Jan Bethge was a most kind and gentle person. While very private, he was not withdrawn and always extended a warm and generous welcome to his home, where a bottle of bubbly chilling in a bucket remained on hand to sip over long chats about Russian art, colleagues and friends.
When Jan moved to London from Schnackenburg, a quiet town on the River Elbe in Germany, it was during the heady days of the swinging 60s. He was no doubt seduced by the many possibilities that this city of ‘innovation, iconoclasm and fun’ offered, and from that time onwards made it his principal residence. He found himself in the circle of an international set of artists, photographers, ballet dancers, art dealers and deposed Russian aristocrats. He settled in part of a house belonging to Maude Lloyd, a retired ballet dancer and her husband, Nigel Gosling, art reporter and critic at The Observer, and he remained at this address for the rest of his life. It was in this Kensington house that Rudolf Nureyev took shelter when he dramatically defected to the West in 1961, and throughout his life he returned to the ground floor flat that the Goslings kept for him in Victoria Road.
At the promising age of twenty, Jan entered the art world of London, then the ‘epicentre of style’, with his very first job at the renowned dealers of Chinese and Japanese art, Bluett & Sons. He soon developed his artistic flair and knowledge to become the window dresser for the gallery, and generally assisted the directors, James Bluett and Brian Morgan. This was excellent early training and the experience eventually led to the start of his passion for art and a long lasting partnership with Nicholas Lynn and his antique shop in Kensington Church Street in West London, The Winter Palace.
Nicholas Lynn was a dashing American art dealer, passionate about Imperial Russia. He was joined in the partnership by Margot Tracey, a former Russian aristocrat, fashion model, Portobello trader and author of The Red Rose. From this shop many important Fabergé items and historical artworks were traded. A strong tie was struck between The Winter Palace and the leading Russian art dealers in Paris, Alexandre Djanchieff of À la Vielle Cité and Elliott Baruch of Popoff & Co.
All three establishments benefitted from their location in cities where many impoverished Russian aristocrats had emigrated and were forced to sell their artworks. There was always a steady flow of wonderful treasures such as Imperial diamond-set and guilloché enamelled cigarette cases by Fabergé, jewellery, colourful watercolours by Benois or Chekhonine and the finest array of porcelain plates from the Imperial Manufactory. All of these items appealed to their many international collectors for their Imperial provenance, as well as for the romantic and tragic history that befell the Romanoffs. The business ran until the early 90s when the associates decided to cease trading and some of the collection was dispersed through a number of auctions. The lots being offered for sale formed part of this extraordinary collection, and are the last items from The Winter Palace.