(Reprinted from The London Daily Telegraph)
Dealer who helped make Victorian art fashionable again and appeared on The Antiques Roadshow
Christopher Wood with Portrait of Joan Clarkson ‘The English Rose’
Photo: TONY PRIME
Christopher Wood, who died on January 6 aged 67, was an art dealer at the forefront of the revival of interest in Victorian art in the late 20th century.
Wood specialised in Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian paintings, watercolours and drawings, as well as in the Arts and Crafts movement and Gothic revival furniture, sculpture and ceramics. Scholarly and commercial interest in these areas had all but disappeared after the First World War, and it was not until the late 1960s that the Victorian era began to be reassessed.
Leading the way were dealers such as Godfrey Pilkington, Jeremy Maas, Julian Hartnoll – and Christopher Wood, who in 1968, while working at Christie’s picture department, began to hold specialised Victorian sales. “Pugin and William Morris,” he said much later in life, “are my twin gods.”
Christopher Edward Russell Wood, the eldest of three boys, was born on October 31 1941 in Newcastle upon Tyne, where his father ran the family business, the wet fish sellers Alexander & Wood.
As a young boy he showed an embryonic interest in collecting, although his initial choice was stamps. The passion for the 19th century perhaps derived from his visits to his paternal grandmother, who lived in a large, excessively gloomy Victorian house filled with antimacassars and grandfather clocks.
At Sedbergh he played cricket for the 1st XI, then went on to St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read Fine Arts and played piano in the Cambridge University Jazz Band – the drummer was Jamie Dugdale, now the 2nd Lord Crathorne. Throughout his life Wood continued to delight friends and colleagues with his piano-playing, and he retained a particular affection for the music of Fats Waller.
After university he went straight to Christie’s, of which he was appointed a director aged only 27. In 1977 he left the auction house to found the Christopher Wood Gallery in Motcomb Street, Belgravia. In the mid-1980s he was bought out by Mallett of Bond Street, the antiques business, which wanted a picture-dealing wing.
Soon after his arrival there he bought at auction Going North and Coming South, the spectacular pair of paintings produced in the 1890s by George Earl; they were subsequently sold to the National Railway Museum in York. Wood was a director of Mallett until 1995, when he left to work as a dealer and consultant based in St James’s.
He acted as a consultant to both private collectors and museums on all aspects of the art market, including auctions, historical research, restoration and framing, export licences, shipping and insurance.
From 1999 to 2004 Wood was one of the connoisseurs of pictures who brought their expertise to the popular BBC television programme Antiques Roadshow. If he sometimes found it hard to let a hopeful member of the public down gently, he could show great enthusiasm when a picture took his interest. In 1990 he wrote and presented a television series for Channel 4, Painters to the People.
Wood was also a prolific author in his field. He produced, with Christopher Newall, the two-volume Dictionary of Victorian Painters, first published in 1971.
His other publications included Victorian Panorama: paintings of Victorian life (1976); The Pre-Raphaelites (1981); Olympian Dreamers (1983); Tissot (1986); Painted Gardens: English watercolours 1850–1914 (with Penelope Hobhouse, 1988); Paradise Lost: paintings of English country life and landscape 1850–1914 (1988); Victorian Painting in Oils and Watercolours (1996); The Great Art Boom 1970–1997 (1997); Burne-Jones (1998); Victorian Painting (1999); Fairies in Victorian Art (2000); and William Powell Frith, RA: painter of modern life (2006).
Wood’s natural diffidence could sometimes be misread as remoteness or even arrogance; but in truth he had a sweet nature, and – in a world that can attract rogues and chancers – he was utterly honest and reliable in his business affairs. In later life he came to radiate a new air of contentment; tall, good-looking and charming, he was an easy-going, friendly man who enjoyed his membership of Brooks’s, the Beefsteak and the Chelsea Arts Club.
Essentially Wood was an aesthete. His Gothic house in Somerset – a former primary school built in 1857 which he bought at auction in the early 1980s and painstakingly restored – was filled with Victorian artefacts, and he constructed a belfry especially for the bats (which, however, ignored it in favour of the eaves over the front door).
When he heard that some of the locals had referred to this weekend retreat as “the Addams Family house” he joined in the joke by purchasing a mechanical severed hand made of plastic.
On one of the walls he hung a framed quotation from Art Journal in 1867: “I can scarcely imagine a task more agreeable for a gentleman of means, taste and leisure than to set himself to the consistent decoration and furnishing of a Gothic villa.”
Christopher Wood married first, in 1967, Sarah Drummond, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. He married secondly, in 2004, Rosie Townsend.
Christopher Wood was also the guest on an Art Renewal Center podcast available at http://audio.artrenewal.org/