Yesterday I went to the Royal Academy to view the collection of Charles 1. He may have been a hapless monarch but as a collector of art he had no English royal equal. Titian, Mantegna, Holbein, Durer, Rubens and Van Dyck he had pictures by them all. The collection was broken up and sold but the Royal Academy has done its best to showcase many of them, notably the Van Dycks family portraits
On arrival at the RA I was informed by their employee on the entrance that the exhibition was very full and you might want to go the final rooms first. “Very full” – the first room was so crowded as a tube train in rush hour.
I duly weaved my way through several rooms noting some Van Dycks I hoped would be less crowded but every salon was full.
Finally in retracing my steps I found some Van Dycks which you could appreciate on your own and duly did so. Much as I admired them and I also felt that he was commissioned painter and his job was to make King Charles look as regal as possible.
I know several well known artists who will not do commissions as the client/subject might be so dissatisfied with the result and I wonder their output would be had Velasquez and Van Dyck had a freer hand and palette .
Before the exhibition I went to Christies to view the Picasso ceramics shortly to go into auction. I know this collection well. Picasso, when he lived after the war in Vallauruis near Antibes, strolled into the Madura pottery whose owners the Rames asked him if he had ever painted on ceramics. A partnership was rapidly forged which endured for many years whereby Picasso would paint the Master Copy and then they would copy them. It was a cheap way of having a Picasso until another resident of Vallauris, Richard Attenborough, died and his collection of over 40 were sold by the Estate. Prices began to rise and Christies can guarantee at east a 90% sale. To be in the room alone and also adjacent to a collection of Bernard Buffets was a great joy. I would certainly recommend this to the viewer that does not fancy the bigger crowd of this blockbuster exhibition.
Finally I would like to relate an interesting conversation I had over dinner on Monday night with friend who holds high office in the Courtauld Institute and another connoisseur. My Courtauld friend said they try to exhibit works from collectors and dealers. The relationship between dealer and artist can be a troubled one and the collector is sometimes regard as greedy plutocrat with no affinity for fine art and who treats it as an investment. Building a collection where you can be at the mercy of the amoral dealer or comparing in the Internet age where buyers are trawling the net for bargains is no easy matter. We should grateful that Sam Courtauld, The Lauder collection, Alfred Barnes and the Guggenheims left a legacy for all of us to enjoy in a time where much well known fine art is in a vault in a depository in Geneva and will not see the light of any exhibiton … however crowded