The joy of col­lect­ing

Or­lando Rock, Chair­man of Christie’s UK, de­scribes the con­sum­ing na­ture of own­ing rare and beau­ti­ful things

Country Life Every Week - - Future Heirlooms -

My fa­ther was a passionate col­lec­tor of ar­chi­tec­tural frag­ments and all things Ken­tian and I in­her­ited the col­lect­ing bug from him. Per­haps in­evitably for any­one work­ing in the art world, the po­ten­tial thrill of a dis­cov­ery be­hind ev­ery door drives me and the mo­ti­va­tion to hunt for over­looked ob­jects, fur­ni­ture and paint­ings that other peo­ple haven’t nec­es­sar­ily un­der­stood is al­most in­sa­tiable.

The first things I col­lected were Old Mas­ter draw­ings, prin­ci­pally be­cause I couldn’t be­lieve you could buy such beau­ti­fully ob­served, unique works of art at com­par­a­tively af­ford­able lev­els. Al­though the great­est draw­ings fetch huge prices, you can still buy su­perb works on pa­per by well-known artists from the 16th, 17th and 18th cen­turies for less than £1,000.

Th­ese draw­ings are end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing and pro­vide a win­dow into the artist’s mind—and once I started re­search­ing the at­tri­bu­tions and artists’ bi­ogra­phies, as well as his­toric col­lec­tors’ marks, I was hooked.

I’m very in­ter­ested in the his­tory of own­er­ship and the ro­mance of as­so­ci­a­tion that a work of art proudly en­cap­su­lates, whether it be Charles I, Wil­liam Beck­ford or Jac­ques Doucet.

Those vi­sion­ar­ies who com­mis­sioned and col­lected works of art over the cen­turies—as well as their tro­phies’ sub­se­quent jour­ney through later col­lec­tions—add real lus­tre to a work of art that, to me, is just as in­spir­ing as the qual­ity and con­di­tion.

The most fo­cused col­lec­tors tend to be sin­gle-minded and dis­ci­plined in their pas­sion, choos­ing one cat­e­gory and con­cen­trat­ing on the very best. I wish I had their ded­i­ca­tion and pa­tience! I’m more eclec­tic in my taste, which has un­doubt­edly changed over time—i used to look at more tra­di­tional pic­tures, but I was im­me­di­ately drawn to Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism and Modernism when I moved to New york. Sud­denly, my eyes were opened to Rothko, Calder, Klein, Ri­ley and Serra.

My taste has be­come even broader since, to the ex­tent that I now don’t think I’m dis­ci­plined enough to call my­self a col­lec­tor—i fall in love with too many things.

In my 25 years at Christie’s, I’ve been very for­tu­nate to have worked with many col­lec­tors and, from them, I’ve learnt about dis­ci­pline and fo­cus as well as in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm, knowl­edge and pas­sion for their sub­ject. What could be more re­ward­ing?

More­over, their shared pas­sion opens up a whole world of re­stor­ers, col­lec­tors, auc­tion­eers and aca­demics who share a pas­sion for their sub­ject.

One of the great de­lights of col­lect­ing—how­ever spe­cialised your field—is this sense of com­mu­nity among like-minded souls (cu­ra­tors, aca­demics, re­stor­ers, col­lec­tors and the all-im­por­tant trade). Christie’s fre­quently or­gan­ises vis­its and cu­ra­to­rial mu­seum tours for col­lec­tors who have per­haps not met be­fore and I love this part of the com­pany’s life.

Al­though many of us may have in­her­ited the col­lect­ing bug, there is no rea­son why you should feel hide­bound to col­lect in the same vein. I’ve seen great col­lec­tors whose chil­dren are equally passionate, yet rather than try­ing to keep up with their par­ents, they set off in their own di­rec­tion to make their mark.

Let your­self be in­spired by vis­it­ing art fairs and ex­hi­bi­tions, mu­se­ums and great houses— it’s a ful­fill­ing jour­ney that can start in child­hood and never gets bor­ing.

If some­thing ap­peals to you, ask ques­tions, be in­quis­i­tive. Come and ex­plore Christie’s, visit ex­hi­bi­tions and read up about the work you fell in love with. And when you do de­cide to buy, try to buy the best of its type that you can af­ford. That’s so im­por­tant. Con­di­tion is fun­da­men­tal: it’s much bet­ter to buy some­thing un­touched than some­thing grander that’s been heav­ily re­stored.

I love to live with ob­jects, move pieces around and re­hang paint­ings. If you in­herit a paint­ing or work of art, you can give it an en­tirely new con­text, so, for me, a large part of the fun of col­lect­ing is com­bin­ing things: how I see an ob­ject changes as I put it be­side some­thing dif­fer­ent. Only then do I see it anew.

‘How I see an ob­ject changes as I put it be­side some­thing dif­fer­ent ’

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