Forty years ago in 1974 the V&A staged a seminal exhibition “The Destruction of the Country House” which turned the spotlight on the fast disappearing country houses. Last week the V&A and SAVE gathered the great and the good and the merely interested to consider the impact of the exhibition and the threats and opportunities for country houses today. The television series Downton Abbey and Country House Rescue as well as Alan Bennett’s People all played their part in the day.
Everyone came, even The Queen….
Roy Strong, then director of the V&A, opened the conference and recalled the 1974 exhibition which had caused a sensation in the media, “everyone came”, he added, “even The Queen”. It was the research by John Harris, historian and curator that provided the headlines at the time: one third of Britain’s country houses, that’s nearly 2,000, had been demolished since 1880. At the conference Harris explored some of the reasons for this rate of destruction which had accelerated after the First World War, and then again after the Second World War – Britain’s land-owners had lost their power and influence as well as income due to economic and social factors. These included the decline of agriculture, the growth of industry; the demand for housing the masses and successive governments introducing increasingly onerous taxation.
A dearth of heirs….
The First World War took a great toll of young men, many of them were the sons of the gentry, as I discovered when researching my book about the history of a painting, see below, in relation to Panshanger in Essex and the Desborough family, who lost two sons in battle. Panshanger was demolished after the Second World War. Hamilton Palace, where the painting hung until the famous sale in 1882, was lost after the First World War as a result of successive Dukes’ grandiose spending on art as well as gambling and was finally and literally undermined by the very thing that provided additional income – coal mining.
Saving the country house….
Marcus Binney founded SAVE Britain’s Heritage as a result of the exhibition, and in his presentation provided examples of the destruction of some outstanding properties but also of some stunning rescues, working closely with the National Trust and English Heritage. Simon Jervis, formerly of the V&A, added that it was not just about the buildings and the works of art but also the furniture and fittings. The campaign to save Mentmore Towers from demolition was successful but the content was sold in the sale of 1977. And at Althorp 20 per cent of the content disappeared in lots over many years to support the house and the lifestyle of the previous Earl. Tom Knox of the Fitzwilliam Museum had many similar examples but others where the “acceptance in lieu” scheme had worked. Still not fully resolved was the question of what is an integral part of the House and the tax implication of that. There was more positive news from John Goodall of Country Life who outlined the revival of the country house since the 1980s and the addition of amenities, not just gift shops and cafes, but also wedding chapels and swimming pools.
The Downton effect….
So what’s the future for the country house? Those at the top such as Chatsworth, Blenheim and Castle Howard are enjoying the benefit of past investment and success as well as a welcome boost through the Downton Abbey TV series not just of American travellers, but as I know, of Swedes and German visitors, not to forget the British themselves. These well-established tourist attractions with professional management and innovative marketing continue to thrive even in a competitive climate. Others off the beaten track (in the Scottish Borders or up a country lane in the West Country or Wales) and with less to offer are struggling with rising costs and fewer visitors. To counteract this, Christopher Ridgway of Castle Howard outlined the success of the Yorkshire Country House Partnership – 12 houses and York University. This is not just a commercial exercise but also about academic scholarship, he said. So far several exhibitions have been staged on joint themes researched in their archives and analysed at York University seminars. Others are following the path forged by Yorkshire, in Scotland, and in the Thames Valley.
From motor cars to yetis, how did it all start?
Norman Hudson, the great publisher of the definitive guide to country houses over many years, outlined his initiative for supporting the sector through the Country Houses Foundation. When did it all start, he asked, and identified Lord Montague of Beaulieu as the pioneer of Country Houses as visitor attractions. Montague and his team (which of course included Ken Robinson as the marketing expert) visited the United States to learn from Disney and others how to make the most of the House and its content but also to add features such as the Motor Museum. But innovation is everything, Hudson stressed, so the garden came next – something which people would visit several times in a season. You cannot sit back and offer the same product year after year in a competitive field. How about a mud barn – sound-proofed – ideal for loud music and dancing after the wedding, or a Yeti occasionally spotted amongst the trees at the Riverhill Himalayan Gardens in Kent?
And if you don’t want to do all that – is it yours to decay?
