Page 19 - Studio International - June 1965
P. 19


                                  Only  a  few  years  ago  in  the  pages  of  The  Studio   Indian Section's sumptuous treasure has been put into
                                  appeared  a  series  of  articles  entitled  ·Museums  or  storage except for the cream in the museum proper.
                                  Mausoleums'  in  which  several  of  the  British  public   Of an even greater endowment and of an even more
                                  collections and their houses underwent a scrutiny. The  general  i naccessi bi I ity are the  incomparable resources
                                  object of the survey, incomplete though it was, had its  of the British Museum.  Its function has been described
                                  purpose in discerning whether or not the museum/art  as  the  advancement  of  learning  by  the  provision  of
                                  gallery was  fulfilling  its true  function  in  displaying  its  materials and facilities for research. While it is true there
                                  treasures to the best of public enjoyment. By and large,  is exhibition of select material in the public galleries, it
                                  the results were disappointing, the staffs and trustees of  is not always to its best advantage. The Duveen Gallery,
                                  museums that were the subjects of criticism resented it,  specially designed  (it is said)  to hold the breathtaking
                                  as some appeared to resent even the public who wished   Elgin  Marbles,  is probably  the  most inadequate  siting
                                  to take advantage of the amenities furnished. There is no  imaginable for stone carvings that stood suspended in
                                  evidence that the galleries. such as that at York, which  the pure space of the Aegeian sky for centuries.
                                  earned deserving praise were visited by the officials of   But who knows how best to display the works of art we
                                  less worthy establishments to see how it was done.   possess 7  Museum  officials  of  the  more  enlightened,
                                   A  recent  visit  to  Paris  brought  to  our  notice  in  the  less  Civil-Service-frustrated  type, who go abroad and
                                  Musee  de  l'Homme  a  superlative  exhibition  of  ninety  see  what  French,  German  and  Italian  galleries,  public
                                  masterpieces  from  its  collections  which  highlit  a  and private. can do-but they are few and hamstrung by
                                  question  that  has  long  concerned  us.  Is  in  fact  our  miserable  budgets.  Certainly  not  architects.  Economic
                                  national  treasure  so  slight  that  it  requires  constant  space-fillers have been their concern for so long, they
                                  addition  or,  like  Fort  Knox,  is  it  not  already  so  well  have lost the way of seeing function in the form. How
                                  endowed that it resembles an iceberg in that most of it is  little  they  know  about  displaying  art  was  made
                                  so  well  concealed  beneath  the  surface  most  people  lamentably clear by the pointless. tasteless and generally
                                  forget that it is there?                          incredible setting designed for the 'British Sculpture in
                                   To consider  how well concealed  the  treasure  is  it is  the  Sixties' exhibition organised by the  Contemporary
                                  only  necessary  to  think  of  the  Musee  de  !'Homme  Art Society recently at the Tate Gallery.  Let it be added
                                  exhibition. Magnificent though it was and devoted only  immediately that  none  of  the  Tate's staff  were in  any
                                  to the arts of so-called primitive civilizations of Africa,  way responsible.  They and  most of  the  sculptors and
                                  America  and  Oceania,  it  is  probably  true  that  an  all the honest critics were equally appalled.
                                  exhibition of similar calibre could have been mounted   What is undoubtedly required in each museum holding
                                  from the resources of the British Museum.  Yet even in  the national collections-especially the British Museum
                                  Paris the cost of mounting the exhibition and defraying  -is a special exhibition room in which each month an
                                  the  expenses  of  producing  the  really  splendidly  exhibition of masterpieces is mounted.  Not just picked
                                  informative  and  evocative  catalogue  was  met  by  the  out and put up but displayed by an expert, lit, catalogued
                                  generosity  of  a  committee  under  the  presidency  of  and carpeted with all the attendant trimmings to induce
                                  Baroness  Alix  de  Rothschild.  Admission  was charged  euphoric conditions of appreciation. The joint benefits
                                  and yet every day people queued for admission.    of  the  spotlight  and  the  microscope  are  required  to
                                   Such  is  the  panic  created  in  small  corners  when  a   enjoy  works  of  art.  With  all  the joys  we  possess,  the
                                  Rembrandt  is  sold  at  public  auction  to  an  American  very rich hours belong to us.  Instead of spending more
                                  buyer, an ingenuous ignoramus would assume  (a)  that  to extend their catalogues, the galleries should purchase
                                  Great Britain was being denuded of its most priceless  the ability to let us see better only a fraction of what we
                                  cultural objects and  (b)  that  Rembrandt was  a native  have; if they do not, we may forget we have it.   ■
                                  painter  with  an  output  as  small  in  number  as that  of
                                   The question, of course, is one of display. The wealth
                                  is here in quantities scarcely guessed at.  In the Victoria
                                  and Albert Museum, to be sure, the primary collections
                                  display  with  a  relative  judgment  some  of  the  best
                                  examples in the world of such rarities as  Italian Gothic
                                  and  Renaissance  sculpture.  Oriental  pottery  and
                                  porcelain,  medieval  and  Renaissance  jewellery  and
                                  English domestic silver no less than the unique donation
                                  of works by John  Constable.
                                   Yet the submerged bullion is ofno less startling a calibre.
                                  To cite the most obvious example one stands amazed
                                  at the number of prints and drawings in the Victoria and
                                  Albert:  more  than  500,000  items.  Over  half  a  million
                                  pieces  of  paper  and  many  by masters  yet only a  few
                                  can be shown at one time. The rest can be consulted by
                                  students-and for the love of art we are all students­
                                  provided they know  the  specific artist  and  work  they
                                  wish to study. The National Art Library is housed on the
                                  top floor of the  Museum with a reference collection of
                                  more than 300,000 books, pamphlets,  and periodicals.
                                  Yet how many people know it is there or that it is the
                                  largest  art  library in  the world.
          Studio International
          Volume CLXIX  No.  866   Since the building in the  Imperial  Institute  Road has
          June,  1965             been demolished to make way for the new college, the
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