Category: Exhibitions

Re-assembling Charles I's art collection

June 29 2015

Image of Re-assembling Charles I's art collection

Picture: Louvre

Here's an exhibition I can hardly wait for: the Royal Academy will, in 2018, bring together a large number of works from the former collection of Charles I. Although many pictures were brought back into the royal collection by Charles II - after the great Commonwealth sale of the collection in 1649 - a large number of works escaped overseas, and these are the ones the RA (working with the Royal Collection Trust) hopes to bring back.

Another little-known loss to the royal collection came in the late 17th Century, when William III took a stack of pictures with him to Holland, to furnish his palace at Het Loo. The British government tried to get them back after William's death, but the Dutch resisted. Eventually some of them were even sold, after the Dutch government ran into financial trouble. 

More on the 2018 show here, where the Surveyor of the Queen's pictures, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, discusses the show's aims in further detail. 

A trip to Antwerp

June 26 2015

Image of A trip to Antwerp

Picture: BG

I was in Antwerp last week, and took the time to hunt out Van Dyck's birthplace, which is thought to be no. 4 on the Grotemarkt. In Van Dyck's day it was called 'Den Berendans', or 'the Bear Dance'. Today, the house is rather a sad sight - there's a rusting plaque declaring that Van Dyck was indeed born there, but the place itself is empty, having been a tea room by the look of it. Next door is the 'Pizzeria Antonio', which must be where the great man went for his Friday night takeaway.

In fact, no. 4 Grotemarkt is available to rent, if anyone fancies turning the place into a 'Van Dyck-huis', rather like the excellent Rubenshuis museum just down the road. If I was a billionaire, that's what I'd do.

Talking of the Rubenshuis, I went to have another look at the really excellent Rubens in Private exhibition. It closes on 28th June, so you have two days left to go and see it. I particularly enjoyed seeing the juxtaposition of Van Dyck's portrait of Rubens' first wife, Isabella Brant, and Rubens' own portrait of her. In the below snap, you can see Van Dyck's portrait on the left, and just in the distance in the next room, Rubens' portrait.

For me, Van Dyck will always be the better portraitist, for when you encounter a Van Dyck portrait you get the sense of truly individual human character. He (usually) resists the temptation to stick to a formulaic way of constructing heads, as so many portraitists do - in England, the likes of Lely and Kneller are obvious examples of artists who, it can feel, barely bothered to look at the person they were tasked with painting. Sometimes, it must be said, one does sense this towards the end of Van Dyck's career in England, when he was beginning to churn portraits out with the help of assistants - but it's rare.

Rubens, who was not fond of painting portraits, doesn't fall into this trap either, but can sometimes seem to produce works that border on the caricature - are they real people, we wonder? But the flipside of Rubens' approach is that his portraits are often full of character, even if this sometimes comes at the expense of verisimilitude, an age old problem for the portraitist. And in Rubens' portrait of Isabella Brant (below)* we see an example of a great artist painting a portrait that conveys both character and likeness to an almost perfect degree. In Van Dyck's portrait we feel confident to say 'this is what Isabella Brant looked like'. But in Rubens' portrait we can just as confidently say, 'this is what Isabella Brant was like'.

*I'm not entirely sure that hand is by Rubens by the way, could be an addition.

New Samuel Pepys exhibition

June 15 2015

Image of New Samuel Pepys exhibition

Picture: NPG

I think Samuel Pepys' diary would be the one book I'd take to the desert island - perfect for dipping in and out of, and always amusing. So I'm glad to see there's a new Samuel Pepys exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, opening on 20th November 2015, until 28th March 2016. Here's the bumf:

Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution opening at the National Maritime Museum on 20 November 2015 will be the largest ever exhibition about the famous diarist with 200 objects from national and international museums, galleries and private collections.

Pepys, one of the most colourful and appealing characters of the 17th-century, witnessed many of the great events that shaped Stuart Britain, bringing them brilliantly to life in his famous and candid diary. He lived through a time of turmoil which saw kings fighting for their crowns, and medieval London transformed into a world city following the devastation of the plague and the destruction of the Great Fire. He was a naval mastermind, a gossip and socialite, a lover of music, theatre, fine living and women. He fought for survival on the operating table and in the cut-throat world of public life and politics, successfully navigating his way to wealth and status until his luck, intimately entwined with the King’s fortunes, finally ran out.

Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution places this fascinating and multifaceted figure within a broader historical context, beginning at the moment a schoolboy Pepys played truant to witness the execution of King Charles I in 1649.  It explores the turbulent times which followed, including the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 in a year of personal crisis for Pepys as he underwent a life-threatening operation to remove a bladder stone the size of a snooker ball without anaesthetic or antiseptic. He was fortunate to survive the ordeal; his recovery perhaps, in part, due to being the first on the operating table that day, reducing the risk of infection.  The grisly and extremely painful procedure is graphically brought to life by 17th-century medical instruments (Royal College of Physicians).

Pepys began his now-famous diary on 1 January 1660 and was on board the ship that carried Charles II out of exile at the restoration of the monarchy later that year.  He met and conversed with the King and his brother, James, Duke of York (later James II), who promised Pepys ‘his future favour’.  In the diary he records his disapproval of the debauchery at court during Charles II’s reign, including the King’s many mistresses. But Pepys himself was frequently unfaithful to his wife.  The exhibition will display the famous Portrait of Charles II in Coronation Robes (Royal Collection), as well as objects connected to his mistresses including one of his love letters to Louise de Kéroualle which uses her nickname ‘Fubbs’, meaning chubby (Goodwood Collection).

During his lifetime Pepys was best known for his important work in running the naval affairs of England, a career that propelled him towards wealth and power and the creation of a truly ‘professional’ navy. His work also took him to the English colony of Tangier, a place notorious for drunkenness and immorality, all of which he observed and noted in his writings.

The penultimate section of Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution looks at the dawn of the scientific revolution.  Pepys was president of the Royal Society when Newton’s Principia Mathematica (Royal Society) was published, placing him at the centre of scientific debate.  Publications like Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (British Library), which Pepys thought ‘the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life’, made unseen worlds of lice and fleas visible.  While the matters discussed at the Society interested him, he confessed not always to understand what he heard.

The exhibition ends with extraordinary events of the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the overthrow of Pepys’s great patron, James II.  It shows how intimately Pepys’s own career was intertwined with larger national events outside his control.  With the accession of William and Mary in 1689, Pepys stepped down from office and began an active retirement, indulging his many passions.

Using the voice and personality of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution explores and interprets a remarkable time of great accomplishment, upheavals and excess.  It was a formative era in British history that saw the repositioning of the monarchy and the development of Britain’s place as a maritime, economic and political force on the world stage. 

Art History ads (ctd.)

May 15 2015

Image of Art History ads (ctd.)

Picture: BG

I saw many plugs for the Rijksmuseum's 'Late Rembrandt' when in Amsterdam airport yesterday.

'Spot the fake' at Dulwich Picture Gallery (ctd.)

April 28 2015

Image of 'Spot the fake' at Dulwich Picture Gallery (ctd.)

Picture: BBC/Dulwich Art Gallery

In January, Dulwich Picture Gallery hung a fake painting in place of one of their masterpieces, and invited visitors to see if they could identify it. I thought it was a good idea - anything to encourage close-looking. Now they've revealed which picture the fake was; Fragonard's Young Woman. More here.

The lure of the blockbuster

April 21 2015

Image of The lure of the blockbuster

Picture: TAN

I love a blockbuster exhibition, and I love smaller offbeat ones too. Many bemoan the prevalence of the former these days, but as Charles Saumarez Smith points out in The Art Newspaper,* blockbusters have always been with us. Do read the full article, which looks at the history of the blockbuster from the 19th Century in Britain. But Charles focuses onto his experience of such shows at the Royal Academy, of which he is Chief Executive:

In the past two decades, our most successful exhibitions have been the two Monet shows held in 1990 and 1999, which attracted 7,003 and 8,597 visitors a day respectively. The Van Gogh exhibition in 2010 drew 4,785 visitors a day; David Hockney in 2012 drew an average of 7,512 a day; and “Manet: Portraying Life” in 2013 drew 4,359 a day.  

What conclusions can one draw from a historical analysis of exhibition numbers? Statistically, exhibitions by the Impressionists have always come top, not just in Britain and the US, but most of all in Japan. The Pre-Raphaelites are also popular, as was evident when we exhibited Waterhouse in 2009, and when Tate Britain showed “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde” in 2012. In recent years, we have demonstrated that contemporary artists can be as popular as the Impressionists. The Hockney exhibition was a mass cultural phenomenon, not only in London but also, more surprisingly, at the Guggenheim Bilbao, wh ere the show again got more than 500,000 visitors in a city with a population of only one million.

