A Day In The Life
Mr Hugo Portuondo
The international art dealer shows us around London SW1
Mr Hugo Portuondo carries on his keyring a loupe made from an 1868 French silver coin. It was a childhood gift from his father, a renowned Spanish art dealer. He still uses it to inspect every new piece at Portuondo, his antique and art gallery on Pimlico Road in London. “It’s one of the things I love that I haven’t lost,” he says.
Mr Portuondo, 39, runs the shop with his younger brother, Mr Diego Portuondo, and the store has attracted some of the historic design district’s starriest shoppers since it opened in 2012. Ms Ellen DeGeneres popped in with her wife, Ms Portia de Rossi, the other day, joining Ms Anne Hathaway and Mr Gary Oldman on the client list.
The table rests beside hemispherical ice buckets with flamingo legs, and an early 19th-century Italian console table. The eclecticism reflects an itinerant upbringing. Mr Portuondo has lived in Bilbao, Madrid, Paris and North Yorkshire, where, as a child, he was sent to Ampleforth College, a Catholic boarding school. “I grew up with monks and no girls, and then every holiday I’d go to Ibiza, where my mum worked in Pacha,” he says. “I saw Boy George come into the house, transvestites. You name it, I’ve seen it. That’s where it all comes from – having that very stark English education and then going to Ibiza in 1988.”
Mr Portuondo studied art history and European cultural studies in Paris before working in the city’s auction houses and becoming an art dealer. Then his clients lost everything in the 2008 crash. “I couldn’t sell paintings worth millions anymore, so I started doing this,” he says.
He now jets between homes in Chelsea and Madrid, where he runs the original Portuondo gallery and does the party circuit with his girlfriend, Ms Clara Courel, a fashion editor.
“I’ve put a cross over Ibiza. It’s changed so much. My life is much calmer now than it used to be,” he says as a 1950s gentleman’s valet stand arrives. Mr Portuondo then locks up before taking MR PORTER for a stroll around his southern Belgravia neighbourhood. “I don’t think I could live in London if I had to take the Tube,” he says. “It’s really depressing.”
“I think Colbert was a French general in the Napoleonic Wars and, while this French brasserie on Sloane Square has really cool decor that makes it look like something from Paris in the 1930s, it’s only a few years old. It used to be Oriel, which was a bit of an institution, and I’ll often stroll here for lunch. It’s got lovely tiled floors and lots of mirrors and art on the walls, but it’s great to sit outside in the sun. It’s run by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the same people behind The Wolseley and The Delaunay. It’s the kind of place I would have ordered a coffee, but I’ve stopped drinking it and now I drink matcha tea instead. My brother says it’s like drinking pond water.”
WILD AT HEART
“The King’s Road was very cool years ago, but now it’s just like any other high street in Europe. It’s the same for High Street Kensington. Everywhere is becoming so boring. Pimlico Road is one of the last places in central London where there’s still a bit of singularity, where independent retailers such as Wild At Heart can survive. This florist is one of those places that just brightens up the street. They have another shop in Westbourne Grove in a fantastic building, and they have such a lovely way of displaying things. They create these amazing displays at Christmas and Halloween.”
The Saatchi Gallery
“I love London’s museums and galleries, and I go to a lot of exhibitions at the Tate, the Royal Academy, the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A. The Saatchi Gallery is a five-minute walk from the shop, up to Sloane Square and off the King’s Road, so I often pop in. More and more, we’re bringing contemporary designers into what we do, and I try to keep up with what’s happening in contemporary art. We have some crushed wall sculptures in at the moment by Aldo Chaparro, a Peruvian artist whose prices are shooting up. I used to be much more involved in the market when I was a dealer. I’d find paintings in private collections for a small network of clients, and selling two or three paintings a year was enough. I once found a painting on the floor in an old lady’s apartment. Her dog had been urinating on it. It was by Lucas Cranach, the German Renaissance painter, and it sold for about £3m. It only survived because of the thick varnish that had been put on it during WWII.”
“When the weather’s being British, you can come in here, past the kitchen garden outside, and enter this lovely bright shop and café. Everything is organic and comes from their farm in Gloucestershire. I usually do some grocery shopping downstairs – some chicken, salmon or the salads. I try to avoid supermarkets. I’ve been through the menu here a few times, but they change it quite a lot. I like the eggs Benedict, but not the cucumber they put in the jugs of water. I can’t stand cucumber. The owner’s son, George Bamford, makes customised Rolexes and was in my brother’s year at school.”
“The Orange is just across the road from Wild At Heart. You know how the typical English pub is very heavy and dark? Well, this is much lighter, with lots of clean wood and white walls. They do really good food, such as dry-aged beef rib eye or lamb pie. When I first came to London, I’d try to eat sandwiches and stuff for lunch, and then I said, ‘What the hell! You only live once.’ I’m more of a beer than a wine man, and they have this bottled Swiss beer called 1936, which is made in the Alps. It has a very small production and it’s very light. Later, when I go out, I go out. I have no limit. I’m very Spanish in that way. I used to do it more and was a big fan of house music, but now I’m more into bars and places where you can actually hear what people are saying. I never thought that would happen to me, but it has. I must be getting old.”
“I’ve been trying really hard to be as curious as I was before the internet changed everything, and I love popping into the Taschen store, right next to the Saatchi Gallery in Duke Of York Square. They’ve got great-quality books, which make good presents, and they do these huge editions, such as the moon book [MoonFire by Mr Norman Mailer] that Marc Newson designed, which came with a bit of lunar rock. I’ve been kicking myself for not buying it. They were selling for £2,000; they’re going for three times that now. Apart from being antique dealers, we also do interiors and we’re an art advisory. Some clients come in and just want to buy one thing, but others might buy a coffee table and want the books to go with it, so I can advise them.”