'I collect, therefore I am'
‘MY COLLECTION IS the result of my life’, wrote Lord Hertford, the proof of whose enthusiasms and taste are everywhere apparent today at the Wallace Collection. In this issue devoted to collectors and collecting it is, perhaps, Hertford and Albert C. Barnes – two contrasting but similarly reclusive figures – who emerge as truly obsessive in their lifelong passion for acquiring works of art. In the article on Hertford (pp.544–47) we see him taking his first, and obviously intoxicated, steps into the world of objets de luxe; in that on Barnes (pp.534–43) we witness not only first steps but the fully flowered megalomania of this driven autodidact. In the case of Pietro Mellini in seventeenth-century Rome (pp.512–20), it was a matter of cherishing the inherited family collections and judiciously adding to them. With Count von Brühl we cannot be sure of the motives behind his acquisitions but presumably – as with many collectors – they were a mix of personal taste and commercial opportunism with, on his part, some political one-upmanship (pp.529–33). In the article on the banker-dealer Godefroy (pp.521–28), commerce reigns supreme in his buying and selling of old masters, although he did have the foresight to commission Chardin to paint portraits of his sons. Elsewhere in this issue, reviews chronicle some of the great patrician family collectors in Italy for whom patronage of contemporary artists and collecting went hand in hand.
In two museums in London, two collector-benefactors are currently being celebrated, both with names that resound through the history of art in Britain. Samuel Courtauld’s passion for Impressionism and Post-Impressionism led, as we know, to the acquisition and eventual public display of some of the finest examples from those movements. His paintings and works on paper by Cézanne, the first of which, Still life with plaster Cupid, was bought in 1923 (when Barnes had already acquired many of his sixty-nine paintings by Cézanne), constitute the greatest grouping within his collection as a whole. The Courtauld Gallery’s present show of these works (to 5th October), accompanied by an excellent publication,1 once more demonstrates his crucial intervention in the representation of modern French art in Britain. Like Courtauld, the Hon. Simon Sainsbury was no stranger to big business nor to philanthropy on a princely scale, particularly in the service of the National Gallery and through The Monument Trust, the charitable foundation he established in 1963 (and from which this Magazine has enormously benefited). On his death in 2006, Sainsbury bequeathed eighteen paintings to the Tate and the National Gallery, all of which are now on show at Tate Britain (to 5th October).2 For the most part they form a quiet, intimate group revealing their origins in a collection made for civilised domestic surroundings. While some of the works will add flavour and bulk to the national collections (paintings by Degas, Bonnard and Pasmore, for example, will match works by those artists already in the collections), others fill gaps and will be made to work harder. Here, the Gauguin still life (reproduced on the cover of this issue) is a case in point, going a little way to ameliorate the poor representation of Gauguin at Trafalgar Square. Across the Tate’s room are images of two men smoking – an early jewel by Lucian Freud and a magisterial late portrait by the Douanier Rousseau, again a striking as well as useful addition to the National Gallery.
Only one work in the Sainsbury Bequest dates from later than the 1950s. By contrast, in the Anthony d’Offay collection, the purchase of which by the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland was announced in February this year, some of the works are hardly ‘dry’. As a dealer, Anthony d’Offay first specialised, to great effect, in early twentieth-century British art. His discoveries in this field and the beautifully tailored exhibitions that resulted inspired many distinguished collectors. Among them was Simon Sainsbury whose modern British works, several with a d’Offay provenance, were sold at Christie’s this June. In the 1980s Anthony d’Offay was, as it were, reborn as a dealer in international contemporary art, mostly German and American, alongside British artists such as Gilbert & George and Richard Long whose work he had shown in the 1970s. Continuing to deal privately after he closed his London gallery in 2001, he added to his stock a considerable range of works that evolved into a series of Artist Rooms – monographic groupings by such figures as Warhol, Beuys, Kiefer, Kounellis and others – once his intention of selling to the nation had crystallised. After protracted negotiations, this sale was achieved with the encouraging and unprecedented intervention of the Scottish and British Governments (as well as the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund) and a favourable tax settlement for the vendor (who receives £26.5 million, the cost price of the works, rather than their value today, estimated at £125 million). We cannot yet comment on the complete extent of the as yet unpublished collection which numbers over seven hundred works including paintings, sculpture, video and, overwhelmingly, works on paper, photographs and posters, all to be catalogued, presumably, under Anthony d’Offay’s aegis as ‘ex officio unpaid curator’ of the collection. Nor can we know how such Artist Rooms will appear in practice at the regional centres to which they will tour, although their audiences are sure to savour the opportunity of ‘catching up’ on some highly representative examples of late twentieth-century international taste. Certainly there is variety in the assembly of works, from the great group of drawings by Beuys to the ‘realist’ figurative sculpture of Ron Mueck. But we can only hope that this remarkable transaction – a complex hybrid of commercial acumen and philanthropic largesse – will encourage further such advantageous partnerships between Government and the national collections.