One of the world’s oldest surviving commercial art galleries, Colnaghi, which is more than 250 years old, is inaugurating its new space in St James’s, London, in October with Vanitas, an exhibition of around 30 paintings and sculptures from the 16th-20th centuries relating to the theme of vanity (6 October-4 November). The vanitas genre was historically intended to serve as a memento mori—a reminder to its owner of their mortality and the transience of earthly pleasures.
The opening also marks the true beginning of a new ownership phase for the Colnaghi. In October last year, the gallery announced it was merging with the Spanish Old Masters dealers Jorge Coll and Nicolás Cortés. Colnaghi’s owner, Konrad Bernheimer, is staying on, while his business partner Katrin Bellinger has retired.
The gallery’s custom-built space on 26 Bury Street in St James’s, measures 4,000 sq. ft and is split over two floors. It counts multiple viewing rooms and a library containing Colnaghi’s collection of around 10,000 books and catalogues, which date back to the 18th century. Jorge Coll says the new gallery has been designed to “present paintings and sculptures with a fresh approach, in a context suited to the 21st century”, an ethos that many Old Masters dealers are beginning to apply in different ways, whether by sprucing up their gallery and fair displays, or by engaging with new technology to modernise the way they do business.
Colnaghi has had several owners since it was founded in 1760, including Jacob Rothschild between 1970 and 1981. Bernheimer bought Colnaghi in 2002, with Bellinger—an Old Masters drawings dealer—joining as a partner soon after.