The heart of Britain’s art trade under threat

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Christopher Battiscombe

Anyone who enjoys shopping for art in London will know that Cork Street in Mayfair and the surrounding streets offer something very special for art collectors.

This area is at the heart of the British art trade, and according to Christopher Battiscombe, director general of the Society of London Art Dealers (SLAD), this is something should never be taken for granted.

The area has been under threat recently as a result of redevelopments in the small area of Mayfair where 97 of SLAD’s 130 members are based. The redevelopments looked set to squeeze out art dealers, so SLAD held talks with Westminster Council and persuaded them to set conditions on the new developments that require developers to ensure that their developments provide as much space as currently exists for art dealers.

“The success of the British art trade is something one shouldn’t take for granted,” says Battiscombe. “We’ve seen the French art trade decline and we don’t want the same to happen in Britain – that’s why the threat to dealers in Mayfair should take seriously.

“We can’t take it for granted that we will go on being successful – and because we have been successful in Britain we know it’s something worth fighting for. That’s what SLAD is trying to do, because the art trade is not central to the government’s considerations. However, I think they are beginning to get the message that this is something worth standing up for.”

Despite the progress made, Battiscombe believes the problem of steeply rising rents will be a matter of major concern for London dealers for some time to come.

“There are a number of reasons for the success of the British art trade, and one of them is that there is an extraordinary concentration of top class art dealers in a very small area of central London which makes it easier for collectors to visit London and take in all these galleries in a very small space of time.

“I think that if dealers are forced out of the area, this could have a very adverse impact on our art trade as well as on the dealers concerned.”