I shed a tear at the party at Agnews in Old Bond Street last week. It was its farewell to premises that it had occupied for more than 130 years. This most distinguished of art dealers, founded in 1817, now finds that the building it has occupied since 1876 is unsuited to the modern trade. I’m told that it was once an inn, the courtyard of which became the first-floor gallery the scene of many scholarly exhibitions.
The new owner is the Italian fashion house Etro. This is in line with recent trends. Bond Street is changing. The dealers in art and furniture that used to set the tone are folding their tents, squeezed by the aggressive policies of the salerooms, the lurch of taste from English watercolours and the like to the avant garde, and the disappearance of connoisseurs from the City of London (imagine a hedge-fund manager having the time to cultivate a taste in Watteau drawings). In come the fashion brands. How long will they stay?
The outlook for the British high street at any level doesn’t look particularly bright at the moment, but there seems to be a growing number of billionaires. Perhaps their sons and daughters will have the leisure and money to collect and a new golden age for Bond Street picture dealers will be born.