Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
Being of the rakish persuasion, your correspondent has little shame in confessing to no small pleasure taken in the victories of fellow ne’er-do-wells. How delightful, then, to discover that the name of Withnail and I has been invoked by Bellmans Auctioneers in Billinghurst, Sussex, to such glorious success. At a sale on 24 February, items that furnished the well-appointed Chelsea apartments of Richard Griffith’s overweening aesthete, Uncle Monty, on the set of the 1987 British cult classic fetched no less than four times their asking price – more than £250,000.
Unsurprisingly, high prices were found for pieces that feature most prominently in the scene towards the start of the film that sees wastrel unemployed actors Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) visit the former’s flamboyant uncle, lying through their teeth about their work prospects while Monty himself works himself into melodramatic frenzy over his lost youth (‘I have little more than vintage wine and memories’). The large Chesterfield sofa on which they sit doubled expectations to sell for £9,500; Henry Harris Brown’s Portrait of Lady Hamilton (1905), before which Monty extols the virtues of ‘a firm, young carrot’, went for 10 times its estimate at £13,000.
The real-life owner of the ensemble, the textile designer and collector Bernard Nevill, who died in 2019, seems by all accounts to have been a rather more avuncular figure than Uncle Monty, proving an inspirational teacher to generations of design students between the late 1950s and the early ’70s. He poured his heart and soul into his vast collection over the course of his life – and indeed the hire fee for Withnail and I helped to fund a number of purchases, although Nevill detested the film itself as being ‘too near the bone’. Still, Rakewell hopes that it is not too much of a disservice to indulge in the wish that as much of Monty’s living room as possible has gone to the same Withnail-besotted sot, who will now have the opportunity for hazy, happy evenings quoffing sherry, smoking ‘Camberwell carrots’ and quoting Hamlet to their heart’s content.
Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or via @Rakewelltweets.