Anne Hull Grundy (1926-1984)
'If you don't fall in love, don't buy it' was the motto which guided the collector Anne Hull Grundy.1
Born into a Jewish banking and industrial family in Nuremberg in 1926, Anne Hull Grundy, née Ullmann, left Germany for England when Hitler rose to power in 1933. Her father re-established the family’s manufacture of metal lithographed pressed toys in Northampton and by 1939 Mettoy was a successful company. Following the war years, when the company produced jerry cans and machine gun parts, Mettoy introduced the hugely successful Corgi range of die-cast zinc toys. It was these Corgi toys, together with income from the Keyser-Ullman bank, which later provided Hull Grundy with the wealth which enabled her to form one of the finest jewellery collections in the world.
Inspired by her parents, Hull Grundy started collecting when she was eleven. Initially a welcomed escape from boring summer days spent in Cheltenham and Harrogate, it became a lifelong passion. Disabled by a respiratory condition at the age of twenty-one, which first tied her to a wheelchair and ultimately to her bed, she dedicated her life to the study and collecting of European jewellery and Japanese ivories. Buying much of her treasures by post, she assembled thousands of the most exquisite pieces of jewellery, but only ever wore a wedding band, sharing with her husband, the artist and entomologist John Hull Grundy (1907-1984), a passion for Martinware.
Reflecting on her collecting activities later in life, Hull Grundy described herself as 'a large spider sitting at the centre of a web of dealers, salesrooms and museums'.2 Her ambition was to outwit art dealers and museum curators and to acquire a ‘ticket to life eternal’, in other words set herself and her husband some collection monuments.3
Bedridden, she mainly bought by post, but also received some trusted dealers. Judging by the recollections of one of them, these must have been memorable visits:
‘I was shown almost immediately into Mrs Grundy's bedroom which was occupied by a bed of truly heroic proportions and from the centre of the eiderdowns and furs I heard the familiar slim voice and rasping criticisms. Almost entirely obscured by bed clothes I could see a very large woman, wearing a balaclava and mittens, who was flanked by cases containing the netsuke collection, and well over a thousand antique jewels were concealed in mahogany cabinets with shallow drawers...
The French windows onto the garden were open and pigeons flew freely to and from Mrs Grundy's bedpost and the dovecot, attracted by the grain she threw for them...
A pile of 50 or so none too fresh pineapples gave off a heady scent from the corner of the room and wasps directed by this effluvia occasionally pinged the blades of the four huge fans which surrounded her bed and their shattered bodies lay on the surface of the eiderdown. Mrs Grundy grew sleepy on the effects of fried bananas and miniature bottles of champagne...’ 4
But it was not only Hull Grundy’s eccentric bedroom which left an impression, but also her fearsome character. Enormously generous on the one hand, she was equally unpredictable on the other. While museum curators welcomed her gifts, they also dreaded her telephone calls. Indeed, if enthusiasm was seen to lack or a thank you note too slow, she would invariably attack. No number of telegrams she considered too much, threatening with legal proceedings if not mutilation.
Still, it is thanks to Hull Grundy that jewellery collecting was established as a new collecting field and that Britain’s museums are much richer in jewellery today. Not necessarily diamonds, which she thought were ‘for call girls and dumb rich wives’, but carefully chosen pieces of antique and modern jewellery.5 The recipients of biscuit tins filled with precious surprises, no less than 70 collections benefited from her knowledge and generosity over the years. The British Museum having been given some of the most important pieces from her collection in 1978, the Fitzwilliam Museum received some 130 pieces of jewellery and silver between 1982 and 1984, all of them specifically acquired to complement the museum’s existing collection.
Have another look at the brooch by Gautrait or the quatrefoil dish commemorating the Munich Agreement of 1938: well, it was worth taking the call!
1 M. Caygill, Creating a Great Museum: Early Collectors and the British Museum, http://www.fathom.com/course/21701728/session4.html [January 2008]
3 BBC2, Interview with Anne Hull Grundy on Collecting Now, 1983
4 M. Caygill, op.cit
5 Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service, Hidden Histories: Collectors and Artists, http://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/default.asp?Document=300.07.010.1x2 [January 2008]
H. Tait (ed.), The Art of the Jeweller, A Catalogue of the Hull Grundy Gift to the British Museum , 2 vols, The British Museum, 1984
C. Gere and J. Rudoe, ‘Knowledge, Money and Time: Anne Hull Grundy as a Collector of Victorian Jewellery – art historian or collector?’, The Decorative Arts Society, Journal 24
An extract from the BBC's interview with Anne Hull Grundy can be seen on the Fitzwilliam Museum's multimedia eGuide. The eGuide is a handheld electronic guide covering a range of selected exhibits from the Fitzwilliam's collection and is available for hire from the Courtyard Entrance to the Museum
As long-term family friends of the Hull Grundys, we were recipients of Anne's largesse and vitriol. If a thank you letter was worded naively, she was sure to let one know. As a child I never visited Anne (she was a voice on the phone or a parcel in the post) I now greatly regret not having come closer to the 'fire', but, as an admirer of good jewellery, hope to have the opportunity to visit the Fitzwilliam collection. (Susan Moller)
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