Art is for the street-wise

Got a million dollars (or just a couple of hours) to spare? Geraldine Norman gives an art lover's guide to Bond Street

The British don't make proper use of Bond Street. What does the name of the elegant Mayfair thoroughfare suggest to the average British ear? Primarily clothes - expensive clothes - or Sotheby's auctions, or maybe Asprey's knick-knacks.

But Bond Street also contains Europe's densest concentration of important art galleries - and hardly anyone visits them. For an art lover, a couple of hours idling down Bond Street is as rewarding as a visit to the National Gallery or the historic British collection at the Tate. There aren't as many masterpieces, of course, but that is made up for by the constantly changing show. You can do the Bond Street galleries three or four times a year and always see different pictures.

At present you'll catch Hannibal Crossing the Alps, a painting by the 17th-century French artist Nicolas Poussin, which Agnew's has pulled out to coincide with the Poussin exhibition at the Royal Academy. The painting is modestly priced at $1.5m. You'll find Renoir and Pissarro at Richard Green's modern gallery and the spectacular Pieter Brueghel Calvary (£1.6m) among his Old Masters; there's a Bonington at Leger's, a Stubbs at Lane Fine Art, a theatrical Pompeo Batoni at Colnaghi's, and a brilliant 1935 painting of geraniums by Stanley Spencer at the Fine Art Society.

At Wildenstein's, you'll catch a charming exhibition of French 18th-century paintings and drawings on the theme of love, put together for Valentine's Day. Wildenstein's, founded in France in 1875, is now a spider's web that criss-crosses the globe with important galleries in New York and Tokyo; their secret stock of Old Masters is larger and more valuable than that of any other dealer; when they want to mount a French 18th-century exhibition, they just take some things out of the safe - The Love Letter, a ravishing little oil by Marguerite Grard, for instance. Grard was Jean Honor Fragonard's sister-in-law and favourite collaborator, and their work is often confused.

The British pay little attention to these aesthetic delights for two reasons. Firstly, there are not many British buyers; collecting art is not a means of social climbing in Britain. If you want to break into high society over here, buy a racehorse. The people who actually buy the pictures on offer in Bond Street are mainly foreign.

Secondly, ordinary members of the public are daunted by the grandiose, empty galleries, staffed by disapproving Sloanes. In most cases, the street door is locked and you have to press a buzzer to get in. "Lloyds insists we keep it locked," explains Christopher Foley of Lane Fine Art. "Otherwise they would require us to maintain three members of staff on each exhibition floor before issuing any insurance."

The oldest established galleries on the street are Colnaghi's, Agnew's and the Fine Art Society. Colnaghi's, which began life as a print-seller in Cockspur Street in 1784, arrived in Bond Street in 1911; the other two got there in 1876. Colnaghi's, however, no longer has any links with its roots. It trades in Old Master paintings and drawings, has branch galleries in New York and Paris and is owned by the German Oetke Group of food, hotel and shipping companies. Most of the Old Masters hanging there this week are Italian - including a charming drawing of dogs snuffling in an 18th-century landscape by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo.

Agnew's, in contrast, is still run by the Agnew family. The large upstairs gallery is generally roped off between exhibitions but the downstairs space is well hung with pictures and there are small watercolour and sculpture galleries tucked in the front. There are no less than five Samuel Palmer watercolours hanging there right now, none dating from his mystic Shoreham period, but all of noted quality. The small but dramatic Italian Dawn is an echo of his honeymoon (£80,000).

Andrew Patrick, director of the Fine Art Society, proudly claims that his firm only deals in the kind of art it started out selling new some time between 1876 and today. In their first four years they showed Ruskin's collection of Turners and subsidised his arch-rival Whistler's retirement to Venice. There are still Whistler prints and drawings for sale and spectacular Victorian pictures by Lord Leighton and Alma-Tadema - who both showed at the gallery. The huge space is hung in a postage-stamp style, cramming in as many pictures as possible. And there are always some notable paintings - their quality is probably the most reliable in Bond Street.

There's a marvellous Sir William Orpen self-portrait of around 1910 in the window this week. Orpen followed Sargent as Britain's most fashionable portrait painter; he is said to have been so ugly that he regarded self- portraits, of which he painted a large number, as a challenge. In this one he paints his reflection in a mirror placing a wreath of flowers round a statue of Cupid. The tools of his trade - paints, brushes, bottles of turps - are jumbled on the mantelpiece in front of it.

The other major gallery that peddles Victorian paintings is Christopher Wood, with premises on the second and third floors of Mallett's, the furniture dealers. Not only do you have to ring the bell but you have to march across the furniture emporium to take the lift. The paintings are worth it when you get there, currently dominated by a swirling belle poque portrait: Madame Jourdan by Giovanni Boldini.

Some galleries are more obviously "commercial" than others. Richard Green only has Old Masters that would appeal to rich private collectors - obviously decorative, of high quality and cleaned to a sparkling standard which renders the colours as bright as new. His Impressionists are aimed at the same kind of client; they are attractive but not museum class. And Frost and Reed offers a unique brand of contemporary and modern art - brightly coloured figurative painting, mostly in impressionist mode, by talented artists who haven't made it into art history books but sell like hot cakes in the Home Counties. There's something for everyone in Bond Street.

n Agnew's (0171-629 6176); Christopher Wood (0171-499 7411); Colnaghi's (0171-491 7408); Fine Art Society (0171-629 5116); Frost & Reed (0171- 629 2457); Lane Fine Art (0171-499 5020); Richard Green (0171-493 3939); Wildenstein's (0171-629 0602)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?