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Trinity House

by Brook S. Mason
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The UK art dealership Trinity House arrived on these shores only seven days ago with a trove of 19th- and 20th-paintings and bronzes taking up a pricey perch in the late Emilio Pucci's own townhouse. Located directly across from Wildenstein & Co. on East 64th Street, on the piano nobile, Simon Shore, 40, who heads up Trinity House along with Steven Beale, 34, has decorated that roost akin to the gallery’s London premises off New Bond Street as well as their flagship in Cotswolds (that area up from London that struts across six counties and counts art and fashion world celebs Damien Hirst and Stella McCartney as country house habitués). The country gallery is sited in the village of Broadway, pop. 2,500.

The latest incarnation of Trinity House is kitted out with gray silk wallpaper flecked with mica, to-die-for crown moldings and a crackerjack marble fireplace mantel. The lighting alone had to have cost upwards of $40,000. The front room is filled with Le Corbusier sofas and a Mies van der Rohe daybed. It's the kind of look that well-heeled wannabes will positively swoon over.

Paintings in stock include a circa 1900Kees van Dongen oil, Bouquet de Fleurs, displaying luscious magenta petals and priced at $1 million, that you'd think would snare the attention of newly rich Chinese, whose Ming and Qing porcelains are painted with countless peonies. A Paul Cézanne gouache and watercolor on paper, Arbres, boasts a hefty provenance, with the legendary Paris dealer Ambroise Vollard and author Somerset Maugham both once claiming it for their walls.

What’s Shore like? Well, he’s new to Manhattan and draws a blank at mention of Steve Schwarzman (Blackstone Group CEO, estimated fortune of $5.9 billion) or the posh Surrey Hotel just eight blocks uptown (where a Chuck Close 2007 tapestry portrait of supermodel Kate Moss hangs off the lobby).

Even so, Shore is surprisingly savvy and midrange suave, but neither the Eton nor Harrow brand. He and Beale have made stupendous tracks in virtually a nanosecondo.

1. Just when did you two first emerge on the gallery scene?

Steven and I both worked at Haynes Fine Art, which dealt in Victorian paintings. But it was a family business. There was only so far you could go. Besides, we wanted to do Impressionists.

2. So where in the world did you snag the capitalization to open TH a mere five years ago?

We have a friend who does interbank lending and property. He loaned us £250,000. He’s a Brit and we paid him back immediately.

3. Well, like everyone else in the art world including Larry Gagosian, surely you were on a rocky road in 2008.

Immediately after Lehman Brothers went under, we took part in the Fine Art & Antiques Show at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart building. Then news of the Madoff scandal hit. It was a tough trading course. People were like deer caught in the headlights. Somehow we kept up.

4. Precisely when did the market shift for TH?

In 2009, when banks cut the interest rates. Two other factors were driving our business: one, people who had lots of money; and then two, those who had no cash, just assets they were desperate to sell. They couldn’t wait to consign at auction.

Pictures in private collections, especially in America, were immediately attractive to the European trade and privates. In that year alone we sold 40 pictures, including a Eugène Boudin seascape snapped up from an American. [Shore whisked that oil off to a European dealer.]

Those trading conditions, a shaky stock market and no interest rates, suit us.

5. And what were your prices then?

We bought at £30,000-£50,000 in 2009. Then the average sales price was £120,000-£150,000, and we sold about 40 pictures.

6. Wow. To whom do your paintings appeal?

People with traditional taste, longtime collectors and those entirely new to the market.

7. Do tell about the Claude Monet pastel Waterloo Bridge, 1901, which you will unveil at your inaugural exhibition “From Constable to Cézanne,” which debuts here on Oct. 19, 2011.

Monet returned to London in January 1901 and put up at the Savoy, room 618. All his luggage arrived except for his oils, canvases and brushes. So he hit Charing Cross Road, where he picked up some pastels. In all, 21 works depicting Waterloo Bridge survive and all were done from his hotel room. Today, most are locked up in private collections with a few in museums. We have the last one on the market.

8. Those three George Stubbs oils are quite astonishing -- what are the prices?

The Harvest Wagon, 1864, is £1.5 million, and another version of it is in the Tate.

Portrait of a Gentleman upon a Grey Hunter, 1781, was owned by Paul Mellon and costs £2.9 million, while A Grey Horse, 1786, is only £150,000.

9. Golly. With a Gothic work by John Atkinson Grimshaw, a large Montague Dawson [think clipper ships], and that delicious Cézanne, TH is really tanking up to be the next Richard Green (a man of enormous girth and acumen with a massive gallery on New Bond Street, another there under construction and a third one nearby). Right?

[This one he answers with a big smile.]

10. And here in NYC, where do you stay, pray tell?

The Carlyle and the Waldorf. It’s a bit tired but the rooms are huge. Great light.

TIP: Must bedtime reading for Shore and Beale: David Carey and John E. Morris, King of Capital: The Remarkable Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone (Crown Business, 2010).

BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.