Marlborough Fine Art was founded in 1946 by Frank Lloyd and Harry Fischer. They had been fortunate to come to Britain from Austria at the outbreak of war. In Vienna, Lloyd's family had been antique and picture dealers for three generations and Fischer had dealt in antiquarian books. But it was in Britain that they first met, in 1940, as soldiers in the Pioneer Corps of the British Army. After opening the gallery, they were joined in 1948 by David Somerset, Duke of Beaufort.
Following the years of war-time austerity and slow post-war recovery, it was not until the 1950’s that the growth in London’s art galleries and auction houses began to rival those of Paris and shift the focus of the European market for modern art to the British capital. Alongside the more established galleries such as Reid & Lefèvre, Gimpel Fils and the Leicester Galleries, the quality of exhibitions which Marlborough presented were increasingly regarded as being of museum standard. In 1952 Marlborough presented a complete collection of bronzes by Edgar Degas: the famous Degas Little Dancer Aged Fourteen 1880-1, cast c.1922 was sold from that exhibition to the Tate Gallery. The 1950’s saw Marlborough organise exhibitions devoted to the work of Mary Cassatt, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Paul Signac, Auguste Renoir and Vincent van Gogh amongst others. As a measure of its growing ambition, the catalogue for Marlborough’s impressive 1960 Van Gogh exhibition of 18 self-portraits was introduced with an essay ‘Van Gogh looks at himself’ by the then director of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Professor A-M Hammacher, and a further essay by Oskar Kokoschka entitled ‘Van Gogh’s influence on modern painting’. With this programme the gallery increasingly drew the attention of major collectors, museum directors and connoisseurs, and art students as well.
After a decade of work establishing a leading profile among the London galleries thanks to the business acumen of Lloyd, the scholarship of Fischer and the gift for Public Relations of Somerset, the gallery was ready to move in new directions. It began to expand its network, first to Rome in 1958, and then to New York in 1963. Further expansion would see it open in Zurich in 1971 and Tokyo in 1972, and in Madrid in 1991 and, by association, in Toronto and Montreal in the early 1970s. It was therefore able to build international reputations for contemporary artists in-house and the gallery began to attract artists of the standing of Francis Bacon, one of the first to sign an exclusive contract with Marlborough in 1958. Bacon was soon followed by Frank Auerbach, Lynn Chadwick, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Victor Pasmore, John Piper and Graham Sutherland.
Apart from the ‘Modern German Art’ exhibition at the Burlington Galleries in 1938 - itself a riposte to the Nazi’s 1937 ‘Degenerate Art’ touring exhibition - London had had very little exposure to 20th century art from Germany or Austria. Marlborough inaugurated a series of ground breaking exhibitions in 1959 with Art in Revolt, Germany 1905-1925 (an exhibition organized in aid of World Refugee Year), and in the ensuing years presented Kandinsky, the Road to Abstraction, The Painters of the Bauhaus, artists of Die Brücke, and a major Kurt Schwitters retrospective. 1964 saw the first ever exhibition outside Vienna of paintings, watercolours and drawings by Egon Schiele, with a preface by Rudolf Leopold entitled ‘Egon Schiele – his supporters and detractors; the story of his recognition’. That Marlborough exhibition is now commemorated on a stone inscription at the entrance to the Leopold Museum in Vienna. In the same year the Tate Gallery bought Mondrian’s ‘Composition in Grey, Red, Yellow and Blue’ 1920-27, from Marlborough’s exhibition Mondrian: De Stijl and their impact.
The gallery’s third innovation was to launch the Marlborough New London Gallery in 1961, across the road from its main gallery in Bond Street. Lloyd’s idea was to provide a venue for some younger artists to be shown, alongside the more established artists whom the gallery represented. After opening with an exhibition of an artist at the height of his fame, Georges Mathieu, subsequent exhibitions were devoted to work by Frank Auerbach, R.B. Kitaj and Joe Tilson, as well as Kenneth Armitage, Lynn Chadwick, Ben Nicholson, Victor Pasmore, John Piper, Georges Vantogerloo and others. At the end of the decade, given the remarkable explosion of printmaking in the 1960’s in which Marlborough artists had played a major role, the gallery changed to Marlborough Graphics, under the direction of Alan Cristea and Frank Lloyd’s daughter, Barbara.
