Scarborough’s burning Spa captured in time

Our sale on Sunday 23 June includes a spectacular painting showing first-hand one of the region’s most dramatic historical events.

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The Burning of the Spa, Scarborough’ by the Belgian artist Alphonse Neumans (1853 to 1893) depicts the raising to the ground of the Scarborough Spa when it was consumed by fire on 8 September 1876.

Valued between £500-£700, the framed oil on canvas is expected to be of great interest to historians and locals alike as a valuable piece of 19th-century journalism. There is a note on the back of the painting that indicates that it was painted at the scene and so constitutes an important eye-witness account of the event that must have shaken the Victorian town to its core.

The discovery of the health-giving waters gave rise to the establishment of Scarborough as a Spa town and, as such, it enjoyed considerable growth and wealth in the 18th and 19th centuries. Several buildings marked the spot in the early years to provide facilities for visitors ‘taking the waters’ before Sir Joseph Paxton (who had previously worked on the grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and the famous Crystal Palace) was commissioned to re-design the complex. 

The huge structure, including a fine concert hall, was officially opened in 1858 and drew vast numbers of visitors to the prospering town. Just 18 years later it was dramatically destroyed by fire, although it was quickly rebuilt to the current form that stands today.

The Burning of the Spa is one of several paintings of the Yorkshire seaside town that come from Mr Chapman’s estate, including a view of Scarborough by Paul Marny (1829-1914) and several 19th century northern marine artists.

Other notable pieces of fine period furniture, clocks and silver make up the Chapman collection, ranging from a striking George II silver coffeepot by the London silversmith Peter Archambo, valued between £500 and £700; to a majestic George III mahogany longcase clock expected to reach £800 - £1,200; and an elegant early 18th century mahogany breakfront bookcase with a price estimate of £1,500 to £2,500.

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