The Joy of a Lifetime: The Estate of Sir Jack and Lady Baer

The Joy of a Lifetime: The Estate of Sir Jack and Lady Baer

The contents of Phillimore Terrace, home of Sir Jack Baer and his wife Diana, will be sold at Sworders this autumn.

20 September 2022

Sir Jack Mervyn Frank Baer (1924-2016) was a British art dealer from the top tier. The man who built Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox into a world-class concern, he is remembered as one of the most enduringly successful and well-regarded London picture dealers of his generation.

Born into a family of German Jewish emigres, he was educated at Bryanston School in Dorset, where fellow pupils included a ‘rather frightening and sophisticated’ boy called Lucien Freud, and later at the Slade School of Fine Art. After serving in the RAF during the Second World War and a brief apprenticeship with the Piccadilly-based art dealer Max de Beer (ending abruptly when de Beer was jailed for fraud), Jack decided to break out on his own, always adhering to his personal motto: ‘honesty before all’.


Jack in the Drawing Room of his home, Phillimore Terrace


Ironically, Baer’s decades-long relationship with the Hazlitt Gallery began when he was asked to help in its closure after the owner, Hungarian dealer Max Hevesi, unexpectedly died in 1947. It was instead agreed that Baer should take control of the business, and the result was the ‘world-class’ gallery we know today.

His early exhibitions in the 1950s and 60s focused on French Barbizon School painters, and Italian Baroque and Rococo paintings, built on a collection of thirty-five works purchased during a trip to New York in 1955. On the day that the Foreign Exchange Controls were removed, Jack quickly acquired these works by less-popular artists including Corot, Millet, and Rousseau for just £10,000 (just under £240,000 today), and by including these works in Hazlitt’s exhibitions, he was able to influence the market and rebuild their popularity. 



In 1973, a merger created Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, followed by the opening of an affiliate gallery in New York. It was during this time and the following decades that the gallery and Jack built a strong reputation, particularly for Italian art, and formed close friendships with collectors, art historians, museums, and the next generation of art enthusiasts. He supported many other areas of the art world outside of the trade, as a Trustee for Burlington magazine’s charitable foundation, a member of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Chairman of the Acceptance in Lieu Panel. It is in this latter position that Jack was said to have saved around £150 million of art for the nation, and he was recognised with a knighthood in 1997.

For forty-six years from 1970, Jack was to married Diana (née Downes Baillieu), daughter of the novelist Mollie Panter-Downes and her husband Clare Robinson. After winning a Vogue talent contest aged 17, Diana went to RADA where her contemporaries were Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, and Alan Bates. She bought Phillimore Terrace in 1955, which she, together with Jack, used as a backdrop to their shared passion for collecting, from 19th-century French drawings to nautical folk art, contemporary ceramics, textiles, porcelain, and decorative objects, many of them bought from local antique shops and fairs.



Diana took up watercolour painting in the 1980s and over the years had several successful shows at the gallery and the Fine Art Society. However, her greatest work of art was her and Jack’s home, which until very recently, was hung with hundreds of paintings, prints, and drawings, both gifts and Diana’s own works, layered with many antiques and bric-a-brac finds, all reflecting the couple’s original eye and lifelong commitment to the arts.


Eliot Hodgkin (1905-1987), Tulip and iris bulbs, signed 'Eliot/Hodgkin' l.l. and dated '3.XII'53' l.r., bears inscription on frame verso, tempera on board, 8 x 10.5cm, £6,000-8,000

Taking the spotlight in our 13 & 14 September Fine Interiors sale, a group of 17th-century Florentine pietra dura panels from the collection, sold for a staggering £169,000 (including fees) with a large amount of overseas interest.


Sir Jack and Lady Diana in Phillimore Terrace, pictured with some of the pieces being offered at Sworders


Following the success of these panels in our Fine Interiors sale, other contents from the property comes to auction in a number of our Autumn sales. A selection of works by modern British artists including Eliot Hodgkin and Mary Fedden, both of which were championed by Jack during his career, will be offered in Modern & Contemporary Art on 4 October, with other paintings in Old Master, British and European Art on 27 September. The majority of pieces, including furniture, works of art, and prints, will be entered into Homes & Interiors on 11 October. To register for catalogue alerts, please refer to the sale calendar here.


A selection of twenty-two lots will be offered in our Old Master, British & European Sale, on 27 September, with estimates ranging from £150-3,000.



Following this, twenty-five lots will be offered in our upcoming Modern & Contemporary Art auction on 4 October, with estimates ranging from £300-15,000.



A selection of fifty-six lots from the home of Sir Jack Baer and his wife Diana, will be offered in our Homes and Interiors sale on 11 October, with estimates ranging from £100-500.






For further information contact: | 01279 817778 








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