HE turned down warhol and freud, but sir jackie stewart has always loved art
Like Edith Piaf, Sir Jackie Stewart OBE has no regrets. But then, reclining on a pillowy soft sofa, he corrects himself.
“That’s not strictly true,” he says. “I have two regrets in life.”
The first, says the Dumbarton-born triple Formula 1 racing champion, who last stood on the winner’s podium in 1973 – the year he retired – “is refusing to chauffeur Miss Piggy in The Muppet Show.”
His greatest regret, though, is rejecting Andy Warhol’s offer to paint his portrait. He also turned down Lucian Freud. “He was not for me,” says Stewart. But his decision to turn down Warhol haunts him to this day, especially since Her Majesty the Queen will unveil a specially commissioned portrait of Stewart at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, in Edinburgh, on Monday at the start of her Jubilee tour of Scotland.
The large portrait, 6ft by 4ft, is, unusually, the work of two English artists, Theo Platt (51) and Michael Turner (78), both hand-picked by Stewart. An art buff with the discerning eye of the dedicated collector, he’s delighted with the finished work, pictured exclusively in today’s Scotsman. Stewart is shown against a dramatic blue background, featuring details such as the saltire, his tartan-embellished racing helmet, a chequered flag, four racing cars and Germany’s Nurburgring circuit.
A passionate motorsport and aviation enthusiast famed for his motoring art, of which Stewart owns “a bunch,” Turner painted the background, while Platt, whose previous sitters have included the Countess of Wessex (twice) and the children of Mr and Mrs Art Garfunkel, has painted the youthful Stewart in white racing overalls with a Beatles cap on his long hair.
“I think it works well,” Stewart says happily.
We meet on the day after his 73rd birthday. “You’ll have a maximum of 30 minutes,” he warns, although I am at his Buckinghamshire home for three hours.
In the hall there are greetings cards and gifts, including twin sculptures by Scottish artist Tessa Campbell Fraser (Mrs Rory Bremner) of his “boys”, two Norfolk terriers, Pimms and Whisky, given to him by “a very important person indeed”. There are monumental Campbell Fraser sculptures in the grounds: hippos, stags, a Highland cow with two calves – “Helen, Paul and Mark [their sons],” he jokes.
In the sitting room there are pink balloons spelling out Stewart’s age. Meanwhile, the multi-millionaire businessman, is seated in front of a log fire – it’s a dreich June day – in his study. He’s in reflective mood.
The impending unveiling to the nation of his portrait has awakened memories of the last night of 1972 when, with his wife Helen, Stewart was invited to a dinner party, hosted by Gianni Agnelli, president of Fiat, and his wife Mariella at their St Moritz chalet.
“There were three tables of ten and we were at the same table as Doris Brynner, widow of the actor Yul Brynner, the shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos, Prince Amin Aga Khan and Begum Sally Aga Khan, Andy Warhol and his business manager... what was his name?” muses Stewart, who has a photographic memory, despite being dyslexic, and is clearly annoyed at this lapse.
Fred Hughes? “Yes, Fred. We knew we were in for an interesting evening when Andy placed a tape cassette player on the table and said that if we didn’t mind he was going to record the entire dinner. Every 30 minutes he stopped to put in a new cassette – he told us this was a form of art.”
No one objected. Stewart says he couldn’t quite believe the guests were happy to carry on their conversations as if the recorder didn’t exist. He still wonders what became of those tapes.
At one stage, Warhol turned to Stewart and said, “Hey, Jackie, you know what? Why don’t you come to my studio [the infamous Factory] in New York and I’ll paint you?”
“He said he was eager to paint a picture of me set within his own perception of the exciting and glamorous motor racing world, of which it emerged he was a huge fan. It sounded interesting so I asked how it would work.
“Andy said, ‘OK, we’ll give you the original if you give me all the poster and lithographic rights.’ I asked how long I’d have to stay in New York. He said it would take a couple of weeks, maybe a little more. I told him it was impossible; I just didn’t have that amount of open time.”