Lloyd moved to New York when Marlborough opened its new gallery there in 1963 with an exhibition paying homage to the distinguished German refugee dealer Curt Valentin, who had represented many of the British and European artists in America that Marlborough now showed. In 1972 his son Gilbert Lloyd, who had joined the gallery ten years earlier, assumed control of Marlborough Fine Art in London. At the same time Pierre Levai, Frank Lloyd's nephew, took over the running of Marlborough in New York. During the 1970's and 80's, Marlborough continued to stage major exhibitions of its stable of artists alongside important retrospectives of Modern Masters: Jacques Lipchitz and René Magritte in 1973; Max Beckmann and Max Bill in 1974; Henri Matisse in 1971 and in 1978 and the revisionist Kurt Schwitters in Exile: The Late Work 1937-1948 in 1981 which led to a new appreciation for the late work of this artist. The catalogue included an introduction by Professor Werner Schmalenbach and a tribute by Anni Albers.
During the 1990's, Marlborough took another new step in becoming one of the first galleries in the Western world to exhibit contemporary art from China. Although it had once staged a small exhibition of two Chinese painters in London in 1953, and during the 1960's had exhibited the abstract paintings of the Chinese artist Lin Sho-Yu (who worked in London under the name of Richard Lin), the gallery's relationship with Chinese art took on a different dimension with the exhibition New Art from China: post 1979, mounted at the end of 1994. In the following year Chen Yifei, then the most prominent and respected of contemporary Chinese artists, joined Marlborough Fine Art. He subsequently had major retrospectives at the China National Museum of Fine Arts, Beijing, and the new Shanghai Museum, as well as a solo exhibition at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence, France. In 1997 he represented the People's Republic of China in the first ever, albeit temporary, Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Since then Marlborough has organised Chen Yifei exhibitions in London (1997, 2001), New York (1999/2000), Munich (2001) and Paris (January 2002). A Memorial Exhibition for the artist, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 59 in 2005, was held at the London gallery in the autumn of the same year, and in New York in the following year.
The gallery has had long term relationships with Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Victor Pasmore, R.B. Kitaj and Paula Rego, together with Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland. The gallery has also enjoyed similar life-long relationships with artists outside Britain such as Avigdor Arikha, Oskar Kokoschka, Antonio López García, Beverly Pepper and George Rickey – amongst many others.
Marlborough has discreetly collaborated with, and assisted, museums in Britain and abroad with solo exhibitions or major retrospectives of their artists. Foremost among these artists was Francis Bacon who, like Lucian Freud, exceptionally was given two retrospectives in his lifetime at the Tate Gallery (in 1962 and 1985), which were toured to several European museums. Bacon enjoyed an outstandingly successful retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971-72, as well New York, Tokyo, Washington DC, and at the Yale Centre for British Art. His most important solo museum exhibitions were mounted by the Metropolitan Museum, New York in 1975, and the New Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow in 1988, where he had the distinction of being the first living Western artist to show in a Soviet museum. Other solo exhibitions were mounted in Venice, Humlebaek, London, and the Fondation Maeght. More recently in July 2017 Marlborough lent a major Bacon painting to the Francis Bacon / Bruce Nauman Face à Face exhibition at the Musée Fabre, Montpelier.
