UK: dishonesty in election of favourite painting?


Ford Madox Brown, Work

From the Google cache of my blog.

UK: dishonesty in election of favourite painting?

Date: 8/30/05 at 8:01PM

A false pantheon
(Tuesday 30 August 2005)

ARTS VIEW: The Greatest Painting in Britain

JEFF SAWTELL suspects skulduggery in the election of the nation’s favourite painting.

What the hell is going on in broadcasting land? Have they all taken leave of their senses or is it some silly season madness typical to the British middle classes? …

Incidentally, I have never liked the idea of popularity contests, least of all for art or artists, since it panders to prejudice and promotes popularism over quality. …

Third is an image that most of the public will have seen in reproduction since it inhabits the little-known, but extremely fascinating John Sloane Museum in London.

It’s one of eight paintings by William Hogarth – the so-called father of English art – illustrating A Rake’s Progress (1733), a series that influenced many artists, including Hockney.

Ironically, the BBC chose the Tory buffoon Boris Johnson MP to champion the work, since he considers it to be in that fine “English tradition of satire and irreverence.”

Never mind, it’s also been influential on many a socialist thinker – a coincidence of critics who apparently seem to think that art should have a moral or social purpose.

Next is John Constable‘s The Hay Wain (1821) – possibly the most popular chocolate box image of a pastoral landscape that will be, for many, forever England.

One of four “finished” works by Constable painted to advertise his craft at the Royal Academy, it doesn’t bear comparison to many canvases secreted in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

This brings us to JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last berth to be broken up (1838-9) – one of four canvases given by Turner to the National Gallery.

It may come as a bit of a surprise, but Turner wasn’t liked by the panjandrums at the NG.

It even took the Tate 200 years to build a gallery to house the collection that he left to the nation.

An amazing painting, it pictures a famous warship being unceremoniously towed towards the breakers yard by one of those new-fangled steam-propelled tugs.

Typical of the man who painted Waterloo as a battlefield of corpses, it’s not a picture of military might, nor is it a lament for some fictional past suggested by many of his contemporaries.

On the contrary, it’s a recognition, like much of his other work, that Britain was undergoing a profound change inspired by the great technological advances of the Industrial Revolution.

In direct contrast is The Last of England. Socialist painter Ford Madox Brown pictures one of the later consequences of national dissolution and social desolation.

Popular in reproduction, there were two versions of the painting, one in the Birmingham City Art Gallery (1852-55), the other in the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge (1860).

Not by any means an image of “great” Britain, it pictures a miserable middle-class family who have been forced by poverty to board ship and emigrate to Australia.

Hopefully, the public will be encouraged to seek out other Ford Madox Brown paintings, notably Work (1852), which features a gang of labourers being watched by the leisured classes.

Another painting that appears to be a critic’s choice is Edouard Manet‘s seminal image of a barmaid in A Bar at Folies-Bergere (1882), exhibited at the Courtauld Institute.

Another picture of work, it has confounded critics for years because of the displaced illusion – the woman in the foreground is mirrored off-centre serving a man. Or is she?

Finally, we come to the chocolate box image par-excellence, a version of Vincent van Gogh‘s Sunflowers (1888), probably the most reproduced image outside Constable’s Hay Wain.

A plea for Manet: here.

Turner won.

3 thoughts on “UK: dishonesty in election of favourite painting?

  1. Pingback: Pre-Raphaelite art exhibition in London | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Drawing exhibitions in New York | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Art in social perspective in Britain | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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