Whenever I am in Edinburgh, and I have even a few minutes to spare, I usually make a quick visit to the National Gallery. It's not that I am an art enthusiast. Anything but. It is to my regret that I have little artistic talent. But the great thing about this gallery, and many in Scotland, is that it costs nothing to nip in, and spend a few moments studying one or two of the works of art on show.
I was pleased to discover in August that Sir George Harvey's famous painting The Curlers was back on display. I wasn't allowed to photograph it of course.
But I do have this print of an engraving of Harvey's painting in my collection. The original painting is rather fine. Even the reproduction online, see here, does not do it justice. For one thing, it's much larger than my print, the colours are vibrant, and there's so much detail. I've been to see it a number of times. It is unfortunate that it has been mounted in a stairwell, and it is difficult to find a stance from which you can examine the picture comfortably.
Here's what the National Gallery says about it. "Harvey conveyed the excitement, humour and enjoyment of one of Scotland's national sports. The curlers are playing outside on a frozen lake, the wintry landscape illuminated by the late afternoon sun, providing a seasonal backdrop for the theatrical composition. The players themselves reflect the whole spectrum of rural society."
The painting was so popular when it was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1835 that Harvey made a number of copies to meet demand. This is interesting. I think I know where one of the copies is, but where are the others?
An engraving of the picture was made in 1838 by William Howison and published by the influential art dealer, Alexander Hill. I assume it is a print of this that I bought at auction some years ago.
You might think from what I've written above that I'm a big fan of our National Galleries. I'm not. Having entered into an agreement (or so we were told, see the story here) with the Royal Caledonian Curling Club to purchase Lees's painting of the Grand Match at Linlithgow, they reneged on the deal. The value of this Royal Club asset has never been stated publically, but is thought to be in excess of half a million.
The situation today appears unchanged from that stated by the RCCC CEO Colin Grahamslaw at the AGM in June. "If I can update briefly on the Charles Lees painting, we have been discussing throughout the year with the National Galleries of Scotland their bid for the picture. Unfortunately the situation with the Titians sidelined our picture. It seems to be easier to find 50 million for a couple of Titians than a slightly smaller amount for what we were looking for for our picture but, we continue to talk with the galleries and talk with Sotheby's about potential homes for the Charles Lees painting but, it still remains with the Royal Club and in our ownership and in safe-keeping in appropriate conditions."
Ah yes, the Titians!
Earlier this year, the The National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery, London, announced that Titian’s Diana and Actaeon has been acquired for the nation from the Duke of Sutherland, the acquisition made possible with donations from Scottish Government, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Monument Trust, The Art Fund charity and National Gallery, London and National Galleries of Scotland funds, as well as contributions from the general public.
It is said that Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, both painted by Italian Renaissance artist Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) in the 16th century, rank among the greatest works of art on display anywhere in the world. They are part of the Bridgewater Collection which has been on loan from the Duke of Sutherland to the National Galleries of Scotland since 1945.
Diana and Actaeon was bought for £50 million. The National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery, London, now have the opportunity to acquire Diana and Callisto by 2012 for another £50 million.
The paintings are currently in London, but I made a point of going to see them when they were on display in Edinburgh in August. Was I excited to see two of the 'greatest works of art on display anywhere in the world'? I was not. Try as I did, I just could not appreciate these paintings at all, and I could not see why they could be so valuable. I left thinking that to spend this sort of money on a bit of wallpaper is obscene. I guess I will never be an art lover!
Given the fundraising efforts that are currently ongoing for the new rinks at Cupar and Kinross, I was interested to read how the £50 million had been raised, see here.
Currently on show in the National Galleries, in a pride of place position just as you enter, is Charles Lees's other famous painting The Golfers. It would be nice to think that the Grand Match on Linlithgow Loch would one day hang together with its companion. But I suspect that this will never happen. Unless we just GIVE the Grand Match painting to the National Gallery of Scotland. Or should Sotheby's just be asked to put it up for auction, and the money gained go towards the National Curling Academy at Kinross? Or is doing nothing at present the correct option? Decisions, decisions!
Pics © Skip Cottage. The reproduction of Lees's painting is from the Scottish Curler archive.