ARTHUR GILBERT is as casual as his art collection is ornate. He receives visitors to the Beverly Hills office of his Gilbert Financial Corp. seated in a crimson-and-gold-upholstered chair, but behind the Florentine inlaid desk, he's wearing tennis shorts and Reeboks.
Just as casually, Gilbert, a British-born real estate developer, has spent $50 million to surround himself with the trappings of more sumptuous eras. The accumulation of two decades of relentless collecting by Gilbert and his wife, Rosalinde--more than 200 silver and gold artworks from the late 15th Century to the 19th Century--are on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art today through Nov. 6.
Gilbert, a museum trustee, is somewhat nonchalant about his hobby. An easygoing man of 75, he likes to chase down new acquisitions but says that once he buys a piece, he loses interest in it. Others are not so indifferent. Timothy Schroder, the museum's curator of decorative arts, calls the Gilberts' silver and gold the "most outstanding and broadly based collection in private hands in the United States."
Dominated by British silver, the exhibition includes pieces as disparate as a simple bowl, circa 1480, and a howdah, an opulently detailed carriage that conveyed 19th-Century Indian rajahs. Among the candelabra, tankards and tureens engraved with the coats of arms of British peerage, including 28 pieces by goldsmith Paul de Lamerie, are a few oddities: a cup made from an ostrich egg, for instance, and one of rhinoceros horn. Other pieces are intriguing for their history: One silver bowl belonged to the family of the Princess of Wales.