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Mitchells of Cockermouth are celebrating their best ever Antiques & Fine Art Sale held on the 3rd and 4th of September which included the estate of the late arts patron Mary Burkett OBE.  With a record-breaking total of £655,741, their highest grossing sale ever, the auction also included a new house record for an individual lot, an early 17th century English School portrait of Lady Parker sold for £52,000.

Saleroom Director and Auctioneer Mark Wise said  “The sale was a career highlight for me and the most exciting I’ve been involved with in my 28 years at Mitchells. The saleroom was packed with people.  There was a real buzz about the place.  There were more than 400 telephone bids, hundreds of advance commission bids and nearly 1,000 registered online bidders in places like Russia, Japan, China and America as well as Europe and the UK.   That’s a lot of bidders for an auctioneer to keep track of!”

Mitchells packed saleroom was stunned into silence as an intense bidding war unfolded between two telephone bidders, a London Gallery and a local collector.   Eventually, the portrait of Lady Parker was sold to the Gallery for £52,000 and the same gallery bought a 16th century portrait of Sir John Puckering for £24,000, the second highest value item in the sale.  Other high value items were two porcelain bowls by Lucie Rie (1902-1995) sold for £19,000 and £15,000 and a Cycladic bud pot by Hans Coper (1920-1981) sold for £11,000.  A painting by Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) “Landscape from Sweden Bridge” sold for £10,200.


One of the main highlights of the sale was a unique collection of letters illustrated by the artist Percy Kelly (1918-1993) and sent to Mary, his friend and mentor, over a period of 25 years from 1968 until his death in 1993.  The correspondence sold for a total of £84,680 to a variety of mainly local bidders with the highest value letters one featuring an illustration of a painter and decorator’s workshop sold for £2,500 and another “Maryport from the Settlement” sold for £2,200.  The letters featured in Mary’s book “Dear Mary, Love Percy – A Creative Thread” edited by David A. Cross and published in 2011.

Commenting on the reason for the outstanding success of the sale, Mark Wise said “Of course there were individual, high value items of national and international importance in Mary’s collection and we worked very hard on promoting the sale to both the local and global market, but the real success of the sale was with the lots that have their roots within the county where Mary lived and with the work of the artists that she championed during her lifetime.”

The Executor of Mary Burkett’s estate Mark Phythian-Adams said “I am absolutely delighted at the success of the sale at Mitchells which exceeded all expectations. I am enormously grateful to Mitchells for doing such an outstanding job as well as to all those who bid and so contributed to raising what is a significant amount for the estate’s principally charitable residuary beneficiaries.”

Mary Burkett (1924-2014) died suddenly at home in November last year aged 90.  She was a well-known champion of the arts and Cumbria’s cultural heritage, most notably the artists Sheila Fell (1931-1979), Percy Kelly (1918-1993) and Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991) whom she regarded as much artist as guidebook author.  As director of Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal for 20 years, she discovered and exhibited the Lake District work of renowned German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948).  She was also a world-leading authority on the art of feltmaking.

Her estate totalled some 543 lots of the sale including her substantial art collection built up over many years which reflected a large part of her life, not least her support and patronage of many local artists including Percy Kelly, Edward Hughes, Jenny Cowern and Lorna Graves and other artists of national and international importance.  Mark Wise said of the sale ”It was a privilege and very fitting to have acted in the sale of Mary’s estate.  She was a familiar figure here at Mitchells and attended our sales regularly over many years.  She was an astonishing person with huge energy who dedicated a large proportion of her life championing local artistic talent in an unselfish and philanthropic fashion. I really cannot imagine, in the increasingly commercial world that we live in, where the next Mary Burkett will come from.”

Mary supported many charitable causes during her lifetime, most notably Lakeland Arts Trust, Rosehill Theatre, Senhouse Roman Museum, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Wordsworth Trust, Armitt Museum, The Romney Society and Cumbria Community Foundation where she established a Cultural Fund to support local artistic talent.  She was also a world-leading authority on the ancient art of feltmaking and was the founder and first president of the International Feltmakers Association.

The proceeds of the sale will be dealt with under the terms of Mary’s will which includes some local charities as residuary beneficiaries.

A fully illustrated catalogue with hammer prices achieved during the sale can be viewed online at  Mitchells next Antiques & Fine Art Sale will be on Thursday 26th & Friday 27th November with a closing date for entries of Wednesday 21st October.  Those requiring a valuation of items for sale should contact Mark Wise on 01900 827800.


Our next Antiques & Fine Art Sale will include the personal estate of the late Mary Burkett OBE, formerly of Isel Hall.

Hans Coper - Cycladic bud pot small

Hans Coper (1920-1981), “Cycladic bud pot”, ovoid cup form with side horns, integral brown glazed ceramic square base, impressed “HC”.  Height 19 cm – Estimate £7,000-10,000

The sale will take place on Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th September at 10.00 am each day and will include several hundred lots of Mary’s personal effects including a substantial art collection comprising “painted letters” by Percy Kelly, studio pottery by internationally renowned makers Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and Siesbye, artworks by Kurt Schwitters, a pencil drawing of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter, letters to Mary from Stalin’s daughter “Lana Peters” and numerous artworks in felt on which Mary was a world authority.

The proceeds of the sale will be dealt with under the terms of Mary’s will which includes a number of local charities as residuary beneficiaries.

Percy Kelly 2 small

Percy Kelly (1918-1993), one from 140 illustrated letters from Percy Kelly to Mary Burkett which formed the basis for Mary’s book “Dear Mary, Love Percy – A Creative Thread” edited by David A. Cross 2011.  Estimates from £100-500

As well as the opportunity to view the sale in person, a fully illustrated online catalogue will be available  from Friday 21st August.  Those unable to attend the sale may either leave confidential bids in advance by commission, bid by telephone by prior arrangement or bid online during the sale by registering at

Sunday 30th August – 11.00 am – 3.00 pm
Monday 31st August – 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Tuesday 1st September – 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Wednesday 2nd September – 10.00 am – 7.00 pm
Also throughout each sale day

Lucie Rie - Turquoise bowl small


Lucie Rie (1902-1995), a porcelain trumpet bowl, circa 1983, turquoise glaze and metallic border band, impressed “LR” monogram.  Diameter 20.3 cm.  Estimate £6,000-9,000






Mitchells Antiques & Fine Art, 47 Station Road, Cockermouth CA13 9PZ | Telephone: 01900 827800

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