Property from the Estate of Alastair Bradley Martin, Including Works from the Guennol Collection (Lots 1-48) For most of his 94 years, Alastair Bradley Martin was justly described as a most passionate collector--astute, inspired and individual in his tastes. A predilection for collecting began with stamps, books, rifles and cars, but swiftly expanded to embrace vast new horizons, and eventually became his life's mission. For, as Martin said, "if a man owns a collection, the collection owns him." The result of his devoted efforts continues to astound scholars, collectors, curators and dealers throughout the world.
Martin shared his personal philosophy on collecting at every opportunity. He and his wife Edith, a notable needlewoman in her own right, pursued two main goals; a relentless quest for exceptional objects, and an interest in a vast array of cultures. He understood that these manifestations of the art of man communicated across time and space to encapsulate the history of artistic traditions. As he liked to say, "fishing in many waters rather than in a single pond is not only more intriguing, it may also improve the skill of the angler." Although his aesthetic view and collecting values may be unfashionable in the academic art world today, they have helped to expand the boundaries of that world. His was an all-encompassing approach that was not outwardly intellectual but instinctive, "a response from one's subconscious." He was, quite simply, drawn to the exoticisim and romance of "things," being wont to describe collecting in a broad realm as an "exquisite chase."
Hence, the Guennol collection came into being. Guennol means "martin" (as in the bird) in Welsh, and Wales had special meaning for the couple who spent their honeymoon there. True to their mission, the quality and breadth of this assemblage is truly astounding, encompassing American folk art, ancient Egyptian, Near Eastern, Medieval, and Asian, just to name a few. Both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art staged dedicated exhibitions (in 1990 and 2000, respectively) and a total of three hard-bound catalogues were produced. These great institutions, among others, have benefited from the largess of the Martins with numerous gifts and long-term loans of significant objects over the years. Martin derived enormous pleasure in sharing his objects with the public and allowing the opportunity for a collector to train his eye. A donor to the Brooklyn Museum since 1947, Martin became a member of the Board of trustees in 1948, and later served as its chairman from 1984 to 1989. He was also a member of the acquisition committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was also a member of the acquisition committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in 1969 he enhanced the Museum of American Folk Art's collection with an extraordinary gift of 140 waterfowl decoys.
As the collection grew, the collectors' eye for exceptional pieces did not go unnoticed. Several objects in the collection, including the carved wooden figure of a whale and whalers, were displayed in the 1962 "Initial Loan Exhibition of the Museum of Early American Folk Arts" in the Time-Life Building in New York. A selection from the collection was sent abroad to represent early examples of American art in the United States Pavilion at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan. Objects in the Guennol collection went on to be included in renowned exhibitions of American folk art, including "The Flowering of American Folk Art" at the Whitney Museum in 1974, and in "Folk Sculpture USA" at the Brooklyn Museum in 1976.
Aside from his renown as a collector, Alastair Martin was acclaimed for his athletic achievements. He became a national champion in the rarified sport of court tennis--winning numerous singles and doubles titles over the course of three decades. In 1969, he was named president of the United States Lawn Tennis Association (later the United States Tennis Association) and made a significant contribution to the sport by instituting professional open competition.
Alastair Martin always embraced a challenge, whether the pursuit of a beautiful object or victory on the court. In both art and sport, his name is legendary. In his writings, A.B. Martin described collecting as a calling. He drew parallels between the artist and the collector, "for art collecting is an art...as the artist soars in creation, the collector must also soar to appreciate the collection." In developing his collection, Alastair Martin amply demonstrated the creative passion, vision and patience of a true artist.