With a sale of pieces from the London antiques dealer’s much-loved Mayfair shop approaching on 13 June, Meredith Etherington-Smith looks at the eminent career of a connoisseur whose client list reads like an international who’s who
Kenneth Neame, the antiques dealer and arbiter of elegant and curious taste, began his career finding exotic and highly colourful furniture and porcelains, notably Chinese export pieces, for an appreciative and wealthy clientele.
His first shop, opened in the 1950s, was housed in the composer George Frideric Handel’s former home on Brook Street in Mayfair, and very soon became the clubby destination for discerning international clients staying at Claridge’s. A path would be beaten to Kenneth Neame’s door in the hope and expectation of finding something unusual, most often with chinoiserie overtones.
One such example is the above Chinese export chest on a rococo giltwood stand, which belonged to Conrad-Albert Charles (1665-1738), 1st Duke d’Ursel and 1st Duke of Hoboken. The chest remained in the family castle until 1973, when part of the collection was sold before the castle and its contents were donated to the city of Antwerp. It later reappeared at Benacre Hall in Suffolk where it was owned by Sir John Gooch.
Another is the above Regency chinoiserie side cabinet attributed to Frederick Crace, formerly at Chatsworth in Derbyshire where it was acquired by either the 6th or 7th Duke of Devonshire. Crace worked for George IV at Carlton House Terrace and on the exotic interiors of Brighton Pavilion in Sussex. The 18th-century Chinese export painted mirrors below were acquired from the Estate of Brooke Astor.
As the art historian and curator Diane Shiach points out in the catalogue of the Kenneth Neame auction on 13 June, the dealer’s loyal client list reads like a Who’s Who of British aristocrats, European and Middle Eastern royalty, Hollywood stars and Greek shipping magnates: Valentino, Bunny Mellon, Ralph Richardson, Daisy Fellowes, Pamela Harriman, Ava Gardner, Hélène Rochas, Estée Lauder, Helena Rubinstein, the 2nd and 4th Viscounts Rothermere, Baroness Thatcher and Gianni Versace, to name but a few. Rudolf Nureyev was once spotted in the window of the Brook Street shop, stretching out on a bed with silken covers while trying it for size.
After 30 years in Brook Street, Neame moved to Mount Street in 1990. Nearly three decades on, he was the last of the grand antique dealers in a location once known as a heartland for the trade but which has become dominated by fashion retailers.
The storied dealer has every intention of continuing his work. Neame’s client list grows apace, and he has recently broken into new markets, attracting collectors from China and beyond. He continues to trade and decorate, and has just completed an entire house for a client in Ireland.
As he looks forward to the relocation of his business, and discovering new and exotic antiques for his annual stand at the Masterpiece fair in London, Kenneth Neame can look back with great pride over his many decades, countless beautiful discoveries and the scores of famous clients who have shared his taste and become his friends.