first reaction to Jameson's Raid by the London firm was an apparently
bewildered letter to Phillips from Max Michaelis,dated 4 January
1896. The news had come like a thunderbolt, he said. "We can hardly
see how such a mad proceeding as his could have ended otherwise
than in defeat." They were in an awful state of suspense at the
new premises at 120 Bishopsgate, [It had become necessary to
hive off the Johannesburg side of the business. The new offices
had the appropriate telegraphic address, "Glittered". The diamond
dealing business stayed at Holborn Viaduct.] pestered by callers
wanting to know what was really going on (not least by the hysterical
Florrie Phillips, "hammering" on the door). Beit had cabled them
on 30 December saying that Jameson had marched into the Transvaal
and that every effort had been made to recall him. But apart from
a Times report, mentioning a letter signed by Johannesburg
residents appealing for help, that was all they knew. "We are not
aware who the signatories of the letter are and we disapprove of
the course taken, and further disavow any authority for anyone connected
with our firm attaching his name to the document."
they were soon to discover, Lionel Phillips had himself signed that
notorious "women and children" epistle. And by the time Michaelis's
letter had reached Johannesburg, Phillips was already locked up
in Pretoria jail along with other leading members of the Reform
Committee, including Percy FitzPatrick, who had previously burnt
many incriminating papers. As has been remarked by an historian
of the Corner House, it would thus seem, incredibly, that the firm's
left hand did not know what the right was doing. Given the paucity
of documents (many were deliberately destroyed), there will probably
never be a satisfactory answer to this. Samuel Evans repeated that
Julius Wernher was emphatically opposed to "methods of political
force". Julius's admiration for Rhodes was more discriminating than
Beit's, he said. "He [Julius] was not one who could blindly obey
and follow...He hoped to break down the Boers' unreasonable attitude
towards the Uitlanders by the more peaceful means of commerce and
Jameson's motives were for launching himself into such an extraordinary
reverse, the effects are still felt to this day. For the Boers'
faith in British imperial honour and statesmanship had been destroyed,
with an impact similar to the effect on the Indians in 1919 of the
Arnritsar massacre. It has been said that Jameson rode because he
felt he was fulfilling Rhodes's unspoken wish - a kind of parallel
with the barons of Henry II. Maybe he had it in his head that both
he and Rhodes were in some way invincible. Then again, he had been
reading Macaulay's Essays, and some think he suddenly thought he
was the incarnation of Clive. Or perhaps he was simply fed up with
the shilly-shallying at Johannesburg, and thought he could push
the Reformers and the rest of the citizens into action. This last
was the more general view; at the Cape they called Johannesburg
plain fact was that he had not done his reconnaissance work and
was not familiar enough with the lie of the land, and it had not
entered his mind that at Christmas time Pretoria would be thronged
with burghers up from the country.
had surrendered on the guarantee that his life and those of his
surviving men would be spared. In spite of the clamour for his execution
at Pretoria, he was handed over to the British government for punishment.
But the fate of Phillips and the Reformers was more equivocal.
31 January Julius wrote about "these terrible times" to Georges
are still without much news to understand the whole position at
all. I cannot understand the fatal letter which anyhow throws
a false light and cannot see what right P had to sign it and thus
incur heavy responsibility. It will take a long time to restore
peace of mind and harmony, but if the "Forgive and Forget" is
sincere and wisdom prevails, and faith in a better administration
is turned into a visible reality, the old vigour will gradually
be re-established...[It is ] difficult to get capital to flow
into this country...People say all kinds of nasty things about
and Forget" was hardly likely in Pretoria, but public opinion in
Britain veered in favour of the rebels after the German Kaiser sent
a telegram of congratulation to Kruger. There were indeed some virulent
critics, chief among them being the Radical MP Henry Labouchere,
owner of the newspaper Truth.
for the wretched Florrie Phillips, she wrote an impassioned letter
to The Times and never forgave Julius when he told her afterwards
she should have held her tongue. Against her husband's wishes she
sailed for South Africa.
