Patrick Donald returned to live in the UK from Canada in the early 1990s and settled in the Dover House Conservation Area, Putney, South West London. He did not need to work, and he studied history of art and volunteered as a guide at Fulham Palace. In the environment of this Grade I listed building he sharpened his general interest in antiques and focused on the arts of the Jacobean era. Charles I was of specific interest to him, and his collection contains a number of objects and paintings depicting the King – Donald was attracted by the style of the court, its glamour and also its extravagances. He had shipped his Japanese collection to England from Canada and the upstairs rooms of his home were dressed with these works, whereas the ground floor spaces were to be decorated with his burgeoning collection of early furniture, works of art and paintings. His expertise in set design was put to good use in the creation of room settings, his aim being to create an ‘impression’. A friend describes Donald’s home as the ‘theatre of his mind’, and in these rooms he had all that he needed and desired, this became his world. But, unlike other collectors’ homes Donald’s house was only open to a small group of trusted friends, because it was his own highly private museum and he aimed to keep it that way.
Patrick Donald later volunteered as a guide at Southside House, Wimbledon, and the story behind this historic building and its furbishment struck a chord with him. Built in the William and Mary style Southside was the creation of Robert Pennington, a close friend of Charles II. Pennington’s son died from the plague and the intention was that Southside would provide a safe haven for his family, it was thereafter the home to successive generations of the family. Many years later, on his return to England after experiencing harrowing service in the Special Operations Executive during World War II, Malcolm Munthe restored the house, transforming it into a series of ‘sets’ to display family possessions acquired over many years. Though importantly, unlike Donald’s own home in Putney, Southside House was open to the public.
Friends recollect that Patrick Donald would regularly walk over 100 miles a week through London, he loved to explore its historical areas, discovering quirky tombstones in cemeteries such as Brompton and Mortlake and taking in stops at its oldest pubs. In common with many collectors, he meticulously catalogued his acquisitions on cue cards – his handwriting, an extremely fine script, was accompanied by detailed sketches in ink. These were not for publication, the cards simply captured his own thoughts and observations on the contents of his collection. Donald retained his distinctive Belfast accent despite growing up in Canada, although the occasional North American-accented ‘gee’ would pepper his conversation. He was also true to his Irish roots in his love of potatoes, friends say he was known for the extraordinary volume he would consume at a single sitting.
It is fitting that Patrick Donald’s beloved Ulster Museum, and ultimately a whole new generation of collectors, will benefit from the sale of his wide ranging and diverse collection.