‘The Oliver Hoare Collection is incredibly varied,’ says specialist Pat Frost. ‘He was the sort of man with very strong interests and those included art, music and beauty — often in the female form.’
The highly influential Islamic art dealer was born in 1945 and studied at the Sorbonne before joining Christie’s in 1967, where he was intrinsic to setting up the Islamic Art department. In 1975 he established the Ahuan Gallery, specialising in art from the Middle East.
Hoare became an adviser to most of the major Islamic art collectors and museums throughout the region, as well as in Europe, America and Japan. In 1994 he was instrumental in brokering a deal to return a prized Persian manuscript to Tehran. Throughout his life he remained an inveterate collector of the fabulous, writing in 2017, ‘The function of a work of art is to make us dream.’ From the surreal to the miraculous, the ancient to the modern, each object he acquired told a story.
The Jām-I Jam
In 2018, this ancient 14th-century manuscript known as the Jām-I Jam was featured in Oliver Hoare’s posthumous exhibition, The Silk Road.
It was illustrated by the celebrated painter Kamal al-Din Bihzad (c.1450-c.1535) when he was only 18 years old. As Frost explains, ‘It is not only very rare, but also includes possibly the earliest examples of Bihzad’s work’.
Hoare’s love of the Middle East began as a child, when he was given a moneybox containing ancient coins. Among the usual Roman examples there was a coin featuring an elephant. ‘When I asked where it came from my father answered “Persia”, and from that moment on, the land of Persia became a place of mystery and fascination for me, to which I longed to go.’
The Jām-I Jam contains 47 illuminated pages of text in gold and lapis lazuli pigment, and four paintings which recount the story of the mystical Cup of Jamshid. According to Frost, the cup ‘was supposed to contain the seven heavens of the universe and the secret to immortality.’
A Fraser Album illustration
In 1815, an East India company employee called William Fraser (1784-1835) commissioned the renowned Indian miniature painter, Ghulam Ali Khan (circa 1817-55), and his studio, to create a pictorial record of Delhi’s vibrant cultural life. The resulting series of paintings became known as The Fraser Album — one of the great masterpieces of Indian art.
This illustration depicts a sage with his disciple and a local musician. The brilliance and simplicity of colours, the idiosyncratic approach to perspective and the fine attention to detail reveal an artist trained in the old Mughal techniques who was also experimenting with Western ideas, creating a fusion, which became known as the Company School style. The Fraser Album was sent back to Scotland in 1819 and only discovered by his descendants in 1979. Several pages are now to be found in the British Museum.
The Rupert Cup
This 17th-century cup dates back to the English Civil War. It is nicknamed the ‘Rupert Cup’ in memory of the battle between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians in 1649, when Cromwell’s army invaded Ireland. The cup was owned by Major Edward Hoare (1626-1690), who served in Cromwell’s New Model Army, beating the Royalists led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Duke of Cumberland (1619-1682). Oliver Hoare purchased the cup from the art collector Baron Alain de Rothschild in the late 1960s, and it became a much-loved object.
A lithograph by Man Ray
In 1932, the surrealist photographer Lee Miller (1907-1977) walked out on her lover, Man Ray. Her sexual independence had driven him insane — he had threatened her, mocked her and finally, in an attempt to possess her, anatomised her as if she were a Greek sculpture.
This lithograph is taken from a painting by Man Ray made after her departure, which features Miller’s lips flying over the Paris Observatory. It embodies the surrealist concepts relating to dreams and the uncanny, and the obsession with the female form. It was one of Hoare’s favourite images, of which he wrote, ‘It remains one of the most haunting expressions of Man Ray’s nostalgic despair and the enduring scar that her loss inflicted on him’.
A unique photograph by François-Marie Banier
The celebrity photographer and art collector François-Marie Banier, famous for his images of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, took this image of Oliver Hoare’s collection of curios in 2011. At the time the photographer had become implicated in an epic feud with the family of L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt that transfixed France. This unique gelatin silver print depicts some of Hoare’s favourite objects, including a sharpening steel in the centre of the table, which is offered for sale at Christie’s.
A 17th-century skull pomander
The mystery surrounding this silver skull pomander is an intriguing one and is recounted by Christie’s specialist Milo Dickinson. Pomanders are scent carriers, and were popular during the Restoration period, usually carried as protection against infection. This pomander served as a memento mori, which is emphasised by the miniature painting inside the skull showing Christ saving souls from Limbo. Frost describes the pomander as, ‘A wonderfully macabre example. I love the idea that you would put perfume in a skull to mask the smell of mortality. I think that is the kind of twist that would have appealed to Hoare.’
A silk heraldic rug
This silk heraldic rug so intrigued the art dealer that he bought it even though it could not be dated, writing, ‘It is an extraordinary achievement, whatever it is.’ The carpet depicts 98 real and imagined creatures possibly inspired by ancient bestiaries — illuminated manuscripts that celebrated animals and their role in the world. After some research, Hoare discovered two late medieval textiles in Sweden featuring similar designs. How such ideas were transported from 14th-century Scandinavia to Persia remains a mystery.
A 16th-century tapestry, The Lady and the Unicorn
At the heart of Oliver Hoare’s collection of fantastical objects was a fascination with mythology. Over his lifetime the art dealer collected a wealth of evidence to suggest that certain fabled creatures, such as the unicorn, actually existed. In his catalogue essay for his exhibition Every Object Tells a Story in 2017, he wrote, ‘The existence of unicorns is already stamped on the Indus Valley seals of the mid-3rd millennium BC and continues to be recorded through antiquity, the Middle Ages and beyond, in images, literature and poetry. And then quite suddenly, belief in their existence faded.’
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This 16th-century tapestry from Flanders is, according to Frost, ‘one of the most romantic. It depicts purity, balanced by the lure of the flesh and the mythical beast that represents these conflicts in the human experience.’ It was probably part of a larger commission of weavings, several of which are now owned by the Metropolitan Museum New York.