‘Witness’ by Peter Lanyon. *
January. Not the easiest month to make a break for it and get out there. However, a kind invitation to an evening at Home House with René Gimpel from the renowned West End Gallery debating all things art collecting roused my curiosity.
His talk was gently informative and afterwards his answers to the assembled audience on questions ranging from “What’s the difference between cinema and video art?” to “Should I buy Keith Haring now?” were compassionate and eloquent. “Anyone can become an expert – that’s the great thing about art” he stated, “You just have to enter into the conversation.”
The mood in the elegant drawing room was relaxed and energised. The chat flowed amongst cushy sofas and soft lighting: The aftermath of a season of goodwill infused with some urgency of new year intent.
I approached René, curious to learn more: “Did you see Bowie’s collection at Sotheby’s?” I asked – somewhat naively.
Rene looked at me, as a smile came to his lips. “Yes, he was a client of ours. I’ve got a lovely story about him if you’d like to hear it.”
My excited expression prompted the tale:
“Well, he came to me in the 80’s. He was interested in starting to collect art. He wanted to learn everything about it. He told me of a particular Peter Lanyon painting he liked and asked if I could get it for him. So, I rang Sheila, Peter’s wife, and she sent it up. Bowie came in and I took him down to the basement to fetch the picture. It was dark and dusty so I offered to bring the painting up to the gallery. ‘No, let’s just sit here and look at it’ he said, motioning to the stairs.
We sat on the steps and contemplated the piece in silence for some time.
After a while he pointed to the right side of the picture and said: ‘It’s got a tyre mark on it’. I looked at it aghast and thought – gosh that’s my eyesight; I knew Peter kept his pictures in the garage at home and immediately thought he’d backed into it. I started to apologise, but he interrupted me and said: ‘No, no, this is the one I wanted: Peter ran over it deliberately – he thought it looked better that way.’
I introduced him to high art collectors and those in the middle – he was particularly interested in the latter and I remember a trip to Richmond with him to visit one. He was extremely knowledgeable about modern British art – hence his knowing of Peter’s ‘tyre’ painting” he concluded.
I basked in the warmth of the story, reluctant to leave my place on the stairs at Gimpel Fils with René and Bowie; such edifying company on a freezing cold winter’s night.
* ‘Witness’ by Peter Lanyon. Dated April 1961. From the BOWIE/COLLECTOR sale at Sotheby’s, London, November 2016. Image copywrited to Sotheby’s.