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Art Market Interviews

PAD Dealer’s Choice: Martin Levy

16 October 2013

The art market is full of personalities, but dealers and gallerists often seem little more than names when the market gets covered in print. In a new series, Apollo asks art dealers to introduce themselves and their businesses.

Tell us a bit about the history of your business…

I represent the fourth generation of our business, which was founded in 1884 by my great grandfather, Harris Blairman. The firm started, like Wartski, in Llandudno, North Wales.

What are your specialist fields?

The firm specialises in 19th-century design, ranging from the Regency period through to the Arts & Crafts movement, with periodic forays earlier.

What’s the most exciting work you’re currently offering?

We have recently published our 20th consecutive annual catalogue, from which one of my favourite items is a writing table designed around 1865 by Owen Jones for the great patron and collector Alfred Morrison.

What’s been your greatest triumph as a dealer?

I derive huge satisfaction from identifying lost furniture or works of art with distinguished histories. Among the examples that I recall with particular enthusiasm were the four missing (from a set of eight) stands by James Pascall for the Long Gallery at Temple Newsam, Leeds, to which they returned, and a massive Pugin chandelier now hanging at the Art Institute of Chicago. In both instances, equal pleasure was derived from the way in which the sales were transacted.

And your greatest professional regret?

Not much, really, but I should have gone to view at auction the lacquer-veneered fall-front desk by Thomas Chippendale from Harewood House, which was said not to be period: it is.

How has the market in your field changed since you started dealing?

Interest in 19th-century design and manufacture, first revived in a wider sense by the exhibition ‘Victorian & Edwardian Decorative Arts’ held in 1952 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, has strengthened and matured hugely since I first became involved in this area some 40 years ago.

Do you collect yourself? And in the same field as you deal?

Over the years we have accumulated all sorts of things from many periods and cultures.

Which work have you been sorriest to part with?

The vast majority of the pieces we are fortunate enough to handle go to buyers who become friends, so nothing much is lost forever.

If you weren’t an art dealer, what would you be?

I cannot imagine a better life, but would not have minded playing for the Arsenal.

Martin Levy is the director of H. Blairman & Sons in London.
PAD London is on at Berkeley Square, London, until 20 October 2013.