and Rhodes returned to London "to face the music". Beit looked ill
but Rhodes seemed unperturbed. No doubt Julius was then enlightened
to some extent. On 8 February he told Rouliot that Beit seemed better
in health but "cannot stand mental strain'. The Johannesburg office
was urging that Julius should come out, but he refused because of
too much work and anxiety about Beit. As the trials in Pretoria
dragged on, Julius heard from a youthful member of the Corner House,
Raymond Schumacher, who had also been arrested but had had a prison
sentence commuted, that whilst Phillips was "cheerful and sanguine",
Friedie Eckstein was in a bad state of depression.
[Eckstein] was taken absolutely by surprise, as you were, and
now he feels inclined to throw everything up as soon as he honourably
can, and go home. I really hope he will change his mind, because
if Mr Phillips has to leave, and then Mr Eckstein also goes, the
firm will lose in prestige ... The Reform Committee was as much
astounded by the news of the invasion as any outsider. I was present
when the first telegrams came announcing the fact; the whole game
was up from that very moment...
did not throw in his hand immediately, but the threat remained.
Then came the dreadful news that Phillips, Francis Rhodes, Hammond
and Farrar had been sentenced to be hanged. Two days later the death
sentence was commuted to fifteen years' imprisonment, and then later
changed again to a fine of £25,000 each, with a signed undertaking
that they would not again interfere in the affairs of the Transvaal
Republic, which in effect meant banishment. FitzPatrick was sentenced
to two years, imprisonment with a fine of £2,000. He was also released
soon afterwards, having undertaken not to engage in politics for
three years. Back in London, Jameson was fêted by his many
admirers, especially female. He was tried and sentenced to fifteen
months' imprisonment. After four months he was released because
of Phillips's letter-books had been seized by the Transvaal government
and extracts published, which also reflected badly on the firm.
Julius wrote in deep gloom about the future, after learning about
Pretoria's "act of grace". "One sees no light anywhere and I am
afraid the industry will go more and more to the dogs. We are anxious
not to shut down but circumstances may force us and the precious
metal market must remain where it is ... ...Of course the mines
remain what they are but that is not sufficient for the investor
and under present conditions we cannot see where a profit is to
a period when anti-Semitism was increasing across the Channel because
of the Dreyfus case, the campaign against the Randlords began to
take a more sinister turn, thanks in part to Labouchere's gibes
at "Herr Beit" and the "Foreign Jew". A series
of derisive articles appeared in Truth" 'Letters from Moses
Moss of Johannesburg to Benjamin Boss, London". Johannesburg was
now nicknamed "Jewhannesburg". Hilaire Belloc, at Oxford, wrote
sarcastic poems about international financiers and the iniquities
of imperialism, far removed in theme from the Empire heroics of
novels by Rider Haggard and G. A. Henty.
of the new super-rich were building or buying houses in Park Lane
or Piccadilly. Barney Barnato, at present renting Spencer House
in St James's Place, was building a house in Park Lane. Siggy Netimann
lived next to Lord Rothschild in Piccadilly. Alfred Beit's younger
brother Otto, however, took over the Duke of Richmond's house in
Belgrave Square. When Julius Wernher was asked whether he minded
all the mud slung at Wernher, Beit, he made a sour little joke:
"Why should I bear malice? They probably think I am only Beit's
Christian name." Most people did assume that the Wernhers were
1894 Beit had moved into the strange house built for him by Etistace
Balfour at 26 Park Lane. It had two storeys and was described variously
as an "enlarged bungalow" or "more like an encampment than a solid
English house". The ground belonged to the Duke of Westminster,
who had at first been uneasy about allowing an upstart from South
Africa to build a house there. After hard bargaining, he had sent
a last-minute message to Beit to the effect that he hoped he would
spend at least £10,000 on his house. Beit's response was that he
would be spending that amount on his stables alone.
