A Batoni in storage

October 10 2012

Image of A Batoni in storage

Picture: Brentwood Gazette

There's an interesting little story in the Essex local press today about the council's art holdings. The most valuable piece in their collection is the above Batoni, of Thomas Barrett-Lennard, 17th Lord Dacre, with his wife and daughter. Valued at £2.5m it is, needless to say, in storage. The Batoni was given to the council, along with other family portraits, by the late Sir Thomas Barrett-Lennard. The Council is hoping to display the works more effectively, but one wonders why it has taken them so long to find a suitable home. And doubtless a similar situation exists across the country with paintings that are owned by local authorities. As the PCF has sadly shown, 80% of publicly owned paintings are in storage.

There must be plenty of museums who would like such a fine work. The picture is an interesting, if rather sad one. The Dacres' daughter, Anne, had died before it was painted, and when the couple visited Rome a year after her death, they asked Batoni to include her portrait. He copied her likeness by Thomas Hudson, which accounts for the strange un-Batoni like quality of her head.

Dacre was a great patron of the arts. Some years ago we discovered his portrait by Andrea Soldi, which is now in the Rienzi House Museum in Texas (where, if you happen to be in Texas, you can soon see an exhibition on Romney).

Update - a reader writes:

I'm told that the great Eric Pickles has waded into this debate. I was pleased to hear that he supports wider display of publicly owned art, but was slightly surprised by his suggestion for how this should be done. Apparently the best place to do so is in supermarkets.

I would agree that the public could hardly avoid seeing these hidden treasures if they were next to a till in Morrisons, but I doubt very much if it will aid their appreciation. It hardly seems necessary to point out that there are other public buildings or more worthy not-for-profit sites such as churches or local museums/heritage sites which would welcome them.

You could get a lot of Clubcard points for a Batoni.

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