Home for Brave Art; London Is to Have the World's First Gallery of Scottish Art - and That's Even before Scotland. Alexander Linklater Charts the History of a Collection That Stemmed from One Man's Quest to Decorate His Office

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LAST year, when old-style British bank Flemings (founded 1843) was sold to American giant Chase Manhattan for [pound]4.75 billion, voices of doom could be heard from the art world.

The fear was that with the bank would vanish the most important private collection of Scottish art, created in just 33 years.In fact, that turned out to be an exaggeration: although some of the works are indeed being sold, the collection has been protected by being placed in the Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation, and prepared for public exposure in a new London gallery.

Today, around 100 paintings from the 1,000-strong collection will be auctioned by Christie's, and are expected to fetch up to [pound]1 million.

They include some of the most important names in Scottish painting, from Colourists such as FCB Cadell and SJ Peploe, to Anne Redpath and Elizabeth Blackadder.

The first of two planned sales (the second takes place in March next year), it is part of a programme of cataloguing and rationalisation.

The Fleming Collection gallery is housed in Berkeley Street, on two floors of the family's new bank, Fleming Family and Partners. It will open in January with a show of the turn-of-the-20th-century Glasgow Boys (George Henry, John Lavery, Arthur Melville and James Paterson). And with each subsequent show, the various periods of post-Union Scottish art will be revealed, from classic melancholy works, such as Thomas Faed's Last of the Clan (springing out of the Highland clearances) through the Scottish Colourists, to the figurative revival and new Glasgow Boys of the Eighties.

The collection was started for entirely pragmatic reasons only fairly recently. When the bank moved London premises in 1968, one of the then directors, David Donald, had an urge to decorate the place himself. The board couldn't see anything wrong with his idea of buying paintings and he was given just one condition: because the family behind the bank was Scottish, the art inside it should be too.

It was taken for granted that Donald would be thrifty, and indeed few Scottish painters were at the time sufficiently revered to be expensive. As it turned out, though, Donald displayed an eye for a good chance, which might have put a smile on even the shrewd face of the bank's 19th century founder, Robert Fleming - known in financial lore as "Scotland's Dick Whittington".

(Later family members included the travel writer Peter Fleming and his brother Ian,

the creator of 007. …


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