special pride was his winter garden, a kind of conservatory, with
a rock garden, ferns, palms, a tessellated pavement and an "electric
fountain". The upper floor was almost an exact copy of his chambers
in Ryder Street. During 1895 and 1896 Bode frequently stayed with
him to advise on buying pictures, bronzes, and no doubt oriental
carpets, on which he was also an expert.
was tactfully to say that collecting was not Beit's "all engrossing
passion", as had been in the case of Sir Richard Wallace and George
Salting, the great benefactor of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Bode would therefore tip off Beit when exceptional bargains came
on the market - and Beit was prepared to pay higher prices than
Julius. No doubt there was many a quid pro quo after Julius made
his donations to the Berlin museum, but it does seem that Julius
was a more independent collector, and that Beit tended to get the
cream of Bode's advice on pictures, some examples of his purchases
being The Letter Writer by Vermeer (famously stolen from
his nephew's house in Ireland in 1984) and six magnificent paintings
on the theme of the Prodigal Son by Murillo.
time has come to turn away from the dramas of South African politics,
which were to continue for the rest of the decade and lead relentlessly
to war, and to consider Julius as a connoisseur: a more peaceful
but integral aspect of his life. A hundred years later the name
Wernher was the more likely to be remembered in Britain for the
extraordinarily diverse collection of masterpieces that he amassed
in so short a time.
had decided to find grander and more spacious premises to live in.
Birdie's mother died on Boxing Day 1895, and this made it easier
to think of moving eastwards from Bayswater to Mayfair. The opportunity
came very soon with the death of Baron Maurice de Hirsch, financial
adviser to the Prince of Wales and friend of Ernest Cassel, and
who had made a fortune out of the Orient Express. Hirsch had lived
in palatial style at Bath House, on the corner of Piccadilly and
Bolton Street, facing Green Park and nearly opposite to where the
Ritz Hotel now stands. The outside of Bath House was not particularly
impressive, and looked rather like a fortress, with a high yellowish
blank wall over Piccadilly.
it had a big courtyard, many stables, an impressive staircase, and
a large glass dome over the baltistraded central hall. Alexander
Baring, first Lord Ashburton, had built it in 182 I, on the site
of an older house belonging to the Earl of Bath, and the Emperor
Alexander I of Russia had stayed there in 1814. Thomas Carlyle and
his wife Jane had been friends of successive Lady Ashburtons in
the 1850s and 60s, and had known the house well.
details about the purchase of the leasehold of Bath House and its
alterations were destroyed by bombs during the Second World War,
as indeed was much of the business archives of the London end of
Wernher, Beit. The house itself was pulled down in 1960, to make
way for a building with an even less impressive façade. Photographs
survive of the interior, showing some splendid French furniture,
damask wall hangings, marble fireplaces and huge chandeliers. The
plaster and woodwork were in the style of Louis XV, and it seems
almost certain that these embellishments were executed for the Wernhers
by Georges Hoentschel of Maison Leys, Paris.
and paintings had to be found for the house, and speedily. Again,
apart from one notebook and a few scraps of paper, Julius's records
have been mostly destroyed, though certain details about prices,
dates and provenances have been gleaned through sales catalogues
and research connected with exhibitions.
had of course been buying more pictures since the acquisition of
the Bermejo in 1890. A conventional though pleasant view of Eton
College by Pyne was bought from Colnaghi for £250 in 1893, possibly
as a present for Birdie on Harold's birth, since it hardly accords
with Julius's later tastes. However, in 1895 he bought a major work,
La Gamme d'Amour by Watteau, now in the National Gallery
and the only example there of Watteau's work. This had been in the
celebrated Mrs Lyne Stephens sale in Paris, and had been acquired
from Agnew by Julius for £3,350. In the same year he bought another
important picture from Agnew, Lady Caroline Price by Reynolds,
costing £3,885. Over the next years he collected several other English
portraits, including some Hoppners (in particular an attractive
one of Henrietta Tracy as a child) from the Paris dealer Sedelmeyer,
and a large easel portrait by the miniaturist Cosway.
