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