Art in Blair’s Britain, from public access to privileged only access


Turner, The Blue Rigi

From the New Statesman in Britain:

Britain’s hidden art

Rob Sharp

Published 19 February 2007

Increasingly, many of the country’s finest artworks are nestling in the private collections of the super-rich, inaccessible to the public.

So what are we missing out on? Rob Sharp investigates

If you think that the finest art in Britain is on display at Tate Modern or the National Gallery, think again.

Increasingly, many of the best works are in the hands of private collectors, who do not always make their treasures accessible to the public.

The New Statesman has tracked down some of the most important artworks nestling in the private residences and offices of collectors, aristocrats and City businesses, where only the most privileged can see them.

This trend is on the rise; with public galleries increasingly priced out of the art market, more and more work will disappear from public view.

Public interest in visual art has never been greater.

Crowds flock to blockbuster shows at the major galleries: “Velázquez” drew record crowds to the National Gallery in London late last year, and the Tate galleries attract nearly two million people annually.

At the same time, however, immensely wealthy individuals and companies are pumping money into the art market and inflating prices.

In one sale earlier this month, Sotheby’s made £95m in just three hours.

And on 8 February, Christie’s recorded a landmark sale, with Francis Bacon ‘s Study for Portrait II going for £14m.

With prices like this, it is impossible for public galleries to get a look-in.

The latest significant work to be snapped up by a private collector is J M W Turner‘s The Blue Rigi, which has been described as one of the greatest watercolours in art history.

The painting fetched £5.8m at auction last June, making it the most expensive British watercolour ever sold.

By a big money collection, the public in the case of The Blue Rigi managed to prevent it from being sold overseas.

Art and money, especially in the USA: here.

9 thoughts on “Art in Blair’s Britain, from public access to privileged only access

  1. The arts debate, Arts Council England’s first ever public value enquiry, has set up a website to debate issues around policy for the arts. David Barries of The Art Fund has written a piece explaining why he thinks it’s important to save art, such as Turner’s Blue Rigi, for public collections. He asks who should decide which art is paid and who should pay for it. Join the debate by visiting the site and posting your comment. All the comments will feed into a report that will directly affect the policy of the Arts Council. http://www.artsdebate.org.uk

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  2. Apr 5, 2007

    Sale of O’Keeffe Halted

    By BETH RUCKER
    Associated Press Writer

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper on Thursday halted a proposed deal that would have allowed the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to buy a painting by the acclaimed artist from Fisk University for millions of dollars below its estimated value.

    The agreement would have given the museum the exclusive right to purchase O’Keeffe’s “Radiator Building – Night, New York,” for $7 million. Since that agreement was announced, the university has been offered up to $25 million for the picture.

    “It was a good deal for the museum. It was a bad deal financially for Fisk and a bad deal artistically for Fisk and a bad deal culturally for the community,” Cooper said after announcing his decision.

    Saul Cohen, president of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum board of directors, said he was familiar with the attorney general’s decision but had no comment. Attorneys for Fisk didn’t return calls seeking comment.

    Fisk is trying to sell the O’Keeffe work and American modernist Marsden Hartley’s “Painting No. 3” from its Alfred Stieglitz Collection to replenish the historically black university’s endowment.

    Fisk University President Hazel O’Leary, a former U.S. Energy secretary and graduate of the university, said the publicity surrounding the proposed sale changed a few experts’ minds about the value of the painting. A 2005 Christie’s auction house appraisal estimated the value of “Radiator Building” at $8.5 million.

    “Thank God for the open marketing and exchange of ideas,” she said. “Needless to say, I’m extremely grateful for the opinion of the attorney general.”

    A sale would, for the first time, break up the collection given to Fisk by O’Keeffe herself in 1949. Besides paintings by O’Keeffe and photographs by Stieglitz, her husband, the collection includes works by Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec.

    O’Keeffe’s estate – the artist died in 1986 – challenged the sale in court, saying it would violate the terms of the bequest. The dispute was to be settled with the agreement to sell the O’Keeffe painting to the museum.

    The settlement required the approval of Cooper, who as attorney general has supervisory duties over any charitable gift to Tennesseans. Cooper said that the artwork, though given as a donation to Fisk, was a benefit to all Tennesseans.

    With Cooper’s decision not to approve the settlement, the parties will return to Davidson County Chancery Court, with a trial date set for July 18. Cooper’s letter rejecting the deal noted there have been higher offers and estimates.

    “In light of this information, the $7 million purchase price offered by the museum is simply too deep a discount from the apparent market value for this office to approve,” Cooper said in a letter to Fisk and O’Keeffe Museum attorneys.

    © 2007 The Associated Press

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