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How did you come to be a specialist?
As a child, I was dragged around country houses, churches, antique shops and galleries by my parents. My father was a compulsive collector, fascinated by all things architectural – and many an afternoon was spent with my brother and sister sitting bored in the back of the car, popping the ever-present bubble wrap and singing ‘anti-antique shops’, as our father rushed off in pursuit of another Kentian discovery. As a result, my siblings went into banking – but I had inadvertently caught the collecting bug. An introduction to two luminaries of the antique dealing world – David Nickerson and Christopher Gibbs – at an impressionable age, set me off on the path the led to the job I do today.
So in many ways, the job you do today is a continuation of your childhood pastimes?
Well, yes. I guess I am a bit of an English country house junkie; there is something mildly obsessive about the interwoven history of patronage, of architectural styles and craftsmen employed throughout the last 400 years or so. That is why period dramas and movies shot in historic locations fascinate and irritate me in equal measure – as you skip from the Heaven Room at Burghley to Chatsworth via the Double Cube Room at Wilton, with everything save the furniture beautifully researched for the period of the movie. If I hadn’t become a specialist, I would have enjoyed working on film locations. My job now is the best of both worlds; a teenage obsession that has become my adult passion.
As head of private collections you must see some pretty impressive collections?
I certainly do. But I think one has to realise that not every house works as a collection: it needs to have an overriding aesthetic with strong themes or layers, and a clear and confident identity. The Collection of Manolo March, to be offered on 28 October, to me epitomises the very best type of Collection sale. Its ravishing mise en scène, perched over the North Coast of Mallorca, showcases an extraordinarily diverse array of works of art from 1500 to 1965: with strands embracing everything from Maison Jansen to chinoiserie, Faberge cigarette cases to Renaisance caskets and Baroque paintings to Neo-Classical furniture.
What makes the perfect collection?
The key is not to be too old fashioned and to have a few masterpieces which stand out, around which groups can be coherently formed. But above all, a collection needs to have charm and be full of character; it very rarely works if it is bland or unimaginative. And in an ideal world, added into this mix would be a touch of glamour: the allure of the cult of personality.
What would your advice be to a budding collector?
For me, every work of art tells a story – and it is the romance of the object, where it comes from, who commissioned it and who owned it subsequently – that is at the heart of what we do. I like to buy pieces that can be linked with a specific moment in the history of taste – and which are often architectural in nature. It is easy to follow a bland, modern style; it takes courage to juxtapose different styles and time periods.
This November you are offering property from the collection of HRH Prince George, Duke of Kent and HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. Do you have a favourite piece?
This would have to be the set of four mahogany stools attributed to William and John Linnell, which were acquired by Queen Mary, Prince George’s mother in the 1920s, for Buckingham Palace. Probably commissioned by William, 2nd Earl of Harrington in the 1760s for his house in Clarence Gate, they are of a gutsy, robust and timeless architectural design with clean lines and Roman ‘Vitruvian’ scrolls. In essence, what I love.
What do you love most about your job?
Thankfully, my role with Collections is not just about auctions – and the often sad dismantling of wonderful creations. Much of my time is also spent advising historic collections for the long-term, often unpicking the layers of a collection to understand which generation contributed what, as well as researching archives and attributions, and after advising on exhibitions, conservation and re-hangs. It is such an enormous privilege to be able to look at superlative works of art in often sensational architectural settings. It is our job to ensure that the custodians are as well-advised as possible for the benefit of future generations.
Property from the Collection of HRH The Prince George, Duke of Kent KG, KT, and HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent CI, GCVO and their families
20 Nov 2009
London, King Street
Private Collections & Country House Sales