Starring Pablo Picasso and Lucian Freud (co-starring Peter Sellers and Vivien Leigh)

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Works by some of the greatest contemporary artists are among a remarkable collection assembled by the late film critic Alexander Walker, which will go on display for the first time this week. The Independent on Sunday can today offer a first glimpse of the pictures that once hung on the very private walls of Mr Walker's London apartment.

Works by some of the greatest contemporary artists are among a remarkable collection assembled by the late film critic Alexander Walker, which will go on display for the first time this week. The Independent on Sunday can today offer a first glimpse of the pictures that once hung on the very private walls of Mr Walker's London apartment.

They are part of a legacy of works left to the nation by Mr Walker, whose reviews over five decades could make or break a movie.

The work of Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud and Philip Guston were among200 prints and drawings left to the British Museum by Mr Walker when he died last year, aged 73.The writer had worked for London's Evening Standard for 43 years and had no family.

The museum calls the collection its most important modern art bequest of the past 50 years.

The works covered almost every space in Mr Walker's Maida Vale flat. So vast was his collection, he had no space to hang a Freud etching: it simply rested against a wall.

The Freud was one of a number of works he bought in order to supplement gaps in the museum's collection, after deciding in 2000 the institution should be the beneficiary when he died.

Stephen Coppel, curator of the Walker exhibition which opens on Tuesday, said: "He knew in effect he was buying for the museum, in the sense that he would let me know he had bought such and such, so we could avoid duplication."

His art collecting was an almost obsessive passion, on which he spent hundreds of thousands of pounds, earned from the royalties on his books - including biographies of Peter Sellers - as well as his review column.

Mr Walker, brought up in Portadown, Northern Ireland, had a childhood love of movies. He began his career as a writer on newspapers in Birmingham and started reviewing films in 1953. Seven years later he moved to the Standard. His first purchases, two works by Keith Vaughan, were made in 1965.

"Given that he had this compunction for things visual, it's not surprising he loved static images when he came home," said Mr Coppel.

His eclectic collection concentrated on post-1960 works by US and British artists, and he also had a stable of School of Paris artists - the earliest being a 1908 sketch by Picasso.

"He never sold any of his works. Once he had made a decision to buy, he would keep it for the simple reason that it showed something about himself at the time he bought it," Mr Coppel said.

Philip French, The Observer film critic, recalled: "Visiting his small, beautifully appointed flat in Maida Vale was like being in a reclusive connoisseur's retreat or an art fence's den."

Although no one doubted his powers as a film critic, not all his friends were impressed by his abilities as an art connoisseur. Brian Sewell, the Standard's art critic, said Mr Walker was compulsive about buying art."He would come back from New York dealers with his little trophies saying 'I only had to pay $12,000 for this, it was a very special deal just for me'. He would have some American garbage, a discard from the studio floor."

Matisse to Freud: A Critic's Choice - The Alexander Walker Bequest opens on Tuesday at the British Museum

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