Bray's 'Private Passions'

March 30 2018

Image of Bray's 'Private Passions'

Picture: Art Fund

There was a good episode of BBC Radio 3's series 'Private Passions' with Xavier Bray, the new director of the Wallace Collection (here). In it, Bray touches on the issues caused by the fact that the Wallace is a 'closed' collection; that is, it cannot acquire or lend anything, which in turn makes it difficult to borrow things too - or, in fact, to do anything 'new'. This stems from the will of Lady Wallace, who said that the bequest of her late husband's - Sir Richard Wallace - collection must remain 'together' and 'unmixed with other objects of art'. This is despite the fact that when he was alive Sir Richard was an enthusiastic lender of his works to exhibitions.

As I mentioned in my recent FT piece on how collections can grow and evolve even in today's challenging funding environment, some believe that, as the 19th-century US museum director G. Brown Goode said, a “finished museum ... is a dead museum.” 

Whilst there is of course a unique beauty in the Wallace remaining an unchanged reflection to its founder's wishes, change and evolution is crucial in helping keep institutions fresh and motivated. After all, the interiors of the Wallace are constantly changed, and not always to good effect. Personally, I can only see advantages in the Wallace having the freedom to lend and borrow as every other institution has. Is it time for Lady Wallace's bequest to be sensitively updated?

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