Houghton Revisited (ctd.)

May 22 2013

Image of Houghton Revisited (ctd.)

Pictures: BG

If you're in the UK this summer, you must visit the new exhibition at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. To recap, Houghton Revisited sees a large number of the Old Masters amassed by Britain's first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, return to the house from the Hermitage in St Petersburg, where they have been, more or less, since 1779, when the whole collection was sold to Catherine the Great. On display are works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Bordone, Jordaens, Murillo, and, best of all from my point of view, four exquisite English-period Van Dycks.

I went to Houghton last week, and there aren't superlatives enough to describe my admiration for those behind the exhibition. What an ambitious thing to do. A hefty AHN pat on the back to all involved. 

What struck me most about the Hermitage pictures was their extraordinary condition. I don't think I have never seen a Van Dyck in as good a condition as his Portrait of Henry Danvers, Earl of Danby (below, which must be one of the best British portraits ever painted). It seemed that every stroke, detail, and glaze was exactly as the artist left it. The picture's untouched state means there is a great deal to be said for perennially cash-strapped museums - that is, ones which could not, in the old days of scrubbing, afford to constantly clean their paintings.

My tip for visitors to Houghton Revisited is to take a pair of binoculars. There's a lot of roping off, and it's hard to get close to the paintings. Many are hung high, in the places they used to be. It's also quite dark in there.

Update - Brian Sewell also, though more lucidly, says that you must go and see this excellent show.

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