William Parente’s family have lived at Welbeck for over 400 years, and throughout this time have been committed collectors of fine and decorative arts, creating what are now known as The Portland Collection. William continues his family’s tradition, and has developed a very personal collection of artworks, many of which were commissioned from the artists.
This intimate and surprising collection combines traditional subjects – portraits and English landscapes – alongside perhaps unexpected images, such as vast Antarctic glaciers and vibrant pop and Brit art. Visitors will be able to see John Piper’s painting of Bolsover Castle, which, like Welbeck Abbey, was built by the family, and Charles Lamb’s portrait of family member Ottoline Morrell. Ottoline Morrell was a striking character, a leading figure of the Bloomsbury Group, and a patron of the arts.
William explains that this piece;
catches some of the strength, not to say pig-headedness, of this woman who defiantly rebelled against the dictates of her class and helped transform the artistic and intellectual life of her country. It is a real portrait in that you can see that Lamb knew the person he was drawing very well and may have had reservations about her.
Texts told William Parente’s stories and comments about each piece and why he chose it; from the satisfying labour of planting a tree remembered through Clausen’s painting of the same name, to the quirky humour of Sir Peter Blake’s Jeux de Patiences. An English Perspective provided a fascinating insight into the process of collecting; showing how a collection can reveal tastes, interests and aesthetic.
Twentieth-century British art is often considered to be rather minor. Because while foreign artists roared noisily down the highway of modernism, our artists pottered quietly through the byways around it. They ignored prevailing cultural fashions, dismissed avant-garde theories, and refused to be seduced by fame and fortune. Instead, they stubbornly explored their own interests in their own idiosyncratic ways. The highway, of course, would have guaranteed them stardom. But are not the byways immeasurably more fun to travel down?
William Parente has spent three decades exploring this country’s many artistic byways. Because he has understood that the appeal of art is not where it gets you, but how it gets you there. For this reason, his unique collection captures the inimitable spirit of modern British art: its quirkiness, its wit, and its quiet and unassuming beauty. They may not be the most famous artworks of the century. But they will make you smile, they will make you think, and above all, they will make you proud for making the journey.
Dr James Fox
Research Fellow, University of Cambridge
Writer and presenter of the BBC TV series British Masters