Let's not 'save' art

February 27 2012

Image of Let's not 'save' art

Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty/Guardian

Jonathan Jones, in The Guardian, takes exception to 'saving' the Manet the Ashmolean wants to buy:

This is a beautiful and important painting, a beguiling example of Manet's louche modernity. I would love the Ashmolean to own it – why not? But this rhetoric about "saving" art has to stop. Unless the potential foreign owner is a wealthy maniac who bought it with the express intention of shredding the canvas and feeding it to the hounds, or a thriller writer who wants to do CSI on it to find out if Manet was Jacques le Ripper, or an agent for the Chapman brothers, the painting is not in any need of being "saved". If it did leave these shores, it would be no great loss to most of us, who have never seen it in a British gallery and had little idea it was even in the country. For all those years, it has not been a public possession but a very private one. It is only the prospect of a sale abroad that has suddenly made it news, got it shown in the media, and provoked this campaign.

It is hard to argue that a regional museum in southern England needs a world-class Manet for any reason beyond its own ambition. People living in Oxford are not that deprived of the Frenchman's genius: they can easily get to London, where they can see great works by him at the Courtauld Gallery, as well as at the National Gallery. I bet there are a few who could even manage the occasional Eurostar trip to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

This is all slightly daft. Ok, 'save' might be over-used these days in relation to art, but it's a necessary evil if it gets people to cough up for an acquisition. And if we take Jones' argument in the second paragraph to its logical conclusion, we wouldn't have regional art galleries at all. And they're worth saving.

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