While we study our visitor numbers, and have to, this does not preclude trying to ensure a varied exhibition programme. We try to develop a portfolio of exhibitions in which the more commercial shows subsidise the loss-leaders. This year, “Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined” drew 167,906 visitors; an average of 2,332 a day. Anselm Kiefer drew 184,910; an average of 2,341 a day. What the bald numbers disguise is that both were particularly successful in drawing new visitors to the Royal Academy.

*which has a zippy new website - looks nice.

Re-uniting Rubens three Magi

March 24 2015

Image of Re-uniting Rubens three Magi

Picture: NGA Washington

It's all go for Rubens at the moment. In Washington DC, the National Gallery has re-united Rubens' three c.1618 Magi paintings. There's a good online exhibition site here

Reynolds exhibition at the Wallace Collection

March 13 2015

Image of Reynolds exhibition at the Wallace Collection

Picture: Wallace Collection

There's what looks like a great new exhibition at the Wallace Collection on Joshua Reynolds. The approach is refreshingly old-fashioned, for it looks at what Reynolds did, and how he did it:

This exhibition offers a snapshot of Joshua Reynolds’s creative process, and reveals discoveries made during a four-year research project into the outstanding collection of his works at the Wallace Collection. We have selected not only significant portraits but lesser known ‘fancy pictures’ and a rare history painting, all of which will be shown side by side. Among the works on display will be famous pictures such as Nelly O’Brien, Mrs Abington as Miss Prue and Reynolds’s own Self Portrait Shading the Eyes.

By focusing on the themes of experimentation and innovation, we trace Reynolds’s working practice in two ways: on the material level, through his use of pigments and media; and on a conceptual level, through his development of composition and narrative.  What emerges is a vision of Reynolds as a pioneering painter, highly original in his approaches to pictorial composition. This drive to innovation is exemplified in his ambitious allusions to the great masters of the past, such as Titian and Rembrandt and his obsessive tendency to rework and revise his images as he painted.

The exhibition is co-curated by Mark Hallett, who recently published a fine book on Reynolds. Reviews here in The Guardian and The Independent

Rembrandt and the Royals

March 5 2015

Image of Rembrandt and the Royals

Picture: Rijksmuseum

Flicking through my new online subscription to the Art Newspaper, I saw the above photo of the Dutch king Willem (left) opening the Rijksmuseum's leg of 'Late Rembrandt'. And it made me wonder when the last time the Queen opened an exhibition in the UK. It's been a while, hasn't it?

When I'm king, it won't be possible to open any exhibition without first inviting me.

Update - a reader writes:

Quite:  when did any of our Royals last patronise ANYTHING cultural?? - honourable exception being the Duchess of Cambridge and the NPG - with many congratulations to Sandy N.  But honestly - only horses, elephants, Olympics (quite right)  but never a concert, exhibition, play anything of what most would call "culture" - alas.   Although I do like the Freud portrait!

Update II - another reader writes:

I’m not sure that the Queen ever “opens” exhibitions; rather she “views ”them either officially or unofficially.

I did see the Duke of Edinburgh at an early morning “view” of the Leonardo ex in the N.G .He’s rather shorter than one would imagine.

Anyhow the King of Holland can easily park his bike outside the Rijksmuseum. Try doing that in Trafalgar Sq.

By the way; just where are you in the line of succession?

'Rubens and his Legacy' at the Royal Academy (ctd.)

March 5 2015

Image of 'Rubens and his Legacy' at the Royal Academy (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

The reviews of this show have tended to be a little underwhelming, but I must say I thought it was really rather good. You should certainly go if you can. Yes, there may be a relative dearth of 'great' Rubens paintings, but the show is packed with lesser known gems by Rubens, with many oil studies - which for me is where we often see Rubens at his virtuoso best. It was more interesting, I thought, to see works one isn't familiar with. And I greatly enjoyed seeing the very plausible links made between Rubens' work and those of other artists, from his contemporaries to much more recent artists.  

On his blog, Neil Jeffares took issue with the thematic element of the show, which it is true is perhaps a little too contrived. It certainly doesn't do the catalogue any favours here. I think Neil's wider points about what can go wrong with exhibitions are spot on.  

