Middlesbrough Art Gallery
This was our third loan exhibition from regional museums. Geoff Watson, who was in charge of the council’s finances, and Ken Cousins, who was the curator of the museum, would come to London on buying trips. Ken would carefully choose a work thinking, or possibly knowing, that he had blown his entire budget. Geoff would then egg him on to buy more paintings by saying he could square it with the council, which somehow he magically managed to do. For the opening, a large deputation came up including the Mayor and his wife with all their chains of office. When my wife arrived she was introduced to the Mayor’s wife as Mrs Mayor, the Mayor’s wife, by this time, was very tipsy and got very irate insisting that she was Mrs Mayor. I am told that at the end of the evening she had to be put to bed by Geoff and Ken.
Yves Tanguy, Le Ciel traqué (The Hunted Sky), 1951, oil on canvas, 39 x 32 3/8 inches (99 x 82 cm), The Menil Collection, Houston
Major Paintings and Sculpture
In our exhibition we had works by Bacon, Calder, Delvaux, Ernst, Giacometti, Magritte and Tanguy. One of the Magrittes (Le Miroir Magique, 1929), the Tanguy (The Hunted Sky, 1951) and the Bacon (Study for Portrait V, 1956-7) had been consigned by Mario Tazzoli and Massimo Martino for the show.
When David Sylvester visited, he suggested that Francois de Menil should buy the Magritte and Tanguy. Naturally, Francois wanted to see them physically and he didn't have any plans to come to London and my wife and I were awaiting the imminent birth of our first child, the only solution was for me to take the two works by Concorde and meet up with Francois and fly back the same evening; that way I would be safely back for the birth. He bought both paintings only to return the Magritte in early 1982. Luckily, I discovered that Gabrielle Keiller had wanted the painting all along so I was able to sell it to her, and on her death she bequeathed it to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. The Tanguy, which was originally given to the Museum of Modern Art by Tanguy's widow Kay Sage - no mean painter herself - only to be deaccessioned at a later date, is now in the Menil Collection in Houston, having been donated by Francois.
Francis Bacon, Study For Figure V, 1956-7, oil on canvas, 60 x 46 7/8 inches (152.5 x 119 cm), University of California, Berkeley Art Museum
I first met the Aberbach brothers - Julian and Jean - in 1970, when they consigned an Ellsworth Kelly, a Sam Francis and a Paul Jenkins for auction. They were in the sheet music business and had had the rights to Elvis Presley since 1955. As we got on pretty well, I asked Julian if it would be possible to meet ‘The King’. Julian explained by then he was very reclusive, but twice a year he had a shindig in Las Vegas for about twenty people where he would sing and strum his guitar. In due course Julian called me to say that there was going to be a shindig on the following Friday and that I had an invitation. As I was in New York at the time it wasn’t going to be a problem. Sadly I caught a bad ‘flu and told Julian that I would have to take a rain check to which he replied “No problem, there will always be another time”. Sadly that was not to be.
Jean came by the gallery and saw Francis Bacon’s Study for Portrait V, 1956-7, and told me that it could be a perfect solution to a situation they were in. He explained that he and his brother had given the Berkeley Museum Bacon's Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe, 1963 and they really wanted it back. The museum was agreeable, providing they exchanged it for a major work from the 1950’s. Luckily Berkeley loved the painting so everybody was happy. We also sold another couple of significant Bacons for Mario and Massimo: Man In Blue V, 1954, to the Ludwig Museum in Vienna and Figure Study 1, 1946, to Gabrielle Keiller whose estate gave it in lieu of taxes to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art.
Alexander Calder, Le Serpent rouge (The Red Snake), 1958, painted sheet metal and wire, 40 1/8 x 115 3/4 x 59 inches (102 x 294 x 150 cm), Private Collection
Sandy Calder’s first exhibition in London was with my father in 1937, after which he gave my father a mobile. During the war my father, who was a major in the Camouflage Corps, always had it on his various desks where it enthralled some of the visitors and left others questioning his sanity. On a couple of occasions when Sandy visited London my parents organised a party for him to perform his Circus, and both times he passed out before the performance. On one of these visits he painted a mural in my sister’s bedroom but alas we moved from that apartment over 70 years ago.
In 1968, the first night I spent in New York was in Sandy's bedroom above the Perls Galleries. The room next to this was used for restoring and repainting Calder sculptures, so often when Sandy was staying over in New York, he was sent up there and given a pile of paper and a selection of gouaches and told “No drink till you’ve finished the pile”. As far as I can remember this didn’t take very long.
One of the best memories I have of Sandy is when I worked for Perls. Sandy’s foundryman from Tours came to New York on his way to Dallas, where a big Calder piece was being installed at the airport. I was given the job of looking after him. He’d probably never been away from Tours in his life, yet he’d just gone from Paris to New York and his next stop was Dallas! It was very hard to know what to do with him. So I took him on a boat trip and a helicopter ride round Manhattan and to see the zoo, amongst other things. Then Sandy said we could go up to see him in the country one day, which was a relief. We had a charming time and Sandy had a group of gouaches and he said: ‘Would you like one?’ Naturally I said ‘yes’; but he saw I wasn’t 100% keen, so he said: ‘Would you prefer something else?’ And I said: ‘Well, there’s a little stabile in New York that I would really love.’ So he said: ‘Next time I’m in New York point it out to me and you can have it.’ So when he next came to New York we were all down in the basement at Perls and Klaus’ face dropped as Sandy gave me this piece – which I have to this day.
In 1980 the Calder estate was in flux. Perls had some; Knoedler, which was about to lose the estate, had some and Galerie Maeght had some. It seemed the right time to swoop, so Leslie Waddington and I bought extensively and had a show between our two Cork Street galleries. Although I had bought a number of things from Leslie before this, it was the first time that we had actually spent time with each other. Over the years we became closer and closer, especially after Kasmin shut up shop. We remained very close right up to his death, I miss him terribly as a friend and also as fellow dealers who understood each other. We could discuss our worries and think of ways forward. He always was very fair and even minded in his judgements which is sadly only too rare these days. Clodagh’s sudden death 4 years and a day after Leslie’s still leaves me numb. A perfect marriage of two complete opposites. Happily together again.
Salvador Dali, Board of Demented Associations (Fireworks), c. 1931, oil on embossed tin, 15 3/4 x 25 3/4 inches (40 x 65.5 cm), Private Collection