As a child, Hamish Parker had to be dragged round the British Museum by his father. Now, decades later, he can’t keep away, making regular visits and extraordinary financial gifts to enable the acquisition of important treasures.
Parker is a British fund manager who has become one of the museum’s most generous benefactors. He is also one of its most private and low-key supporters.
He has donated more than £1m to help the museum purchase Suite 347, Picasso’s last great series of prints.
His philanthropy is all the more extraordinary as it follows another £1m gift four years ago for Picasso’s Vollard Suite of prints. Parker’s donations have also enabled acquisitions of other prints and drawings, including works by American and German artists.
Now he also intends to leave his private collection to the museum. It includes Picasso and other 20th-century masters.
“It’s simply extraordinary,” Stephen Coppel, curator of the museum’s modern collection, said. “Not only is he being generous during his own lifetime, but there will be a major bequest coming.”
He described the benefactor as modest with a “very discerning eye and a passion”.
Parker is a founding director of Mondrian Investment Partners, a money manager with offices in London and Philadelphia whose services include individual portfolio management for equity accounts greater than 0m. While some of his clients no doubt spend their money on helicopters, yachts and sports cars, he spends his on 20th-century art.
“I prefer art to fast cars,” he said.
Through his help, hundreds of Picasso prints have been added to the museum’s holdings. He is credited with playing a significant role in building the UK’s largest and most representative public collection of Picasso’s graphic works – also one of the world’s most important centres for studying the artist as printmaker.
In 2011, Parker enabled the museum to become the first UK public body to own a complete Vollard Suite, Picasso’s remarkable series of 100 etchings created in the 1930s. It was a gift in memory of his father, Major Horace Parker, who died in 2010, having been a fan of the museum.
Suite 347, named after the number of its etchings, was created in 1968, when Picasso was almost 87. This time, Parker’s gift honours Antony Griffiths and Frances Carey, two curators who have since retired from the museum’s department of prints and drawings.
“Between them they initiated the transformation which took the department from being a worthy, if slightly eccentric, entity into the present day,” he said.
Coppel observed that, without Parker, the museum could never have dreamed of purchasing such masterpieces. He spoke of Picasso’s “furious creative outpouring” in Suite 347, with its “phenomenal invention and technical ingenuity”.
In these prints, Picasso revisited artistic themes, including the artist and model, many with an erotic tone so explicit that they could not be exhibited in the 1960s. Depictions such as Raphael cavorting with his mistress were considered “so scandalous they couldn’t even be shown”, Coppel said. In Paris, they could only be viewed behind a curtain, and in Chicago, they were banned.
Suite 347 was produced in an edition of 50 sets, but most were broken up and this is one of the few surviving intact.
Commenting on Picasso, Parker said: “It’s not so much that Picasso means so much to me, more that his absence from the British Museum collection was a glaring omission that needed to be filled.”
The museum is planning to stage a major exhibition on Suite 347, following its 2012 show for the Vollard Suite.
Parker said: “I want to see the show, and catalogue … If it’s anything like the Vollard exhibition, it will have been money well spent.”
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