“I don’t know which to admire the most; your courage in defying the tendencies of modern art or the skill with which you have done so.”
So wrote Lord Kenneth Clark to Anthony Christian, at a time when the art historian had just launched the acclaimed “Civilisation” series and was considered one of the supreme voices of the art world. Lord Clark’s was not a unique perspective, and the artist for many years enjoyed an illustrious career that took him to America, France, Tibet and India, as well as many other countries where he associated with artists such as Dali, Picasso and Warhol, and where he painted (often portraits) for the rich and famous: from the late Lord Mountbatten and Peter Cazelet (in the Queen’s Royal Collection) to actors Terence Stamp and Donald Sutherland.
Collected by the highest echelons of the global elite, however, Christian remains largely unknown; in terms of the 21st Century art market he remains largely in obscurity, having operated one-to-one with his clients like the Renaissance master painters of the court. His indefatigable wanderlust, together with his convictions about the more commercial side of his metier, caused him to fight shy of the standard gallery path.
The exhibition Animate / Inanimate marks an important return for Christian – to the city in which his gift was first nurtured at the National Gallery, where at the age of just ten years old he was granted the privilege of studying the techniques of the Old Masters. One particular painting that brought public attention was Christian’s full-sized (6 by 4.5 feet) copy of Dutch master Philips Wouwermann’s Cavalry Battle, which he completed there between the age of 10 and 14 (see below). The work, which at the time provoked media frenzy and the art world to pronounce him a child prodigy – did far more, marking the start of a remarkable life, dominated by the need to draw and paint. It was during these years that Christian developed a distinct “inner voice”, an artistic conscience that would judge everything he ever did; this highly critical, relentlessly demanding eye was formed entirely by the magnificent works by which he was continuously surrounded. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Rubens were among the masters by whose work he was absorbed and by whose work he set his own standards.
More than 50 years after those years in the National Gallery, this exhibition will display 15 works spanning the artist’s career, from the 1970s until the most recent paintings from 2017. In all genres, Christian possesses the extraordinary capacity to create – with equally dazzling facility – pulsating life and deep emotion in not only portraits and nudes but also still lifes, interiors and drapery studies. The show’s title, Animate / Inanimate, highlights the significance of one particular series in the artist’s oeuvre – Christian’s mannequins – and its importance in context of so much of his subsequent work.
This exhibition is the launch of Manuelpillai Fine Arts, a premium level collection of senior artists from the UK, India and Pakistan, and a first collaboration between Manuelpillai Fine Arts and Zari Gallery.