrait of the portly monarch was destroyed by fire in 1698, could bring in as much as �20,000.


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But there are also more intimate works, depicting beloved Birkbeck family pets and horses like the painting of A Chestnut Hunter at Westacre High House, which has an estimated value of �300-�500.

Sarah Flynn, head of the paintings department at Cheffins auctioneers, said: 'This sale is very, very Norfolk. There are some very interesting portraits and lots of pictures of family pets and horses. These are traditional country house pictures, and things the Birkbeck family would have collected over the generations.

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'It is a one-off sale and I would have thought everyone in Norfolk will want to come and have a look.

'The Henry VIII painting is an iconic portrait which has been around for hundreds of years, which shows him with all his emeralds and rubies. We expect there to be a lot of interest in it.'

West Acre High House was bought by the Birkbecks in 1897 and remained the family's home until it was sold to Mr Gormley, for a figure believed to be around �3m. The sale was agreed by the current owner Henry Birkbeck after the death of his mother, Mrs Nadine Birkbeck.

Mr Birkbeck's ancestors were wool staplers, merchants and bankers, who moved to King's Lynn in the 18th century and established a formidable banking partnership with the Gurney family. After taking over the 1,000-acre estate at West Acre estate, the Birkbecks continued the traditions of field sports like hunting, fishing and shooting – pastimes which will be will be reflected in the artwork on show at the auction. Notable family members include an earlier Henry Birkbeck, born in 1885, who captained the Norfolk cricket team and won the Military Cross for his exploits while serving with the Norfolk Yeomanry during the first world war.

?The auction will be held at Cheffins, on Clifton Road in Cambridge, on November 24 and 25, with viewing from November 21. For more details, visit www.cheffins.co.uk.

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