It was Dr Ruth Adams of Kings College, London who provided some light relief but also a refreshing perspective on what she called these quasi-public properties. She referred to Robert Hewison’s book The Heritage Industry of 1987 which had painted a depressing picture of the British heritage compromised by nostalgia, tea and gift shops. That didn’t seem to have happened, public attitudes had shifted and most people now saw the country house as an important part of the heritage, raising the question whether owners have a responsibility to the public or have a right to let their own bit of the heritage go to rack and ruin. She used the programme Country House Rescue to illustrate this dilemma. Here we find the ancestral pile in crisis, she said. The former ruling class were now part of the attraction, eccentric and infantilised by the programme’s presenters, who were of course the professionals with a duty to transform these hapless owners into entertainers and events managers so that the heritage could be preserved and accessed by the public. Shooting and wedding parties and National Trust members ranked slightly above the day visitors, but all had to be catered for. Leaving the question unanswered – did those owners who refused to become more amenable have a right to enjoy their house and let it crumble around them, as in Alan Bennett’s country house play, People?
Trials and tribulations ahead…..
Richard Compton, owner of Newby Hall, and President of the Historic Houses Association, spoke passionately about the new threats to the country house – the growing maintenance bill and the difficulty in accessing grants for repairs. He saw the sector now split into two, the large houses referred to by Hudson, motoring along as successful businesses, and the rest, struggling to attract visitors and patch up the leaking roof. Roy Strong summed up, “we are a poor country now”, he said. “I cannot see any more public money going into this sector which will become even more marginalised.”
Despite those rather ominous words, it was clear from a stimulating day of on the subject that leading country houses are rising to the challenge and reaping the benefit of the public’s growing appetite for something different, whether it’s a country wedding or a shooting party or just tea with the Lord of the Manor. More importantly, some Houses are actively preserving, researching, and joining with others to explore their archives and the treasures in their collections.
Independent country houses “off the beaten track” will continue to struggle with limited access to public grants for repairs and maintenance – and rising taxes including the proposed mansion tax. If forced to sell, they will find that there are people – oligarchs, bankers and film stars – with plenty of money ready and willing to have their own bit of British heritage. But they are unlikely to want to share their historic pad with the hoi polloi!
Contact SAVE at http://www.savebritainsheritage.org/
My book “Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting” can be downloaded from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. See the pictures at my website http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk
Read my Museum blog at http://www.museumsandheritage.com/advisor/
Museums hit the front pages in big style towards the end of October as the Duchess of Cambridge presented the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards at the Natural History Museum with Sir David Attenborough, closely followed by HM The Queen opening the Information Age gallery at the Science Museum. Your blogger joined some 350 others at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Clore Duffield Foundation at the Royal Opera House in the same week. No royalties here but plenty of glitz from the lady herself, Dame Vivienne Duffield CBE, honoured by a line-up of worthies including Nicholas Serota, Darcey Bussell and Placido Domingo, no less.
In the same week, I was in one of the latest Clore Learning Centre on a half day workshop for adults about the contemporary theatre. This was in the National Theatre’s revamped, smallest theatre, now known as the Dorfman. I lamented the loss of the original name, the Cottesloe, but someone pointed out that it was just the name of the chairman of the board at the time. Lloyd Dorfman of Travelex has given at least £10m to the National’s popular £15 ticket scheme.
While I tend to agree with those who are against the American way of naming galleries and theatres after philanthropists, some come to take on a meaning beyond their origin, like the Booker Prize for example. And I think that this applies to the Clore Learning Centres. There are now 50 of these purpose built educational spaces, many in museums and galleries. And there is no stopping Vivienne Duffield, whose foundation combined with that of her father’s, Sir Charles Clore, has given more than £100 million pounds to arts and heritage charities in the UK, as well as to other causes here and in Israel.
Science Museum – The Information Age
The Science Museum’s new Information Age gallery was top of my list for visiting when I realised that it was half term holidays and I’d be mown down by the flow of children and their eager parents and grand parents heading for the South Kensington Museums. So more of that next time. It was great to hear of another new gallery in the making at the Science Museum on the subject of Mathematics. It’s another philanthropist, David Harding who has given £5m towards the new gallery to be designed by Zaha Hadid – so it should be something special when it opens in 2016. By then they may have found a catchier name than the David and Claudia Harding Mathematics Gallery.
