“Possibly the world’s finest Greek portrait”: Demosthenes – from Knole to Copenhagen

The Copenhagen Demosthenes (WikiMedia Commons).

Among the most famous sculptures in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is the portrait statue of Demosthenes (inv. 2782; Arachne entry with some further bibliography). The statue is reported to have been found in Campania, where it was once part of the collection of a palazzo in central Naples. In 1770, it then made its way to the country house of Knole in Kent (now owned by National Trust).

Frederik Poulsen, who was director of NCG from 1926 to 1943, was a prolific writer and gives an interesting account of the acquisition of the Demosthenes for the Copenhagen collection in the third volume of his memoirs, Foraar i Spanien, Sommer i England [Spring in Spain, Summer in England] (1950).

I provide a rough translation of the passage below (p. 121). The companionship that he mentions in the beginning here refers to Helge Jacobsen (1882-1946), the son of Carl Jacobsen, who at the time served as chairman of the Glyptotek’s board (see now “The Enigmatic Collector“). Sadly, I have been unable to locate the pub in which FP sealed the deal.

An aura of summer air and good companionship rests over the acquisition of the famous Demosthenes statue from Knole Park in Kent (southern England) in 1929. The offer came from the noble owner through the art dealer company Spink and Son in London and when the statue in its time had been characterised by the German Adolph Michaëlis as technically and artistically poorer than the even more famous Demosthenes statue in the Vatican, we first sent Elo to get this assessment confirmed or refuted. He came home filled with praise, and now Helge Jacobsen, accompanied by wife and daughter, and I departed. From London we drove south in the Spinks’ car, accompanied by a gracious representative from the company, to the hop gardens of Kent. When we saw the statue, we could almost not hide our enthusiasm, so powerful was its effect, much stronger than the Vatican’s statue, which I proved in a later publication. It was a good thing that the Spink representative did not understand Danish. After a cosy lunch in the pub “Seven Oaks”, I had a tense negotiation with this gracious gentleman in the beer garden, and I succeeded in getting the price down from 16.000 to 12.000 pounds. The statue, possibly the world’s finest Greek portrait sculpture, is honestly worth that.

Knole, photo: Nigel Turner (on Flickr).

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