July News

 

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ITS News July‏


 
President: Mary Archer-Shee
Vice-President: Stanley Warburton Chairman: Robert Walmsley
Treasurer: Dominique Lambert Secretary: Selby Whittingham
 
At a fundraising event for Turner Contemporary, Margate, held at the RIBA on
17 June, Sir Nicholas Serota said that the Tate will lend to it "any Turner
it [TCM] chooses" (Londoner's Diary, Evening Standard, 18 June). This is in
line with that Tate policy of scattering the Turner Bequest which is fatally
destructive of the idea of a proper Turner Gallery as Turner conceived it.
 
This could only happen with the connivance of Turner's admirers today, who
either keep any disagreement to themselves or actively support a policy
which will eventually end in the disaster of a plane crash (that of the Air
France airbus reminding us of that hazard). A discussion of past disasters
and inherent risks appears in Nuances 40/41, 2008/2009, pp.7-10, 37-45
(www.aripa.org). It also discusses the dangerous EU policy of encouraging
collections to travel (pp.46-7). In the same issue Paul Pfister treats of
the French landscapists from de Loutherbourg to Daubigny, their interest in
aerial space and restorers' ignorance thereof. A complementary free
exhibition, Corot to Monet, is at the National Gallery 8 July - 20
September.
 
Among the supporters of scattering worldwide is the artist Sandy Mallet.
More intelligently in a piece in the Antiques Trade Gazette (16 May,
"Creating a feast for all the senses") he has taken a leaf out of the Turner
Museum's book, advocating involvement of all five senses in the appreciation
of art, and pointing out the long association of painting and music.
 
Professor Ken Howard RA is one of a number of artists who paints while
listening to music. Our visit to his London studio (formerly that of Sir
William Orpen, Michael Noakes etc.) on 14 May was much enjoyed by all. Ken
and Dora hospitably entertained us and Ken related the story of his life and
the saga of his gradual acquisition of this treasured studio. He has just
completed the first volume of his autobiography. A free exhibition of his
paintings is at the Royal Academy 15 June - 23 September, 4-6pm.
 
The Turner Museum has reported a step towards creating a new museum
building - the provision of a site at Sarasota of two acres. I have been
appointed its UK ambassador.
 
In the July/August issue of The Jackdaw David Lee asserts that, while most
modern figurative art is "a shocking disappointment", "we are living through
a golden age of political drawing at least the equal of Scarfe, Tidy and
Steadman in the 1960s." Some time ago I suggested that if Sandycombe Lodge
should be developed as a place for young artists, as Professor Livermore
proposed, Turner would recognise today's cartoonists more than most other
modern artists. However, though his own figures occasionally provoke an
appreciative, rather than a contemptuous, smile, he did not have the
ability, much as he may have wished, to begin to emulate Rowlandson or
Gillray, a fact about which some of his admirers today remain in denial as
of so much else.
 
It is reported in the same issue that "12 [120?] paintings by Turner have
been lent for a show at the National Art Museum of China in Peking. The
cost was met by the British taxpayer after commercial sponsors couldn't be
found owing to the fact that they're nearly all bankrupt. The Chinese,
tight little bastards, were apparently not prepared to commit themselves to
any financial liability. This is the thanks you get for paying them almost
a million pounds for the privilege of showing a handful of pot warriors last
year at the British Museum." The bartering of the Turner Bequest of course
has only partly been about profit.
 
There is a case for using art as an arm of diplomacy, which is presumably
the idea of the British government. There is another argument for making
art widely available by sending it constantly on tour, as is now done with
the Turner Bequest. There is yet another argument for concentrating major
works in a few capitals such as London so that they can be shown as part of
the whole history of civilisation and where there are many tourists. It is
evident that these arguments, though sometimes used simultaneously by our
government/museum establishment anxious to ward off challenges to the
arbitrary way in which it behaves, can be contradictory. Art is seen as
being at once national and also internationally unnationalistic. Some
reactions to the opening of the Parthenon Museum at Athens on 20 June, taken
with the treatment of the Turner Bequest, illustrate this useful confusion
once more.
 
Sir Patrick Cormack FSA (sometime member of the Turner Society committee)
was supported by Austin Mitchell (tabler of the Overturners' early day
motions) in his bid to be elected Speaker of the House of Commons. No doubt
he had hoped for support from Labour as a Tory wet, but being himself a
piece of heritage he hardly met the cry of the moment for Reform and
received very few votes. The scandal of MPs and Peers is less that they are
often greedy - Roger Scruton has said that he has not met anyone who is
not - than that they are mostly futile. One despairs of the Culture Select
Committee (the chairmanship of which Cormack was also denied in favour of
someone, Gerald Kaufman, with no interest in the plastic arts). Some
proposed reforms may make this worse. Reduction in the number of MPs,
though benefiting the two main parties, will tip the balance in favour of
the executive further, and one may wonder what paragons will seek election
to the House of Lords.
 
