Having spent an unpleasant few weeks living in a damp ridden room at the back of a shared flat in West London I was most relieved to move into a pleasant one bedroom flat in Ealing. I had just moved to the Capital after leaving university and was finding it hard to finance an acceptable place to live. The Ealing flat seemed a little too good to be true but it actually turned out to be even better than that.
The landlord was an elderly gentleman who occupied the ground floor flat in the house when he wasn’t at his somewhat larger residence in the country or dealing with one of his businesses in Germany. He was a very pleasant guy to deal with and most attentive to his tenants which made a refreshing change. I used to stop to talk to him occasionally if he was about and eventually he began asking me in for a chat and a sherry.
The Art Collection
I was stunned the first time I walked into his flat. Every square inch of the walls was covered in paintings which were clearly original works of art. I was studying Art History part time at the local college that year and was fascinated by his collection. I wasn’t an expert by any means but some of those paintings looked incredibly valuable to me!
I told my landlord about my interest in art and the course I was doing and he was clearly pleased to find someone who enjoyed his collection. After a few weeks he called me down to his flat to tell me that he had a couple of paintings that needed cleaning. He asked if I would mind taking them to my college to see if there was anyone there who could handle cleaning them or who could maybe recommend a local expert. He shoved the two pieces into a supermarket carrier bag and handed them to me. As I left the flat I took a closer look at the paintings and was shocked to see that the signature on both of them was P. Renoir. I was also horrified as I realised that the pictures were almost certainly genuine and extremely valuable. My reaction was nothing next to that of my art teacher when I produced them after my class!
The Mystery Painting
I was unable to find someone willing to clean the pictures which was no great surprise and so returned them to my landlord. He seemed reluctant to discuss their provenance in much detail and equally reticent to talk about the painting over his fireplace which I had become convinced was a Rubens. My thoughts were the result of spending much time contemplating the picture over glasses of sherry and several oblique comments from the landlord who appeared to find the National Gallery’s purchase of Rubens’ Samson and Delilah amusing. His feelings were evidently based upon the fact that he didn’t think the painting in question was very good! Very good compared to his possibly!
My time in Ealing with my landlord’s art collection was one of the more incredible episodes in my life. It isn’t every day that you find yourself walking up the street with two Renoirs in a carrier bag. I asked him why he was so unconcerned about his art being transported in this way or by the fact that he didn’t know me. I could have been dishonest and stolen the pictures. He explained that he bought art not as an investment but simply because he enjoyed it and that he wanted me to enjoy it too. The monetary value of the pieces and the potential loss of it was of no consequence. I suppose I understood but I think I would have been a little more careful regardless. I guess there are many reasons why people but original art and a love for the work is the best of them.
He was a man who enjoyed a joke too. At some point during my time there he asked if I would like a painting for my flat. I told him that I would be happy to hang one of his pictures in my home as long as it was of little value. He produced a portrait from an old box and said it was relatively worthless but would suit the flat. I had that picture on my wall for weeks before I saw it featured in a reference book and discovered that it was worth millions!
Article by Sally Stacey