There was one curious aspect to the exhibition - many times, reference was made to Rubens' celebrated portrait 'Le Chapeau de Paille' (above), and that work's omission from the exhibition was a notable absence. The labels explained that the portrait 'is not able to travel'. But it lives just down the road at the National Gallery! I can't easily understand why such a painting can't be very carefully taken less than a mile across London, from one climate controlled place to another. It's always struck me as a picture in quite good condition. Personally, I'd take it in a cab...

Update - also in the RA show is a small Rubens panel discovered in Oslo by the curator of the exhibition, Nico van Hout, back in 2012. For earlier AHN on that story see here. Having seen the picture, I think there can now be little doubt that it is indeed by Rubens. So well done him.

Lost Gauguin sculpture found

February 9 2015

Image of Lost Gauguin sculpture found

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports that a lost sculpture by Gauguin (above) has been discovered. It will feature in a Gauguin retrospective at the Fondation Beyeler. More here

Quick - to Margate!

January 23 2015

Image of Quick - to Margate!

Picture: ArtFund

The first leg of Sir Anthony Van Dyck's nationwide, 3 year tour begins tomorrow in... Margate. The National Portrait Gallery's newly acquired self-portrait is part of what looks to be a very impressive exhibition at Turner Contemporary on artist's self-portraits. The shop (above) is already bursting with Van Dyck goodies. I want one of those T-shirts!

On the new exhibition, Turner Contemporary's website says:

We reflect on artists' self-portraits from Sir Anthony van Dyck's last Self-portrait of 1640-1, recently saved for the nation, to Louise Bourgeois. Over 100 works, most of which are from the National Portrait Gallery London, are brought together for an expansive look at the artists’ self. 

Historical and contemporary artists sit side by side, including Sir Anthony van Dyck, Mary Beale, Louise Bourgeois, John Constable, Tracey Emin, Jason Evans, Lucian Freud, Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Angelica Kauffmann, Sarah Lucas, Gillian Wearing, Yinka Shonibare MBE, JMW Turner and Andy Warhol.

I'm definitely going to try and see this. Long way from Edinburgh though... The show is on until 10th May.

On the Turner Contemporary website (and here on You Tube) there's a most curious video of 'visitors' to the gallery discussion Van Dyck's self portrait, and what it 'means'. The discussion was apparently 'led by philosopher Ayisha de Larerolle', and the results 'inspired the script for the Comedy Art Audio Guide, narrated by Comedian Hugh Dennis.' Well, having watched the video, I'll be impressed if Dennis if can salvage anything remotely amusing from the discussion; much nonsense was talked. It might have been better with an art historian in charge. But these days I suppose everyone's view is valid, no matter how wrong it is.

Update - here are the dates for the rest of the Van Dyck tour:


  • Turner Contemporary, Margate: 24 January – 10 May 2015
  • Manchester Art Gallery: 21 May – 31 August 2015
  • National Portrait Gallery, London: 4 September 2015 – 3 January 2016
  • Dulwich Picture Gallery, London: 12 January – 24 April 2016
  • Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: May – August 2016
  • National Portrait Gallery, London: September – December 2016/January 2017
  • Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle: January – May 2017
  • Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh: June – August 2017
  • National Portrait Gallery, London: September – December 2017/January 2018


'Rubens and his Legacy' at the Royal Academy

January 21 2015

Image of 'Rubens and his Legacy' at the Royal Academy

Picture: Standard

I'm hearing mixed things about the RA's new Rubens show. Surprisingly, it seems that some exhibits - from the Hermitage - have not yet arrived, so there are gaps on the walls. Apparently they are expected next week. I've never seen that before.

The Telegraph gives the show four stars, calling it 'fascinating', as does the Evening Standard (alas, it's not the Great Brian). But Jonathan Jones in The Guardian gives it a real stinker of a review:

Rubens and His Legacy applies a simplistic theory and smashes as much evidence as it can into its rigid, short-sighted argument that Rubens is the fons et origo of almost everything painters have ever done. And not just painters: in an incredibly desperate extra room of the exhibition, curated by mediocre Royal Academician Jenny Saville, there are sculptures by Sarah Lucas and Rebecca Warren, whose carnality is roped in as “Rubens-like”. Come on. Two fried eggs and a baroque kebab?

Jones tells us that there are just six major Rubens paintings in the whole exhibition.

We must look forward to Waldemar's review in the Sunday Times. 

Update - there's lots of talk of Van Dyck being Rubens' 'pupil' - he wasn't, he was employed as an assistant, and had his own, independent practice beforehand.