other European nouveaux riches, Julius collected a number
of eighteenth-century English family portraits. It was a time of
agricultural depression and landowners were only too glad to sell
their pictures to dealers for ready cash. Lords Carlisle, Brownlow
and Ashburnharn were noted by Bode as among ready sellers, and some
of their pictures were acquired for the museum in Berlin. Dutch
interiors and genre pictures were also available and quickly snapped
up as being easy to live with. Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild was
already a leader in the market, but Americans such as Pierpont Morgan,
Henry C. Frick and Isabella Gardner were not yet competitive. Thus,
for those with the money, there were plenty of opportunities for
building up an art collection of importance.
least six other pictures were bought by Julius from Agnew, including
in 1898 Titian's Giacomo Doria (£8,000) and Rest on the
Flight into Egypt by Filippino Lippi (£3,300), and in 1901 a
Virgin and Child between Two Saints by Francia (£1,700).
From Colnaghi in 1899 he bought a small Rubens, Diana and her
Hounds (£700), believed to have once belonged to Charles II
bought some thirty pictures from Agnew, including a Reynolds for
£10,650, a figure that was evidently beyond Julius's limit. In the
Agnew sales books one notes other purchases by people like Rodolphe
Kann and Lionel Phillips. The Filippino Lippi had once belonged
to Kann. Some stray jottings by Julius show that there were several
good bargains, for instance, two church interiors by Pieter Neeffs,
costing 52 and 18 guineas respectively in 1895, and three Guardi
capriccios for £93, £170 and 220 guineas respectively.
of course vary according to fashion or rarity, but they reflect
a collector's character. A pound in the early 1890s would be the
equivalent of about thirty pounds a hundred years later. It is a
pity that we do not know how much Julius paid Sedelmeyer in 1900
for another exceptional work, Lady and Gentleman at a Harpsichord
by Metsu, with wonderfully contrasting lights and shades. Originally
belonging to the Hohenzollern family, it was bought by Sedelmeyer
in Dresden for 42,000 Francs.
highest known price paid by Julius for a picture was £8,000 for
a full-length portrait by Reynolds of the Countess of Bellamont.
Other important pictures included a Dutch interior by Pieter de
Hooch, a Wouwermans, at least two van Ostades, a fifteenth-century
Annunciation of the Venetian school, and a contemporary copy by
Augustin Estève of Goya's portrait of the Duchess of Alba.
feature of Julius's picture collection that differed from Beit's
was a large proportion of paintings of the Virgin and Child, and
it has been suggested that it was largely to please Birdie. These
include one from the school of Botticelli and a little Hans Memling,
bought in 1905 from a private source in Rome and in spite of some
over-painting still a beautiful work.
greatest acquisition of all was Christ Taking Leave of His Mother
by Altdorfer, also now in the National Gallery. This was bought
from Langton Davis in 1904 for an unknown price but certainly a
great deal higher than the 23 guineas for which it had been sold
at Christie's in 1884. Painted in about 1520, it is one of Altdorfer's
most famous works, full of extraordinary pathos, unique because
of Altdorfer's pioneer approach to landscape.
spite of the Altdorfer and the Bermejo, the Watteau, the Metsu and
the two Reynoldses, it is surprising that Julius with his huge and
ever-increasing wealth did not attempt to collect yet more major
masterpieces in paintings. It is perhaps unfair to compare his collection
with that of Rodolphe Kann, the "premier amateur of France" as he
was described in 1903. Kann possessed pictures by Bellini, Ghirlandaio,
Bronzino, Tiepolo, Vermeer, Fragonard and Boucher, and no fewer
than eleven Rembrandts, many of which through some clever manipulation
by Duveen and Berenson found their way to Pierpont Morgan after
his death. Jules Porgès also had a fine collection, chiefly
of Dutch and eighteenth-century paintings, at his sumptuous mansion
in Paris, 18 Avenue Montaigne.
conclusion is that other aspects of Julius's collection engrossed
him more, and indeed it is these that help to make it so individual.
