A National Treasure
On Halloween, Exeter College was honoured to receive Rosalind Savill, Director of the Wallace Collection, to hear her views on art, work, and modern attitudes to a middle-sized gallery.
As Director of the “most intimate art gallery in the world” since 1992, Ms Savill has overseen a great deal of change and development to a closed collection. Donated to the nation in 1897 by Lady Wallace, wife and widow of Sir Richard, it contains a range of fine and decorative arts, Fragonard’s girl on a swing (her favourite), several other masterpieces, including Franz Hals’ “Laughing Cavalier” and also houses one of the world’s most impressive collection of Sevres porcelain. This diversity and range reflects its origins as a family collection.
What was most striking about Ms Savill was her business know-how mixed with a sincere passion as she spoke of trying to raise publicity, maximise space, and raise funds, and referred to her relationship with her colleagues as more akin to that of a “dysfunctional family” in a unique family home setting. Indeed, Ms Savill was keen to stress this sense of community and the importance of youth in the future, even foreseeing a new director for the Wallace legacy of art who would keep it up-to-date and attractive to modern tastes and ensure its lifespan.
“You have to love something to change something” – a sentiment clearly echoed in her work towards the recent renovations to the building and extensions to the grounds which are a result of her enthusiastic and sincere attempts to make art accessible – she wished for “no ropes, no boundaries… real rooms on a human scale.” Though admitting herself to be “not in the least bit ambitious” and declaring her career to be a fortunate mix of “luck and serendipity”, there is no doubting the strength of determination and personality which renovated and continues to inspire new people to art’s sake and theirs.