Brown’s London Art Weekend is this weekend! Continuing our series of art walks around galleries in Mayfair and St James’s from some of the area’s most knowledgeable insiders, today Jonathan Horwich, Global Director of Pictures Sales at Bonhams, introduces his recommended route.
Start at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street. The building may look old from the outside – the façade, the narrowest in the street, is 19th century – but walk inside to see how seven buildings have been combined to make a state-of-the-art auction house with a soaring main saleroom as its centrepiece. Unveiled in 2013, and designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, lds-uk.com, the building has been given many awards, the most recent being a RIBA National Award in June 2015. The current exhibition is of Old Master Paintings as a prelude to the sale on 8 July. Some of the highlights to look out for are two flower paintings by Jan van Kessel, a charming oil by Giovanni Tiepolo and an exceptionally rare drawing by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown that shows his unrealised vision for Blenheim Palace.
Down the street at 148 New Bond Street is the Fine Art Society, founded in 1876. The gallery pioneered the one-man exhibition, most famously for James Whistler’s first set of Venice etchings in 1880. When the exhibition failed to attract glowing reviews, Whistler retorted with his second exhibition in 1883, transforming the Fine Art Society into an ‘Arrangement in Yellow’ with yellow silk butterflies for his supporters to wear. He published an exhibition catalogue laced with barbed quotes by the critics of his etchings, and in response to complaints that he was hanging his pictures too high on the Society’s walls, he retorted: ‘Of course, that’s all right. In an exhibition of etchings, the etchings are the last thing people come to see!’ Right next door to the Fine Art Society is the Halcyon Gallery, and further up the road are Stephen Ongpin Fine Art and Benjamin Proust Fine Art.
Continue further down New Bond Street to number 153-157, the Time Life Building, now occupied by Hermes. Henry Moore was commissioned to make sculptures for a screen on the building, eager to use the occasion to enrich both sculpture and architecture through collaboration. Rejecting the idea of a tacked-on stone picture on the building’s facade, he constructed his forms to be viewed in 3D – to the point where the intended screen became inconvenient. Instead, Moore wanted turntables to show the sculptures to their best advantage, a suggestion the architects found too pricey. ‘Unfortunately in the 20th century one cannot change one’s mind on the job. I’m sure that the people who built Chartres Cathedral were able to have second thoughts,’ said Moore, who then attempted to buy the sculptures back. So much for the harmonious cooperation of architects and artists. Pass Moore’s sculptures, imagining the glory that might have been, and turn left on to Clifford Street, where galleries Didier Aaron and Sam Fogg are exhibiting.
From there, it’s a quick turn on to Cork Street, a famous gallery area for more than a hundred years. Scandal hit in 1986, when art collective the Grey Organisation arrived on Cork Street in the dead of night and covered all the galleries’ plate glass windows in grey paint. In a press release, GO described the galleries as ‘boring and lifeless’, stating they ‘intended to liven up their lives a bit!’ What they didn’t know was that the British Secret Services had offices on the top of Cork Street. ‘That was why it became strange,’ said Toby Mott, a member of the group, who moved to New York after the police started following the organisation. ‘We were told that someone high up was embarrassed about the whole thing.’ Whether the art galleries were too is unclear. Messum’s, Browse & Darby, and the Mayor Gallery are open on Cork Street today.
From Cork Street, cut along Burlington Gardens on to Old Bond Street, and through the Royal Arcade, built in 1879, which hosts William Weston gallery. You’ll come out on the other side of the arcade at Albemarle Street. Start from the top at Mazzoleni, then proceed to John Martin Gallery. Just round the corner on Dover Street is the Arts Club, founded in 1863. After 30 years at the original club premises at 17 Hanover Square, the club moved to this 18th-century townhouse on Dover Street, which hosted Millais, Rodin and Degas as members. Whistler was also a member, but defected to the rival Chelsea Arts Club in the fallout from his disastrous 1887 court case with arch-rival John Ruskin. In the landmark trial, which was eagerly followed in the press, Whistler received an insulting farthing of damages after he sued Ruskin for accusing him of ‘cockney impudence’ in ‘flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’.
Turning on to Dover Street, walk past the Arts Club, and stay on the road as it turns in to Grafton Street. Number 8 marks the first location of the Grafton Galleries, which moved to Bond Street a few years later. In 1905, the Galleries hosted the first major exhibition of Impressionist painting, curated by the French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, the focus of the National Gallery’s recent ‘Inventing Impressionism’ exhibition and founder of the international art market. Five years later, the gallery hosted an exhibition titled ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’, a term coined by curator Roger Fry, who organized the exhibition. The work, featuring Cézanne, van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse and Gauguin, proved controversial for a British audience still acclimatizing to Whistler and Pissarro: an administrator at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts wrote that ‘Thanks to Fry, the tail of the movement have reached London and have been received with shrieks of misunderstanding and interested horror.’ David Zwirner is across the road at number 24.
Jonathan Horwich has been Global Director of Pictures Sales at Bonhams since 2009. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the auction world. Jonathan built a market for the works of Sir Alfred Munnings and L.S. Lowry and is acknowledged as a world authority on these artists. He will appear on BBC’s Fake or Fortune on 28 June assessing the claims of three paintings by Lowry. As Global Director of Picture Sales, Jonathan directs pictures teams in Europe, the USA, the Middle and Far East.
For more information about Brown’s London Art Weekend and the Recommended Walks, visit brownslondonartweekend.com