The collection of 90 mirrors – expected to be the largest exhibition of its kind ever to focus on English mirrors – dates between 1660 and 1820. The most striking is a highly embellished, gold-plated number with two mythical-looking heads on top (currently sitting in Simon Phillips’ – Ronald’s son’s – office), which hung in prime minister William Gladstone’s home. There’s also a mirror plate – glass lacquered with painting in China – that belonged to the Ritchie (as in Guy) family.
There are also some enormous, rare and brilliant Chippendales – which are always a favourite. An oval pair, with curling gold-plated frames, are on sale for a cool £850,000.
Mirrors may seem an odd money-spinner, but they are immensely popular. “A great mirror makes a room,” says Simon Phillips. “An old one can look modern in the right setting.”
They’re also a savvy buy. “Antiques are doing very well – but they have to be the best,” he says. “The best are going up. Some mirrors have been a phenomenal investment: we’ve seen some go from £12,000 to £600,000 in 40 years. If you buy a very good one: good provenance, good quality, they will rise in value because they are quite rare,” says Phillips.
Pairs are the ultimate find. Among Phillips’ stellar collection are a pair of George I carved and gilt gesso pier glasses from 1715, on sale for a cool £100,000. What do you expect with an “elaborately shaped arched cresting centred by plumed grotesque masks within a background of arabesques” and “a channelled and gadrooned border frame punctuated with stylised flower heads”. A more affordable set are a pair of George III giltwood mirrors – square. plain and elegant – from 1790, costing from £10,000.
This exhibition promises to be a magical history of narcissism and decoration – and a celebration of English craftsmanship.
Mirrors will be showing at the Ronald Phillips gallery (26 Bruton Street, London W1) from 9 to 29 June 2010, in what is believed will be largest selling exhibition of its kind.