PIECES FROM A CONFESSIONAL

Doris Lockhart Saatchi, the former wife of Charles Saatchi, is famously private. But her choice of favourite paintings, says Charles Darwent, is unexpectedly revealing

"IT SEEMS to me," says Doris Lockhart Saatchi, "that your taste in art, the kind of art you end up liking, is entirely an autobiographical thing. I don't care what anybody says: you go for works that have some kind of personal resonance, some kind of association with your own life. There really isn't any such thing as a pure aesthetics. Ruskin would like to think there were. I guess Brian Sewell probably would. But I just don't buy it."

Given the circumstances, it seems a courageous line to take. Lockhart Saatchi is sitting in the National Gallery cafe on a wet Wednesday morning, mulling over a cappuccino and the question of which of the world's artworks she would choose to have if given her pick of them all. This is not as whimsical as it sounds. The National Art Collections Fund (NACF) - a charity that has been buying works for British public galleries since its acquisition of Velazquez's Rokeby Venus for the National Gallery in 1906 - has persuaded Lockhart Saatchi and three other celebrities (including the aforementioned Brian Sewell) to put together fantasy collections and then to lecture on them. If you subscribe to her view of art collecting as a species of autobiography, then Lockhart Saatchi - a famously private woman - is laying her life on the line.

Once upon a time, that life seemed little short of blessed. Married in 1973 to Charles Saatchi - partner, with his brother Maurice, in the billion- pound ad agency of those names - the Sorbonne-educated Doris Lockhart set about putting together what was to become the most important private collection of contemporary art in Britain.

In 1984, the Saatchi collection - its particular strength in American minimalist painting ascribable more to Doris's eye than to her husband's - moved to its own gallery in St John's Wood and became The Saatchi Collection. Then, in 1988, Charles Saatchi left his wife. Two years later he divorced her, married another woman and - having had no children from his first marriage - fathered a daughter. Something of the nature of their divorce may be deduced from the fact that Charles Saatchi's current entry in Who's Who makes no reference to Doris Lockhart's ever having even existed.

The potential shock-value of her fantasy collection is suggested by the title of the lecture she will deliver on it: Going for Baroque. She might as well have called it The Shock of the Old. The woman whose (married) name was once a synonym for all that was contemporary in contemporary British art ticks off her choices so far: Zurbaran's Saint Francis in Meditation, next door in the National Gallery; Simone Martini's Uffizi Annunciation, one each of Delacroix, Ingres, Bruegel and Poussin, although she hasn't decided which yet; Warhol's Triple Elvis; and - the only work by a living (although hardly by a young) artist - an as yet unspecified piece by the American mimimalist painter Brice Marden.

Her advice on the whereabouts of the last of these works suggests a rather better-mannered riposte to her ex-husband's rewriting of their marital history. In that polite East Coast drawl that pronounces "art"' as "aht" rather than "ard", she says, "The trouble is that the Saatchi Collection is now a very different thing from when I had anything to do with it. I don't really know if there are any Brice Mardens still left in it. I guess Charles Saatchi may have de- acquisitioned them. That" - she smiles a helpful smile - "is an art-world euphemism for 'sold'."

As to The Collection's legacy, Lockhart Saatchi is more than willing to acknowledge her husband's role in shaping the British art world's current tastes. "In 1988 I lectured at the Royal College of Art and I was appalled at how careerist the students had become," she winces. "They all wanted to get work into the Saatchi Collection, so they were making huge things to fill all those huge spaces. So un-British: well, pace Turner, anyway. We live in a time that is heavily influenced by advertising and, as we all know, Charles Saatchi is a master of that discipline. The influence is felt in much of the art made today, and, for me, it's soft at the centre. I don't want narrative, but there's a lack of rigour in it."

If all this suggests that the genius of Lockhart Saatchi's NACF collection is not so much pre- contemporary as post-marital, then her analysis of its constituent parts seems openly (not to say painfully) confessional. Of the Simone Annun- ciation, for example, she remarks, "I'm not a believer, but I don't think that matters. To me, the miraculous thing about that painting is the expression on Mary's face: the fear, the foreknowledge of the pain she's going to have to suffer. Of the loss."

Doris Lockhart was writing on Ingres at the Sorbonne before she had heard of Charles Saatchi: her NACF fantasy works are less an anithesis to her past life in art than a synthesis of it. What she refers to as the "personal narrative" of her hypothetical collection is still underpinned by a taste for the new. The Simone Annunciation, whatever the Virgin's woes, is "a very modern painting - maybe the first piece of genuine minimalism". The Zurbaran - "It's hard to talk about art without sounding like a jerk," says Lockhart Saatchi, sheepishly - appeals because of its sparseness: "It's the way that everything is pared down to blocks of light and shade: that the entire narrative becomes one black hole for [St Francis's] mouth and two for the skull's eyes. "

Biographical nosiness is not the only reason for reading the artistic runes in all this. Lockhart Saatchi's influence on contemporary British art is hardly diminished. She is a council member of the Architectural Association, a contributing editor to Blueprint, a sometime Late Show presenter and a juror for art prizes. She curates major exhibitions. And, most eye-catchingly, she is art consultant to the Millennium Dome's Mind Zone section, commissioning the works that will fill a space designed by the architect Zaha Hadid. In simple historical terms, in other words, Lockhart Saatchi will help define what we come to think of as millennial art.

Whatever the animus behind her views, they count. When she speaks - as she does, acutely and movingly - of the millenarian search for meaning in the "majesty and mystery of the inner workings of a cow", Damien Hirst can rest easy. While she is an unapologetic advocate of personal influence - recently causing a stir at the Contemporary Arts Society by suggesting that they become "less democratic" by giving more power to individual curators - she is, perhaps a touch disingenuously, modest about her own. Of the two women - Isabella d'Este and Diana the Huntress - who recur in her artistic conversation, Lockhart Saatchi identifies, surprisingly, with the latter.

"Isabella was a classic rich, powerful woman," she says. "A matriarch, the head of a grand family. I don't see myself like that at all. I'm more like Diana. As Artemis, she lived on the mountain- tops. But she also lived alone. I guess that's a description of me."

Doris Lockhart Saatchi's lecture is on Tuesday 3 Novem-ber. For details call the NACF on 0171 225 4800.

Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape