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05 March 2018Art UK - Uncovering the Nation's Hidden Oil Painting Collection
05 February 2018Habitat Catalogued - How colour and contemporary design saw off the lingering shades of postwar austerity and revolutionised British retailing.
08 January 2018Votes for Women! - Marking the centenary year of women getting the vote.
04 December 2017From Turkey to Trifle - A history of Food and Dining Habits during the Festive Season
06 November 2017A passion for Piers - An entertaining look at pleasure piers over the last 200 years
02 October 2017Basingstoke and its contribution to World Culture
03 July 2017The Historical Use of Wallpaper in the British Interior, 1865 to the present day
05 June 2017Legend and Lustre: Jim Thompson and Thai Silk
08 May 2017Georgia: Land of The Golden Fleece
03 April 2017Double Dutch : Symbols, Emblems and "double-entendre" in Dutch genre painting
06 March 2017John Opie; The Cornish Wonder
06 February 2017Photographic Odyssey : Shackelton's Endurance Expedition, captured an camera
09 January 2017The Taplow Burial
07 November 2016Pevsner in South Somerset
03 October 2016Lancelot Capability Brown - Landscape Art and Dame Nature
04 July 2016The Role of the Arts in the cycle of Crime, Prison and Re-offending
06 June 2016200th Anniversary of the Parthenon sculptures (or how Lord Elgin gained and lost his marbles)
09 May 2016Art of Light - Stained glass in the City of London
04 April 2016The Origins of the Icon – Painted wooded panels or Eastern Windows to Heaven?
07 March 2016Forde Abbey
01 February 2016The Art & Craft of the Pewterer
11 January 2016Miniatures in the Wallace Collection
07 December 2015The life and loves of Edouard Manet
02 November 2015Art and the Napoleonic Wars
05 October 2015What really happened at the Yellow House in Arles between Van Goth and Gauguin?
06 July 2015A brief illustrated history of jewellery
01 June 2015Art, Fish and Sail: Cornish Historic Art including Charles Napier Hemy, H.S.Tuke and Newlyn School
11 May 2015Spanish Fire – El Greco and Picasso
13 April 2015The Cathedrals of Salisbury, Wells and Exeter
02 March 2015Klimt and the Viennese Secession
02 February 2015King George III: 'the most cultured monarch', art collector, friend of America and family man
05 January 2015Russian and Soviet Art: From Icons to Socialist Realism
01 December 2014Glory to the Newborn King – Nativity Art
03 November 2014Looking at Dickens 1812 – 2012
06 October 2014Never Such Innocence Again: The First World War through the eyes of Artists and Poets
07 July 2014A Tale of Two Houses: Blackwell and the Hill House
02 June 2014Garden History: In Search of Paradise from the Chahar Bagh to Chelsea
12 May 2014The Indian Textile Trade: Kashmir shawls to chintz
07 April 2014William Arnold and his Somerset Masons
03 March 2014From the Levant to the Parc Monceau: the collection of Moise and Isaac de Camondo
03 February 2014Sleeping Beauties: the Irish Country House
06 January 2014Isabella d'Este, First Lady of the Renaissance
02 December 2013Merrily on High - the history of the English carol
04 November 2013Images of Cleopatra
07 October 2013The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany
24 September 2013Special 40th Anniversary lecture: Harlots, Rakes and Crashing China - an accidental introduction to 18th century ceramics (and to the works of William Hogarth)
01 July 2013China Comes to Town
03 June 2013Life and Times of the Sundial
13 May 2013Gardens of Cornwall and Normandy
08 April 2013The Great Age of the Poster – Posters of the Belle Epoque
04 March 2013Lowry: a visionary artist
04 February 2013Rescuing Zeugma from the floodwaters of the Euphrates
07 January 2013Embroidered with woodbine and eglantine - Elizabethan textile furnishings
03 December 2012In the Bleak Midwinter - artists' responses to snow
05 November 2012Aspects of Love in Art
01 October 2012Contemporary silver development in the 20th and 21st Centuries
02 July 2012Medieval Masterpiece – Hotel Dieu at Beaune
11 June 2012The book as art form and function in creative book structures

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Art UK - Uncovering the Nation's Hidden Oil Painting Collection Mary Rose Rivett-Carnac Monday 05 March 2018

The Project of cataloguing and making a comprehensive inventory of the Nation’s huge number of hidden oil paintings was born when its instigator, Fred Holer made a visit to The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Fred discovered that this world class museum and art gallery had no catalogue, and 80% of its collection of oil paintings was not on view.  He realized that the general public was not aware of what it owned and that what was true of the Fitzwilliam could be repeated nationwide.

The UK, including its remotest regions like Orkney and Shetland and the Scilly and Channel Islands owned the greatest collection of oil paintings in the world, making a comprehensive catalogue of what existed essential. Despite early scepticism, the Project named “Art UK” has, after many years, achieved this, with something in the region of 212,000 paintings recorded and available for inspection on Art UK’s website.