Stewart sighs: “Big mistake: if I had been able to slow down and find the time to go to New York and be painted by Andy Warhol, I would today have owned a picture worth many millions of dollars. What an error!”
He should worry. Stewart has been collecting fine art – particularly that of the Scottish Colourists and many other Scottish artists – and sculpture since 1968.
I am given a guided tour of the manicured grounds and the lavish house, though The Scotsman’s photographer has to photograph him in one of the guest lodges away from the main house. Later, though, I am taken upstairs into the gorgeously decorated, themed guest suites and ushered into the entrance to his and Helen’s room where he shows me a painting of flowers done on glass by his mother, Jeanie, when she was an art student in Glasgow.
He credits his love of art to her and to his father, Robert. He still owns one of two paintings given to them by their friend, the artist George Houston, on their wedding day. Stewart’s elder brother Jim, who battled alcoholism and finally beat it before his death in 2008, sold his when he was at his most troubled.
Back in Stewart’s study, he’s still thinking about that Warhol. He could have hung it on the navy-blue walls – already filled with works of art, including a landscape over the fireplace painted by Helen of the view from their home in Geneva, which they’ve since sold to Phil Collins. “With this house and our London home, we didn’t want to look after another great big house, although we keep a place in Switzerland,” says Stewart. Or he might have displayed his Warhol in the sitting room, which is so vast there are nine sofas.
“There are 15 of us, you know, we need lots of space for something like my birthday party at the weekend,” he says. The clan includes his sons, Paul and Mark, their wives and nine grandchildren, whose ages range from 17 to three. On every surface there are family photographs and pictures of Stewart with the Princess Royal, who wrote the foreword to his autobiography Winning Is Not Enough, the late George Harrison, Sean Connery, King Hussein of Jordan, as well as aristos and celebrities who used to hang out in the motor racing world.
His collection of trophies, hundreds of them, gleams from every surface, rewards for 27 Grand Prix victories and three years as Formula 1 World Champion, in 1969, ’71 and ’73. No wonder the Stewarts employ a staff of nine – the polishing must take days.
He takes me to see a “terrific” triptych of him and Helen painted by Jack Vettriano. It shows Stewart racing, Helen timing him, them both celebrating another win; it’s called Tension, Timing and Triumph. “I wanted to show you this because it explains why I wanted two artists to paint my portrait for the National Gallery. This was Jack’s idea not mine, but it absolutely captures a part of my life,” he says.
“In 50 years’ time people might not know who Jackie Stewart was but if I’m in my racing overalls, then it’s related to the job I did. What I want to see if I look back on a great aviator or a great athlete is their life. I think of Chariots of Fire, if you saw Eric Liddell in a suit, it would mean nothing. But if you saw him running on a beach, then you’d recognise him if you had any sense of history.”
In addition, he wanted people to see how his legendary cars looked. “Few portrait artists can paint racing cars correctly like Michael. I think Theo did a very nice job of my portrait; I chose him after seeing a variety of artists the gallery suggested. I think the two artists worried about sharing the commission but they’ve worked well together. It’s synonymous with my life as well as a likeness. Everyone told me it wouldn’t work, but I’m dyslexic so I think outside the box.”
“Art is the best thing I have ever found in my life, the most satisfying; it’s the most pleasurable thing I’ve ever had.”
Is there one artist whose work he covets but can’t afford? “I don’t think such a thing lives!” he says.
A Lucian Freud perhaps?
“I could buy a Freud. Anyway, he nearly painted me. I had dinner, then lunch with him, but in the end I didn’t think it was for me. You know that he painted Andrew Parker-Bowles? Andrew had to do 82 sittings because Freud never painted unless the subject was there. No, Freud was definitely not for me,” he says.
After three dizzying hours chez Stewart, he instructs his Edinburgh-born butler to take me to Wendover station for the London train. “No fast driving now, Andy,” warns the knight of the realm, once the fastest man in the world, although he hasn’t been behind the wheel for decades. Presumably, that’s what butlers-cum-chauffeurs are for.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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