Eardley Knollys owned the Storran Gallery at 5 Albany Court Yard, London W1, for 8 years until 1944, after his partner Frank Coombs had been killed in the war, and Eardley decided that the gallery should close.
It had put on major shows of Modigliani, Soutine, and exhibited important works by Picasso, selling to major museums.
Few pictures acquired during this period are in the Radev Collection today, but a dual-logbook survives which catalogues the diverse range of acquisitions and sales of artworks until well into the 1970s and shows how Eardley remained committed to the gallery system, although he knew many of the artists and might have bought from them direct. Other works by Vuillard, Pissarro, Delacroix, Sickert, Pasmore, Degas, Courbet, Le Sidaner and Bonnard are shown entering and leaving the collection for sums that now seem astonishingly low.
The most expensive purchase was one of two works by Henri Matisse, La leçon de violon, in pastel, dating from 1925 and costing £4073 in 1958, which was sold on at auction by Sotheby’s in 1960 for £4655. Whereas a Braque lithograph of fish cost only £3 at that same time. The most important works were not retained long term.
The collection was bolstered by the sudden death of Eddy Sackville-West in 1965. Under the terms of his Will, Eddy left his paintings to Eardley in friendship. At week ends, they had shared Crichel House in the Dorset village of Long Crichel since 1945, together with the critics Raymond Mortimer and Desmond Shawe-Taylor, effectively forming a male salon. (EK was also ESW’s literary executor.)
Afterwards Eardley moved to a new weekend retreat in Hampshire, which he shared with Mattei Radev.
When Eardley died in 1991, Mattei sold their country home, and the paintings transferred to a tall London house, densely covering its interior walls in contrast to the growing taste for minimalism. Mattei chose to keep the collection together, having sold – encouraged by Eardley – only one picture: Modigliani’s Portrait de Lagar, 1915, which made an apparently decent sum at auction in London, but soon re-appeared in New York and fetched vastly more. Mattei resolved not to sell a painting again.
Click on illustrations for captions.