Patrick Donald the collector ‘drenched in history’ who fashioned his Putney into his own fascinating museum
My definition of a collector, is an individual whose relationship with the objects he collects, be it one piece or a hundred and one, is based on enjoyment, pride of ownership, scholarship and humility… Patrick Donald
History is scattered with art collectors known for their devotion to particular collecting areas – for example Sir John Soane collected relics from Greek and Roman culture, for Peggy Guggenheim it was American and European modern and contemporary art, whereas Dennis Severs celebrated the period 1724-1914 through the recreation of period rooms in his Georgian Spitalfields house. And, collectors often live with their collections, in effect becoming the curator of their own ‘museum at home’ with its contents displayed to their best effect. As the personal collection of Patrick Donald comes to auction this November we are delighted to introduce this enigmatic collector and to explore some of his own collecting traits.
Patrick Donald was born in Belfast in June 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, and his family moved to Canada when he was 14 years old. He attended art school in Toronto and went on to work as a graphic designer and a set designer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He already had a keen interest in antiques, as from a very early age he made regular visits to Belfast’s Ulster Museum. When his contemporaries were buying sweets with their pocket money Donald was making his first purchases at a local antique shop, reflecting on this life long collecting passion he said, ‘The fervour has not diminished since those early carefree days’.
Ultimately Donald was to pursue two collecting themes, the first came about through his study and practice of the martial art of kendo – which descends from traditional swordsmanship – he was to become a black belt, and through the process was introduced to Japanese culture and its arts, and he was captivated. The way of life and rituals of the samurai were fascinating to him and he observed that, ‘… the sword was, to most samurai, his most prized possession, the one object which through his choice of blade, fittings, scabbard lacquer, and hilt wrapping, defined and stated his personality, aesthetic sensibilities, and public image. The bond between the original owner, and the contemporary viewer, is more powerful than with most other artefacts…’. He started collecting Japanese works of art and arms and armour whilst in Canada and attended conferences with like-minded collectors. Later he would describe the importance of this collecting area in his life, ‘Most of my most valued, life-long friendships have been initiated by a mutual interest in Japanese art and culture…Japan and its traditional artefacts become our focus when we meet’.
Interestingly, despite having a highly inquisitive nature, Donald never visited Japan; a close friend explains that as his love for Japanese traditions and history was so strong he was concerned that a visit might temper this through his exposure to the inevitable realities of the modern day country.