Like Beit, he had some remarkable bronzes, early majolica and Hispano-Moresque
ceramics, but he also amassed Limoges enamels, Turkish ceramics,
German stoneware and silver gilt, Palissy ware, clocks, tapestries
and blue Sèvres. Among them were pieces of great importance.
But one suspects that his ivories, mostly Byzantine, Carolingian
and Romanesque, and his Renaissance jewellery were his chief passion.
is easy to understand why Julius, who had dealt in diamonds nearly
all his working life, should be fascinated by small, meticulously
made works of art. His tenth-century ivory triptych of the Virgin
and Child with angels and saints became famous among collectors.
A relief of St Eustace, probably a book cover, may be even earlier
in date. Julius collected around two hundred pieces of jewellery,
including cameos, intaglios and finger rings, the majority being
Spanish or German. The prize was a sixteenth century Spanish dragon
with enamelled scales and set in emeralds. He also assembled a collection
of German enamelled cap-badges and jewelled appliques or dress ornaments,
dated around 1600.
one surviving notebook was neatly kept, with details of prices and
provenances between 1893 and 1897. Although objects were shown as
having originated from Beresford-Hope, Baron Seillière, the
Duc de Dino, Prince Soltikoff or Mrs Lyne Stephens, the notebook
shows that Julius was in the habit of buying through the trade.
Several items refer to the huge Friedrich Spitzer sale in 1893 in
Paris where it was hailed as "la plus grande vente du siècle"
and can still be identified at Luton Hoo. No pictures are listed
in the notebook. The most expensive piece from the sale was a majolica
plate dated 1525 by Giorgio Andredi of Gubbio at 25,050 Francs (£1,133.6s.).
A Limoges plate signed by Pierre Raymond Cost 16,100 Francs and
a sixteenth-century wax portrait 14,100 Francs. He also bought at
the sale a fifteenth-century Book of Hours, a German sixteenth-century
clock, a baroque enamelled pearl pendant, and a manuscript of Ovid's
work ascribed to the "time of Botticelli" and originally part of
Henry III's library.
important of all, there appear in the notebook "2 plates with the
arms of Este Castel Durante XVI", apparently costing only £460.
It would seem that these originated from the Gatterburg-Morosini
sale at Venice in 1894. At any rate they must refer to two of the
greatest treasures of the collection, part of the Este-Gonzaga set
made for Isabella d'Este in about 1525 and now attributed to Niccolo
da Urbino. Another plate from the service was bought at the Spitzer
sale by Beit, for hanging on the wall at his house in Hamburg.
there are 230 items in the notebook from various sources, and they
cost well over £60,000. So taking into account additional furnishings
for Bath House, he would have spent at least £100,000 in those few
years, not counting the Louis XV doorways and fireplaces which must
have been imported from France. The other main dealers listed were
Seligman, Bramer, C. Davis, Heckschner and Langton Davis. He bought
furniture from Duveen and various bronzes from Bode, at remarkably
reasonable prices. Some of the highest prices paid were for a pair
of lapis and bronze eighteenth-century candelabra (£3,000) from
Seligman and originally belonging to Prince Galitzine, and a fourteenth-century
reliquary (£2,600) from Goldschmidt of Frankfurt. Three green Sèvres
vases (£2,200) were bought from Sedelmeyer.
of the most interesting pieces of Sèvres still in the collection,
a vase, cost £257.55, and had been in the Lyne Stephens sale. A
Régence bookcase from the same sale cost £616. The four Louis
XV tapestries from Goldschmidt costing £2,000 must surely be the
huge Beauvais tapestries, "Histoire du Roi de Chine", now hanging
in the dining-room at Luton Hoo. A lovely emerald, ruby and diamond
jewel of a falconer and two dogs, from the same source, cost £1,800.
