Such a conundrum. A clash of the titanic invites. House of Commons Summer Reception, St Ermin’s (not St Ernan’s) Hotel Afternoon Tea or Masterpiece Preview? We’ll go to all three, thank you. And so the afternoon seamlessly merges into the evening, swapping a marquee along the Thames for a roof terrace and later another marquee further upstream.
In the Houses of Parliament, The Right Honourable Kit Malthouse reminds us that we should be “building the Conservation Areas of the future”. He favours mansion blocks. Who doesn’t? St Ermin’s Hotel was once a mansion block. This year at Masterpiece it’s all about the people. Such constructs of beauty and art and beauty + art. One big photoshoot. And Perriet- Jouët with Lady Henrietta Rous.
Who better to share tips about photographs than Peter Fetterman of his eponymous gallery in Santa Monica? Prising ourselves away from Scott’s obligatory potted shrimps on Melba toast, we find Peter singing abridged Frank Sinatra into his mic, “And now… the time is come…” It’s the Saturday after the Private View and a sweltering 33 degrees in Chelsea. Speaking this time, revealing his English accent: “It’s a hot ticket! Thanks for braving the heat. This is my third year at Masterpiece. I come from a very humble background. I feel like the child who flew to the moon being at this very posh fair!”
He explains, “I was a filmmaker and moved by accident to California. I planned to stay there two weeks. I went along to a dinner party and the host was selling photographs – I was obsessed with them. I’d literally $2,000 to my name. I bought the lot for $400. I became a collector. You can reinvent yourself easier in America than Europe. I just love photographs! I started trading out of a rent control apartment. I bought more photographs and travelled round in a Honda selling them. Business escalated until now here I am!”
So what’s his take on collecting? “There are hundreds of years of painting. Photography is relatively new, only dating from 1839. I’ve seen its appreciation start from zero in the middle of the 1970s until now.” He points from the floor to the ceiling. “Collecting is all autobiographical. I grew up in an ugly gritty environment. But I knew there was another world, a beautiful one. Photographer and publisher Alfred Stieglitz was one of the first to promote photography as fine art. But it’s also a democratic medium, accessible to all. That’s what I love! There’s no one quite like Ansel Adams. His photography is in the Getty Museum but you can get a print for $1,200. Next door in Masterpiece you can only buy a Modigliani for £14 million.”
Peter notes great photographs are in demand so prices keep rising. Of course, there’s a price differential between a signed and an estate print. “There are two rules to collecting,” he argues. “Only buy what you love and from whom you trust. If you love it buy it.” Any regrets? “The only mistakes I’ve made is when I didn’t buy!”
The one person missing from this year’s Masterpiece is Min Hogg. She died peacefully in her Brompton Square flat two days before the Private View. Two of her closest chums were Lynn Barber, the journalist, and Madam Fitzgerald, the former châtelaine of Glin Castle in County Limerick. Olda Fitzgerald’s late husband was the Knight of Glin, a former President of the Irish Georgian Society. Min was a dedicated Irish Georgian.
“I love seeing other people’s houses,” she confided. On a visit to a particularly perfect country house in Sussex she chided “it desperately needs a faded throw over the back of a sofa”. She was impressed by The House of Lavender’s Blue. “It’s very World of Interiors. I love the T + G panelling in the bathroom!” Her own flat on the nursery floor of a Georgian townhouse was effortlessly stylish in a completely non designed way. She did, after all, coin the phrase “shabby chic”. When we interviewed Min about her wallpaper range she ordered, “Please don’t ask me what is my favourite house. That’s such a lame question!” We didn’t. Thankfully Min enjoyed the end result, the published feature: “I’m as happy as a clam!”