Update II - a reader writes:

I'm just back from the RA Rubens exhibition. I'm with the 'stinker' reviewer. I found the quality very varied, mostly poor, the hanging very strange, and the headings of the various sections, not nessesarily ageeing with the paintings shown. I think the main problem being that the great paintings that inspired other artists weren't available for loan.

Vermeer on loan to Minneapolis

January 16 2015

Image of Vermeer on loan to Minneapolis

Picture: Rijksmuseum

Here's a nice story - to celebrate their centennial, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is planning a series of high-profile loans, and the first is Vermeer's Woman Reading a Letter (on loan from the Rijksmuseum). But to liven things up, the MIA isn't making any early announcement of the loans, just on the morning that the pictures are hanging. I think I prefer things that way - museum PR campaigns can sometimes happen so far ahead of time, that you forget about the event or exhibition by the time it comes around. More here in The Art Newspaper

One of the MIA loans is a major discovery I was involved with last year. But I have to keep shtum till it's announced. 

Update - the Vermeer and the National Gallery's Raphael Madonna of the Pinks are also being lent to the Timken Museum in San Diego. The loans are quid pro quos for Rembrandt loans to the National Gallery's current Late Rembrandt.  

Turner exhibition at Petworth

December 9 2014

Image of Turner exhibition at Petworth

Picture: Tate/National Trust

They're having a Turner exhibition at Petworth House, where Turner stayed and painted, and where much of Mike Leigh's new film 'Mr Turner' was made. More here

Burrell Collection at Bonhams

December 9 2014

Image of Burrell Collection at Bonhams

Picture: Burrell Collection

There was much debate last year (including here on AHN) about whether the Burrell Collection in Glasgow should be able to send its treasures out on loan, even overseas. Previously, they weren't able to, but a change in Scottish law now allows loans to be made, bringing in much needed funds while the buildings which house the collection are renovated.

The first stop for the collection is Bonhams in London, where (with free admission), you can see 50 items including the above Rembrandt self-portrait from 15th December to 9th January. I think this is a commendable initiative from Bonhams and the Burrell collection, and the works will look very fine in Bonhams' snazzy new showrooms.

While I'm on the subject of art trade loan exhibitions, pray allow me to plug one at John Mitchell Fine Paintings, which is just down the other end of Bond Street. They're having a show on depictions of Harrow School. Some of them are even for sale, if you're looking for a stocking filler for that hard-to-please Old Harrovian.  

Update - a reader writes:

The Burrell has always been able to make loans within the UK: the Rembrandt was at the National’s exhibition of self-portraits a few years ago and a substantial group was shown at The Hayward in the 1970s.

What’s new is being able to loan abroad, which was not permitted under the terms of the original gift.  Maybe in future, if it needs the money, the Wallace might consider breaking the will of its donor?

It is sometimes a shame that the Wallace can't lend.* That said, at least at the Wallace they go in for generous hanging, with two or even three rows of pictures, so there isn't too much of an issue of works remaining unseen in storage.

They still don't dust their frames though.

Update II - more on the Burrell items on display here in The Guardian.

* I earlier said that the Wallace can't borrow, which is wrong; it has a small exhibition room downstairs, where many fine shows can be seen.

Koons take down

December 9 2014

Image of Koons take down

Picture: Exposition-Paris

There's a good review of Jeff Koons' new show at the Pompidou centre in Paris by Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times. Here's the main conclusion:

As the market has endorsed and enriched him, Koons has swollen, in his two latest series “Antiquity” and “Gazing Ball”, into the most tedious self-imitation. “Balloon Venus” blends his own inflatables lexicon with the archaic forms of the Venus of Willendorf. Outsize plaster replicas of classical figures – “Farnese Hercules”, “Ariadne” – bearing bright balloon-like glass spheres are destined, no more and no less than the garden ornaments they incorporate, for manicured suburban lawns.

“He says, if you’re critical, you’re already out of the game,” announced Koons’s dealer David Zwirner when these repetitive follies launched last year. Dollar power goes some way to explaining why Koons’s smooth sales-speak – “when people make judgments, they close all the possibility around them” – is not seen for what it is: a reversal of the spirit of intellectual openness that has allowed art to flourish since the Enlightenment. And of course it is obvious why Koons, like any entrepreneur boasting a luxury monopoly, directs his factory to produce a controlled stream of high-end, high-tech baubles. Less obvious is why this trading currency for the super-rich should interest the rest of us, or why museums and critics are endorsing it.

