Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The future of the Grand Match painting

I told the story of Lees's Grand Match painting recently here. There is now just a week to go before the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Board decides its future. See the official post about it on the RCCC website here. If you haven't done so already, let Willie Nicoll know what you want to happen. Perhaps you should talk about it with your own club secretary, or get in touch with your representative on the Areas Standing Committee, which also meets next week, on the day before the Board meeting. This is the committee which represents the views of the 'ordinary' curler. This is the committee which should be arguing for the painting to be saved.

I've been talking with lots of people about the painting and what should happen to it. I was asked, "What would you do, Bob?" Here are my thoughts.

Personally, I fail to understand why the Royal Club is planning to sell one of the most important iconic paintings of the sport of curling. I cannot believe that the Club is thinking of disposing of what is its biggest financial asset, with unseemly haste and without proper consultation with the members. It's not as if the Club is in a difficult financial position and needs the money from such a sale. I believe that if the new Board allows the painting to go for auction, then these Royal Club directors will be forever responsible for the biggest mistake in the Royal Club's history!

For once I am not sitting on the fence. I simply do not believe that we are in possession of all the facts, nor that the Board has made a good enough case for disposing of the painting.

I believe that the priority is to get the painting out of the clutches of the auction house where it currently is being held, and into safe secure storage. For the short term. What do I mean by this? I would not like to see the painting finish up in the back of someone's shed on a farm somewhere, or in a warehouse, but in the care of a professional company which knows how to look after works of art. There are a number of such companies, used by museums, or by those who are fortunate to possess works of art with no room to display them all. As an example, check out Constantine's website here.

Then, given that the immediate threat to the painting has been dealt with, there will be time to consider its future. Independent experts can advise on conservation and restoration, and all of us can be made aware of the current state of the painting, and hence make a reasoned decision on what should happen.

With the painting safely and securely in store, there will also be time for new negotiations to begin with parties other than the National Galleries, such as the Kelvingrove Museum, other museums and galleries, the National Trust, other stately homes. That's always assuming that the painting is not required to be the centrepiece of the new National Academy project with its curling history museum and RCCC offices. (Yes, I still live in hope that this project will eventually come about, if not in Kinross, then on some other site.)

Note that I've used the word 'independent' in relation to the experts who should examine the painting. I want to know the condition of the painting in the opinion of experts who are not in hock to someone who is trying to purchase it for as low a price as possible. These reports (and surely we need two) should be made public for all members to read. The questions which need to be answered are (1) What work, if any, needs to be done to ensure that the painting does not deteriorate further and remains an asset to the members of the Royal Club, and (2) What work needs to be done to restore the painting to satisfactory condition that it can be put on show. And of course we need estimates of what the answers to both of these questions will cost.

The current figures being bandied about in the Royal Club's post on the website, are, in my opinion, vague and unsubstantiated.

I hear you saying, "But this was all done before, the opinions of the membership canvassed, and decisions made."

I would respond by saying that this was done four years ago, and a lot has changed in that time. For one thing, the National Academy project with its museum was only on the drawing board then. And the people involved have changed. In fact only one, Jeanette Johnston, remains on the Board from that time. And not every option for the future of the painting was presented to members four years ago.

I hope fervently that the decision is made to keep the painting. Yes, there are cost implications, although short term storage is unlikely to be prohibitive.

In the long term, there may well be a need for considerable fundraising but with a will, there will be a way! As an example, the Royal Club now has its own charitable trust. It did have £100,000 in it, a bequest from Bob Gardner. Some has been spent. (As the minutes of the Trust are not published, none of us knows exactly how funds have been used to date, or how much remains). I understand that the money in the trust fund is earmarked to be used for the establishment of a museum of curling. What could be a more appropriate use of Bob's bequest than in ensuring that Lees's painting remains in Scotland, in good condition and available for everyone to appreciate and enjoy?

Perhaps what the Royal Club Board needs to do is establish a group of members, volunteers, the 'Friends of the Grand Match painting'! This group would become the painting's 'evangelists', promoting it, researching it, marketing it. There are certainly art lovers amongst the Club's membership, perhaps other experts, and enthusiasts, who would be prepared to devote a little of their time to looking to the future of this painting. 'Friends' groups are well established in so many other areas, even in steam heritage railways (another of my passions as followers of will know!)

I have two further images to throw into the discussion today.

Charles Lees also painted 'The Golfers'. In many ways it is a companion to 'The Grand Match on Linlithgow Loch'. Did you know that the Scottish National Portrait Gallery purchased this painting with financial assistance from, amongst others, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club? It is all so different from the relationship over the past four years with Sotheby's trying to persuade the National Galleries to buy our painting, which we already own (!), at market value.

Note that the option of loaning Lees's painting, or even giving it, to the National Galleries was not among the options presented to members four years ago.

The image above is of the cover of a little book entitled The Golfers: The Story Behind the Painting by Peter Lewis and Angela Howe. There is also a project to track down the descendants of all those portrayed in that picture, see here. Prints, postcards and greeting cards are used as marketing tools and to raise funds.

Is not our curling painting every bit as important as this golf masterpiece?

Don't rule out the fact that other curling organisations might have an interest in the future of Lees's painting, and ensuring it's preservation. What's that on the wall behind Mike Thomson, the World Curling Federation's General Secretary who retires this month? It's NOT the original Lees painting. Rather, it's a photographic reproduction, not quite full size, which Mike had made when the WCF's offices in Great King Street relocated to Perth, and the original moved to Scone Palace. He, for one, is an admirer of the painting.

Can I ask you, if you are reading this post and have an opinion on what should happen, MAKE YOUR OPINION KNOWN to someone on the Board. If you have curling friends who may not even know that Lees's painting is in jeopardy (because they don't read the Royal Club website, or this blog) then tell them about it. Do it now. In a week's time it may be too late.

I'll finish today with what David B Smith, our foremost curling historian, said in the January 2007 issue of the Scottish Curler magazine. "It would be a monstrous betrayal of all the Club has represented over the last 168 years if it were to sell this famous painting at auction."

Images © Skip Cottage