Interior designer and heritage colour expert Edward Bulmer on a modello by Jean-Baptiste van Loo he acquired 27 years ago, and which now hangs in his dining room
‘My grandmother left me a legacy — and I guess over the years most of it has gone into pictures and antiques. I bought this painting by Jean-Baptiste van Loo in 1990. I was working with the restorer Alec Cobbe, and we’d go to viewings and sales together, which was my great good fortune: he would tell me whether the condition of a piece was good enough to make it worth investing in.
‘Buying at auction was very different in those days, but if you went often you’d be able to suss the scene. It was generally the same cast of characters: lots of Italian dealers, aiming to repatriate their country’s art, at the sales I was interested in. They all bid in their own way — some did it surreptitiously, others would stand at the back of the room and nod to the auctioneer. My tactic was to bid reasonably fast up to my maximum, and to stay disciplined.
‘The Van Loo is a modello for an altarpiece in Rome, at the church of Santa Maria in Monticelli. You could say that the subject matter is not very palatable — it is a flagellation, after all. But there’s nothing too gory about the way it is done. And I can live with it because I am not reading it literally, as one would have done in church centuries ago. The painting is essentially an essay in perspective and figure drawing. I think Christ is really well handled — I like the turn of his body.
‘I was still living at my parents’ house when I bought the picture and had nowhere to hang it. But as it happened, my parents split up and my father took away half the paintings, which created wall space. As for me, I did not collect for long, and I sold about half of what I had when I wanted to buy this house. All my remaining Old Master pictures are here in the dining room.
‘I have never seen the final version of The Flagellation in Santa Maria. I really ought to take a look, but I doubt I’d like it more than my modello, which is highly finished and not sketchy at all. And I suppose you could read the fireplace below as an altar.’