Graham Heathcote, who has undergone a major operation and a second spell in
hospital, announces the launch of his long-awaited blog -
www.putneypapers.com
 
A hotchpotch of a blog, www.josephwilliamturner.blogspot.com , on 8 June
detailed a walk headed "Turner's bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale".
 
In The Green Fuse: Pastoral Vision in English Art 1620-2000 (Antique
Collectors Club 2007) by Jerrold Northrop Moore the Liber Studiorum plate,
Pembury Mill, is reproduced.
 
A further impetus towards a full account of Turner's family has been given
by new claimants to a relationship with the artist. One has suggested that
the most decisive way forward would be for everyone concerned to undergo a
DNA test. On his mother's side, a descendant of his Newman cousins
(themselves descended from a Bishop of Peterborough), Richard Wasey Chopping
(1917-2008), was the subject of obituaries in the main London dailies. He
was a friend of Francis Bacon, but noted more especially as the illustrator
of the covers of the James Bond novels. A descendant of the Mercer/Norton
cousins, Glen Johnson, of mixed race and rising 25, was bought for £6m by
Chelsea Football Club, transferred to Portsmouth in 2007 and has now just
signed for Liverpool.
 
Professor Norman Gash CBE FBA (1912-2009) was the subject of an obituary in
The Times (18 June), which pronounced his biography of Sir Robert Peel
"perhaps the most judicious of all important modern biographies." Twenty
years ago he said of the 1st edition of An Historical Account of the Will of
J.M.W.Turner, R.A, "on your main conclusions I find myself very much in
agreement." The Tate in its wisdom has begged to differ!
 
23 September 2009 - 24 January 2010. Turner and the Masters. Tate Britain.
We hope to arrange a society visit. £12.50 / £11.50 / £10.50.
 
At Christie's on 7 July JMW Turner's watercolour 'Off Yarmouth': A Steamship
off the Coast in Rough Weather unsurprisingly reached £301,250, the top end
of its estimate.
(
http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?from=salesummary&intObj
ectID=5221742&sid=b092a431-d22e-4055-af11-775b50c0ec87 ). For many this must
be a quintessential Turner, and that is all that need be said about it.
However the catalogue of course has much more to say, mostly to the reader's
confusion. It points out that the 1979 Wilton/Forsdyke catalogue dated it to
c.1840 and bracketed it with a group of "Yarmouth coast scenes". (This was
the same date as the not wholly dissimilar Rockets and Blue Lights, the
subject of a scandalous museum cover-up a few years ago, over which the
Turner experts did not exactly cover themselves with glory). Christie's note
learnedly goes on, "Turner is not known certainly to have visited Yarmouth
later than 1824." That is the date of pencil sketches he made along the East
Anglian coast. It continues however, "The present watercolour depicts a ship
making its way through the churning waters of the Solent off Yarmouth on the
western side of the Isle of Wight." What is one to make of this?! If one
looks at the index of Wilton/Forsdyke one reads "Yarmouth, Norfolk."
Admittedly the entries give the titles promiscuously as Great Yarmouth and
Yarmouth. Identification with the first is presumably partly established by
the seeming appearance in some (but not the lot just sold) of Nelson's
Column at Great Yarmouth. That was designed by William Wilkins RA, a native
of Norwich, to whose daughter's longterm fiancé (c.1845-59), Revd William
Towler Kingsley, two of the watercolours first belonged. (Kingsley
(1815-1916), a friend of Turner and Ruskin, is the subject of a forthcoming
biography; in 1980 I met a former Yorkshire friend of his). So presumably
Wilton/Forsdyke meant Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. The catalogue entry proceeds
on firmer ground with evidence about the paper supplied by Peter Bower. This
he dates to 1829. "This is the only Yarmouth subject so far identified that
has been executed on Steart's flecked blue paper: the Yarmouth subjects
identified by Wilton and dated c.1840 ... are all executed on very different
papers and larger sheets, much larger than seen in this work." It would
seem, therefore, that the author of this entry (for which the main
acknowledgement is made to Martin Butlin, whose ridiculous behaviour is feat
ured in a review in the next issue of ArtWatch UK Journal) does not,
whatever he/she says to the contrary, really believe Wilton or that this is
a view off Yarmouth, plain or Great. For "it is particularly close to A
Boat and Red Buoy in a Rough Sea in the Hickman Bacon collection" (W914)
which Wilton dated to c.1830. The supposed visit to Great Yarmouth c.1840
is undocumented, the nearest he is recorded to have got to it then being
Harwich.
 
