Design & Decoration S04 ep16 : Partick Matthiesen, Matthiesen Gallery, [London/Berlin]

Interview with Patrick Matthiesen

Old Master and 19th-century paintings The Matthiesen Gallery was founded in 1978 by Patrick Matthiesen, son of renowned Berlin and London dealer Francis Matthiesen, who had arranged the sale of pictures on behalf of The Hermitage. Now entering it fourth decade, this purpose-built gallery in the heart of St. James’s, has built an established and formidable reputation as a leading international dealer in important Italian, French and Spanish artworks, dating from the 14th Century up to and including many of the major nineteenth century schools. Beginning in 1981 with their exhibition Important Italian Baroque Paintings 1600-1700, the Matthiesen Gallery established its continuing commitment to mounting exhibitions accompanied by scholarly catalogues which not only fostered art historical discussion, but also in some cases, introduced new areas of connoisseurship and collection to the London and international markets. Other major exhibitions of Italian art include Early Italian Paintings 1300-1480 (1983); From Borso to Cesare d’Este 1450-1628 (1984), an extraordinary show of Ferrarese painting, which was presented with the co-operation of the Italian Government; and other dedicated exhibitions of later baroque paintings (1985 and 1986), Emilian paintings (1987), and rococo and early neo-classical paintings of the settecento (1987). Later, in 1996, the gallery mounted a landmark exhibition of Italian primitives, Gold Backs 1250-1480. This exhibition, which effectively introduced the study and connoisseurship of these rare works to the London market, was accompanied by a fully illustrated hardback catalogue written by several of the most renowned authorities in this field. To mark the turn of the millennium, in 2001 the gallery released a major catalogue of Italian art covering the period 1500-1720, which included the discovery of a painting attributed to the young Raphael. The following year the gallery published a newly discovered Andrea del Sarto. The gallery has also published other dedicated studies on Polidoro da Caravaggio, Jacobello del Fiore, Gaspare Vanvitelli, Francesco del Cairo, Niccolo Ranieri, and a rare and intact suite of important Florentine baroque paintings depicting The Four Seasons. The gallery’s commitment to French art has resulted in several successful exhibitions mounted in conjunction with the former Stair Sainty Matthiesen Gallery in New York, including Romance and Chivalry, an exhibition of ‘troubadour’ paintings (1997) and a survey of French landscape painting, The Gallic Prospect (1999). The gallery’s other dedicated studies of French painting include works on Jean-Baptiste Chardin, Jean-Victor Bertin (2004) and Jacques Blanchard (2008), the last two being at the time the first English language studies of these artists as well as an exhibition of French Painting 1789 - 1848 . Also in 2004 the gallery organised the exhibition Plein-air painting in Europe 1780-1850, a travelling exhibition of over 100 works of art, which was shown at the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum, Japan, The National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia and was accompanied by a catalogue including contributions from some of the most recognised curators and collectors in this field. In 1996, the gallery launched An Eye on Nature: Spanish Still Life Painting, which included masterworks by Luis Meléndez, Tomás Hiepes, Juan Sánchez Cotán, and Francisco de Zurbarán. Many of these works and indeed, this genre of painting had not been seen outside of Spain prior to the landmark exhibitions at the Kimball Museum, Fort Worth and the National Gallery in London. In the autumn of 2009 the Matthiesen Gallery continued its involvement in Spanish art with our exhibition The Mystery of Faith: An Eye on Spanish Sculpture 1550-1750 organised in association with Coll & Cortes, Madrid, the exhibition ran concurrently with the National Gallery’s ground-breaking show, The Sacred Made Real, Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600-1700. In 2010 the gallery issued a catalogue on James Ward entitled The Lioness and a Heron.


The gallery is a refounding, in fact, from 1978 of the original gallery which was formed
by my father in 1922. I specialize in above all Italian and Master Paintings, so in Spanish
and French paintings. 1:09

The great heyday of art dealing was around the turn of the 1900s running up into the
1930s. It was the time of the great robber-baron collectors; the dissolution of great
collections. There were great opportunities. There was political upheaval; there was
financial upheaval, of course, in Europe. He felt that the key turning point was in 1958
when Peter Wilson of Sotheby’s managed the ultimate sale of impressionist paintings.
He saw the emerging power of the auction houses which were just beginning to move
from being pure auction houses into being major art businesses in their own right. 1:57

I grew up in an artistic environment but my father never encouraged me to join the
gallery or to be an art dealer – quite the opposite. His father before him had been
horrified when he went to Munich University to study History of Art. So it was a
repeat, a turning of the circle basically. 2:20

Henry Dunay Jewellery

I studied University. I did PPE (Policies, Philosophy and Economics), then History, and
then I switched back into History. I couldn’t stand the economics. And after that, being
at a loss, I did a year at the Courtauld Institute in London. 2:38

While I was at the Courtauld in ‘66, Florence was flooded. It was the epic great floods.
And I went off and I started a fund and I hijacked a Land Rover, from my brother-in-law,
with a big pump, and I arrived at the square of the Uffizi and found the Uffizi full of
water. Still with 14 feet of water in the ground floor and we pumped it out. That’s the
first thing we did and there I remained for about a year. 3:08

While I was there I met up with the authorities from the Victoria and Albert museum,
particularly the director John Pope Hennessey. He took me under his wing and sort of
adopted me. The following year I was sent to Venice to do the same thing again,
working with the conservation department of the VNA. So, I spent several years in that
kind of media. And then I came back to London. I cast around as to what to do and
joined a very small property company. I spent my days driving around the streets of
outer London looking for development sites. And in between that I had a friend, who
was a person in the paintings department of Kalnargy’s who didn’t speak Italian. And
so, I would go and hold his hand, we would go to Italy together and I would act as the
sort of interpreter and we would go around and he taught me an enormous amount.
Then one day in 1972, he was involved in a catastrophic automobile smashup in
Brussels. Two cars meeting at a crossroads, outside Brussels both driven by art dealers.
What are the odds?!! I got a phone call. He was in a coma. Could I come over
immediately. What were they going what to do? He was supposed to go and look at
these pictures. They didn’t know who to call and that was how it all started. 4:27

