Letter from the Editor: Intricacies of collecting

Published 3 March 2014

Art Quarterly's Associate Editor introduces the Spring 2014 issue of the magazine, and examines the art of collecting.

What makes a collector? So asks Alex Danchev as he introduces his perspicacious analysis of Henry Pearlman, a 20th-century collector who particularly admired Paul Cézanne and amassed a total of 33 of his paintings and watercolours. Danchev documents the changing characteristics of those who have collected his work, from early admirers such as Claude Monet to the 20th-century industrial magnates Samuel Courtauld and Albert C Barnes. (The article, 'Selected for Pleasures', is available as a free download.)

In this issue, the complexities of collecting are approached from a variety of perspectives. Averil King considers the rapid repatriation of Russian paintings from London salerooms to oligarchs’ strongholds across the motherland (‘Revelations in Russian Art’). As a major Kazimir Malevich exhibition is set to open at Tate Modern, King examines the often overlooked work of the Peredvizhniki (the Wanderers), and considers why the market for their work is now so buoyant. At the philanthropic end of the collecting scale, Hugh Pearman interviews asset manager Jonathan Ruffer (‘Spiritual Rebirth’); in 2011 Ruffer bought a dozen paintings by 17th-century Spanish master Francisco de Zurbarán. With their acquisition came responsibility for Auckland Castle, the building that had housed them since 1756. Pearman hears Ruffer’s ambitious plans to open up the castle and to allow locals to become proud custodians of the Zurbaráns.

Meanwhile, Bettany Hughes realigns our understanding of the Vikings through her examination of recently unearthed Viking artefacts (‘The Vikings Are Coming’). Vikings: Life and Legend at the British Museum includes everything from a Viking warship and slave manacles to jewellery and weighing scales, revealing a trade network that stretched from Afghanistan to America.

The coins and objects the Vikings acquired allow for new reconstructions of their trade networks and cultural preferences. But, as artist Julian Opie states, collecting art is not just about possession and ownership (‘Artist and Collector’). It is also about extended looking. Opie collects widely, from 2,000-year-old Egyptian heads and Roman statuary to 17th- and 18th-century society portraits. His collection goes on display alongside his own pared-down portraits in Bath this spring. Opie looks to art for what it means to be alive. Whether it’s a Fayum portrait from Roman-era Egypt or a George Romney aristocrat, he is interested in the life he sees within: ‘The past was once today,’ he says simply.

Portraits offer perhaps the most direct connection back to our collective past. The ongoing Art Fund campaign to
acquire the masterful Anthony van Dyck self-portrait (1640-1) for the National Portrait Gallery attests to the power such works can have over us (‘In Search of Ingenuity’). We must ensure this painting stays on public display in
the UK to offer us all the chance to look, and look again.

To donate to the Van Dyck campaign, visit savevandyck.org, or text VANDYCK to 70800 to give £5. Help us to spread the word on social media – join our Thunderclap.

This column appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Art Quarterly. If you would like to subscribe to the magazine, please buy a National Art Pass.

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