Martin Roth

I was extremely sorry to hear of the death of Martin Roth, the former Director of the V&A, who by chance I already knew quite well when he was Director General of the Dresden State Art Collections (he had been enraged when it was announced that the National Gallery had acquired Adolph Menzel’s Afternoon in the Tuileries Gardens which had been discussed and agreed with his staff, but not with him, and he asked me to attend the press conference for his Menzel exhibition to answer questions from the German press, which I perhaps rashly did).   I notice that none of the obituaries so far have referred to the op-ed article he wrote for the Evening Standard in February 2016 bringing a long historical perspective to the Europeanness of English culture.   Not long afterwards, public officials were banned from expressing an opinion on the referendum, leading to an impoverishment of public debate and perhaps contributing to his sense that he no longer felt comfortable in a more insular Britain.

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4 thoughts on “Martin Roth

  1. marinavaizey says:

    This is a fascinating comment about Martin Roth who has alas died far far far too young and with much he wanted to do….but can you tell us why as a pan European he was distressed at the National Gallery expanding its holdings into those areas that are so crucial for European art but in which the NG for various historic reasons – which you would know better than practically anybody – was/is deficient? 19th century German and Nordic art etc…..Was the Menzel purchase on your watch and what does it mean it was discussed with his staff but not Martin himself?

    • It was (is) a picture which had been part of the Dresden collection after the war, but it was subject to a successful restitution claim and then immediately sold and offered to the National Gallery, which took the view that it was a unique opportunity to acquire a major German work. They are so seldom available on the open market. I think in retrospect that Martin’s annoyance was partly that he hadn’t be consulted either by us or by his staff. Charles

  2. Very interesting comment by Marina Vaizey. Yes, Martin Roth has died far too young , but was he going to be able to do anything to make good the gaping holes in the major British national collections ? Scandinavia, Russia etc. Our collections are dominated by the Grand Tour of France, Germany and Italy, reflected by Kenneth Clark’s CIVILISATION.

    Richard Verdi attempted to correct this at the Barber, but successive Directors of the National Gallery have failed. It will be interesting to see if Simon Sharma and Mary Beard can begin to correct that imbalance in the new CIVILISATIONS (plural).

  3. Pamela Glasson Roberts says:

    I only met Martin Roth once, briefly, but always saddened that, apparently, he left the V&A as so dismayed by Brexit, as were so many of us. So sad given the good work he did there & for the UK & Europe.

    I hadn’t realised that public officials, like you Charles, were banned from speaking during the referendum. Were you & your fellow diresctors too “expert” – that dirty word? Don’t we call that censorship?

    Johnson & Gove, also public officials, like you, were given government funding to spread Brexit falsehoods.

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