Quite. But then I'm "out of the game".

6,000 new 'Late Rembrandt' tickets

December 3 2014

Image of 6,000 new 'Late Rembrandt' tickets

Pictures: National Gallery / BG

6,000 new tickets have been released for Late Rembrandt at the National Gallery, and you can even go to the exhibition till 9pm on Sundays. More here.

I was amused to see how heavily they're pushing Rembrandt-esque gifts at the National Gallery's shop. There's a Rembrant plate (with his self-portrait on) for £40, a faux gold painted handbag, various furry things like cushions and scarves, a not very enticing small framed reproduction of a self-portrait, and...

... a Rembrandt brolly!

New Royal Collection display at Hampton Court

November 21 2014

Image of New Royal Collection display at Hampton Court

Picture: Guardian

Excellent news from the Royal Collection and Historic Royal Palaces; the 'Cumberland Rooms' at Hampton Court Palace have been refurbished and re-hung with some of the Royal Collection's finest paintings. There's even a Rembrandt self-portrait. Many pats on the back for both the RC and HRP for helping get so much great art out on display.

The Guardian's Jonathan Jones has been to see the new display, and writes:

The Cumberland Art Gallery – named after the Georgian prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, for whom in the 1730s William Kent created the suite of palace rooms where the superbly lit and sensitively selected new gallery has now been installed – is the Royal Collection’s latest attempt to display its art to us, the public. It is like looking into the Queen’s jewel box. This is a much more convincing royal art space than the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, which always feels like a liveried adjunct to the royal tourist industry and has never succeeded in competing with London’s big museums – its exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings a few years ago, for instance, drew nothing like the attention the National Gallery’s Leonardo show got. [...]

Curator Brett Dolman says the thinking behind the new gallery was precisely to free the art from “heritage”. Paintings by artists as lofty as Rubens can be seen all over this palace, as part of its decor or even as props in tableaux of royal splendour.

“We’re aware that when you hang paintings in that way you sometimes can’t get near to the art,” he concedes. So the new gallery “is where art speaks for itself”.

It does so absorbingly in what amounts to a permanent gallery of some of the Queen’s very best paintings. The Rembrandt is stupendous. Admittedly the Queen has some other mighty Rembrandts that are not on view here, as well as a drop-dead Vermeer. But there are enough splendours of Renaissance and Baroque painting to satisfy anyone. Two Caravaggios reveal the opposing sides of his vision – a boy peels fruit in one of his early sensual works while Jesus calls his disciples to him in a sombre Christian scene. I was more moved however by a painting of St Jerome looking downward with deep introspective eyes by the 17th-century French master of light Georges de la Tour.

The new display is largely due to one of HRP's energetic curators, Brett Dolman, who I'll embarass by identifying here as posing in the above picture on the left, where he and a colleague are partaking in The Useless White Glove Photo Opportunity. Brett has done a great job persuading the Royal Collection to lend so many treasures, and for turning a part of Hampton Court Palace which used to be a little lost into a destination in its own right. He kindly asked me along when the Cumberland rooms were mid-renovation, and asked my views on the potential hang. Of course, I lobbied for Van Dycks to feature prominently... I can't see from the photos in The Guardian's piece whether they are - here's hoping!

Update - a reader writes:

This Gallery sounds magnificent. I can't wait to go and am especially pleased to see Watts's Lady Holland on view (it was cleaned for my exhibition Watts Portraits at the NPG  in 2004).

But, and this is a big but, it costs an eye-watering £17.05 to go (more if you pay on the door--£18.20) because it is included in admission to all of Hampton Court Palace.

Doesn't this raise the issue of the status of the paintings in the Royal Collection and just whose paintings they are?   I relish the masterpieces in the Royal Collection, admire its publications and value the expertise of its staff, so I certainly don't have an answer to this one. But many people might think twice about paying that much to go and see those wonderful paintings.

Another reader, on a similar theme, adds:

Just a thought on the Royal Collection hanging some of its gems at Hampton Court. Whilst this is good news, it does (as Jonathan Jones alludes) throw light on what is absent.

Ever since seeing Tim's Vermeer earlier in the year (silly concept but a decent film) I've wanted to see Vermeer's Music Lesson and yet because it usually hangs in the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace I'm faced with having to await an honour or pay £20.50 to visit the state rooms in the summer. Why is this painting not on regular public show?

We're told that the Queen does not own the Royal Collection, she merely holds it in trust for the nation (and her successors). Well that's potentially a benign technicality as long as we have access to its treasures. But this is one of the world's great paintings (so I'm told) and it is hidden from most people, most of the time. Imagine if the National Gallery had a Vermeer that was in an upstairs room which you could only see when the Director invited you to or you had to pay £20 whilst he was on his summer holiday, what would the reaction be?

Yet with the Royal Collection this is accepted. The Music Lesson is not of a royal, it was not painted for a royal or to be hung in Buckingham Palace and as such there is no particular significance for it being there.

So if the Queen only holds it in trust for us, as she maintains, then could we see it please?

Update II - a curator writes:

Amid all the glamorous Old Masters, nice to see Frank Holl’s grave and lovely picture prominently hung  - a seriously under-rated painter.

I agree. I love Holl's portraits - for me, he's often on a par with the likes of Millais and Watts.

Update III - a reader writes:

May I take up the baton and run ( or totter in my case) with it a while ?

It seems to me that your recent correspondents may have missed the fact that the Royal Collection is indeed a private collection and is funded entirely by admission charges ,and other revenue raising enterprises, and from time to time I dare say the Queen opens her handbag to help fund an acquisition as indeed, she has done on many occasions in the past. So far as I know, there is no public funding whatever.

The works of art on display are changed about and loaned to exhibitions all over the world  viz the Watts of Lady Holland; and I am told such loan requests are sanctioned by the Queen personally.

I am certain that the vast majority of the works of art ( let’s not forget the furniture, sculpture and applied arts) is on view at most times of the year, throughout the royal residences, with only a small percentage displayed in the private apartments. All such places are staffed and maintained all of which has to be paid for.

All of these factors make it a fairly pricey visit, and short of hanging “Sponsored by Honda “ flags outside Buckingham Palace; I can’t see how else they can continue to delight us.

I have to say I'm inclined to agree with this. I think there's something rather magical about the fact that the Royal Collection is what we might call a 'working collection'. That is, it has a function which goes beyond the usual one of public display, and retains something of the original purpose of a 'royal collection'; that of pure decoration, be it in an ambassador's waiting room or the Queen's private study. Therefore, we ought to be patient that while I suppose 'we', the public' really own the collection, we cannot always see everything in it. Not being able to see a picture because it's being looked by the Queen is much more acceptable to me than the various excuses our museums come up with for keeping 80% of their works locked away in storage. And, for me, the Royal Collection staff more than make up for any access issues by consistently putting on some of the best exhibitions inthe world.

Update IV - a reader from Italy writes:

In my opinion the British royal collection is better 'visible' and better studied than many museums in Your country or abroad.

I think to the wonderful catalogues of Castiglione drawings , 2013, or Italian Renaissance and Baroque pictures, 2007 for example...

And it's true they often loan very important pieces to scientific exhibitions.

I live in Italy, and I could see wonderful royal paintings loaned to the Carracci exhibition in Bologna, 2006, a beautiful Cagnacci in Forlì,  2008, a supposed Raphael portrait in Urbino, 2009, and also in 2003 the Duccio tryptich in Siena at the monographic show (the NG or the American museums didn't loan anything). I remember also a Mantegna 'triumph' in Paris in the 2008 big  exhbition.

So the RC has to be congratulated for the care but also for sharing the Queen treasures (and look at the web site!). Sure, it's expensive to visit the Residences, but also if you visit the Louvre or the Vatican Florence and Siena now we have to pay for visit churches! 

Miniature heaven at Philip Mould

November 7 2014

Image of Miniature heaven at Philip Mould

Picture: Philip Mould

If you like your art 'in little', as they used to say in the 17th Century, then do go and see a new exhibition devoted to the British 18th Century miniaturist John Smart at Philip Mould in London soon, from 25th November to 9th December. Smart was one of the best, and spent much of his career in India. Here's the blurb:

Philip Mould & Co. is delighted to announce the forthcoming exhibition ‘John Smart (1741-1811), A Genius Magnified’. The exhibition will feature forty-five portrait miniatures from a European private collection with examples spanning Smart’s whole career. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue detailing hitherto unknown information on Smart’s life and career, and will be the first publication dedicated to his life and work since 1964, when Daphne Foskett published her seminal monograph ‘John Smart: The Man and His Miniatures.’

More here.

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