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.