"IT SEEMS to me," says Doris Lockhart Saatchi, "that your taste in art, the kind of art you end up liking, is entirely an autobiographical thing. I don't care what anybody says: you go for works that have some kind of personal resonance, some kind of association with your own life. There really isn't any such thing as a pure aesthetics. Ruskin would like to think there were. I guess Brian Sewell probably would. But I just don't buy it."
Given the circumstances, it seems a courageous line to take. Lockhart Saatchi is sitting in the National Gallery cafe on a wet Wednesday morning, mulling over a cappuccino and the question of which of the world's artworks she would choose to have if given her pick of them all. This is not as whimsical as it sounds. The National Art Collections Fund (NACF) - a charity that has been buying works for British public galleries since its acquisition of Velazquez's Rokeby Venus for the National Gallery in 1906 - has persuaded Lockhart Saatchi and three other celebrities (including the aforementioned Brian Sewell) to put together fantasy collections and then to lecture on them. If you subscribe to her view of art collecting as a species of autobiography, then Lockhart Saatchi - a famously private woman - is laying her life on the line.
Once upon a time, that life seemed little short of blessed. Married in 1973 to Charles Saatchi - partner, with his brother Maurice, in the billion- pound ad agency of those names - the Sorbonne-educated Doris Lockhart set about putting together what was to become the most important private collection of contemporary art in Britain. In 1984, the Saatchi collection - its particular strength in American minimalist painting ascribable more to Doris's eye than to her husband's - moved to its own gallery in St John's Wood and became The Saatchi Collection. Then, in 1988, Charles Saatchi left his wife. Two years later he divorced her, married another woman and - having had no children from his first marriage - fathered a daughter. Something of the nature of their divorce may be deduced from the fact that Charles Saatchi's current entry in Who's Who makes no reference to Doris Lockhart's ever having even existed. The potential shock-value of her fantasy collection is suggested by the title of the lecture she will deliver on it: Going for Baroque. She might as well have called it The Shock of the Old. The woman whose (married) name was once a synonym for all that was contemporary in contemporary British art ticks off her choices so far: Zurbaran's Saint Francis in Meditation, next door in the National Gallery; Simone Martini's Uffizi Annunciation, one each of Delacroix, Ingres, Bruegel and Poussin, although she hasn't decided which yet; Warhol's Triple Elvis; and - the only work by a living (although hardly by a young) artist - an as yet unspecified piece by the American mimimalist painter Brice Marden. Her advice on the whereabouts of the last of these works suggests a rather better-mannered riposte to her ex-husband's rewriting of their marital history. In that polite East Coast drawl that pronounces "art"' as "aht" rather than "ard", she says, "The trouble is that the Saatchi Collection is now a very different thing from when I had anything to do with it. I don't really know if there are any Brice Mardens still left in it. I guess Charles Saatchi may have de- acquisitioned them. That" - she smiles a helpful smile - "is an art-world euphemism for 'sold'." As to The Collection's legacy, Lockhart Saatchi is more than willing to acknowledge her husband's role in shaping the British art world's current tastes. …