The real reason why I wanted to call in on the NPG was to see Henry VII before he goes out on loan or into cold storage: one of the most fascinating portraits in the collection (NPG 416), documented by its inscription as having been painted by order of Herman Rinck, an agent for Maximilian I in the abortive negotiations round Henry’s possible marriage to Margaret of Austria. I’ve always been fascinated by how much it seems to tell one about Henry’s character – careful, scrupulous, reticent, if one is still allowed to read portraits in relation to character:-
Done by an unknown artist, but so beautifully, one wants to know about the artist as well as the sitter.
His left hand:-
Given the imminent closure of the NPG (actually, not until 29 June), I thought I should call in as I was in the area. I was so pleased to see that Leonard McComb’s estate has bequeathed his Self-portrait which in on display on what used to be the Royal landing, together with his very fine portrait of Doris Lessing. His Self-portrait well conveys his personality – earnest and quietly determined, a bit of a loner and a beautiful draftsman. It was done in 2002 when he had stood down as Keeper at the Royal Academy and was living in Brixton; but I don’t remember the moustache:-
It was the publication day today of DixonJones 2, the second volume of the Complete Works of Dixon.Jones, taking the practice from their work on the National Gallery, including the Getty Entrance and Annenberg Court, through their work on the pedestrianisation of Exhibition Road, Jeremy’s beautiful concert hall at King’s Place, Ed’s Villa Jones at Bargemon, to their work on the masterplan for the Chelsea Barracks site and works I know less well like Marlborough Primary School in Chelsea and 35, Marylebone High Street: always well judged, urbane, sympathetic to the surrounding environment, the product of good thinking and design, all of which is beautifully recorded in the book through text, plans, drawings and photographs.
I have been asked why I haven’t commented on the closure of Blain|Southern last week. The truth is that I feel nothing but sympathy and sorrow for Harry Blain who has had a long history as a very successful dealer and had recently done everything he could to reduce its costs by radical down-sizing. I also, of course, feel at least as much sorrow for the many artists the gallery represented, many of whom I liked and admired, and for the lovely and dedicated staff, who I liked working with. What does it tell one about the current state of the art market ? Only that business can be cruel.
I apologise for the occasional silences of the blog. I have been immured in the British Museum completing the reading for my book on post-war museums, which was originally going to be called The Transformation of the Art Museum. But this was regarded as too academic and it is now likely to be called The Art Museum: A Global Journey, which conveys the fact that it is, as far as possible about new museums worldwide, although I am weak on South America and haven’t seen the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in Cape Town, which I should have done. But at some point one has to draw a line in the sand and accept that one can’t see them all. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed doing it and there’s still much to be done, so there may be further silences.
A footnote to the stuff about Dancy. There is mention in both obituaries to Dancy’s experiment during the 1960s of taking in pupils to Marlborough from Swindon, the local big town, and it says that the experiment failed. But it doesn’t say why it failed. The answer was that they couldn’t stand the place, the prevalence of homosexuality and the horrible food, not just that they couldn’t ride their motorbikes to school. That’s why the next experiment was to introduce girls.
I have now been alerted to the existence of an existing long and detailed obituary of Dancy already published by the Daily Telegraph, which rightly pays tribute to his role as a pioneer of co-education. I am only perplexed by his comment that some of the girls were ‘matronly’. It was obvious to his pupils, at least this one, that in picking the first fifteen, he had a good eye for the most glamorous and sophisticated, not characteristics that I think of as matronly.
A friend of mine – not an Old Marlburian – pointed out that an obituary has now appeared of my former headmaster, John Dancy, or JCD as he was known. I am re-posting it even though there may be lots of people, including me, who don’t have a subscription to the Times, because it is a good example of how little one sometimes knows of people except in death.
So, I did not know that his parents were liberal East London doctors; nor that he had been inspired to become a schoolteacher instead of an Oxford don, as he easily could have been, by the experience of interrogating members of the Hitler Youth, thereby recognising the formative importance of a liberal school education; nor that he had been sporty before contracting polio in his twenties (he walked with an obvious limp); nor that he had been a member of the Newsom Commission in the 1960s which recommended the integration of the public schools with the state system. He was impressive as a figurehead and I now better understand why.