James Perkins bought the 17th century Grade I-listed Palladian country house with wife Sophie in 2006. They began the spectacular restoration and redecoration project that turned a block of retirement apartments into a family home, the base for an interior decorating brand and a deluxe entertainment venue patronised by the great and the good of business, film, fashion, art and music.
Contemporary art and photography, antique furniture and works of art plus a spectacular collection of plaster casts filled the 28-bedroom home but most guests remembered the taxidermy.
Alongside conventional mounts of big game and rare birds were a series of playful pieces designed and commissioned by Perkins.
The flying giraffe that hung in the Orangery at the Oxfordshire country house Aynhoe Park is James Perkins’ best-known piece.
The image favoured by society magazines, in media campaigns and on invitation designs, this whimsical taxidermy ‘sculpture’ of a majestic giant tethered to five outsize glass balloons has become Aynhoe’s defining image.
It was among the star lots of the auction at Dreweatts, selling at £100,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).
While Flying Giraffe was the Aynhoe project’s most memorable creation, there was plenty of wit and whimsy in the Aynhoe rocking zebra, a preserved Burchell’s zebra mounted on outsize mahogany rockers, and the Aynhoe unicorn, a white horse with horn and fantasy tack.
Made in 2013 and 2015 respectively, these also sold well above modest estimates at £32,000 and £28,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) respectively.
Perkins, a compulsive collector who began life as a promoter of rave music events, last held an auction in 2012 when Christie’s sold works of art and curiosities for close to £3m.
He was soon back in the market paying £150,000 (£193,875 including premium) at Christie’s South Kensington in 2013 for a 6ft 3in (1.9m) triceratops skull recently excavated at the Hell Creek Formation in Montana. It was the top lot in Dreweatts’ sale, hammering at £245,000.
As their Aynhoe odyssey ends, the next project for the Perkins is Parnham House in Dorset: a Grade I-listed mansion badly damaged by fire in 2017. The house was purchased for £2.5m last year to be developed as “a base for adventure stays and visits”.