If you are visiting London and have even a passing interest in art you might like to hop on a bus, leap onto a skateboard or jump on a magic carpet and whizz on down to picture sellers Abbott and Holder. You will find Abbott and Holder in a charming four storey period townhouse in Bloomsbury a stone’s throw away from the British Museum.
Robert Abbott and Eric Holder established Abbott and Holder in 1936; the current owner Philip Athill worked first as an assistant in the gallery before becoming a partner in 1984. When John Abbott a nephew of Robert Abbott retired from the partnership in 2001 Abbott and Holder became a limited company of which Philip Athill is managing director. A core principle of the business ‘to stock pictures that are within the means of as broad a section of the population as possible’ has remained unchanged for seventy-six years.
In an age in which retail spaces are interior-designed to within an inch of their lives’ it is refreshing to walk around Abbott and Holder which still retains, despite the vast amount of stock, the feel of a private house. There is a lot to love from: the lovely parquet floor; the distinctive cupboard with pretty moulding; the thriving scented geraniums; the stripped fabric on the staircase walls; the deep red and green painted rooms on the upper floors; to the beautiful and interesting pictures which adorn the walls.
To enter Abbott and Holder you need to ring a bell. Please don’t let that deter you because once inside you will receive a warm welcome and a brief introduction, if you haven’t been there before, to the layout of the gallery; you will then be left to browse at your leisure.
Abbott and Holder sell mainly British watercolours and drawings from the 1750’s to the present day. The gallery spans four floors: the ground floor is given over to new stock from different eras; 18th and 19th century pictures are on the first floor; 20th century pictures are on the second floor – the second floor is also used for individual exhibitions; and the conservation labs are on the top floor.
There is a veritable wealth of stock in the gallery. Prices vary with some pieces selling for thousands of pounds but there is always a healthy selection of items retailing at under hundred pounds. The pictures are not separated into different price brackets and if you are flicking through a bundle of them you will likely find a picture marked at £75 beside one marked at £750. Abbott and Holder only sell pictures they like and they like them all equally but some are of necessity more expensive than others.
When I lived in Islington in north London I was a short bus ride away from Bloomsbury and I whiled away many happy hours browsing in Abbott and Holder. I still have the pictures I bought there. There’s one of them in the image directly above – I love it because I have a fondness for the Russian doll effect of having a picture within a picture.
Note: Abbott and Holder is at 30 Museum Street London WC1.