Studying History of Art at university and working with private dealers and in auction houses from a young age, Florence Whittaker always knew she was destined to work in the art world. Now Maddox Senior Art Consultant, Whittaker has a rich art historical knowledge and an impressive collection to match. We spoke with Whittaker about her most recent purchase, the artworks she regrets buying and the Matisse that got away.
FLORENCE WHITTAKER, MADDOX GALLERY SENIOR ART CONSULTANT
At the age of 16, I attended a talk by the Turner Prize winning artist Grayson Perry. I was blown away by his irreverent artworks. He was using materials I had always admired; textiles, print making, photography and pottery. However, there was this exciting juxtaposition between the traditional mediums he used and the controversial imagery that emblazoned them. At the end of the talk, I queued up to ask him to sign my copy of his exhibition catalogue, Guerrilla Tactics, transforming the book into a treasured possession. His work has stayed with me since then, and one of the first pieces I ever bought was a Grayson Perry limited edition print. And, yes, I still own the work (and the book).
The most recent addition to my collection is an alluring Slim Aarons photograph called Leisure in Antibes that was gifted to me by my fiancé as an engagement present. The photograph depicts a beautiful scene of a woman sunbathing in a Riva Yacht as it tows a water skier on the French Riviera.
During this pandemic, especially when we are all spending so much time at home, I have leaned on the art around me as a form of escapism and I find that the medium of photography especially can have a transporting effect. It can allow you to live vicariously through the lens of iconic photographers, such as Terry O’Neill’s candid images of Brigitte Bardot and David Bowie, or dive into the jungles, mountains and desert plains of David Yarrow’s spectacular work in the wild.
Every great artwork, like a great piece of music, reflects a very particular emotion or significant moment in your life. There was a reason why you were so attracted to it at the time. That reason may have waned, changed or stayed the same, but like a great song, it has the power to transport you right back to that initial feeling.
I have always loved Harland Miller’s sardonic, sarcastic, sometimes playful and other times serious artworks.The pieces create a dialogue between the viewer and the work, not just through his words, but also through the power of colour. I have always found it fascinating which works people gravitate towards when they enter the gallery, it’s a bit like walking into a room and deciding who you want to speak to. Most people close to me will know I am an eternal optimist, so naturally I am drawn towards ‘Who Cares Wins’ or ‘Love Saves The Day’.
During a university summer holiday, I worked at Masterpiece Art Fair. On my lunch breaks, I would wander around the fair, barely grabbing time for a bite to eat, to make sure I digested every artwork I could. Day after day, I kept coming back to this very small Matisse lithograph. I still think about the print today. I have had similar conversations with many clients of mine. You ruminate more about the works you didn’t go for than the ones you took the leap to acquire. It is so important to follow intuition and to take risks.
The works that I own always have to impart an emotional response. It could be humorous, enigmatic, figurative, political, reminiscent of something or someone, or it could simply be a pure fascination of the artist’s process.
Go with your gut. Buy what you love. You will not regret it.