Let’s talk art – Head of Pictures Jane Oakley shares her memoirs and commendations...
Jane Oakley | Head of Pictures
What was your department's most surprising find of 2020?
In September we sold John Charles Dollman RWS RI ROI (1851-1934) 'A Very Gallant Gentleman' - Captain Lawrence Oates pen, ink and watercolour heightened with white 59 x 99cm for £33,800. The pictures showed Captain Oates heading out into the blizzard to certain death in an effort to save his comrade’s lives. Pictures of this type come up for sale next to never so it was a real pleasure to have this one in the sale.
Which museum or gallery would you recommend visiting (UK or abroad)?
Gosh, so hard to narrow it down as we are spoilt for choice in London but I do love to look round artist’s homes. As a rule – Giverny aside – they tend not to be quite as hectic as the big collections in major cities, they are more intimate settings that offer the space to breathe and contemplate. They provide a good insight into the artist, enabling you to walk in their shoes and imagine what their lives might have been like - who their friends were and ultimately understand them a bit better. Their collections often include sketchbooks and ephemera which you wouldn’t see elsewhere and works by their contemporaries that you may be less familiar with. The experience can often be quite surprising.
They will also often have the furnishings that the artist would have chosen or if not the original ones, they are dressed in appropriate style so it is fascinating to see what the artist has chosen, their influences, the bohemian fashions of the day and where and how they lived. I have many favourites but in London, I am always drawn to the Leighton House Museum, home of the former president of the Royal Academy Frederick, Lord Leighton (1830-1896). Tucked away in Holland Park and centre of an artist community in the third quarter of the 19th century, the house was purpose-built for Leighton. It has an impressive studio where you can imagine him entertaining important patrons in lavish style; the most remarkable mosaic-tiled Arab hall with golden dome demonstrating his interest in orientalism. The stairs and hall are covered with richly coloured tiles by his contemporary William de Morgan. In contrast, his private rooms are small and functional.
If I happened to be in Paris, I would make straight for Auguste Rodin’s house. Situated in central Paris on the left bank, the house is a grand Rococo18th century hôtel on a scale that far surpasses any other artist’s home I’ve visited – indicating the importance and stature of Rodin in his day. It has a very impressive collection and it sits within three hectares of beautiful gardens, scattered with Rodin statues. It’s the perfect space to find a quiet corner and sit with a book on a summer’s day.
If money were no object what would you collect?
I have always been a generalist at heart so my collection would be a varied one. I love rich colour and luscious paint surfaces. I’m sure I would have a variety of periods: perhaps an early Florentine angel painted in glorious lapis lazuli, the most incredible blue and surrounded by a rich gilt surround; a Velasquez portrait with its rich creamy paint, or a Sir Peter Lely portrait. I have spent much of my career studying Victorian art so some pre-raphaelites or aesthetic movement pieces would be good – a Rossetti and a Leighton or Tissot perhaps. I would definitely be on the lookout for a Degas, Whistler or a John Singer Sargent. There would be a Glasgow Boy or two and a Scottish colourist and if I had space, how about a Rothko or an Anish Kapor sculpture? So many choices. I think my collection would be very large!
What was your most rewarding piece of research?
Since moving to Sworders three years ago I have had the opportunity to handle a large number of works by local artists that I hadn’t been so familiar with before. In that time I have been lucky to handle many works by Cedric Morris. In order to place them chronologically, I have had to read up a lot on his life and have been fortunate to read his letters which often accompany the pictures and also visit his home at Benton End which is now being developed by the Garden Museum. This has helped me deepen my expertise not only in his work but that of his contemporaries and the more you learn, the more dots you can join up which is very satisfying. It is great dealing with 20th century movements where you can still come across collectors that had a personal connection with the artist and can tell you their memories.
Who do you admire in the auction/art world and why?
I would have to say Richard Green. Whenever you visit one of his galleries or stands at an art fair you are guaranteed to see quality. I admire the fact he has such catholic tastes from Old Masters to contemporary art; from very British sporting pictures to European Impressionist works. He has a really good eye and clearly a huge passion for pictures. He only buys the best so it’s always a good label to see on the back of a picture when it comes in. It indicates it is a good example and it will generally be in good condition.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I started working at Phillip’s Auctioneers straight from university in Leeds, it was my first job and I just never left. I have worked at all the big houses in various guises – Victorian and British Pictures, Sporting art, I headed the Scottish sales at Sotheby’s for about three years and then joined Sworders. It was great to be back as a generalist again and have the opportunity to see everything from Old Masters to contemporary Grayson Perry sculptures. The beauty of a firm like Sworders is that anything that comes in I get to see, rather than it being whisked away to a different department. I had a Cedric Morris next to a William Hoare of Bath on the wall above my desk for most of last year which was great.
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