The Name of the Game – in Nottingham and Edinburgh
Years ago, some foresighted museum curators started collecting video games at the Design Museum, at the Science Museum and no doubt elsewhere. Now video and computer games will get their own museum, in Nottingham, where the National Videogame Arcade is due to open in the Spring of next year, billed as the national centre for videogame culture. The £2.5m museum will feature some of the 20,000 items from the Science Museum collection.
But you don’t have to wait until then if you’re a fan. At the National Museum of Scotland, Game Masters opens at the beginning of December and is guaranteed to be a hit over Christmas and New Year with boys and their dads (mainly – but there are girls and grown women who also enjoy these games). It will feature arcade games of the late 1970s and early 1980s and spotlights pioneering designers such as Shigeru Miyamoto (Donkey Kong), Tomohiro Nishikado (Space Invaders), Ed Logg (Asteroids), and Toru Iwatani (Pac-Man), all of which you will be able to play in the old school Game Masters arcade. The exhibitions also includes later designers, many of them Scottish. So play away! http://www.nms.ac.uk/
Artes Mundi in Wales
With so much going on in the museum and arts world in October (I haven’t even mentioned Frieze in Regents Park with a wonderful outdoor exhibition of sculpture), it’s not surprising that the great art prize, Artes Mundi, in Wales doesn’t get all the coverage in the national media that it deserves. That’s according to David Anderson, Director, National Museums Wales. But now that the exhibition of shortlisted entries has opened, I have spotted a review in the Guardian and a feature on BBC online. I am sure more will follow. There were some 800 entries and the judging panel has reduced that to ten. Their work is now on show in three venues in Cardiff and Penarth.
The winner of the £40,000 prize will be announced at the end of January. If you cannot get there, read the wonderful report in the Guardian and like me you might decide to vote for the chocolate sculptures rather than the roaring goat! But David Anderson shouldn’t think it’s just to do with Wales – the fizz seems to have gone out of contemporary art competitions. This year’s Turner Prize shortlist now at Tate Britain has produced nothing more than a great yawn from the critics.
Ylva French is a Fellow of the Tourism Society, a trustee of the Museum Prize Trust and author of Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting, available as an E-book on Amazon. Read more of my blogs at http://www.museumsandheritage.com/advisor/
My obsession with Veronese continues and I travelled to Verona to see the National Gallery exhibition on display at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia, here called “The Illusion of Reality”. While the exhibition space lacked the atmosphere of the National Gallery’s Main Rooms, the display was immaculate with pale green and beige walls complementing the paintings. The audio guide featured several speakers including Xavier Salomon who curated exhibition in London. An additional feature was a series of drawings displayed in the centre of each room, illustrating the skill and planning involved in Veronese’s works. The Allegories of Love – a star attraction in London – looked good here in a line but did not achieve the same impact as when they were displayed in the round.
Two feasts to enjoy…..
A new feature in Verona was the recently restored huge painting Feast in the House of Levi, not the original produced by Veronese in 1573, but a later version painted by “The Heirs of Veronese” after his death. The original painting caused quite a stir at the time. It was called The Last Supper but the Vatican hauled Veronese in and asked him to remove various aspects which were offensive including a dog and a drunk and someone bleeding from the nose! Veronese refused and instead changed the name of the painting – but Jesus Christ is still at the centre of this magnificent feast – which you can see in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. The later version of the same painting doesn’t quite match up to the great master’s. The original of the painting in my book (see below), the altarpiece from San Zaccaria was also on display in Verona. A much less controversial work – I am sure it fulfilled all the criteria of a religious painting at the time – and it was wonderful to see it again. (The Verona exhibition continues until 5 October).
Rain stopped play….
This year’s opera season in Verona has been plagued by rain but we were lucky with our three operas including the great Aida with a cast of thousands! Impressive! There are now plans to cover part of the Arena – particularly the orchestra pit. There was time for daytime sightseeing and the Castelvecchio Museum which I had missed on a previous trip when it was just too hot was an inspiring experience. The museum was redesigned by the renowned architect Professor Carlo Scarpo in the 1960s, creating a uniquely modern museum experience inside the old castle where every object is a work of art, with fine details in the staircases, windows, and door openings. Sculptures and paintings on easels stand freely in the odd-shaped rooms. Many of the objects come from damaged churches and include early sarcophaguses and statues. Among the paintings are works by Pisanello, Bellini (the elder) and Mantegna. Magnificent!
