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BEHIND THE SCENES

Alan Grieve purchased the first work for the Jerwood Collection in 1993 and has now acquired nearly 250 works of 20th and 21st century British art. His daughter, Lara Wardle, a specialist in 20th century British art, has advised him regarding purchases and joined the Jerwood Foundation in 2010 as its Director. She now acts as Curator of the Jerwood Collection.

LW:  You are in print and, more recently, on film as saying that your favourite artist in the Jerwood Collection is Christopher Wood and I wonder if there are others who hold particular resonance for you?

AG:  It is a question which I have been asked before. I feel there are several second or third favourites. I would have to say that I like the underlying mystery, maybe ‘bad boy’ aura of Craxton and I have always liked his work. I haven’t been to Greece much but I have always associated his work with Greece. I think I would also put Dod Procter on my list as she is an artist who I don’t think has quite the acceptance she deserves. Married to the artist Ernest Procter, I think she was an intellectual and sensitive painter and I love her work. The two that we have in the collection have an ethereal, almost spiritual, dimension.

LW:  You’ve bought many of the works for the collection from auction houses and I know how hard it can be to secure works when bidding becomes competitive. Are there any works that you think of as ‘ones that got away’?

AG:  Having just talked about Craxton I have to admit that one of his paintings did get away from Jerwood, as more recently, did a Paul Nash. We’ve always taken the view that our pockets are only so deep, and it’s very tempting at auction to forget that, but we’ve tried to stick to a discipline.

LW:  For me, seeing the works on display in the Jerwood Gallery, which was designed and built specifically to house the collection, has made me look at many ofthem afresh. Which works have you reassessed in their new home?

AG:  Jerwood Gallery was specifically designed to hold the Jerwood Collection of 20th century British art, alongside a contemporary exhibition programme. The wonderful thing is having done this, the collection now fits so well into a building which matches its domestic aura, more than that, the building enhances the collection. I would like to think that the collection hangs well and is equal to such a successfully designed building. One painting which particularly stands out for me in its new setting is Paul Feiler’s, Chrome &Yellow, painted in 1956.

LW:  If you could buy one more work for the collection what would you buy?

AG:  Well your question is rather apt because it obviously goes through my mind, and would go through anyone’s mind who has had the privilege and pleasure of building an art collection. I would like to see a Paul Nash in the collection, partly because of the centenary of the First World War. I would like one of those extraordinary watercolours by Nash which encapsulates the conditions which men faced and the devastation of the aftermath. I believe that there is much to be gained by concentrating on a period and getting the best works you can afford. I think we need to test the quality; it’s easier perhaps to buy a poor work by a famous name, and I’ve always tried to avoid that temptation, and with your help, hopefully I’ll continue to do so. You do hold me on a pretty tight rein but I feel we do have many opportunities to enrich the collection.

LW:  And finally, what is your wish for the future of the collection?

AG:  I wish it to prosper. I wish it to continue to expand. I am very proud of the acquisitions we have made. I think it’s very rewarding for us to be offered works on loan, as we have with two Freud works [currently on display in room 6]. We have also been given works by artists’ families and have been asked whether we would like to purchase from their collections. What I would like to think is that, as long as I am able, the collection will grow in size and stature. I would like to see the collection maintain its quality and its appeal; I think it is about quality and not the number of works in the collection. I am proud to be the originator, I’m satisfied that I’ve done my best, and I would very much like you, as the Curator, to go forward and enhance the Jerwood Collection and the Jerwood name. I can’t ask for more.

Images: Paul Feiler, Chrome & Yellow, 1956.