Colin Lacy: Art dealer and picture framer

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Colin Lacy was one of those working-class successes who flourished in the early Sixties. The son of a miner in Yorkshire, he became a highly successful dealer in old frames in Notting Hill Gate, where, God-like, he would receive the dullest of pictures and prints and restore them to becoming sparkling and interesting simply by the addition of the correct period frame. Indeed, in the early Sixties, when clip-frames were the coming thing, it was Lacy who developed a real expertise in vintage framing, and began to revive interest in framing as an art in itself.

After two years at Doncaster Art School in the early Fifties, and National Service, he attended Bradford College of Art, studying textiles and fashion, at the same time that David Hockney was studying painting. He then went to Leeds College of Art and got a steady job teaching at Middlesbrough School of Art. But, in a risky move that scandalised his family, who believed that he had already achieved the heights of respectability and security, he gave it all up and came to London.

He took a chance, got a stall in the Golborne Road to sell watercolours and drawings, and discovered his real talent – finding frames that would suit the pictures he was selling.

At a time, in the early Fifties, when dealers in Bond Street were tearing old pictures out of what they considered fuddy-duddy frames and stuffing them into homogenised plastic mouldings, Lacy would buy up their rejects for a song, ferreting around old outhouses, stables and garages for cast-off gems. He would then store them in the shop he had now started in Notting Hill Gate, and lovingly clean and revive them. Some of his frames were simple oak mouldings of the Forties, some old walnut frames of the Victorian era, and some, from far earlier centuries, were almost works of art in themselves, featuring carved birds and fruits or even plaster decorations moulded into the wood.

When I knew him, he had set up the Lacy Galleries in Westbourne Grove – and there was nothing too trivial for Colin to consider framing, nothing too ugly that couldn't, according to Colin, be improved by a good frame. Even when people brought in ghastly photographs of girls in top hats sitting on old motor cars, he'd always find something nice to say about them and manage to find a frame that would suit them.

For a while he taught, for a couple of days a week, the history of costume at the London College of Fashion, and was renowned for being able to date any picture within a year simply by observing the cut of a cuff or the tip of a hat. In more recent years, he became interested in contemporary Russian art and discovered artists' studios in Moscow and St Petersburg in a splendid time-warp. He would return from these trips laden with pictures that, although not fitting in with the trendy London flow, would still sell for considerable sums.

It was always a pleasure to visit his shop, in which he would preside, a twinkling Dickensian figure, surrounded by pictures, frames, canvases, ladders, dusty mouldings, mitres and old mounts.

Virginia Ironside

Colin Lacy, art dealer and framer: born Doncaster, Yorkshire 19 June 1933; married 1960 Janet Knight (died 2000; one son); died London 1 3 May 2008.