All to play for in Scotland
With all eyes on Scotland this September, the National Galleries in Edinburgh is playing safe with the Art of Golf (until 26 October). For some people golf on television is like watching paint dry – but these paintings bring it to life in glorious colour revealing the story of the birth and evolution of Scotland’s national sport. So enjoy the windblown golfers and stunning views of links courses as well as golf memorabilia. Perhaps it will convert a few to take up the great game or at least watch it…..your blogger has already got the dates for the Ryder Cup in her diary to be enjoyed from her armchair in London. This year it’s at Gleneagles – only a week after the great referendum. Will the Scottish flags be flying?
Coming up in London…..
London’s art galleries, museums and theatres got together to launch the London Autumn season. Perhaps not the best political move while the row over funding inequalities between London and the region rumbles on. Nevertheless there are some great exhibitions to look forward to including Ming, Rembrandt, Turner and Constable. And let’s see what the Museum of London makes of Sherlock Holmes, opening in October.
More about my summer visits at http://www.museumsandheritage.com/advisor/
My book “Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting” can be downloaded from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. See the pictures at my website http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk
Ten more days to see the Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery – the last day is Sunday 15 June. So get your clogs on and speed down to Trafalgar Square. This is the greatest assembly of the works of the man from Verona who made such a success in Venice. Altarpieces for churches, grand ceilings in palaces and libraries, and fine portraits – he could do everything and most of it is represented here. Not the ceiling from the Doges Palace, however, nor two of his gigantic masterpieces, filled with people, animals and colour, too big and too fragile, to travel. One is the Wedding at Cana, still in The Louvre as part of Napoleon’s loot, more of that below, and the other is Feast in the House of Levy, which is in the Galleria Accademia in Venice. The San Zaccaria altarpiece (of special interest to me, as regular readers know) normally hangs on the adjoining wall. Will it travel to the Veronese exhibition in Verona, opening on 5 July, before returning to Venice? I am waiting to hear.
At the National Gallery, once the exhibition closes, work will start on taking down the great canvases and packing some of them up for the journey to Verona. National Gallery Veronese works included are, Four Allegories of Love and The Conversion of Mary Magdalene. This is a big job which might take a few weeks, and then the galleries which housed the exhibition will become part of the permanent collection again. The next temporary exhibition, Making Colour, will open in the Sainsbury Wing on 18 June.
Transporting art – the story of Napoleon’s loot
Organising the transportation of some of the world’s most famous paintings is not an easy matter. Napoleon knew how to do it. He had a plan for each country he conquered from 1796 onwards. In Italy he put Baron Denon in charge. Later he became Director of the Musee Napoleon, as The Louvre became known when it was stuffed with treasures from all around Europe. Key works in each city had been identified by Denon and soldiers removed works, sometimes by cutting them from their architectural frames and rolling up the canvases, as they did with the Veronese altarpiece from San Zaccaria. The Bellini altarpiece from the same Church was painted on panel, so it was packed flat. Even the Four Horses of San Marco were taken. Large convoys of ox-drawn carriages crossed the Dolomites, to reach the sea at Leghorn. Others travelled across the treacherous Alps, where Napoleon’s troops had conveniently improved the roads to ease his invasion. It is amazing that there was not more damage especially as most of the works were then returned after Napoleon’s defeat in 1815. But Denon knew how to hold on to a good selection including the Wedding Feast at Cana. Read more about it in my book, Finding Veronese, Memoir of a Painting.
Transforming the V&A
The V&A is reorganising its management team and as part of the process one of the most brilliant marketing/brand/development personalities of the last 20 years is leaving his post. Damien Whitmore, Director of Public Affairs and Programming, made his name at the Tate which remains the epitome of a successful museum brand. He coordinated the Museum 2000 Millennium campaign which also launched the first Museums and Galleries Month, organised by your blogger, then running the Campaign for Museums. In our book on Marketing and PR for Museums and Galleries, Sue Runyard and I were pleased to include contributions on digital marketing from Damien’s former colleagues at the Tate.
