Arianne by Jean-Joseph Foucou dated 1793, sold for £170,000 at Mellors & Kirk as part of a single-owner sale of the contents of The Heath House, near Checkley, Staffordshire.

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Following the sale of the property last year, the contents of The Heath House, near Checkley, Staffordshire, were dispersed by Mellors & Kirk in Nottingham on April 12.

The 415 lots were topped by a late 18th century marble statuette of ‘Ariadne abandoned’ sold at a surprise £170,000 (plus 24% buyer’s premium).

The house was built for textiles manufacturer John Burton Philips (1785-1847) on family lands in the mid- 1830s. A Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson (1794-1865) was engaged to design the building, the interiors and some of the furniture (several examples of which were included in the sale).

Family collection

The Heath House was also the setting for a collection assembled after Philips married Joanna Cure (1795-1858) in 1826. The couple acquired many Grand Tour items during a series of visits to France and Italy. More was sourced in London from dealers such as the English marchand-mercier Edward Holmes Baldock (1777-1845), from exhibitions at the Royal Academy and the Suffolk Street Gallery and at estate sales such as those of the Duke of York and the artist Benjamin West.

Some furniture was commissioned from Gillows of Lancaster – the firm’s famous Estimate Sketch Books referencing two Philips designs including Gillows’ earliest example for a davenport.

The provenance of many of the Philips’ purchases is known from the survival of two small pocket notebooks penned by Joanna Philips. Writing c.1845, she records the purchase of ‘a marble statue of Ariadne bought at Bath by Mr Hutchinson’. Standing 3ft (90cm) high, it is signed JJ Foucou SP 1793 and inscribed Arianne.

Jean-Joseph Foucou (1739-1821), if not a sculptor of the very top drawer, was a regular contributor to the Paris Salon.

Born in Alpes-de-Haute- Provence and a student at the École de peinture et de sculpture in Marseille he worked in both Paris and Rome, his career straddling the Ancien Régime, the onset of the Revolution and the Napoleonic era.

He provided marbles for Marie Antoinette’s dairy at Château de Rambouillet, worked on the decoration of the Panthéon as the monarchy was overthrown and contributed to the bronze bas-reliefs at the Place VendÔme celebrating victory at Austerlitz in 1805.

Dated 1793, the mythological figure of Arianne was made during the era of revolutionary fervour known as the Reign of Terror.

The subject is the Cretan princess Ariana (Roman) or Ariadne (Greek) who helped Theseus escape the Minotaur and the labyrinth with a ball of golden string.

She was later abandoned on the island of Naxos, as depicted here.

It was deemed an attractive model, an accessible size and was in fine condition except the loss of a thumb and fingers from an upraised right hand.

Estimated at just £1500-2000, it lured numerous potential bidders and sparked a contest that, at the business end, comprised a bidder on the phone and another on the internet.

The winning bidder, paying a price that exceeded £210,000 once fees were added, was online. Relatively few fully signed works by the artist have come to market and this is almost certainly a record price for the sculptor whose work has not previously passed five figures at auction. Back in January 1994, the slightly larger figure of a dancing bacchante signed and dated 1785 sold for $35,000 at Christie’s New York.