Robert Tuttle

Interview with Ambassador Tuttle and Mrs Tuttle: His favourite artist is Francis Bacon, hers is Agnes Martin

The new US ambassador and his wife on a marriage spent collecting

The Art Newspaper spoke with Ambassador Tuttle and Mrs Tuttle on the eve of the opening of Frieze.

The Art Newspaper: How do you go about buying art?

Robert Tuttle: We have a mutual veto, which has led to some spirited discussions in our 11 years together. Our love for art has been a wonderful part of our marriage. Maria and I are very passionate collectors, very visually driven. We didn’t start out with an intellectual idea that we wanted to collect a particular artist. We really have to love the piece.

Maria Tuttle: I don’t think of us as collectors, we are just fortunate enough to have a few things. The word “collection” sounds as if it has some sort of cohesion. When we married, we brought our individual passions for art, but our different aesthetics. Bob’s favourite artist is Francis Bacon. Mine is Agnes Martin. But our visual eyes have grown together, so we are now more likely to walk into a gallery and fall in love together with a piece.

TAN: How do you buy?

RT: We buy from auctions, dealers, fairs or privately. We’ve been to Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach, but not yet to Frieze. At a fair it’s wonderful to be able to see so much at one time. The more art you see, the better your eye gets. Are you tired and overwhelmed at the end of the day? Yes, but you can go back the next day.

TAN: Isn’t it difficult hanging contemporary art in the very traditional Winfield House?

MT: I believe that beautiful objects always fit together. I like the mix of periods, with furniture and art.

TAN: How did you decide to replace the Gainsborough with a De Kooning?

MT: We had left the De Kooning in America. We were sitting on the sofa and both said, “the De Kooning would look wonderful there.” So we called up, and asked that it be sent. Before it came I was a little nervous, but from the moment it was up we were quite happy. In the next room, the Family Dining Room, there are two other De Koonings.

TAN: What else have you brought to London?

RT: We have brought an Andy Warhol self-portrait. Appropriately, we’ve got a Hockney landscape, North Yorkshire, which is upstairs in the study.

TAN: Tell us about your interest in Bacon.

RT: When I came to Europe at the age of 19, no artist moved me more than Francis Bacon. He seemed to capture the post-war mood. Almost 40 years later I bought a small Bacon portrait. Then a couple of years later we sold it because we bought a large self-portrait, it is his last big single self-portrait, done in 1982.

TAN: There are crates of paintings in the Reception Room. What is inside?

MT: The works are from the US Art in Embassies Program, which are on loan to ambassadorial residences, for the reception rooms. It is a marvellous program and there are over 3,000 works in 180 residences. All are by American artists, mostly on loan from museums, galleries, foundations and collectors. We already have an early Hopper from the program in the State Dining Room. The unopened crates include two Rothkos, and an Ellsworth Kelly which will go on the staircase.

TAN: You have the biggest garden in London after Buckingham Palace. Do you plan to display sculpture?

RT: We are just about to install a 1953 Calder, Yellow disc.

TAN: You’ve only been in London for two months, have you been to see any exhibitions?

RT: Lichtenstein at Gagosian, Kiefer at White Cube, Balkenhol at Stephen Friedman, Eileen Gray at the Design Museum, Gabriele Münter at the Courtauld, Stubbs at the National Gallery and Open Systems at Tate Modern. London is one of the greatest cities in the world for art.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'His favourite artist is Francis Bacon, hers is Agnes Martin'

Appeared in Frieze London dailies , October 2005