A lot which greatly exceeded its estimate was a pleasant group portrait by
Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland. A rather dull portrait of Francis Burdett,
father of the famous radical, by the now fashionable Wright of Derby did
much as expected. Van Dyck's Lady Poulett, also unexciting, "plundered from
Hinton St George" (from where my newly restored Watteau also came), only
reached the bottom of its estimate. La Chute d'eau by Turner's idol,
Watteau,, exhibited only once, in 1951, and a rare and delightful curiosity,
was cheap at £121,250 (estimate £100-150,000), even granted that it is small
and early. Five years ago Guillaume Glorieux linked it with a print after
Velvet Breughel rather than, as more usual, with Titian. The foreground
and middle ground composition may derive from that, but the distant
landscape is reminiscent of Campagnola. For the waterfall he may have
looked at Salvator or Ruisdael and for the figures at Gillot. Yet the whole
is quite different from all of these. Watteau, Music and Theatre will be at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art 22 September - 29 November.
 
Sothebys divided its Turner watercolours between its drawings and paintings
sales on 9 July. At the latter was Virginia Water, which at £881,250
exceeded its estimate. The catalogue note gave a more convincing account
than had Citizen Shanes of Turner's relationship with George IV, who failed
to respond to the artist's overtures, leaving B.G.Windus as the first
recorded owner of this watercolour. (Windus is still mistakenly described
as "a coachmaker" rather than - a different thing - as "Coachmaker", i.e. a
member of the Coachmakers' Company). The first owner of Gledhow Hall (lot
126 in the drawings sale) was stated categorically to have been John Dixon
(1753-1825) of Gledhow Hall, Yorkshire, and Weeting Hall, Suffolk, whereas
David Hill in 1980 in the Turner in Yorkshire exhibition gave that only as a
supposition. It fetched £181,250. St Michael Bonneville (lot 146, having
appeared at Sothebys already two years ago) got £175,250, and a beautiful
sketch not recorded by Wilton, Genoa from the Sea, £121,250. Also
unrecorded by Wilton was Grange Bridge, Borrowdale (lot 122, £13,750), an
early work.
 
The fulmination by Dr Nicholas Penny against the constant noise and events
in Trafalgar Square made the front page in The Times on 10 July, accompanied
by an editorial taking the opposite standpoint. Penny made two valid
points - that noise is not a suitable backdrop to the appreciation of the
old masters and that the frequent staged events set at naught the carefully
orchestrated classical layout of the square. The first point was also made
by Lord Overstone to the 1861 House of Lords Select Committee on the Turner
Bequest. The sensible thing then would have been to move the National
Gallery elsewhere, as the Prince Consort and many others had argued, but, as
we know, the sensible thing was never done then - or often since. The
editorial reasonably points out that the square has always been a national
arena, often a lively one. Whether the recent extension of that to present
day antics and incessant staged events is desirable is another matter. If
one has any feeling for the aesthetic qualities of the square, one must
reply in the negative. The movement towards noise in aid of the appearance
of liveliness, however, is a much wider one and embraces phenomena ranging
from the raucous annual "village fair" in the V&A's courtyard (an even less
pardonable disturbance) to the lifting of the ban on noise in libraries to
happy-clappy church services, loud steel bands at cemetery open-days (the
dead too surely should not lie in peace) and the like. Not just noise, but
also movement, such as the chute at Tate Modern or the people invited to
stand on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. (That is defended in the
same issue by Antony Gormley himself in the usual vacuous populist terms; on
another page that eminent art critic Frank Skinner proclaims that it is a
"fabulous symbol of freedom", despite going on to say that, after visiting
it several times, "everything I've seen has been absolute rubbish."). Under
the same heading comes the Tate policy of constantly churning its permanent
collection and of galleries and houses everywhere livening up whatever
remains unchurned by interspersing the most incongruous contemporary art
that can be found. All this betokens a lack of faith in the capacity of the
works themselves to hold the attention of the public. In this they have
some justification, as it is clear that only a small proportion of the
public has an innate passion for the aesthetic qualities of art.
 
Nicholas Penny has also contributed a piece on "The National Gallery and the
Art Trade" as the foreword to the booklet for Master Paintings Week (4-10
July). He remarks that the assistance provided to the gallery by Agnews "in
numerous transactions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
is especially notable." That, however, was a century ago. Today Agnews
does not appear in the Master Paintings Week, though listed in the
concurrent Master Drawings Week. Those venturing to visit their new address
in Grafton Street will be at first filled with doubt as to whether they have
come to the right place. If they manage to make their way from the
unprepossessing entrance, lacking any mention of Agnews' name, and reach the
little room on the second floor, they will find a few pieces of old stock
propped on chairs, a single receptionist who does her best to look as though
she is not there, and Julian Agnew himself doing the same. How are the
mighty fallen! Round the corner in Dover Street is their former director,
Andrew Wyld, in plusher and apparently more flourishing circumstances,
showing, as usual, some fine watercolours. With James Mackinnon exhibiting
at the Maas Gallery was the view of Rouen from St Catherine's Hill that
Turner entranced Ruskin with, though in this case the view is by Bonington.
 
Selby Whittingham
U.K.Ambassador to the Turner Museum U.S.A.
9 July 2009