Cher’s passion for Pugin to highlight Bonham’s Gothic revival sale

Editorial Staff

On Wednesday July 15 Bonhams in Knightsbridge will host a special auction of Gothic revival works of art with several examples attributed to Pugin—the undisputed leader of the movement. The sale, which goes on view July 12, includes nearly 200 lots of the 19th century’s so-called pointed-architectural style. From cast-iron fixtures to polychrome tiles to oak furnishings this high style sale is a perfect opportunity to take a closer look at—or to take home—examples of the decorative arts preached by Pugin and his followers.

Notable examples in the sale come from designs Pugin made for the architect Charles Barry for the Palace of Westminster, particularly for the House of Lords. Here every detail was considered—hand-blocked wallpaper, brass fleur-de-lys grillework, and intricately carved woodwork. Many examples of the metalwork and stained glass in the sale are attributed to the workshop of John Hardman, a longtime collaborator of Pugin, whose work was recently featured in our March 2009 issue.

One unusual lot, a brass hexafoil corona ceiling light, comes not only with a storied history, but also with a unique provenance. The lighting fixture, which includes the Latin inscription domine da nobis lucem, is believed to have been made for the Bishop’s House in Birmingham at the Cathedral of Saint Chad, a project that Pugin began in 1840. Both buildings were demolished in the 1960s to make room for roadway expansion, but the crozier-like scroll fittings on this fixture suggest it is a likely survival from this important domestic architectural commission.

This fixture was later purchased for the celebrated Malibu home of the pop-singer and actress Cher, who was reportedly greatly inspired by Pugin’s work. For the three-story 14,000 sq. ft. oceanfront property she worked with her longtime friend and designer Ron Wilson, who created an Italian Renaissance style villa with dramatic Gothic revival-inspired interiors that were a sanctuary for her and her extensive collection of antiques. The stunning house was featured in Architectural Digest in August 2002, where a pair of the fixtures was photographed hanging in the grand-scale dining room. Cher previously sold works from the collection of her Malibu residence in 2006 at an auction hosted by Sotheby’s and Julien’s in California, which included a brass bed also attributed to Pugin and Hardman that sold for $84,000, and a rare folio of drawings by Pugin that sold for $16,800.

Corona ceiling light, attributed to A.W.N. Pugin for John Hardman & Company, c. 1850. Courtesy of Bonham’s.