So it was a surprise when Damien joined the V&A with its rather dowdy but worthy image. Look at it now! Visitors are rolling in. The Future Plan is transforming the galleries; the exhibition programme is cutting edge and brings spectacular celebrity opportunities, fully exploited by the media team; it has a constantly improving website, and the shop – well what can I say – an inspiration for all in the sector – and for visitors.
The V&A recently won the Best of the Best category in the Museums and Heritage Awards. Well-deserved – despite some areas for improvement: never enough ladies toilets, an over-loaded café with impossible circulation, a disappointing education wing, and for those of us researchers, a cold and rather unfriendly National Art Library with a clunky website. But everything else is fab! So Damien, where to next?
Read about the Museums and Heritage awards here – and my monthly blog for Museum Advisor – http://www.museumsandheritage.com/
My book “Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting” can be downloaded from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. See the pictures at my website http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk
Ask an Art Detective about your painting!
Having spent two years researching the history of one painting and producing a book about it – see below – it was great to hear the latest initiative from the Public Catalogue Foundation – Art Detective. A large proportion of images on the BBC Your Paintings website are not identified or wrongly attributed. And that does not include a large number of works in private country houses, most of which are not on the site. Art Detective is now up and running with groups of people with specialist knowledge (such as maritime art or art in particular British regions) adding their information to the pictures online and sharing information. Art Detective
The Prize is up for grabs
£100,000 will go to the winner of the Art Fund Museum of the Year Prize – not a mean sum even for the largest finalist – Tate Britain – and would certainly make a great difference for the smallest – Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft in Sussex. They are joined by four others: the Mary Rose Museum, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Hayward Gallery. New for this year is a judge from outside the UK, the director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Wim Pijbes. He is joined by Sally Bacon, Director of the Clore Duffield Foundation, Michael Craig-Martin RA, artist and Anna Somers Cocks, chief executive of The Art Newspaper. Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund will be guiding the judges round the six venues over the next few weeks and will make sure they reach a decision on 9 July when the winner will be announced.
(Your blogger is a trustee of the Museum Prize Trust).
More at http://www.artfund.org/prize
Cuts and curators
As the axe falls on staff in museums and galleries around the country, more curators are finding themselves out of work. Only the national museums less affected by reduced budgets will be able to maintain curatorial teams in the future, according to Stephen Deuchar speaking at a seminar at the Paul Mellon Centre. The subject was connoisseurship and the discussion also questioned the skill of conservators – did they know enough about art not to destroy the very essence of what they were restoring, as in the case of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Others questioned whether students of art history today would develop the “educated eye” of the connoisseur. And why was the profession no longer prepared to stick its neck out on attributions? An interesting day! More at http://www.paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk/ with video clips of the event.
Veronese at The Vyne in Hampshire
More information on the copy of a Veronese altarpiece at The Vyne in Hampshire appears in the Spring edition of the National Trust’s ABC Bulletin. I had discovered this copy of the Veronese altarpiece on the BBC Your Paintings website and after some detective work decided that it might in fact have been copied in Rome, from a much larger copy of the original altarpiece. Read the story in the ABC Bulletin and more in my book below.
The Veronese altarpiece from San Zaccaria can be seen at the National Gallery in the Veronese exhibition which continues until 15 June. While there slip into the exhibition, “Building the Picture: Architecture in Renaissance Art”, a mini-display with some exquisite 15th century works of mainly religious art. This is a superb exhibition – an opportunity to see some rate works by early Renaissance artists close-up and with an intelligent commentary on the role of the architectural structures in the pictures. The exhibition is supported by an Online Guide. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk
“Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting” can be downloaded from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. See the pictures at my website http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk.
In the search for the history of my own Veronese copy I came across several other copies of the same altarpiece. Not surprisingly as the San Zaccaria painting of the Holy Family by Veronese was considered one of the finest of his early works in Venice. One of the first copies was painted just a hundred years later for Cardinal Pio and is now in the Musei Capitolini in Rome. I found it online. I also searched the wonderful resource, BBC Your Paintings, which holds a photographic database of nearly all paintings in public collections in the UK assembled over several years by the Public Catalogue Foundation. Here if found another copy of the same painting at The Vyne, a country house in Hampshire, now owned and managed by the National Trust. You can read about it in the PCF March newsletter http://www.thepcf.org.uk/what_we_do/137/reference/35
And then to Panshanger…..
