I have started to notice and be upset by changes I see around me. I wonder whether this is like a new form of puberty, a phase we all go through when we hit a certain age. For all my life, up to now, I have celebrated and been eager to embrace the new and the innovative. I cannot wait for the new blockbuster film, the new skyscraper, the new restaurant, the new device, and the new anything really. But suddenly I feel the dead hand of nostalgia creep over me casting a dark shadow.
In London in the Kings road there used to be a cafe called Picasso. It had banquettes in booths and was packed from early morning through the hours to early morning again. Sleazy tight-trousered men hung around waiting to chat up the young and innocent Sloanes, both male and female, and try to debauch them. The young never seemed to change and the sleaze wranglers never did either. It had been there since the 60s, the heyday of the Kings Road, and seemed to be indomitable; it was as if the whole place was preserved in aspic. It has gone.
In Madrid last weekend I was viewing the auction at Alcala and was looking forward to my tapas at O Cruceiros next door. The venerable white-jacketed and black-trousered staff behind the bar ministered to ones every need. A crude wooden square table with similar stools were my regular stopping point and their tomato bread, oily jamon and fluffy calamares kept me going through the day. Gone too.
calamares - image writer's own.
Now I am in Paris and the Hotel Lenox is being gutted. It is true that my heart belongs to the hotel de l'Universite, diagonally opposite, which I have been gracing since my parents took me there as a teenager; but the bar at the Lenox poured a mighty fine Martini and the deep luxurious coffee-coloured leather chairs have held me tenderly on many an occasion. Gone.
Heading to the Eurostar I got off the Metro and headed off following the signage for Grandes Lignes. Since the birth of the Eurostar I have walked up and turned right by the vegetable shop and headed for the escalator up into the heart of the station. Standing by the fruit there was always a cheerful evangelical who would blandish one with leaflets and God with a song and a broad toothy smile. Today we have to turn left and my wishful leafleteer has departed.
All these places are like little stitches in the cloth of things I know. They have all been replaced, perhaps with better, cleaner and cleverer alternatives. But I feel their absence - tiny little cuts and losses. I guess there comes an age in life when change no longer seems like an opportunity but more like a loss, a burden and even a frustration. I no longer know the way; I have to learn new tricks.
As this altered perception of change becomes more and more noticeable so I find that this could equally be true for the antique and old master picture world. Those of us who have plodded along in an industrious way for our entire professional lives should be in a position to enjoy the fruits of our knowledge and experience. But it is not to be. Someone has demolished the building whilst we were not looking. Instead we have to dust the rubble from our clothes and look around just like new boys arriving at school.
As I travel the world and meet with dealers who are mostly over 60 I notice that there is a clear binary divide between those who embrace the new and those who are waiting for things to change and 'get back to the good days'. I went to see a venerable dealer who has taken up residence in the basement of a friends shop. He has a fabulous collection. Everything in his area of the shop is exceptional, unusual and beautifully made. But he is waiting for the dealing world to rotate on its axis. He may - in the manner of the random movement of Brownian motion - bump into someone who could buy something, but he does not seek out markets or adjust his pricing strategy, or offer any explanation or justification of his prices. By contrast Simon Phillips, not far away, or in Paris Benjamin Steinitz are dealers who take a very different approach. They are all over the clients - offering help and advice and becoming part of the ongoing life of the objects. They realise the old days are just that - gone, dust. The new world is all about the clients and they are not looking hard for the exceptional object, they expect it to come to them.
But it is very hard to adjust. I see myself slipping away from the fundamental principle I have always tried to adhere to - that we must remain at all times nimble. For example; I know that I should not really buy things. Stock is money but rendered un-spendable. Knowing 'who' wants to buy 'what' is far more useful and lucrative. But I love things and I buy several things every week. The changes I see, the bastions that I thought I could rely on are crumbling all over the world. I want them all to come back. I know that this is not realistic and that I should shut my eyes, shake my head and go on into the new restaurant and see what they have to offer.
The other day I met with Max Donnelly who now works at the V&A but came from the Fine Art Society, we had lunch at the Polish restaurant Daquise by South Kensington Station. As a child I used to be taken there as a treat following a visit to one of the museums. There was a huge glass case by the entrance full of cakes, strangely shaped and often equally strangely flavoured with things like - poppy seeds. It was all very foreign and exotic. Now it has changed; the new owner who is the son of the old one told me that he wanted to change everything but keep the spirit. I felt that here was the middle path. The staff came to the table and served us from dented and bruised saucepans, but the food they produced was delicious and fresh and still very traditional. So perhaps the answer is to weep for what has gone and but get excited about the new because the history will often be cozily wrapped up inside.