Page 10, 21st November 2003

21st November 2003
Page 10
Page 10, 21st November 2003 — Classic artwork bought for a song Thumbs up

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Locations: Victoria, Florence


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Classic artwork bought for a song Thumbs up

(so far) to a

Fine Arts

Patrick Reyntiens

Tinb ee

e huge collection of pictures that has n assembled by Andrew Lloyd Webber the course of his life, and that is for viewing in the main galleries (all of them) of the Royal Academy until December 12, must on no account be missed. It is the result not of a museum curator's conviction, or an attempt, through the good agencies of a government organisation, to "educate the public", or a sop to the taken-for-granted standards of critical analysis — and condemnation. The collection is as a result of the love and enthusiasm of one individual — of fabulous wealth, admittedly, but wealth accumulated entirely by Andrew Lloyd Webber's own merits and musical talent. How wisely has this fortune been spent. The result is as complete a collection of Pre-Raphaelite English painters and others following in that line as we have in this country. Nobody is likely to see a better ensemble of Victorian and Edwardian art in any circumstances. I cannot recommend the viewing of it highly enough , but it will take time. Allow some two-anda-half to three hours at the least.

Popularity in art, in painting especially, is a difficult number to predict – and when opinion is up or down it is difficult to justify. Pre-Raphaelie ism was first and foremost a yearning for the "purity" of those painters of the Italian, mostly Florentine, Quattrocento; that early Renaissance which, partly owing to the Reformation, England never succeeded in sharing at the time of its inception. If you go to the Gothic Ethibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum you will see the end of the Gothic in a somewhat defective, televisioncentred show, it must be said. The Gothic is an indication of the vast gap left by the sundering of English sensibility from easy access to the arts of the Mediterranean in the 16th and early 17th centuries. This yearning for a re-creation of the Italian early Renaissance ( on English terms) persisted throughout the years of re-alignment brought on by the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. So the Pre-Raphaelite excursus was brought into critical scorn by the end of the First World War.

War seems to have destroyed any tendency to believe any mone. in the Arthurian and other legends pertaining to the authority and probity of England and its world-wide dependences. The Arthurian scenario was as a result of the marriage of PmRaphaelitism, the British Empire, the Arthurian consciousness and to a certain degree the ethos of the 19th century Church of England. The initial urge was of young painters who substituted the clarity and purity of colour and atmosphere they found in the paintings of those Quattrocento painters who pre-dated Raphael himself. It was a case of doing away with the heavy light and shade and stringy, viscous quality of paint that was found in the academic painting of the time. the mid-19th century. One should not forget the publication of the Annidel Prints, as a result of the activities of the Arundel Society in 1849. These prints were of enormous importance, since they were line-drawings, very large in scale, of many of the most famous painters in fifteenth century Florence. These publications were a great help in getting the general public to know exactly what the PreRaphaelites were determined to resuscitate and to present as the °illy standard of art worth consideration. The enormously enthusiastic phase of English conviction regarding the movement laited until the 1890s but was sagging badly when it was finally finished off by the condemnation and scorn of such critics as Roger Fry.

What was one to do with the truly colossal output of Edward Burne-Jones. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, JE Millais, Holman Hunt and many others? Numberless English households (and a few American — but no French) simply sat on these embarrassing examples of misplaced enthusiasm. They mouldered away on walls, getting darker and more and more shabby, until in the 1940s and 1950s they could be bought for a few pounds, let alone hundreds. That was the time when a Pannini went for £12. and a John Martin could be had for a tenner. This abject period, from the Pre-Raphaelite point of view, coincided with Andrew Lloyd Webber's childhood and adolescence. He started collecting modestly at a very early age. He loved the PreRaphaelites and he collected them, continuing to do so and not taldng the slightest notice. of "received opinion" in the art-critical world. Heaven knows how he must have been denigrated behind his back by the cognoscenti. But now all is different. Pictures which were valued at hundreds are now changing hands for millions. It is all "big stuff' and "serious" again. But what idiocy such critical opinion-swings are.

No; Andrew Lloyd Webber had the courage of his convictions and the result is an exhibition of amazing quality. The Pre-Raphaelites are not alone, many of the better Edwardian painters — and up to the 1940s — are also there. Lloyd Webber has a manifest love for Stanley Spencer, himself a curious cast-back, in the complicated simplicity of his religious paintings, to the Pre-Raphaelite ideal. And one must admit that it is not often that one can see, hung on the same line and in close proximity, paintings by Munnings, Spencer and Picasso. The shocking result is highly refreshing, and it shows that private collectors, given the money, are always far more exciting in their gatherings of their particular loves and preferences than museum curators and famous art critics. Well done, Andrew Lloyd Webber.

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