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Football art set to score a cool £1.25m

Gerald Isaaman reviews an art show that evokes cold winter days on the terraces

30 April, 2018 — By Gerald Isaaman

The Big Match by Ruskin Spear

FOR 25 years art dealer Chris Beetles has played the striker role for a millionaire friend who is the former chairman of a First Division club by raiding auction rooms round the world.

The result is a unique collection of 110 oil and watercolour paintings, drawings and cartoons depicting the beautiful game since the 19th century.

Now the collection is on public display for the first time at his gallery in St James’s – and is on offer for anyone who wants to buy it for a cool £1.25million.

“It represents the most significant and important football collection of original pictures ever to be assembled,” declares 71-year-old Chris, who says he has “been bonkers about football” since he was a lad and a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur from the age of 11.

“The collection belongs not to me but a very good client and friend who wishes to remain anony­mous at the moment. I talked to him about football art all those years ago because it was rarely ever seen since football is a working-class sport.

A Cup Tie at Crystal Palace, Corinthians v Manchester City by Charles Cundall RA

“That meant there weren’t rich patrons as there are today, people who might commission football art; there weren’t wealthy people who played football either. And I must admit that over the years I’ve sold more croquet pictures than any depicting football since I became an art dealer.

“Twenty-five years is indeed a long time for someone like me who is so active in the art market. We cover every auction in the world. So it became known that I was collecting football art and I was offered pieces.

“Now the owner, although he is a rich man and doesn’t need to sell the collection, feels he has reached a certain age where it should be sold and shown to the public and somebody else given the chance to take on the challenge.”

The star painting is a large oil canvas by Charles Cundall RA (1890-1971) of the third round of the FA Cup tie at Crystal Palace in 1926 of Corinth­ians versus Manchester City, now the current Premier Division champions.

Ronald Searle’s Molesworth Footballer

There is also The Big Match involving Arsenal painted by Ruskin Spear RA (1911-1990) and Crystal Palace and Oxford United painted by the late Hampstead artist Hans Schwarz (1922-2003), who escaped to England on his bicycle when Hitler invaded his native Austria. Other noted artists range from Professor Carel Weight and the Victorian and 20th-century cartoonists and draughtsmen Edward Ardizzone, Fougasse, EH Shepard, Carl Giles, Ronald Searle, Larry, and Louis Wain.

Chris’s own football passion grew from playing football as a lad. “Despite my diminished stature, I was very fast and very pushy as a striker,” he recalls. But he gave up playing when he went to university to train as a doctor and later worked as a trainee GP in the Kentish Town Health Centre, bought his first flat in Sumatra Road, West Hampstead, and later worked at University College Hospital, St Pancras before making his dramatic career change.

There have been no bids yet for the rare and remarkable art collection. “I suppose we need some football billionaire like Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich to play a part,” says Chris. “In his world £1.25million is small change for 110 pieces of quite exceptional, really classy football art that belongs to the history of the game we all love.”

Football: The Art Collection runs until May 19 at The Chris Beetles Gallery, 8 & 10 Ryder Street, St James’s, SW1Y 6QB, admission free. 020 7839 7551, www.chrisbeetles.com

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