Buying and selling with... Simon Khachadourian

London’s St James area has long been a home for art dealers. That applies to the top end of motoring and transport art, too, as a visit to this gallery confirms
Words: Robert Stride. Photography: Phil Starling

Pullman, as the name implies, is catering for first class and is at the front of the train. Its motorsport department is increasingly in demand among serious collectors.

The world according to Simon Khachadourian, founder of the Pullman galleries, is all about what he calls objets de luxe and about being different from other purveyors of collectable and valuable objects.

Authenticity, provenance and condition are the watchwords at the Pullman establishments in King Street and in Mount Street, both in the heart of smart London.

Paintings on the grand scale, extravagant bronzes and rarities from pre-war motor racing are the stuff from which Pullman’s motor sporting heritage has been formed.

Founder Simon, he of the respected brothers Khachadourian who previously ran a London gallery devoted to motoring art, opened Pullman in 1988, and set up the motorsport department in the style to which his art collectors had become accustomed. “Our mission is to deal only in works of real quality,” he says. “The quality of the art is more important than the cars, and we look for objects, pictures and graphics which first and foremost are the very best and secondly use or contain the image of the car.”

An exception to this rule is Pullman’s association with contemporary artist Dexter Brown – or, to be more precise, his alter ego De Bruyne, who produces Renoir-like canvases.

One is on view at Pullman in Mount Street. The Bathing Party depicts three female nudes together with their 1909 Renault at a riverside picnic. Sound familiar? That’s the point. Brown, or De Bruyne, wanted to break out into something more romantic, something that Renoir might have created had he been around with Renaults.

“I bought this particular DB back from a collector who bought it from us,” says Simon. “There’s a lot of interest.”

If sculpture is more your thing then Pullman has an interesting bronze by the Belgian artist Pierre de Soete. Called Vers la Victoire this is a lot of bronze for your buck. Imagine a 1920s sports-racing car, with two goggled and helmeted drivers, careering along a 1920s road and trailing clouds of dust and flailing scarves.

“We know it was presented to the winner of a race in or near Boulogne,” says Simon. “The full detail, though, is not known. It’s a fine bronze and a good example of de Soete’s work.

Leaving the best (for me) to last, Pullman has the work of French sculptor Emmanuel Zurini. His devotees include Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve and Flavio Briatore, and he began working in motorsport as a photographer. His compelling images are used in both grand prix and Le Mans posters of the 1960s, and in the mid-Seventies he started producing some striking bronzes of great racing cars, many of which have a stealthy black patina.

At Pullman are pieces that represent a Ford GT40, Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner, D-type Jaguar and Caracciola’s 1937 Mercedes-Benz W154, the GT40 in black and the Mercs in silver.

“These are collectors pieces. Zurini normally makes editions of only eight so there is rarity, and they meet all our requirements – quality, artistically excellent and different.”

But for me, a lifelong fan and follower of motor racing, it was the train that really grabbed my attention. There are just five of these pieces, entitled Night Train.

The art-deco stylised futuristic black sculpture was to have been, like all Zurini’s work, an edition of eight but the hardwood maquette was destroyed in a fire before the remaining three were made. It measures more than 63 inches long and is a most impressive thing of beauty. The price tag, though, is £65,000.