Photography in galleries - Van Dyck's view

August 14 2014

Image of Photography in galleries - Van Dyck's view

Pictures: British Museum

I was asked on the BBC yesterday whether great artists of the past would have approved of photography in museums. My answer was unhesitatingly yes, as the sketchbooks of Old Master artists around the world attest. I cited Van Dyck's Italian sketchbook, which, as you can see from the page above [from the British Museum], contains hundreds of lightning quick drawings as he captured what he could from the great masterpieces by the likes of Titian that he went to Italy specifically to see. If he'd had a smartphone, you can bet he would have been an avid snapper of great paintings. 

Can you imagine someone saying to Van Dyck, 'no, you cannot make a sketch of that Titian, I insist you simply look at it for a long time instead'? Those who say we must ban photography to make people appreciate art 'in a better way' make the same argument. 

By the way, while I'm on Van Dyck's Italian sketchbook, allow me to show you perhaps my favourite drawing by him. It's a beautifully observed drawing of an ostrich. To the right of the image, however, is a hurried sketch of the ostrich head-on, with its wings flapping. Above it, Van Dyck has written; 'If the ostrich gets angry, run'.  

Update - Nathaniel Hepburn, the new director of the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, tweets:

I am an avid photographer in galleries & it is patronising to be told that I am 'shooting not looking' by some in the NO campaign. How do they know how long I have looked before shooting, and many times after. Grrr

But Jon Sharples tweets:

This sort of specious reasoning is very bad for @GrumpyArt's health!

Dr Matt Loder of the University of Essex tweets:

I don't always see eye-to-eye with @arthistorynews but on photography in the NG I am in rapturous agreement!

If you're not on Twitter by the way, I do recommend it, and all the above are worth following. 

Update II - a reader writes:

I hadn't seen the Van Dyck Ostrich before your post today, so thank you for including it, such a fun sketch and now also one of my favourites.

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