Another more elusive copy was owned by the Third Earl Cowper who lived most of his life in Florence in the 18th century. I followed the family’s history through several generations to see what happened to the family estate, Panshanger in Hertfordshire, and the extensive picture collection he assembled. This was a sad tale of two English families and a country house demolished in 1950s. Part of the Panshanger grounds were used for gravel another for housing from overflowing Welwyn Garden City, as well as for a private airfield and a golf course. I was pleased to see that a section of gravel fields has just been restored and opened as Panshanger Country Park thanks to the Friends and local authority.
Part of Cowper collection ended up at another country house, Firle Place in Sussex, which is still standing, but not the Cowper copy of the Veronese altarpiece, sold with the estate and other works of art in the 1950s. The story of the Cowpers and the Desboroughs who followed them is just one chapter in my book, but one of the most moving to write.
See what you think – download Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting at http://www.amazon.com or http://www.amazon.co.uk .
More about Veronese…this time in print
At the Royal Academy in London you can explore the Renaissance art of chiaroscuro woodblock printing. On view are some of the thousands of prints from the Georg Bazelitz collection in an exquisite exhibition in the Sackler Wing.
Bazelitz started to collect these once common prints when travelling in Italy. They were often the result of Renaissance artists collaborating with printmakers to bring their art to a wider public first working in metal and then through woodblocks as printing spread from books to art in the 15th and 16th centuries. But they could also lead to strife when artists felt ripped off and woodblocks suddenly disappeared. Highlight of the show is Durer’s Rhinoceros, not his original print, but one by a printmaker using several blocks to bring colour to the image. In a short film in the exhibition you can see the woodblock process and the precision and patience required to produce even the simplest print.
So how does this relate to Veronese? Although the fashion for woodblock prints died out, an Englishman, John Baptist Jackson, did his best to revive it in Venice 200 years later. Here he entered into collaboration with Joseph Smith, English Consul and art collector on the Venetian Set, some 24 decorative woodblock prints of Renaissance masterpieces for sale to Grand Tourists. The commercial venture was not successful but several complete sets and individual prints are still to be found. The Royal Academy has framed their prints and put them on display in the Print room next to the exhibition (open by appointment). And there was the print of Sacra Famiglia by Veronese, the altarpiece from San Zaccaria, produced in 1739. Those who have now read my new book Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting to the end will know the importance of this print, so seeing it there was magic!
Poor John Baptist Jackson did not do so well. He returned to London to produce mainly wallpaper using his woodblock skills but that business also failed. He reportedly died destitute somewhere on the Scottish borders in the 1770s.
The grand rooms of the National Gallery provide an impressive backdrop for Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice. Every aspect of the great Paolo’s career is represented from early altarpieces to secular large and small works – portraits and great compositions for which Veronese became famous. Missing are the frescos and the very largest works, too fragile to travel. It was a treat to come to the press view and hear the curator, Xavier Salomon, introduce the exhibition.
Among the works which has crossed the Atlantic is Mars and Venus United by Love (from the Metropolitan Museum of Art) which is shown in the rotunda with National Gallery’s Four Allegories of Love. Against the red-painted walls the pictures glow in unique harmony. This is Veronese at the height of his artistry. The altarpieces, including the one in my book (see below), are shown earlier against a grey background – not sure this works as well. In a small space between the first and third room are some of the portraits including the remarkable Portrait of a Gentleman from the Getty Museum. Seen through the doorway from the larger gallery – it is very special.
San Zaccaria Altarpiece from Venice
In the exhibition this is referred to as the Pala Bonaldi. Although it was originally commissioned by the Bonaldi family for the Church of San Zaccaria in Venice in 1562, it is usually referred to by the name of the Church. For me this was another memorable experience to stand and admire it here in London and to remember its history.
The altarpiece spent hundreds of peaceful years in the quiet Sacristy of the Church were occasional artists came to copy it and made its beauty well-known. It was Napoleon’s forces who transported it together with other looted works of art from Venice and Rome to Paris, where it was exhibited at the Musee Napoleon – now the Louvre. In 1815 it returned, not to the Church which had found another painting to go in its place, but to the new museum, Gallerie dell’Accademia where it normally hangs, next to the huge canvas of the Feast in the House of Levi. Despite this, it looks as fresh as the day it was painted. And with much more detail, of course, than the smaller copy. Spot St Jerome’s lion in the right hand bottom corner!
