‘A great art dealer’ — Sir Peter Blake and Sir Michael Craig-Martin remember Leslie Waddington

The artists discuss their relationship with a dealer who was as honest as he was brilliant

‘Our relationship was not just of artist and dealer — Leslie and I became good friends,’ says artist Michael Craig-Martin, remembering the legendary British art dealer who served as chairman of Waddington Custot galleries, and whose personal collection, offered at Christie’s on 4 October, is set to be a highlight of London Frieze Week.

‘He was a hard businessman but honest, and that’s what I liked about him,’ continues Craig-Martin, who admits to making entire bodies of work that Waddington refused to show. ‘If he liked something, he liked it instantly and he liked it a lot. If he didn’t like it, he didn’t like it at all. On the other hand his enthusiasm for the things that he responded to — that he liked — was wonderful.’

For Sir Peter Blake, Waddington — who he worked with for many years — proved to be ‘a fantastic dealer’, unafraid of taking risks and backing art that he believed in. ‘I joined Leslie in about ’74. I put on some really difficult shows that weren’t easy to sell or understand,’ Blake recalls. ‘Looking back, he was very patient in letting me do that.’

In everything he did, Waddington’s own interest in art and artists was palpable. ‘He so obviously loved art and was just extraordinarily knowledgeable and scrupulously honest,' comments Craig-Martin. ‘All of the people who bought things from Leslie over the years went back to him because there was such a strong sense of trust.’

Waddington’s personal collection featured many of the artists the dealer most admired — including such 20th-century icons as Alexander Calder, Agnes Martin and Jean Dubuffet — as well as works by the contemporary artists he represented. ‘I had no idea his collection was that good and so beautiful,’ adds Peter Blake. ‘He’s got some great things in there — it’s an amazing collection.’