The multivalent future life of The National Gallery

Publication of the latest National Gallery Strategic Plan 2021-2026 will take the organisation through to its 200th birthday. The plan is very much a product of the pandemic, recognising the change over the past year, challenges and opportunities that the gallery has gone through and actions it needs now to mainstream in its operations to thrive into the future.

The Gallery sees itself as embarking on a newly enhanced commitment to engage with the widest audiences globally in innovative ways, and wants to demonstrate how art is transformative, enhancing culture and society. It intends to develop income streams through a range of digital channels and offerings, rework the visitor welcome and orientation in the Sainsbury Wng, and foregrounds the research credentials of the Gallery as a hub for an enhanced and diverse community of practice.

There is much to applaud here, not least the optimistic and engaging tone in which the strategy is written. As a connoisseur of strategic plans and annual reports, there are also some sentences which may baffle and amuse. My favourites for this plan include:

It is this multivalent life, always finding new ways to share our art, that defines the Gallery and will continually redefine it in future.

Strategic Plan, p.5

Multivalent? There’s a word you don’t see every day!.

…we will diversify the social media channels we serve to include programmes we do not already use (TikTok, Snapchat) as well as doubling down on the ones we do.

Strategic Plan, p.10

Doubling down? A phrase with history… but also a gamble.

Sector knowledge: National Trust Historic Houses & Collections Annual

Journal Summary: The National Trust Historic Houses & Collections Annual brings together in-depth articles by leading specialists and curatorial experts. It also features shorter articles, such as high-profile interviews, highlights of recent loans and acquisitions, an exhibition diary and curator-profile pieces.
Published in association with Apollo magazine, the Annual provides illuminating insights into a wide range of research topics relating to collections objects, architecture, gardens, interior design and libraries, among many others.

Publisher: National Trust


Access: Open access

Journal Type: Organisational publication

Learning from the experience of others – art, business and leadership

I had the pleasure of sitting in Benny Higgins’ inaugural lecture at the University of Edinburgh last week, as he explored ‘Hinterlands’ making connections between his passion for and deep knowledge of art, literature and poetry, and situations faced in business. He ranged widely in time and geography, and in drawing inspiration from his cultural knowledge has been able to consider many operational and strategic decisions in a broader context. His lecture was inspiring and a reminder that engagement with culture, heritage and context is a useful hinterland which can have far-reaching effects.IMG_20191106_174528

The Tintagel face loses its nose

Tintagel © David Gill

The BBC is reporting that the ‘face’ cut at Tintagel has been damaged. I have commented on the decision to ‘create’ this unnecessary feature before.

Merlin and Tintagel

Tintagel © David Gill

Tintagel must be on the most evocative coastal sites in England. My English Heritage guide (by Brian K. Davison, 1999) states, ‘Tintagel Castle is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in the whole of south-west England’. It resonates with Arthurian legend.

But now English Heritage have gone one step further and commissioned a sculpted head of Merlin cut into one of the rocks on the beach (“Merlin’s face revealed at Tintagel Castle“, 11 February 2016).

The property manager, Matt Ward, is quoted: “Merlin’s face is just the beginning of our exciting new project here at Tintagel – but what a start … Tintagel is a place of landscape and legend, and Merlin, emerging so organically from the rock, sums that up perfectly. We’ve got lots more to come over the next few months and I can’t wait to see it all take shape.”

I cannot help feeling that this sort of ‘initiative’ detracts from the site and moves its ‘history’ into the realm of ‘fantasy’. I sincerely hope that English Heritage does not have ‘lots more to come over the next few months’.

Perhaps the new tagline should be: ‘Step outside England’s story’.

Palmyra 1942

Roman Ruins at Palmyra, Syrian Desert
Roman Ruins at Palmyra, Syrian Desert© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2351)

This ink drawing of Palmyra by Anthony Gross (1905-84) was made in 1942. He trained at the Slade School of Art.

It now forms part of the collection at the Imperial War Museum.

Sutton Hoo Society: Basil Brown Memorial Lecture 2014

Sutton Hoo Society

Basil Brown Lecture 2014

The 2014 Basil Brown Memorial Lecture will be taking place in Woodbridge on Saturday 14 June 2014. Dr Leslie Webster will be lecturing on “Tradition and Transformation in Anglo-Saxon Art”.

Alan Sorrell: reconstructing the past


The Sir John Soane’s Museum in London has been hosting an exhibition Alan Sorrell – A Life Reconstructed (ed. Sacha Llewellyn and Richard Sorrell; Sansom & Company, 2013). The excellent illustrated catalogue contains a number of essays:

  • Richard Sorrell: Introduction: a portrait of my father
  • Peyton Skipwith, The Royal College of Art & the 1930s: developing a sense of design and form
  • Sacha Llewellyn, The British School at Rome 1928-1930: ‘The stirring up process’
  • Brian Foss: Alan Sorrell’s war, 1939-46: a view from above
  • Alan Powers, Murals and public paintings: ‘community service’
  • Sara Perry and Matthew Johnson, Alan Sorrell as reconstruction artist: making ‘dry bones live’
  • Richard Sorrell, Travels and direct-observational painting
  • Ian Sanders, Chronology

There are some unexpected images: Sudanese Express Passing Abu Simbel (1961), Construction of a Runway at an Aerodrome (1946), Istanbul: the wall of Manuel Comnenus (1954). The final section showing covers from his volumes of reconstructions reminds us of the legacy of Sorrell.

“Made at Fitz”: Post-modern Geometric Greek-style art

Attic Geometric amphora, Athens, National Museum © David Gill

How do you explore decorating a rounded, three-dimensional object? What can inspire you? The Cambridge ‘Not praising, burying‘ workshop drew on inspiration from 8th century BC funerary pots decorated with Geometric figures. The texts acknowledge the ‘signatures’ found on much later Athenian black-and red-figured pots, and allude to the poetic process of creation in this stimulating environment.

Others adopted a more contemporary feel.

“Made at Fitz”. Photo: © David Gill

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