Royal David Linley Reveals His Collecting Habits
As Christie’s UK celebrates 250 years in business, its chairman reflects on the importance of heritage and the dynamic future of collecting.
David Armstrong-Jones is known more formally as Viscount Linley, the son of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, the first Earl of Snowdon. All this puts him 18th in line to the British throne. But Linley is royal only by default: He is far more interested in pursuing his calling as a tastemaker. After studying furniture making at the Parnham House School, he set up his own furniture company, now called Linley, in 1985. In 2006 he joined the auction house Christie’s and is now its chairman for Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and India. At 55 he keeps a busy schedule, crossing the world in search of objets d’art for the auction house while still maintaining a creative role and financial stake in Linley, which designs upholstery and accessories as well as furniture. Outside work, he lives with his wife, Serena, and two children in London, the Cotswolds, and Provence. Robb Report met Linley at his Christie’s office: a green-wallpapered room presided over by a portrait of his mother (painted by Pietro Annigoni) and two Damien Hirst paintings.
Christie’s celebrates an important anniversary this year. How did you become involved with this heritage brand?
I joined 10 years ago, but my association began a long time before. I had my first exhibition here in 1985, so we go right back, and it gave me the impetus to form my company, then David Linley Furniture. I’ve always had friends here, including Orlando Rock, the UK chairman and my son’s godfather. It’s a very collegial place to work, from the porters to the clients, and having been brought up by my parents to drift in many worlds, I particularly enjoy the places it takes me. Last week I went to New York to talk to writer Walter Isaacson. I really enjoy the whole art-world milieu. It’s a meeting place of amazing personalities.
How does Christie’s help shape today’s auction marketplace?
Three years ago we sponsored an exhibition at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, showing pictures sold to Catherine the Great 350 years ago by our founder James Christie—and we found the original drawings. To me that’s a very exciting illustration of how Christie’s has evolved, and it’s fascinating to see how collections have been made over the years. I also enjoy taking people on studio visits: Damien Hirst very kindly showed us around recently. It gives collectors a fresh idea on what creativity entails, and I personally love to see people making things.
What are some of the changes in the worlds of art and collecting that you have witnessed?
The shifts in taste amaze me. There are so many new collectors, and their confidence in putting out their collections is happening in a way that has never previously happened. Look at the Broad [in Los Angeles] and the wonderful [Long Museum] in [Shanghai,] China, with the most magnificent impressionist pictures in it. Who would have guessed 20 years ago where that buyer [Liu Yiqian] would come from? His fascination with culture, his hunger for education—and the coffers to build a magnificent museum—is inspirational.