Art history jobsworths

May 25 2012

Image of Art history jobsworths

Picture: Royal Academy

Welcome to the first in an occasional series dedicated to people who make art historical life impossible, just because they can. You know the sort I mean; the room guards who shout at you for 'looking too closely' at pictures, or, in more distant times, the Royal Academician committee who banned female RAs from attending life classes (hence Angelica Kauffmann and Mary Moser's portraits included seperately in Zoffany's group painting above).

The first entrant in this particular hall of fame is the librarian at the Courtauld Institute Book Library who has just refused me admission, purely for the fun of it. For many years now, we have subscribed as 'friends' of the Courtauld (minimum, £500 pa). One of the perks is to be allowed access to the book library at all times. Normally, when my library card expires the staff look me up on their system and renew it, as we pay by direct debit. This year, all was going well, for the librarian in question could see me on his database as a member under 'museum and gallery members'. He was all set to admit me - until he realised that I was (gasp!) from a commercial gallery. So he decided he couldn't be bothered, and sent me packing. Thanks Mr Librarian!

Update - a reader writes:

I was sorry to hear about the Courtauld librarian - very annoying for you, and very out of date of them. 

It reminds me of the old days when you had to pretend you were visiting the Heinz Archive simply for fun.

I exchanged letters with a venerable (and ultimately very nice) eminence a while ago who noted that the Trade always want to barter academics' lifetime expertise into £££s on a price tag.

Very true, I said, but the Trade is the plough constantly churning up treasure for academics to publish and make their reputations on.

Presumably you sent some people round at closing time to 'explain things', the librarian in an armlock while the rest of the boys do a bit of mis-shelving.

Update II - the same reader adds:

I wouldn't want words written in indignation on your behalf to be taken askance by your academic readers. May I pay tribute to them? Everyone in the Trade is indebted to academic art historians for sharing their time, their opinions and their imprimatur so generously. Their work is a bedrock of centuries stretching back to Vasari, and anything we achieve is built on that.

Hear hear!

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