Anthony Roland and ‘The Roland Collection’

PUBLISHED: 11:32 05 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:36 05 May 2016

Anthony Roland

Anthony Roland


Battle-based Anthony Roland, who began as an art dealer in Paris, made a series of very influential films about art resulting in The Roland Collection. Now he’s looking for a permanent, public home for the 400 films, discovers Julian Beecroft

A number of years ago, walking in the countryside near Peasmarsh, East Sussex, I came upon a house with a number of large and rather strange-looking sculptures sitting in the garden. Intriguing at the time, they had completely gone out of my mind until the man who created them, the film-maker and sculptor Anthony Roland, shows me photographs of the large house and the sculptures he made for it as we sit and talk in his new home in Battle.

Now in his 80th year, he began as an art dealer in Paris in the late 1950s. The son of the dealer Henry Roland, a world expert on Rembrandt, Anthony describes himself as self-educated. “In art dealing, you have to know the brushstroke of an artist,” he says, “what makes it genuine. You have to project yourself into what’s going on. No conventional education can give you that kind of knowledge.”

It was while in Paris in the early 1960s that he started to make films about art, the creative medium he is best known for. The results were a revelation. Instead of the usual explanatory film of the time, overlaid with a dry academic commentary, Anthony Roland’s Delacroix film and then the even more fluent Rembrandt’s Christ, based on drawings by the Dutch master, both accompanied by especially composed music, let the work of these great artists speak for itself. “The whole point is linking the dynamic feeling of the drawing created with pencil or pen, trying to recreate the immediacy of what the artist saw and felt. It’s risky to do away with the context that conventional art history relies on, but if you succeed in giving people that experience of the work, it’s phenomenal because it lasts their whole life.”

Buoyed by the positive reaction to his early films, in 1965 Anthony organised a lecture tour of museums and educational institutions in 27 cities across America. “I had the five films I had done by then. I invited the top art educators in America – I went to Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum. They all loved my films and wanted to use them, but they needed a full programme. When I got back to Paris, I went to UNESCO and told them about the enormous demand for films on art, that it was their role to save them. But they had no money and nobody to undertake the work. I walked out of the building, looked up at the sky and wrung my hands and said, ‘That’s it! I’ve got to do it.’”

From this point on, Anthony started viewing thousands of films from all over the world, often going behind the Iron Curtain to the former Czechoslovakia, at the time a country famous for the quality of its short films. Gradually, he began assembling a unique collection which was so in demand that in the early 1970s, having moved back to England, he opened the Art Film Centre in a big-screen, 400-seat cinema just off Leicester Square.

With the advent of video, Anthony began selling copies of the films in his collection – including the 13 that by now he had made himself – to thousands of schools, universities and museums across the world, especially in America. Indeed, the collection was now so well-known that in three consecutive summers in the early 1980s, by now living in the house in Peasmarsh, he set up open-air multi-screen cinemas at the Edinburgh Festival, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York City.

For the millennium, employing a new medium, Roland secured the use of 10 acres of Regent’s Park for a sound-art installation. He selected material from the National Sound Archive and dug 34 km of cable into the plot to create an aural kaleidoscope using a huge variety of sounds which changed as the wanderer, equipped with a headset, moved around the park. The Arts Council had never seen an event with so many comments from visitors, some three books in all.

The Roland Collection can now be viewed at Alas, with so much free content available online, the collection is not well-used, despite the nominal fees. Ultimately, Roland would like to find a permanent, public home where they could all be shown. Given their importance, it is surely just a matter of time. 


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