Bonhams art sale reveals game of tennis' earliest secrets, next month


This oil painting by Lucas Gassel shows the grounds of a Renaissance palace, with episodes from the story of David and Bathsheba and an extensive landscape with mountains and a harbour beyond.

And, on a tennis court in the foreground, two players are using what appear to be very modern style tennis strokes...

The present work is one of a group of paintings that originated in Flanders in the years between 1530 and 1560, three of which are attributed to Lucas Gassel (Helmont c.1500-c.1570).

The location of eleven of the pictures is known and there are several more which are only known by hearsay. Four of the series are in public collections.

Lucas Gassel's depiction of  the grounds of a Renaissance palace, with an early tennis match near the bottom (Click to enlarge)


There is one at the MCC, Lords, London, and one in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

But now you'll have a chance to own one when Bonhams auctions it at New Bond Street, London on July 6.

By the 16th century, tennis had become one of the most popular of all games in the royal courts. Such pictures are of tremendous interest to Real Tennis players because they show details of 16th century courts that would otherwise be unknown.

The picture shows a cord suspended across the court but no net, as well as a paved floor. This corresponds with the description of the game given by the humanist scholar, Luis Vives, in his Latin exercise entitled Leges Ludi (The Rules of the Game) in 1539.

A closer look at the game of tennis (detail)

This composition shows a singles game, and the rather flamboyant strokes reveal that the rules by which the game was played in these pictures possibly differ to the rules by which the game is played today.

Said Caroline Oliphant of Bonhams: "Tennis is such an enduringly popular sport it's remarkable to see such a wonderful early depiction of the game."

The works is estimated to sell for £70,000 to £100,000.


Join our readers in over 200 countries around the world - sign up for your free weekly Collectibles Newsletter today

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock