Important new conference for UK collections

April 2 2012

Image of Important new conference for UK collections

Picture: Philip Mould

Regular readers will know that I occasionally bang on about the need to establish a panel of experts to advise regional galleries on their art collections. This is particularly necessary now that deaccessioning is increasingly taking place in the UK, for we must avoid the situation in the US, where good pictures are sometimes deaccessioned by mistake (as copies for example, like the above Romney). As a dealer, I've profited from such mistakes - but I don't want to see the same happen here. So I've been making the case for a panel of experts for some time, not only on the site here, but also at a conference last year on deaccessioning at the National Gallery, in The Art Newspaper, and in a chapter in the new Museums Etc book, Museums and the Disposals Debate, edited by Peter Davies.

So I'm delighted to report that this is actually going to happen, and all thanks to the Public Catalogue Foundation. The PCF is perfectly placed to be the lead body on this, not least because they have put together the invaluable photographic database of every publicly owned oil painting in the UK. On 25th April, the PCF is organising a conference at the National Gallery to look into the various issues. The project is to be called OPEN - the Oil Painting Expert Network. Here's what the PCF says: 

Over the last nine years the PCF’s team of researchers has had unparalleled access to the nation’s oil painting collection. This has provided valuable insights into the state of painting catalogue records and the guardianship of these paintings. Unsurprisingly, it has found that the state of records varies greatly between collections and that there are significant gaps in knowledge about paintings’ artists, subjects and execution dates.

There are a few reasons for this. Only a fraction of the participating collections have staff with fine art expertise or other relevant knowledge. This is because many of the institutions involved in the project are small museums with limited resources or non-art specialisms and others are not museums at all. Furthermore, many of the museums – both large and small – have lost fine art expertise due to financial cutbacks.

The PCF has also found that those collections without expertise often do not know where to turn for help. 

There will be a number of speakers, including Peter Funnell of the National Portrait Gallery, Nigel Llewellyn of Tate, Francis Russell of Christie's, Matthew Hargreaves from the Yale Center for British Art, Val Boa of the McLean Museum, and, er, me. If you would like to attend the conference, or would like to contribute to OPEN in any way, please contact the PCF: open[at] And if you know of anyone else who may be interested, or whom OPEN could do with hearing from, please spread the word.

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