Other treasures that came through Goldschmidt were one of the "Emperor"
tazzas in the collection, made in Augsburg in the sixteenth century
for a Cardinal Aldobrandini, and a nautilus mounted in the seventeenth
century at Ulm (£1,000). A Gobelin tapestry came from Seligman (£1,040).
Bramer sold Julius a Limoges plate in grisaille by Pierre Raymond,
depicting the Judgement of Paris, for £750 -a superb example- and
a Castel Durante plate, c. 1525, of "Portia Bela", for a mere £70.
From Beckschner he bought for only £200 a bronze copy of Michelangelo's
Night in the Medici Chapel, and a twelfth-century casket from Cologne
also had several dealings with Lord Carmichael, who was also a friend
and for a while a Trustee of the National Gallery. Several years
after Julius's death Carmichael wrote to Birdie comparing him to
George Salting. He said that whilst it had been impossible for Julius
to give as much time to his collections, he considered him more
independent, "relying more on his own judgement and -I think, though
this is to a great extent a matter of personal opinion- with better
taste". He added that Julius was "far more modest than he need have
been, or than most people are about their own skill in art matters".
legend grew up that Julius was so busy that he could only see dealers
over breakfast. A postscript to Carmichael's letter may explain
how the story got about: "He used to chaff me because I thought
he was the best judge of breakfast before looking at an object.
He said it was because porridge always made one feel that it was
well not to be over extravagant."
also appended a long assessment of Julius as a collector: "Of the
collectors of works of art whom I have known Julius Wernher was
one of the most remarkable, not only because of what he did collect
but because of what he did not collect." Julius, he said, often
refused objects which he admired and which were offered at a reasonable
price because he did not feel that they would raise the general
level. He never bought things just because they were "pretty" -
but when he did buy:
were always objects which harmonised with others which he used
to refer to as "splendidly ugly". Once when riding with him in
the Row I remember we discussed the respective merits of three
objects which had been offered to him for purchase. He and I agreed
that one of these was certainly the cheapest if one looked at
them merely from the point of view of money value, and we agreed
that it was probably the one which most people would think the
most beautiful of the three. He said he felt inclined to buy it,
but he also felt that it was a piece which if it were in his collection
might lead him to buy other pieces not up to his standard and
he did not buy it. We used to congratulate each other because
we both liked the "splendidly ugly". He said, I think probably
with truth, it was because we felt that such had been made by
stronger and more thoughtful workers than many objects which appeal
by the extreme delicacy and beauty of their finish; all the same
he did appreciate delicacy and beauty of finish, and no one knew
better than he did how to use it in juxtaposition when arranging
commented on the originality of Julius's collection. At an exhibition
he knew at once what would appeal to Julius.
was always willing to listen to anyone in whose knowledge he believed,
but I don't think he often took advice unless he was quite convinced
himself as to the desirability of an object before he bought it.
No one was more generous than he was in allowing persons who as
he thought really cared about them to handle and examine and criticise
the things he possessed, and he was genuinely pleased to look
at even a few fragmentary specimens belonging to another collector
of anything which had a relation to specimens which he would himself
have liked to acquire.
the score of originality of taste, and setting aside the English
portraits and Pyne's Eton College, Julius's collection was essentially
Continental. The German emphasis was not surprising, and maybe that
included what he called the "splendidly ugly". He was not at all
interested in, say, Chippendale furniture, or in nineteenth-century
art. The French Impressionists probably horrified him. Photographs
of his elaborately carved showcases at Bath House show how he loved
juxtaposing different types of objects, instead of grouping them
together as in a museum. "Every vitrine must be like a picture",
he once said. He may indeed have bought certain things to please
Birdie, but the impression is that the collection was very much
his own, with some shrewd bargains, though in the first instance
obviously influenced by Porgès and Rodolphe Kann.