Yesterday I went on a curated art tour of Tate Britain as an accompaniment to our course on British twentieth century art. In my opinion there are three ways to enjoy public art and one way not to.
The three ways are a viewing at a dealer, at an auction house and the standing collection of museum like the Tate.
It begs the question of museum charges for the standing collection. Probably just like removing free milk endowed Mrs Thatcher as Minister of Education with the sobriquet ‘Milk Snatcher’ no one wants to be the remover. I would have been happy to stick a note of low denomination into a glass case but I could not see one.
Our teacher gave an overview of the first rooms of Gainsborough, Reynolds and Constable in a golden age of English art before we viewed the twentieth century collection.
We saw paintings by the surrealist Paul Nash, the Camden Town painters Charles Ginner and Harold Gilman, Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, David Bomberg, Francis Bacon through to David Hockney.
Sadly there were no Lucian Freuds nor Edward Burras on view.
After 5 1/2 hours of standing I contracted museumitis. My joints began to creak, I felt tired and was not taking anything in. My late mother was a volunteer guide at the Wallace Collection and confined any tour to three pictures.
This reminded me of a story I recently heard of a politician who of an afternoon will visit the Tate and feign a connoisseur’s knowledge normally when a young tourist always female and often American is present. He engages her in conversation and invites her back for a cup of tea at the House where his p/a calls him supposedly to summon him to meet the PM. Could she return later for a drink?
British art has few ‘isms’. Normally it is topical to a place: Spencer in Cookham, the Nicholsons in St Ives, and some of the titans like Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon defy any categorisation.