July 17, 2007

Paintings in the National Gallery: national heritage, art-historical legacy or status symbols?

Chris Bryant reports in The Times: “The news that seven major artworks on loan to the National Gallery, London, might be sold and may leave the country has a depressing air of inevitability. They are magnificent pieces. Titian’s Portrait of a Young is a serene early portrait, less fleshy than others, sparse in colour yet rich in detail. Although it has only been on loan to the National Gallery for 15 years, it sat in Temple Newsam House near Leeds for more than 150 years. Likewise, the five paintings by Nicolas Poussin, the Sacraments, have been on loan only since 2002, but were in the Duke of Rutland’s Belvoir Castle for centuries. And few works could be more important to national heritage than Rubens’s exuberant Apotheosis of King James I, which belongs to Viscount Hampden and may also be up for sale.” Read more.

Rachel Campbell-Johnston rebuts: “The loss rips a hole in the fabric of our heritage. Or does it? Fewer than a half of the paintings are by British artists or artists working in Britain. The rest were, in the first place, acquired from abroad by a nation which had produced no Titians or Rembrandts of its own. Art was a trophy by which competing countries could manifest their power. Paintings were not icons of an art-historical legacy. They were symbols of status. And canvases were swapped between monarchs and connoisseurs and collectors like children swap Pokémon cards in the hope of getting the whole set.” Read more.

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