Several other artists associated with the gallery have had museum retrospectives: R.B.Kitaj at the Tate Gallery in 1994-95, also seen in New York and Los Angeles, and in 2012 at the Jewish Museum in Berlin in September, which travelled Pallant House, Chichester and the Jewish Museum, London; Frank Auerbach at the Royal Academy in 2001 and the Kunstmuseum Bonn 2015 which travelled to Tate Britain in 2016; John Davies in Bilbao and Valencia in 2005; Paula Rego joined the gallery in 1989 and has had retrospectives at Abbot Hall, Kendal and the Yale Centre for British Art in 2001, Oporto in 2004-05, Reina Sofia, Madrid and Washington DC in 2007-08, and Monterrey, Mexico and São Paulo, Brazil in 2010-11. In 2009 a museum devoted to Rego and her work was inaugurated in Cascais, and in 2010 she was awarded a DBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. She was made a Royal Academician in July 2017. Bill Jacklin had a major print retrospective at the Royal Academy in 2016; Maggi Hambling had a retrospective of works on paper at the British Museum in 2016. In 2017 Joe Tilson held a major exhibition Postcards from Venice at Die Galerie in Frankfurt with catalogue texts by Philip Rylands, director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and the art historian Marco Livingstone.
In response to the visionary project of the Director of the Tate Gallery, Nicholas Serota, to transform Giles Gilbert Scott’s Bankside Power Station into a museum for the modern international collection, the Lloyd Family Trusts donated a very generous sum towards the funding of the construction. At the opening in 2000 in the presence of the Queen, an imposing group of works by Frank Auerbach was on view in the ‘In Memory of Frank Lloyd’ room. It had been in the early 1980’s that Frank Lloyd had himself gifted Jackson Pollock’s ‘Naked Man with Knife’ 1938-41 to the Tate.
Since the 1980’s the gallery has continued to introduce new artists to its stable: John Davies, Catherine Goodman, Allen Jones, Ken Kiff, Nina Murdoch, Hughie O’Donoghue and Thérèse Oulton, as well as the Estate of Euan Uglow. Avigdor Arikha, who died in 2010 at the age of 81, had been with the gallery for more than 35 years - a retrospective survey of his works on paper was shown at the École des Beaux-Arts in Nîmes in 2012. The gallery has also shown singular exhibitions of work less featured in London, such as Louise Bourgeois’ Works on Cloth and the American artists Red Grooms and Dale Chihuly.
From 2010, Marlborough continued to showcase its unique blend of museum quality archival shows alongside established and well regarded mid-career contemporary artists. In October 2012, to coincide with the opening of Marlborough Contemporary, a major exhibition of work by Frank Auerbach, Next Door, featured for the first time more than forty preparatory drawings to accompany the new paintings, offering a unique insight into the artist’s working methods. In 2017 the gallery showed for the first time in 20 years Paula Rego’s Dancing Ostriches which were originally commissioned for the exhibition Spellbound at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1996 which were subsequently acquired by Charles Saatchi.
Marlborough Contemporary opened in 2012 after a substantial rebuilding programme in the Albemarle Street premises, where an entirely new space was created above the original gallery, repeating the intentions of the Marlborough New London gallery which opened in 1961 to showcase younger artists. Marlborough Contemporary has established a programme and roster of artists to display in parallel to Marlborough Fine Art and in less than a year presented exhibitions with leading emerging artists. At the beginning of 2013 Tate Britain commissioned Adam Chodzko to create a new work in response to its Kurt Schwitters retrospective - a link between one generation of artists and another that, by chance, links the legacy of Marlborough to its future. Poor Souls - paintings and collages by the German artist Werner Büttner, associate of Martin Kippenberger and Albert Oehlen, was shown in 2016 in New York, his first exhibition there since 1986 which showcased his dark but empathic humour. Jason Brooks’ exhibitions Ultraflesh in 2013 and Origins in 2015 revealed an unexpectedly tactile experience of paint in realist works which expose the relationship between subject and medium.
After Professor Andrew Renton’s departure as the head of Marlborough Contemporary, Marlborough Contemporary New York merged with Marlborough Contemporary London. Max Levai is its principal director, joined by Ed Spurr formerly of the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. Their programme continues to make bold curatorial decisions and is well placed introducing important cutting edge American and European artists to a UK based audience and vice versa.
During the 71 years of its existence, Marlborough has been responsible for putting together many fine private collections, and believes the reputation of the gallery's artists are further supported and enhanced by museum exhibitions around the world. Amongst other projects, Marlborough will be lenders to the forthcoming Tate exhibition, All Too Human, Bacon Freud and a Century of Painting, in February 2018.