In London, the line between Sotheby’s on New Bond Street, Mayfair, and Christie’s on King Street, St James’s is hallowed turf, the epicentre of the city’s art and antiques trade. Competition for gallery space is fierce and the rise of fashion houses and luxury residential developments continues to dwindle supply.
Yet, in a complex dance, galleries both young and old continue to open, close, move and morph. This week marks another shift in the landscape, as three new galleries officially open to coincide with London Art Week (30 June–7 July): Trinity Fine Art in Colnaghi’s old gallery at 15 Old Bond Street; Tomasso Brothers Fine Art at 67 Jermyn Street, formerly home to Harris Lindsay; and Benappi Fine Art, a fourth-generation Turin gallery which opens its first London space at 27 Dover Street, previously Rossi & Rossi’s premises. Meanwhile, after nearly 30 years in a street-level gallery on Bruton Street, Osborne Samuel has also moved, to 23 Dering Street, a building also home to Annely Juda Fine Art.
Osborne Samuel and Trinity Fine Art had been in Bruton Street premises for 29 and 28 years respectively, and for both, the move has been invigorating. ‘It’s refreshing and rejuvenating, [and] made us consider different ways of presenting our works,’ says Alexandra Toscano, director of Trinity Fine Art. ‘The ceilings at Bruton Street were low, which didn’t matter with smaller kunstkammer pieces in the early days. But now we show more paintings and larger works, so when the Colnaghi space came up we jumped at it because it’s a much more elegant space with higher ceilings. Even though the square footage is smaller, it feels more spacious.’
Osborne Samuel saved a third on rent by moving from street level on Bruton Street to the first floor at Dering Street. ‘We were very concerned about losing a shop front – walk-by traffic can still be a significant trade – but actually the footfall has been better,’ says director Tania Sutton. ‘We held back a meaty exhibition (‘The Romantic Impulse; British Neo-Romantic Artists at Home & Abroad 1935–1959’), to send a clear message out that we’d just moved, we weren’t closing.’
As more galleries move to upper-floor premises in order to stay within Mayfair and St James’s, the shop front now seems a little outmoded; none of the four galleries discussed here have street frontage. Toscano thinks the street-level gallery, open five days a week, is now something from a bygone era. ‘People don’t have the time to browse around galleries. Dealers travel extensively and most are committed to fairs all over the world. In the old days, a dealer was rooted to the gallery and people would go to them. It’s a shame in some ways, and the whole point of London Art Week is to bring people into the gallery to engage with them.’
When Tomasso Brothers were forced to move from Duke Street last year due to redevelopment, Bruce Lindsay of Harris Lindsay got in touch. ‘When he discovered that we were searching for a new London base, he kindly offered us his gallery in Jermyn Street,’ says Dino Tomasso. ‘The timing was serendipitous.’ It is, says Tomasso, ‘increasingly difficult to locate appropriate space in St James’s due to the influx of international companies relocating to London.’ The Tomassos did not consider Mayfair, believing ‘its nature has changed so greatly in the past 10 or so years, and it is no longer the traditional hub of independent art dealerships.’
The opening of new galleries boosts confidence. But it’s not cheap – Tomasso Brothers anticipate Jermyn Street running costs to be in the region of £200,000 per year. ‘It is worth the investment, as our international collectors congregate in this area when they visit, and to attend the major art sales and important exhibitions,’ says Tomasso. ‘Our primary space will always remain at Bardon Hall, Leeds, but for now, London is very much the place to be.’
Much of the rhetoric surrounding gallery moves in the area has been one of greedy landlords pricing galleries out. But now some are keen to stress their support, such as The Pollen Estate through its role as principal sponsor of Mayfair Art Weekend (30 June–2 July). The Estate owns Cork Street, historically a gallery hub, which is undergoing a controversial redevelopment, dubbed Cork Street Galleries, to be completed in December 2017. This will, says chairman David Shaw, nearly treble gallery space on the street, to 40,000 sq ft. Rental rates for the new galleries, says Shaw, ‘have not yet been set but we expect [they] will be in line with rentals for galleries in Mayfair,’ adding that they were supporting galleries through initiatives such as providing ‘pop-up’ gallery space in vacant properties.
Such temporary spaces allow younger galleries to get a foot in the door, and in recent years more and more young blood has been coming into London’s Old Master market. ‘Before that,’ says Harry Gready, gallery manager of Benappi Fine Art’s new Dover Street gallery, ‘many dealers were ageing and I think a lot of people felt [the market] was dying. Now people like Jorge Coll and Nicolás Cortés at Colnaghi and [Andrea Lullo and Andreas Pampoulides of] Lullo Pampoulides have been very important for the market. It needs their energy.’ Gready also counts his boss among these; the London space is the brainchild of 29-year-old Filippo Benappi, a fourth-generation dealer who wanted to grow the gallery from Turin by finding a space in the heartland of the London art world. This young team took a ‘white cubed’ space and stripped it back to reveal the building’s original Georgian character.
Even in this digital age, nothing beats a Georgian townhouse and a St James’s or Mayfair address still speaks volumes about a gallery’s stature.