The Grand Chalet Rossiniere is the largest chalet in Switzerland and one of the biggest wooden structures in Europe. It was built in the 1750's and in 1977 it became the home of the painter Balthus. The chalet was bought for Balthus by his dealer Pierre Matisse. Matisse was a hugely influential and successful dealer operating out of his New York gallery. His stable was impressive, Giacometti, Chagall, Miro, Derain, Balthus, Tanguy the list goes on. Like all great dealers he cossetted, protected and invested in his brood, the golden egg layers. It took Balthus, whose painting output was prodigiously slow, many years to produce the necessary canvasses to repay his Matisse mortgage. The dealers, the galleries that are the necessary engines that drive the global art market have all learnt from Matisse, but it is now a world of brand promotion rather than informed collection. It is a multi billion pound marketplace organised by the seigneurs and sultans of the grand auction houses and international galleries, Lisson, Flowers, Marlborough, White Cube, et al. Like all markets it has it's mucky corners and swilling around in this financial ocean are huge shoals of dirty banknotes getting cleansed through commodification, brand collecting is asset building. It always was, of course, when ' Jack and Tom Smith', the young Charles Stuart and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham were scouring through the merchants of Europe for masterpieces, building the Stuart portfolio they were enhancing their status along with their assets, it was the seventeenth century oligarch game. What one has to say about Balthus is that he knew his worth and didn't compromise his art for a quick closure, the mortgage was a long one and the repayments were not onerous.
I have in my life a set of constants to which I regularly return, artists, authors, musicians whose work I still find challenging but affirming and supportive. There are other artists whose work interests me and who have occupied me for periods of time but without any lasting allegiance. One of these artists is Christopher Le Brun. In the 80's I was taken up with his work. He was sometime bracketed with the Neo Expressionists but I always felt that was a lazy association to make. I enjoyed the mysticism and lyrical romanticism that suffused his work, he described himself as a visionary painter in the tradition of Turner and Blake. The paint handling didn't inspire me but I felt it was thoughtful, considered work, interesting in a way that much painting of the time was not. I lost sight of Le Brun, I knew he had become the President of the Royal Academy but I hadn't followed his work trajectory. Then earlier this year I saw an announcement that he had joined the Lisson Gallery, I was surprised but then I saw the work and understood.
From mystic to mundane, from interesting to international, sad but predictable. Lisson can make you a millionaire, it's what they do. If you are in your mid sixties it's time to pep up the pension pot, who wouldn't pick up the chalice.
'Dream, Think, Speak', Christopher Le Brun. 1981-82
AGED AND AWKWARD