Who should get the kangaroo?
August 27 2013
The National Maritime Museum has put up a commendable fight to acquire George Stubbs' two paintings of a kangaroo and a dingo, aided by a most handsome donation of £3.2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The two pictures are under a temporary export bar, having been bought for £5.5m by the National Gallery of Australia.
The Grumpy Art Historian believes that the pictures should go to Australia, and I can see an argument for that. But there's a strong claim I think for these pictures being intrinsically 'British', despite their antipodean subject matter; the pictures were painted from only sketches and descriptions, and, for the kangaroo, the skin of a dead one, so they're very much related to contemporary British interest in Australia, as conveyed by Captain Cook and Joseph Banks' voyages. The pictures have never left Britain before. If they'd been painted by Stubbs on the spot in Australia the case might be different. Here's hoping the NMM secures the necessary £1.5m by November to keep the pictures in the UK.
Update - in an article on the Museum Association website entitled 'Stupid Curators', MA Head of Communication Maurice Davies says the battle between Greenwich and the National Gallery of Australia is a 'farcical row' all about 'curatorial glory':
It turns out the Australian National Gallery has bought them, but they’ve been export barred so Greenwich can try to raise enough millions to buy them, which I guess rests primarily on the strength of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s nationalism.
Now the two museums are shouting, or at least sniffing, at each other through the press. In The Guardian Christine Riding, senior paintings curator at the Maritime Museum, claims: “The Stubbs paintings, which have never left England, would be a transformational acquisition.”
In The Telegraph Australian National gallery Director Ron Radford dismisses the London claim as “very tenuous” and says: “These paintings should be in Australia, in the national art collection… they should belong to the people of Australia.”
Honestly! You do wonder how much the two protagonists really care about the people rather than their own curatorial glory.
And, as ever, the people are far more sensible, with many comments making the same point as a user named necronancy in the Guardian: “Couldn't they share them? Why does it always have to be all or nothing?”
As so often, while we are preoccupied with our arcane museum arguments, the public cut through it all with the perfect solution.
You sometimes have to wonder whose side the MA is on.