WINDOW ON THE ARTS by Timothy Elphick
THIS week at Sotheby's main auction rooms a superb watercolour drawing of London's Brompton Oratory spiritual home to some of London's bestheeled Catholics will come under the hammer.
Entitled The Dome of the Brompton Oratory, the painting by Charles Ginner, an artist of Anglo-Scottish descent who was born and brought up in France in the dying years of the last century, looks out over the rooves of exclusive South Kensington to one of the capital's grandest Catholic churches.
Meticulously drawn in pen and black ink, over which watercolour has been washed in sobre ochres and burnt reds, the picture (which measures 15 inches by 12) is expected to fetch in the region of £7,000 in Sotheby's sale of Modern British Paintings on Wednesday.
The auction also includes work by the Welsh artist and poet, David Jones. who in the early 1920s worked with Eric Gill and the craftsmen of the Guild of St Joseph and Dominic in Sussex before joining the painters of the modern British movement.
Strangely, the sale of Charles Ginner's painting of the Brompton Oratory's roof this week coincides with the church's launch of the second stage of its restoration appeal much of which will go to putting the roof into good enough shape to see the church into the next millennium. The former Attorney General, Lord Rawlinson, launched the appeal at a buffet supper attended by 150 guests on Thursday evening in the Oratory Hall.
"This is one of the finest examples of Victorian baroque in Britain and is unique to London," Lord Rawlinson said.
Among those present were the apostolic pro nuncio Archbishop Luigi Barbarito, Mgr Alfred Gilbey, Catholic novelist Piers Paul Read, the Italian ambassador Count Giacomo Attolico, the president of the Order of the Knights of Malta Lord Craigmyle, and a representative selection of princes and princesses from Europe's defunct royal families.
The Oratory has set its sights high the Fathers hope to raise £2.5 million through donations and pledges.
The first stage of the appeal was launched in 1984, the church's centenary year. In the three years in which it ran, the appeal clocked up enough to pay for the cleaning of the Oratory's omate, classical stone facade and a complete cleaning of the church interior as well as a new lighting system and urgent repairs to the roof of the nave.
The gleaming white of the church's Portland stone facade
has now been matched by the Victoria and Albert Museum next door which has recently stripped itself of the grime that for so long smothered it to reveal once more the glorious red and white of its massive frontage.
But the task the Oratorians have set themselves is to renovate the roof which for so large a building is no mean accomplishment. Under conditions laid down by English Heritage (which has given a grant of £100.000 towards the repairs) all work done to the roof and the dome must be in strict accordance with the intentions of the Oratory's Victorian architect, Herbert Gribble.
Gribble wrote of his Brompton church that "those who have no opportunity of going to Italy to see an Italian church have only to come here to see the model of one".
He did not envisage that the church would turn black with soot from the coal burned in London earlier this century a residue which experts agree has slowly eaten into and disfigured the stone to which it clings.
The Oratorians hope that they will be able to begin work on the building in June, with repairs to the church's east side.
And if all goes to plan, they will be able to put the finishing touches to the entire restoration project by the autumn of 1993.
The foundations for the Oratory were laid in 1880, and the main part was completed eight years later.