Seeger’s life was marked throughout by a restless romanticism. Having decided that his future was in Europe, in the 1960s he went to live in Greece. He acquired a Greek passport as well as a boat, which allowed him to indulge another of his great passions, for the sea. After the Colonels’ coup he decamped to the Canary Islands, finally coming to rest in London.
The defining moment of Seeger’s life came in 1979, when the artist John Craxton introduced him to the young Christopher Cone. For the remaining 32 years of Seeger’s life, he and Cone enjoyed an extraordinarily happy and loving partnership, with Cone’s warmth, perception and irreverence counterbalancing Seeger’s gentle introspection and adding new directions to his collecting.
One of the first — and rather unexpected — results was the purchase of Sutton Place, in Surrey, the former property of the oil magnate Paul Getty. Seeger and Cone set up the Sutton Place Heritage Trust to maintain the house and open it for concerts and exhibitions. They created the lake and commissioned the garden by Geoffrey Jellicoe. A striking orange triptych by Francis Bacon dominated the Great Hall.
Under Cone’s influence, British artists such as Fuseli, Samuel Palmer, Turner, Christopher Wood, Graham Sutherland and — above all — Ben Nicholson poured into the collection. They were joined by major Europeans such as Dubuffet, Beckmann, Cézanne, Miró, and by some contemporary American works, such as Jasper Johns’s Coloured Alphabet (1959).
At the same time the Picasso collection grew. “Collections sneak up on you,” said Seeger, “they start to have a life of their own. You buy four or five pieces and then start to fill gaps.” By the time he had filled in the “gaps”, it had grown to 123 works in all media. It was an intimate collection evenly spread across the artist’s career, with a large proportion of works which Picasso had given to friends and associates.
Seeger’s restless streak then reasserted itself. Sutton Place was sold, followed soon afterwards by the Picasso collection. Despite being offered at Sotheby’s in 1993 — a grim economic moment — its conspicuous quality ensured that it was one of those rare auctions in which not a single lot remained unsold. It realised $32 million.
Subsequent sales of the reburgeoning picture collection included more, newly acquired, Picassos, the Bacon triptych and a sensational “constellation” by Miró which had hung insouciantly in the kitchen of Seeger’s London flat.
A library of cookery books, a superb group of Gauguin prints and a collection of original Ernest Shepherd illustrations for the Winnie the Pooh books also came and went. In between times Seeger bought early English pottery and music manuscripts, and put together the definitive collection of Joseph Conrad manuscripts, memorabilia and first editions.
Stanley Seeger was a gentle and intensely private man. In his youth he was exceptionally good-looking; in his later years, with his long hair, weather-beaten face and swimming-pool-blue eyes, he resembled a kindly ancient mariner. His interests were cerebral, at times almost monastic. He spent much time composing music that was never performed, inhabiting an arcane territory where music met mathematics. He and Christopher Cone, who survives him, travelled widely, but came to rest in a much-loved house in North Yorkshire.
Confident in his taste and refreshingly independent, Seeger bought art for a variety of highly personal reasons. Once, uncharacteristically, he acquired an indifferent Picasso, explaining: “It was so bad it needed to be taken out of circulation.”