Aberdeenshire mansion opens its doors for the sale of a unique collection

The exterior of Cairness House which was sold at the end of 2023The exterior of Cairness House which was sold at the end of 2023
The exterior of Cairness House which was sold at the end of 2023 | Submitted
Cairness House, the neoclassical stately home near Buchan, Aberdeenshire, was sold last year, and this month its contents, carefully curated over the last two decades, will also go on sale, presenting an unprecedented opportunity for collectors of Georgian artwork and furniture.

Described as Scotland’s most important Greek Revival house, Cairness was constructed from 1791 to 1797 to the designs of Scottish architect James Playfair, assisted by English architect, Sir John Soane.

It has had some notable owners. Major Thomas Gordon was a friend of Lord Byron. The Countess of Southesk, granddaughter of Edward VII, bought the house in 1937.

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But in 2000, in a state of disrepair, the house was sold to Lebanese journalist Khalili Hafiz Khairallah and Spanish art historian Julio Soriano-Ruiz, who embarked on a major restoration.

Alongside extensive work to the building, they curated the interiors, adding important artwork, furniture, decoration, lighting and textiles of the era, to bring the house back to its former glory.

Cairness HouseCairness House
Cairness House | submitted

As a result, Cairness won the Georgian Group Architectural Awards prize for the best Georgian country house in Britain in 2009.

The sale of the contents is being handled by auctioneer, Dreweatts.

Joe Robinson, head of house sales and private collections at Dreweatts, says: “The scale of the owners’ vision and their decorative flair to pull together these objects is so impressive.

Some of the items included in the saleSome of the items included in the sale
Some of the items included in the sale | submitted

“They have created the feel and the authenticity of a country house collection by buying items of excellent provenance from other Scottish houses, but also from elsewhere.

"They have bought relevant works from artists of the era at the height of their success, so they understand and have the necessary academic rigour. And they have been very particular – you have to be if you want to get the detail right.”

Example of the artwork on offer in the saleExample of the artwork on offer in the sale
Example of the artwork on offer in the sale | submitted

Robinson believes that the sale will be of interest in particular to Scottish collectors: “Playfair is such a pre-eminent architect in Scotland. And every item has been inspired by the restoration of Cairness – so you see his influence.”

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He says there is also likely to be bids from abroad. “It is a private collection so there will be items which haven’t been seen for some time on the market, so we expect interest from America, Australia, Europe and increasingly China.”

Highlights will be on view in Dreweatts’ London gallery, before the auction is held at the company’s headquarters at the end of the month.

Within each level of investment there are notable items. A portrait by Royal Academician Francis Cotes (of Mrs. William Colhoun) has an estimate between £60,000 to £100,000, and there are depictions in oil of royalty, politicians and aristocracy from Scottish, British and European artists.

A painting by English artist William Etty portrays the famous Scottish actor William Charles Macready in his most celebrated role, Hamlet, and carries an estimate of £5,000-£7,000.

Several busts are included in the saleSeveral busts are included in the sale
Several busts are included in the sale | submitted

But there are smaller, more affordable lots too. Robinson says: “On the more decorative side there are sofas, tapestries, busts – all items of great quality which show the real country house comfort, without being fuddy-duddy.

"Neoclassicism is very chic.”

A mahogany drop leaf table in the style of Alexander Peter, a Scottish furniture maker well known for his work in Dumfries House, has an estimate of between £300 and £500, and presents an opportunity for a taste of 18th century style.

The mark of the architect at Cairness HouseThe mark of the architect at Cairness House
The mark of the architect at Cairness House | submitted

For the whole collection, Dreweatts have a low estimate of £241,900, but Robinson warns: “Estimates can be unpredictable. We sold a private collection last year (that of the late Robert Kime) with a low estimate of £1.3 million, which sold for £9.6m. ​

“And we have had instances in the past where someone has wanted to buy everything and keep the collection together.”



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