Leslie Waddington, whose London gallery offered master-class shows of postwar American art, and who was known for championing up-and-coming British artists during the late 1960s, has died at 81. A statement from Stéphane Custot, the co-owner of Waddington Custot Galleries, confirmed the news.
Waddington, who was born in 1934, in Ireland, is best known for being one of the first major dealers to bring Color Field painting and Abstract Expressionism to London. During the early ’60s, while working at his father’s gallery, which relocated from Dublin to London in 1958, Waddington began introducing England to American artists like Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Larry Poons. (Waddington started working at his father’s gallery in 1957.) Also around this time, Waddington mounted some of the first shows of sculptures by the British artist Anthony Caro, who shot to fame in the mid-’60s.
In 1966, Waddington split from his father’s gallery, opening Waddington Galleries on Cork Street with financial backing from television executive Alexander Bernstein. He took from his father an unwavering interest in modernism—by the end of the ’70s, he still remained committed to art of the first half of the 20th century in a period when Minimalism and Conceptualism had become more fashionable.
“At a time when the Tate and other institutions in London were far less ambitious than today, he made his gallery in Cork Street a place where young artists and collectors could receive an education in modern art,” Tate director Nicholas Serota said when he gave Waddington the Federation of European Art Galleries Association Award for outstanding gallerists at Art Basel, in 2013.
But, as the market changed, so too did Waddington’s slate. The gallery now shows work by Carl Andre, Peter Halley, and Haim Steinbach in addition to paintings by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. And, in 2011, the gallery ownership also changed—Stéphane Custot became co-owner after buying Bernstein’s shares in the gallery. (Bernstein died in 2010.)
“I feel extremely privileged to have known Leslie for 25 years and to have worked alongside him as his partner in the gallery for the past five,” Custot said in a statement. “He was a constant source of inspiration and we shall all greatly miss him.”