More recently the gallery has hosted the acclaimed series of exhibitions, Every Object Tells a Story, showcasing diverse objects of exceptional quality alongside the extraordinary stories they have to tell; these have taken place in 2012 (Ciancimino, Pimlico Road), 2015 (33 Fitzroy Square) and 2017 (The Lavery Studio, Cromwell Place). Other exhibitions include The Silk Road (2018) and An Exhibition of Music (2019), both of which continued to reveal the unexpected, unusual, interesting and often overseen.
Between 2017 to 2020, the gallery was located at the Lavery Studio in Cromwell Place; last year it moved to 10 Avenue Studios in Sydney Close, once the studio of British artist John Singer Sargent. Both spaces were designed by architect Sir Charles James Freake (1814-1884), who is known to have created the first purpose-built, artist flat studios. (Sheppard, F. H. W., ed. "The Smith's Charity Estate: Charles James Freake and Onslow Square Gardens." Survey of London, Vol. 41: Brompton (1983): 101-17.)
Later this year, Oliver Hoare Ltd will return to Cromwell Place for their exhibition The Natural World. We sat down with Damian to discuss his experiences of the building, and the importance and influence of the area’s artistic legacy.
When did you first come across Lavery’s Studio at Cromwell Place?
Damian Hoare (DH): Our introduction to Cromwell Place came before its current incarnation when we were looking for a spectacular space to stage an exhibition in 2017 called Every Object Tells a Story. We had the incredible good fortune to walk into the Lavery Studio which we didn't even know existed at that time. We immediately fell in love with the space, its extraordinary history and the stories it had to tell. At the time it’s history as an artist studio had been largely forgotten; it was being used as a meeting room and was rather sterile; when we moved in and decorated it for our first exhibition there, it felt like the room was almost being reawakened. We stayed until last year and hosted three exhibitions there.
Could you tell us a bit about your current space in Sydney Mews?
DH: Having left the Lavery Studio, we moved into one of the Avenue Studios which are only about 5 minutes away and which were designed by Sir Charles James Freake who also designed Cromwell Place. Our studio once belonged to John Singer Sargent and there are records from his time here of him walking over to see Lavery at Cromwell Place. Other inhabitants at Avenue Studios included Edward J. Poynter, Philip Wilson Steer, George Edward Wade and John Tweed.; there were so many different artists, many working collaboratively. In a way it was an early artistic hub in South Kensington with a similar ethos to that which you have created at Cromwell Place.
How have you found the change from Lavery Studio to here?
DH: They are both wonderful and rather unique spaces, and I feel there is a strong connection between the two, not least that they share the same designer. There are numerous connections and coincidences; while I was researching Lavery’s paintings I came across a work called The Greyhound which was painted at his house in Tangier and is now hanging at the Ulster Museum in Belfast. I immediately recognised the carpet as one which had belonged to my father, and which used to decorate this studio. Isn't that amazing? Unfortunately my father never knew the connection and that it had been painted by John Lavery.
In terms of the building, heritage continues to play an important role; it adds real soul to a space knowing that you’re within the same walls that have harbored decades of creativity from the likes of Lavery and Sargent.Director, Oliver Hoare Ltd.
Do you know where he bought it?
DH: We have been in touch with the great expert on Lavery, Professor Kenneth McConkey. He is in touch with his ancestors who suspect his house in Tangiers was sold by Lavery in around 1922, so the rug would have likely entered the market at that stage. Of course, that was before my father’s time. He probably purchased it in the 1960s; half a century before he knew he would occupy Lavery’s studio.
Do you consider this historical context important for hosting your collection of art and objects?
DH: Yes, we have always found it adds a lot to the whole experience. What we particularly enjoyed at Cromwell Place was the idea of welcoming people back within its historical context, reveling in its rather decadent history and returning it to the life for which it was intended.
Lavery historians often say that anyone who was anybody went to that studio to have their portrait done, and the stories are remarkable. Churchill learned a great deal about painting from Lavery in that studio, they even painted each other’s portraits there. Other sitters included King George V, Queen Anne and George Bernard Shaw, who wrote Pygmalion after a conversation with Lavery whilst having his portrait done. There’s an incredibly rich history of people who engaged with art there, it was once such an extraordinary hub of activity and so what has been created there now is a really satisfying resumption of that role. People really responded to that while we were there, and they can now continue to do so long into the future.
All of these are qualities perfectly suited for taking your time and appreciating art, somewhere you can be a little more contemplative, a sort of sidestep from the rush of life.Director, Oliver Hoare Ltd.
In terms of your next exhibition, The Natural World, are there any particular themes or key objects that you would like to share?
Our next exhibition will be on the theme of the natural world. It’s a theme which seems extremely relevant to us all at the moment, and hopefully one we will approach slightly differently to any predecessors.
Our relationship with nature seems to have changed over the last year. During all of the uncertainty and difficulties of life during a global pandemic, many have found comfort and therapy in the natural wonders of the world. In many ways these imposed lockdowns took us back to the periphery of a time when we had a slightly different relationship with nature, and a different perspective on life as a result. This is what has inspired the exhibition.
Now being in Sargent’s studio, do you feel that heritage remains a pillar of your business? Or do you see this as an opportunity for new stories or a new identity?
DH: In terms of the building, heritage continues to play an important role; it adds real soul to a space knowing that you’re within the same walls that have harbored decades of creativity from the likes of Lavery and Sargent. The heritage of the business has also now become very important since it has passed into a second generation. We will be looking to remain loyal to the identity we proudly inherited from my father, but at the same time we will be looking to create new stories. He was primarily an Islamic art dealer but much of the recognition he got during the latter stages of his career was for staging a trio of exhibitions called Every Object Tells a Story, which exhibited diverse and extraordinary objects. Those strengths of curation and presentation are some of the qualities of this business that we are looking to develop and take forwards.
Your business has so many ties with South Kensington. Have you found that it has changed since you moved here and is it important that you remain in this area?
DH: South Kensington has been a happy home for us for over 25 years. It’s a historic borough, it’s a very beautiful part of London and it’s extremely accessible. I don’t think it has changed very much – in the most part it’s a traditional, quiet and mostly residential area. All of these are qualities perfectly suited for taking your time and appreciating art, somewhere you can be a little more contemplative, a sort of sidestep from the rush of life. Cromwell Place will certainly have an impact on the area but I expect it will be in a very complimentary way, especially as it is so close to the Science, Natural History and Victoria & Albert Museums.
Does being situated and immersed in a studio environment influence your curatorial practice?
DH: Yes, I do think it feeds into it. It's the same as what you are creating at Cromwell Place, an ecosystem of different strengths and expertise, where everybody feeds off one another in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.
Since people are spending more time at home, have you seen an increased interest from clients to build their own collection?
DH: It has definitely played to the reasons why people collect art in the first place. People want to be surrounded by beautiful, interesting and wonderful things, and so I think it has encouraged people’s need and desire for escapism, for beauty and inspiration.
It's the same as what you are creating at Cromwell Place, an ecosystem of different strengths and expertise, where everybody feeds off one another in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.Director, Oliver Hoare Ltd.