Sir Hugh Leggatt was an honorary representative of the National Portrait Gallery (in London and Edinburgh); president of the Fine Art Provident Institution (1960–63); chairman of the Society of London Art Dealers (1966–70); a member of the Museums and Galleries Commission (1983–92); and honorary secretary of Heritage in Danger from 1974 until his death.He married, first (dissolved 1990), Jennifer Hepworth.
“It is difficult to understand the indifference of not only the government but MPs of all parties to the cultural well-being of the nation,” he stated in 2001.Leggatt was made senior partner in 1962 and over the next three decades found himself torn by a conflict of interests.“He has been a man with two lives really, as a dealer where he was one of the knowledgeable, courteous, old-fashioned school who are sadly thinner and thinner on the ground,” said the art historian Sir Denis Mahon.It was an illuminating judgment, for his consistent aim was to make culture available to all.Nor were other key figures in the cultural arena safe from his criticism.The Apotheosis of James I by Peter Paul Rubens, a sketch for the canvas painted by Rubens for the ceiling of Whitehall’s Banqueting House, was saved from being sold abroad by a campaign helmed by Leggatt.
“The most important painting in the land,” said Leggatt, with perhaps a touch of hyperbole.
For more than half a century Leggatt took on causes that saw him funding royal commissions, saving treasures for the nation and forcing museums to scrap admission charges — meanwhile he sold Breughels and Bellinis to bankers and billionaires.
Decoding the whispering gallery of collectors, dealers and curators, he negotiated the sale and purchase of paintings; bid on behalf of clients; advised on attributions; and passed judgment on the art historical — and fiscal — value of works.
He once claimed that the chances of discovering a missing masterpiece were considerably higher than winning the lottery.
In the early 1960s Leggatt was a patient of the osteopath Stephen Ward, who was involved in the downfall of John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, and later committed suicide while on trial for living off immoral earnings.
“It would have been the greatest tragedy if we hadn’t saved it.” In a letter to The Telegraph in 2011, Leggatt asked: “Would it not be delightful if there were to be an official portrait painted of Kate Middleton to celebrate her engagement to Prince William?