The Fleming Collection’s cultural missionPublished on 21 February 2019
Since it began life in 1968, the Fleming Collection – the finest collection of Scottish art outside public institutions – has held dear its mission to promote Scottish art and creativity outside Scotland.
Its initial purpose was to “cheer up” the new London office of merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co – the suggestion of one of the directors at the time, David Donald, according to James Knox, Director of the Fleming Collection. “As it happened, he was a completely brilliant collector of art”, he said, speaking at a private tour of the collection, hosted by Stonehage Fleming Wealth Planning last week.
Deeply proud of its Scottish heritage, the only guidance the bank gave Donald at the time was to feature works by Scottish artists or featuring Scottish scenes, explained James. “Over the following six months, he bought half a dozen paintings by the Scottish Colourists – poster boys for 20th century Scottish art – who were at the time rather unloved, known only in Scotland and a little in London” he said. “From then the collection grew and grew and its role as a vehicle for cultural diplomacy was sealed.”
By the time Flemings was sold to JP Morgan in 2000, the Fleming family were not prepared to lose the collection which bore so much significance. They bought back the entire collection at market value and vested it in the newly formed Fleming Wyfold Art Foundation whose stated aim remains to promote an understanding and awareness of Scottish art and creativity outside Scotland through exhibitions, events, publishing and education.
Today the collection numbers 600 works, many of which are hanging in the Stonehage Fleming London office. Having relinquished its Mayfair gallery in 2015, continues its cultural mission with a ‘Museum Without Walls’ strategy, initiating exhibitions of Scottish Art outside Scotland. The current tour is ‘Scottish Colourists from the Fleming Collection’, which, following a successful run at the Granary Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed, has travelled to Birmingham’s Barber Institute of Fine Art, with further venues planned.
Other recent loans include a group of paintings by Anne Redpath to the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol and the iconic World War One painting, The Eve of the Battle of the Somme by James Gunn, which was on display through the final year of the WW1 commemorations at the York and Lancaster Regimental Museum at Clifton Park Museum, Rotherham.
The Fleming Collection collaborates with the Westminster and Scottish governments in a programme of cultural diplomacy, loaning paintings to the Scotland Office in Dover House, Whitehall and to Scotland House in London. Paintings from the collection are also on display at the British Embassy in Dublin where the Scottish Government has a hub.
James calculates that last year alone, over 180,000 people would have seen at least one painting from the Fleming Collection which, he says, is testament to its continuing mission. “This is the absolute heart of what we do in promoting Scottish art through our collection.”