Serendipity and Eccentricity by Neale Albert8th January 2023
I’m a collector. I’ve always been a collector. Especially of small things. Once I had a collection of seeds of miniature African Violets and Lionel train sets.
I’m creative. I take photographs. I send a photograph of flowers with black backgrounds every day to a large group of friends.
But I was never a painter or a sculptor. My skill lies in thinking of something I would like to have and then finding the proper person to make it for me.
Four decades ago, I went to London with my wife Margaret on a business trip. On the first Sunday morning I went for a walk in Kensington. I saw a sign “Kensington Dolls House Festival.” Intrigued, I went in. One look at the incredible miniatures there and I had started a new collection. A red secretary with gilt work. A rosewood table. A Rasputin chalice. A grandfather clock. A Dutch marquetry chest. A marquetry and boulle table.
Then I started commissioning people to make miniature rooms. The Falkland Arms pub (in the village of Great Tew, in Oxfordshire). Marie Antoinette’s boudoir (in Fontainebleau). The Bacchus room (in the Villa Barbero, outside Venice). Next came the library at Cliveden House. Cliveden was built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Sutherland as a gift to his mistress. The library is magnificent.
I needed miniature books for this library. So, I started collecting real doll’s house size miniature books, with actual words and pictures. A few moments later and I found that I had 3,000 miniature books. Where to put them? I commissioned Tim Gosling (then with David Linley) to make a bookcase to hold my miniature books. It’s wonderful. “Magnum In Parvo”. This walnut cabinet has two open doors to reveal four walnut drawers with inlays in satinwood and Macassar ebony.
A few years ago, I published a miniature book. “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, the song from Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter. I purchased the right to make this book from one of my law partners, who was the Trustee of the Cole Porter Trust.
One year, Tim invited us to lunch at his home, Sycamore House on Valentine’s Day. I showed Tim a copy of my Shakespeare book and a walking stick with an ivory bust of William Shakespeare that I had purchased in an antique store in Kensington the previous day. I gave them to Tim and asked him what he could make for me with them. He made an Architectural Epitaph, of mahogany with carved fretwork details. William Shakespeare’s family crest is inlaid in marquetry.
Now I’m really hooked. I asked Tim to make objects to hold my favourite miniature objects. The Globe Theatre in London, with a star sapphire that Margaret had given me as a birthday gift. It’s made of sycamore with details in grey Harewood with laser etchings. An Apse, with a 40-volume set of miniature Shakespeare books forming the architecture. Walnut with a gilded frieze on vellum. A sycamore book stand based on the Barcelona town hall, for six books bound by Santiago Brugalla, with a secret drawer for a tiny book bound by his father Emilio Brugalla in 1937. The side bronze pieces are based on a doorway by Gaudi.
The Dome of Celestial Curiosity. Made in walnut with a hand carved done that opens. There is an opening front door with two glass floors engraved with Copernicus’s celestial map of the heavens. The Dome holds an actual working miniature orrery. And has a secret drawer for a miniature book and a miniature magnifying glass. [Science].
The Magical Music Pavilion, which is based on the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in Regency London. Designed to house miniature musical instruments. Including a miniature harpsichord which is a detailed model of an antique Italian harpsichord which is in the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was carved from American black walnut with a gold-blocked leather insert. There is a brass key on top which winds a hidden music box. [Music].
When you have Science and Music you must have Art.
So, I asked Tim to make an art museum. The facade of my museum is based on the facade of the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art. The roof opens, and has a triple angled glass skylight. It is made of English sycamore.
The inside has removable and adjustable walls on which to hang paintings.
Within the museum is a miniature sculpture which Frank Stella made for me, and paintings by Vermeer (“The Art of Painting”) and Renoir (“Luncheon of The Boating Party”). Plus, a collector’s cabinet containing miniature photographs made for me by two photographer friends.
One of the finest pieces in my museum are four Piero Della Francesca paintings, portraits of Federico and Battista Sforza and on the reverse the Triumph of Battista Sforza. The paintings are set in a miniature frame which is a copy of the real frame, which is in the Uffizi in Florence, Italy.
Outside waiting to get into my museum are two lines of art lovers in silhouettes of my friends, me, Margaret, Tim, Steve and Hachi. There are three secret drawers containing miniature books about paintings. There is even a secret drawer within a secret drawer. The Albert Museum of Art is the favourite piece which Tim has made for me.
This year Tim is going to design a binding for a book based on the ideas of George Fields from1817 and the Regency period. The book links colour with musical notation. The binding will have a cover made of stained glass.