Henry Dunay Jewellery

I was there for 5 years, thereabouts. And one of my clients then in 1977 said, “We are
starting an art fund, would you come and run it for us?” And so I said, “Yes- providing I
have pretty free rein to do what I want to do and indulge my taste.” And it was fine.
We had a 5-6 7 years working relationship. Broke up like all these things broke up
eventually, because they tried to exert too much control and I am a rebellious,
stubborn individual and wasn’t going to have it. And I went my own way. 5:07

Imagine that you have a private client with a castle or house in the country or
something with a collection and they want to sell something. You the dealer,
traditionally, would be advising them and acting as a broker. At the end of the day you
would hope to have earned a commission which comes out of the buyer. The auction
houses turned this all on the head because they were expanding at such a humungous
pace and increasing staff offices all around the world that they couldn’t function
anymore on the selling commission that had originally been 10%, 12% and it became
15%. So they then instituted a buyers’ commission and then, they very quickly rumbled
the fact that they could cut a better deal in their competition between auction houses
if they waived part or eventually all of the sellers’ commission for the important lots
because they were getting the commission from the other end from the buyer; but no
dealer can do that. 6:14

Then, of course, the auction houses started inventing products, just like the banks.
There is a product for everybody now, you know. There were financing deals, they
were part-financing deals. They started guaranteeing the deals. They got cold doing
that now, they are not so keen on doing that now. And then all of a sudden, the latest
wheeze for the last 2-3 years has been private treaty sales. They suddenly discovered
that they can make as much or more money by doing private treaty sales rather than
holding the auction, but they are dealers. 6:56

Other things which have tilted the market dramatically, the internet; every time Tom,
Dick and Harry, three punches of the key and you can look up it was bought here it was
bought there. The most ‘remotest’ auction and so forth and so on. You know, it makes
life much more difficult. 7:20

Henry Dunay Jewellery

The most important painting is the big Luca Giordano behind you. Thirty one (31) years
ago I sold the Luca Giordano to the national gallery in London which is probably the
best painting, well, certainly the best painting he ever painted. And this painting was
unrecorded. It was in an English country house. It’s probably the best painting by this
artist that has come up in the succeeding 31 yrs. But it’s a picture which would have
jumped off the wall in the ‘70s. There would have been half a dozen museums which
would have been angling for this. 7:56

The old masters are so inexpensive compared to most of these things. I have had an
experience with a contemporary art collector who said, “Well, I really like this painting.
It’s got guts and it’s powerful and it could, you know? How much is it?” And you said,
“Three hundred thousand dollars or something, you know” And he said, “three
hundred thousand dollars?!! Haven’t you? Aren’t you missing a zero?” 8:24

Quality is everything, but it’s the bigger names and subject matter that’s everything.
People no longer want the darker pictures; they don’t want the religious pictures.
Those are the European collectors by and large. 8:47

One of the most interesting stories that I have - this is going back to the 70s when I was
at Colnaghi's was to be involved in the discovery of a Georges de La Tour. Now that is a
serious big top name. I had to see this painting, and the painting was brought to
Heathrow, terminal 3. So that the guy that bought it hand carried it as baggage on the
plane. It was in the terminal lounge there. And in those days I managed to wangle it
that I could go through and see the pictures in the lounge accompanied by somebody.
That would have been inconceivable today. And when I had the pictures there were
two, there were two figures, two portraits. But, studying them there in the lounge, I
realized that it was one picture which had been divided in two. We eventually married
them back up again. The pictures are now in the Berlin gallery in the Nationale Gallery,
the Darling, Gemelda gallery. It’s a masterpiece. It was the meal of the tour, it was a
him and a her eating beans and lentils. 10:00

Henry Dunay Jewellery

And another case, a bit like that, was many, many years later about 10 - 15 years ago. I
got a phone call out of the blue, “We think we’ve got a painting by Sánchez Cotán.
Would you like to come? Would you be interested? Would you like to come and see
it?” And my normal reaction would have been, “Don’t be ridiculous!! There are only
seven (7) paintings by him, you know. Don’t bother me!” but it was just slightly so
outlandish that I said, “Yes I would.” Ok, can I - I will get on the train and I will come to
Paris. So I went to see this picture, and it turned out that it was a picture that belonged
to a frame dealer who had died. I did the research on it and we bought it. I was about
to ship the picture off to this major American museum when the National Gallery rang
me up, in London, and said, we are very weak on data and X-rays and technical analysis
on Spanish still lives. Would you be prepared to send the thing ‘round to our
laboratory, so we can do a technical analysis and X-ray on it? I said, but of course – you
know. So the picture went round there. A week later I got a telephone call from the
museum in American saying, have you heard from the National Gallery, we can’t buy
the painting. I said what do you mean? I have not heard a thing from the National
Gallery. And it turned out that the frame dealer had cut the sides of the paining, strips
about that wide, and married them to the top and the bottom of the canvas, laminated
them back together again and shrunk the painting so, it fitted one of his damn frames.
So I went into shock, of course, this is my big sale that went up in the air. So I had
about another nine months while I had to pick this thing apart and put it back together
the way it had been originally intended. And then I had two clients in the same day
fighting over the picture. 12:21

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Patrick Matthiesen, Matthiesen Gallery, London/Berlin