Inspiration for my story
So this was the inspiration for my book – Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting. It tells the story from the original work by Veronese in his studio in Venice and its installation at San Zaccaria. It was the Grand Tour which reawakened the interest and appreciation of Renaissance art and 18th century artists who worked for the art dealers of Venice made copies for European travellers. Some ended up in the country houses of Great Britain. The painting in my story reached the impressive collection of the 10th Duke of Hamilton at Hamilton Palace, south of Glasgow.
Read more about the Hamiltons and their influence on art and art collecting in my next blog.
Find about the painting’s journey in the book “Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting”, download from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. See the pictures at my website http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk.
Will Veronese fever grips London when the National Gallery throws open its doors to the new Paolo Veronese exhibition next week? Your blogger is doing her bit to fuel the interest in the great Renaissance artist with her new book – Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting. This follows the trail of a small study or copy for a Veronese Altarpiece from Venice to Scotland to London, then on to Germany and Switzerland before landing in Sweden – and then returning to London to be subjected to scrutiny by me and by numerous experts.
The Amazon experience
In the absence of a regular publisher, I decided to go down the Amazon way. And like most authors before me discovered it was not necessarily simple. Writers on Amazon still have to go through all the hoops of a regular publisher in terms of permissions and copyright. The contract is pages long and the forms are daunting – almost as bad as filling in your income tax form online. The finished manuscript uploads in less than 30 seconds and two minutes later the computer comes back with 17 queries having scanned your beautiful prose. In my case they mostly related to foreign words – Italian and some Swedish. The next day the book is there – online – for all to see behind its shiny bright cover. At some point, during the night, computers have presumably crawled through it again, checking for any doubtful or illegal statements. Do any people actually get involved? .
Inspiration for my story
The inspiration for my story came from the wonderful work by Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes. He inherited the collection of netsukes from his uncle in Japan and this led him on a journey discovering more about his relatives and the times they lived through. My painting arrived in my Swedish family in the 1920s but it had more illustrious owners in the past which added interest and opportunity. Along the way I discovered some extraordinary people, not least in Scotland. Sometimes it was hard to keep the focus on the painting, not get diverted by the history of the painting’s owners and other collectors on the Grand Tour.
The Grand Tour….and the Tourists
The challenge of travelling in the 17th and 18th century has been well reported by others. I couldn’t but admire those intrepid, sometimes foolhardy people who crossed the Channel under sail on open decks often in foul weather and then had the indignity of being manhandled off the boat at Calais as there was no pier where they could just step off. As it happened, I went to the Turner at Sea exhibition at the National Maritime Museum as I was finishing the book. And there was Turner’s painting, “Now for the Painter – passengers boarding at Pas de Calais” – the reverse process of people boarding from a small craft in the huge swell for their return journey. Apparently Turner painted this from his own experience, no doubt remembering the fear of being accidentally dropped in the sea. Likewise, looking down from my comfortable aircraft seat on the Alps below will in future conjure up visions of bumpy paths, hard seats in horse-drawn coaches, basic toilet facilities and foods, not to mention snow and ice, and villains waiting to rob their foreign prey. And then there were those much richer travellers with several coaches who got ahead and took all the horses at the next coaching inn.
Exploration in London
While the most famous location of my painting was the Hamilton Palace Collection in Scotland, I discovered at a late stage in my research that the painting had been sold twice in London. Not only at the famous Hamilton Palace sale in 1882 but also at the Edward Taylor Collection auction in 1912 which raised almost as much money overall. This brought me to Kensington Palace Gardens in London to gaze at the house where (John) Edward Taylor, son of the founder of the Manchester Guardian, and also owner and editor, lived till he died. This grand house, now owned by the Sultan of Brunei, was home to his important art collection. I was impressed that it had included my painting but wondered how comfortable Mr Taylor, an avowed radical, would have been living there now – among the embassies and wealthy owners with private security guards.
More about the painting’s journey in the book “Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting”, download from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. See the pictures at my website http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk.