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My masterpiece selection: Guy Oliver

29 June 2016

To coincide with the opening of Masterpiece London, we asked leading cultural figures to pick out some of their personal favourite masterpieces

Michael Inchbald was a great friend and mentor to me. He was extraordinarily innovative as an interior designer, working during a period of austerity after the Second World War. At his London home, Stanley House on Milner Street, he used wonderful original objects but also the limited materials that were available at the time. Today he might have done the floor in his drawing room in marble; then, he did it in linoleum. The house still feels like a wonderful classical space, but it’s all a bit of theatre. It has such an understated understanding of quality.

An interior at Stanley House, London, the home of Michael Inchbald (1920–2013) from 1955 until his death

An interior at Stanley House, London, the home of Michael Inchbald (1920–2013) from 1955 until his death. Christie’s Images ltd. 2014

The Bugatti Type 35 is a very beautiful object. It uses such an elegant form of engineering, down to the number of spokes on the wheel. It’s streamlined and represents modernity, but somehow it’s a timeless shape – from above, it’s almost a tear-drop. It wouldn’t look out of place in a drawing room.

The Bugatti T35, designed by Ettore Bugatti (1881–1947) and produced from 1924–30

The Bugatti T35, designed by Ettore Bugatti (1881–1947) and produced from 1924–30

As a boy, I loved the drawings of Albrecht Dürer, because of their incredible detail. Looking at them, it felt like the artist really cared about what he was
doing; they were works that I wanted to study under a microscope. When I was studying history of art at Edinburgh, I was drawn for similar reasons to Adam Elsheimer’s The Stoning of St Stephen, a painting on copper at the National Gallery of Scotland.

Hare (1502), Albrecht Dürer

Hare (1502), Albrecht Dürer. Albertina, Vienna

I used to live in New York, very close to the Frick Collection. There are no unhappy pictures in the galleries, just a collection of beautiful things.
I love the space and the volumes, and I always get a thrill being there at any time of the year. Another favourite house that’s now a museum is the Villa Necchi in Milan, where I Am Love was filmed. It’s not a refined interior, but it’s got some amazing 1930s details in it.

In London, the Albert Memorial has always fascinated me, because of its mixture of different materials. It’s a masterpiece of artisan work – of metalwork, and mosaic, and marble carving. I always think it’s a shame that there isn’t a glass dome big enough to put over it – it should be under a bell jar.

My ultimate masterpiece is Venice. It’s such a wonderful set piece. A friend of mine described it as ‘a party preserved in aspic after all the guests have gone home’, which is definitely the atmosphere there. But wherever you are in the city, it’s always visually thrilling. It’s one of the most stimulating places in the world.

Guy Oliver has designed the RBC Lounge at Masterpiece London 2016.

Masterpiece London takes place on the South Grounds of the Royal
Hospital Chelsea from 30 June–6 July. This article was originally published in the Masterpiece London magazine 2016.

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