In the first instance money had to be raised to start the research and then curators and guardians of collections persuaded to admit researchers. Access was often achieved in return for high quality digital photos. Appeals were made for information as to the whereabouts of the many hidden paintings.  Adverts were placed in local papers, and researchers travelled to the furthest points of the UK visiting all sorts of buildings in search of their hidden treasures. Hospitals, often concealing quite large interesting collections, as art appreciation has always been recognized as therapeutic; libraries, schools, university colleges; Council Buildings; small local museums; any building reputed to house an oil painting--however, disregarded, disliked or unfashionable it might be.

Photographing these paintings was often quite a difficult task as many, because of insurance constraints, had to be photographed in situ with all the problems of bad light, reflection etc. From the procedures of those early days came the rule, always observed, that all photos had to be checked for quality of colour!

Not all collections had good storage facilities and many paintings were found to be in very bad condition, misused, or missing altogether to the embarrassment of some curators.  Mary even showed us one which had been kept behind preservation paper. Much worse were the findings of oil paintings folded and propping open doors and dividing coals! One researcher investigating long forgotten pictures in an Oxford College had to remove several layers of dust to get started!

Some collections, as in schools and hospitals have no curators, and some prestigious paintings have been hidden for years with few people knowing of their existence. The Chapel of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital has a Veronese, bought by the Trustees in 1950 but few realize its whereabouts or its pedigree. The Bowes Museum, County Durham for years displayed a “copy” of a Van Dyke, which has only comparatively recently been found to be genuine.

The Council Room in Bristol houses a Hogarth Altar Piece painted by the great London Artist as a proof that a large, spectacular piece of religious art could be produced by an English artist just as well as by an Italian or a French one (Hogarth was notorious for his francophobia).

The researchers worked through the counties and made many interesting discoveries, noting EVERYTHING they found including naïve art, folk art, and advertisements, many by unknown artists.

The National Railway Museum in York had 500 paintings, mostly in store, and one portrait amongst these stands out as being of particular interest, that of “Tim” the dog who collected on the main London stations for railway widows and orphans with a box strapped to his back. Later in time live dogs were not used for this purpose, which makes the painting an interesting piece of social history.

Dundee had 2,000 oil paintings, and, notably there were several by Francis Cadell.  Not popular at the time they were painted, being thought “too bright and too French” they are much admired now.

One of Stanley Spencer’s very early works, painted when he was a young student was acquired for a song by the Slade School where he studied and, needless to say, it is now very valuable.

The Dental Museum in Wimpole Street, London has 35 paintings, one of which, by John Lavery, shows Lady Lavery undergoing dental treatment.

The Ruth Borchard Collection has a valuable store of self-portraits by a wide range of artists. The collector prided herself on never having paid more than twenty-one guineas for a single one!

The Aberystwith Museum has the largest collection of oil paintings in N. Wales-------all now, thanks to Art UK, catalogued and on line.

In 2011 Art UK went into partnership with the BBC and a comprehensive on-line website was developed.

Mary then went on to list artists local to our own area who had been recorded and in many cases saved from oblivion, and showed us some of their noteworthy paintings such as Bridgewater’s John Chubb’s “The Turnpike Tollgate”; Henry Hewitt and James Pyne’s “View from the Mendips”; works by Glastonbury’s Samuel Prout, an architect of standing who eventually was employed at the court of George IV. There were Edward Cooke’s paintings of impressive West Country rock formations, Thomas Hoawood’s “Flooded Levels”, Stanley Williams “Cider Making at Pilton” and the grandson of Camille Pisarro, Lucien, painting a typical “Muddy Lane In Dorset” where he and his family settled.

Moving into the modern period we were shown some of the realistic but at the same time slightly surreal World War II and Somerset countryside paintings of Tristram Hillier; Leonard Richmond’s Railway Posters and art instruction books, and a blackened façade of the uncleaned Wells Cathedral by Ken Howard who was Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy.

Mary next quoted a long list of notable paintings by people famous in other walks of life.

Gertrude Jekyll (Thomas in the character of Puss In Boots); Sir Henry Wood (who has a gallery to himself in the RCM); Noel Coward (The White Cliffs Of Dover); Sir Winston Churchill (many to be seen in the Royal Academy); Dwight Eisenhower’s portrait of ‘Monty’; Sarah Bernhardt; Anthony Cher; Kathleen Ferrier; Cecil Beaton and many others.

Recently inaugurated is ‘Art Detective’, an on-line forum where subscribers can exchange and acquire knowledge.  Art UK is still very keen to garner any knowledge anyone has of certain paintings about which nothing or precious little is known.  To date there are 30,000 ‘anonymous ’painters, and 8,000 portraits of unknown sitters.

Art UK visits schools and will often lend a school a valuable painting for a day. The School will then extract a day’s education from it—like creative writing and practical activities inspired by the picture. Following funding from the National Lottery, a schools' project for sculpture is now planned.

Mary left her fascinating subject with an image to be added to the website---Edward Landseer at work on the Trafalgar Square Lions-----and a strong suggestion that we all subscribe to Art UK’s newsletter to keep up with all the news, and to keep in mind that oil paintings of all sorts have contributed hugely to British Culture for 700 years or more, and they all need to be recognized, loved and cherished.

Louise Adams


Picture : Jacques-Emile Blanche by Walter Sickert. Manchester Art Gallery