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In this week’s blog Dr Robert Travers, Director of Piano Nobile and The Ruth Borchard Collection & Prize, tells us more about the formation of Borchard’s collection. 

I first met Richard Borchard in the late 1990s. One sunny Saturday, Richard walked into the gallery in Holland Park and, as our conversation unfolded, he sought my advice about his increasingly elderly mother’s collection of self-portraits by British and Irish artists. Thus began my involvement with the Ruth Borchard Collection, as it is now known and my relationship with the collection’s remarkable founder, the writer, Ruth Borchard, and her family. 

Ruth Borchard’s collection of 101 works – 100 self-portraits and 1 portrait of Ruth herself - was largely put together in the 1950s and 1960s and perfectly captures the postwar period of British art. Both the euphoria following the culmination of a hard-fought war and the subsequent angst as international relations deteriorated are clearly and tangibly etched onto the artists’ faces. 

Over half a century later the stature of Ruth’s collection is remarkable, proof of her astute and judicious eye. Many great names from the period feature: Michael Ayrton, Cecil Collins, Roger Hilton, Francis Newton Souza, Keith Vaughan, Euan Uglow, Carel Weight and Anne Redpath to name just a handful. The Euston Road School features prominently, alongside examples of the Camden Town Group, the Kitchen Sink School, and Continental Existentialism.  

Loans from the collection have travelled the world, from Australia to the USA. We actively seek to loan works from the collection to museum shows both at home and internationally, whether contributing one self-portrait to a monographic exhibition or a selection of self-portraits for a dedicated show, just like Jerwood Gallery’s The Painter behind the Canvas. Jerwood Gallery is the Ruth Borchard Collection’s museum partner for 2016 and this two room display is testament to our collaboration over the course of this year. 

In 2011, we launched the first Ruth Borchard Self-Portrait Prize, a biennial prize for self-portraiture. The prize seeks to continue Ruth’s vision and passion into the 21st century, making the collection a living and evolving entity. The desire to keep Ruth’s project alive beyond her lifetime led to the establishment of the Next Generation Collection, built up through purchases from the self-portrait prize. All 68 self-portraits in the Next Generation Collection are currently on display at Piano Nobile, Kings Place, London, the first occasion the contemporary collection has been shown in its entirety. 

The three winning works since the prize began – Celia Paul (2011), Thomas Newbolt (2013), and Shanti Panchal (2015) – have been superb examples of contemporary painting and self-portraiture. The most recent prize in 2015 saw over 1000 entrants and we expect even more for the fourth edition of the prize in 2017. 

Most recently, the Ruth Borchard Collection has been looking to the past at the generation of artists preceding those which Ruth originally collected. The Early Collection is beginning to take shape with carefully chosen self-portraits from pre-WWII artists. The first work to be acquired for the Early Collection was a self-portrait by David Bomberg, an artist whose influence is so vital to Ruth’s original collection, fittingly bringing the Ruth Borchard Collection full circle.

Image: The Painter behind the Canvas. Photograph © Pete Jones.