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Posts tagged ““The Unconventional Minister”

17th July 2011

Leonardo, Poussin, Turner: Three Developments in London and Krakow

There have been extremely dramatic developments this week in connection with two of our campaigns. On 13 December 2010 we supported an appeal (see Fig. 2) from scholars and conservators in Poland who opposed the lending of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine” to a forthcoming blockbuster exhibition at the National Gallery in November 2010 to February 2012. (We published a photograph of a National Galley painting that was recently dropped and smashed when being taken down from a special exhibition at the National Gallery – see Fig. 3. Today, the Observer reports the vandalism of a Poussin painting yesterday at the National Gallery – see Fig. 4. The Poussin was attacked at the gallery in 1978. The National Gallery, we understand, is presently considering reducing the number of its warders.) That appeal from Poland and our support for it, was reported in the Observer of 12 December 2010. We were subsequently attacked in personal and organisational terms by Count Adam Zamoyski, the board chairman of the Czartoryski Museum, which owns the Leonardo. To those attacks (and almost identical ones made by the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones) we responded in a post of 29 December 2010.

On Thursday this week (14 July 2011) it was reported that, “in order to improve the functioning of the Foundation of the Czartoryski Princes and to assure the correct collaboration with the National Museum in Krakow,” Prince Adam Karol Czartoryski, heir to the collections of the world-renowned Czartoryski Museum, has approved the dismissal of the enterprise’s entire management board, including its chairman, Count Adam Zamoyski.

Last Monday (11 July 2011) we reported the electrifying disclosures contained in Sandy Nairne’s forthcoming book on the recovery of two stolen Turners (“Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners”). Today, the Independent on Sunday examines the deal by the Tate and the insurers of its stolen Turners that was brokered by the then Labour Government’s Paymaster General, Geoffrey Robinson (“The stolen Turners, the Serbian underworld, and a £24m insurance job”). As the paper’s Matthew Bell writes, the deal was one “in which the Tate received a £24m payout but then kept most of the money” when the paintings were recovered, in order to help the funding of Tate Modern.

It is further reported that the insurer, Robert Hiscox, describes that payout (a “£22 million bonanza” according to Geoffrey Robinson) as having been a “good deal for the country, but a terrible deal for us”. Admitting that he had acted out of his love of art and a wish to help the Tate, Mr Hiscox (quite sensationally) claims that at the time the help was given, “We knew who had the paintings”. Can that be the case?

Mr Hiscox has explained that although this knowledge had been gained, the insurers had believed that the paintings “would be in a rotten condition by now” when, in fact, as a Tate press release of 20 December 2002 (“Tate’s stolen Turners are recovered”) put it, both paintings were “in good condition” when recovered.

In his forthcoming book Sandy Nairne claims or implies that Geoffrey Robinson had been in error to contend that the two Turners were known to been stolen by “a group of particularly nasty Serbs”, and to have “misleadingly (indeed mistakenly)” stated that the insurance money had been needed for building Tate Modern. This would seem to be another very finely nuanced grey zone because, on Nairne’s own forthcoming account, the Tate (on the initiative of its Director of Finance and Adminstration, Alex Beard) had sought to unlock the “dormant” stolen Turners’ insurance £24m payout, precisely so as to “enable building projects to proceed in connection with Tate Modern and the galleries at Tate Millbank.”

As the Independent on Sunday reports, Mr Nairne publishes a press statement drafted in November 2000 when one of the paintings had already been recovered. It read:

There has been much speculation over the years about the whereabouts of the two paintings by J. M. W. Turner stolen in Frankfurt in 1994. And like the authorities in Germany, the Tate has always been interested in serious information which might lead to their recovery. But currently there is no new information, nor are there any current discussions being conducted. Of course I remain hopeful that one day the paintings might return to the Tate. – Nicholas Serota, Tate Director.

Matthew Bell writes “Sir Nicholas’s office denies that he had misled journalists, adding that the draft statement was never released to the press.” The Tate director’s office explained that:“At the time this statement was drafted the recovery was at a critical stage, which is why the wording in this draft was deliberately obscure”; and added, “As with all press statements it would have been reviewed and revised in response to specific questions received from a Journalist.”

A spokesman for Mr Nairne is reported to have said yesterday:

After eight years of not being able to talk about the operation to recover the Turners, Sandy just really wanted to get it off his chest.”

Michael Daley

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Above, Fig. 1: Leonardo da Vinci’s late 15th century “Lady with an Ermine” which has been loaned abroad many times (for fees) by the Czartoryski Museum, Krakow.
Above, Fig. 2: the Appeal to ArtWatch UK from the President of the Krakow Division of the Association of Art Historians. A leading conservator in Krakow warned that “If you transport a picture panel such as ‘The Lady with an Ermine’, even the most ideal methods in the form of modern environmental chambers or special anti-shock frames are not able sufficiently protect the work against a variety of vibrations, shocks or changes of pressure.” Furthermore, “By allowing the painting to travel we create yet another serious threat, greatly extending the area of possible human error, while increasing the likelihood of the impact of the so-called independent factors.
Above, Fig. 3: The National Gallery’s 16th century wood panel, Beccafumi’s “Marcia”, which was dropped and smashed on January 21st 2008 during “the de-installation of the exhibition ‘Renaissance Siena: Art for a City'”. After the accident it was said by the gallery (Report, 13 March 2008) that the panel is “fragile” and will “never be allowed to go out on loan.”
Above, Fig. 4: a photograph by Steven Dear which is published in today’s Observer, accompanying the report by Cherry Wilson of an attack made yesterday on Poussin’s “The Adoration of the Golden Calf” at the National Gallery, allegedly by a 57-year-old man.
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