Exclusive - Museum swap-shop

February 2 2015

Image of Exclusive - Museum swap-shop

Picture: Tate/NPG

Tate Britain is to transfer the above portrait, Mrs Jordan as Hypolita by John Hoppner, to the National Portrait Gallery. Tate, along with the National Gallery, has a statutory power to do this, and it doesn't formally count as a 'de-accession'. 

It is a de-accession, of course, and it's worth noting that once upon a time this picture used to belong to the National Gallery, before that institution transferred it to Tate in 1979. The portrait had been bequeathed to the National Gallery by Sir Edward Stern in 1933.

The picture's change in fortunes (in terms of the relative 'status' of each gallery) charts the curious decline in Hoppner's reputation. At the beginning of the 20th Century, he was more or less seen on a par with the likes of Romney, Gainsborough and Lawrence, as the holdings of institutions like the Metropolitan Museum demonstrates. Now he isn't so highly regarded, though there's no doubting his talent as a painter. 

Tate's website says that the picture is not on display, and I suppose we can assume that it hasn't been regularly shown there for some years now.* Personally, I'm all in favour of such transfers, if pictures go from an institution which doesn't value them to one that does. Regular readers will know my views on Tate's woeful ratio of pictures in store to pictures on display (see my piece on this in the FT here). Indeed, of Tate's ten oil paintings by Hoppner, none are currently on show. I'd say 'Mrs Jordan' (who was an actress, and William IV's mistress) is Tate's best Hoppner. But now it's the NPG's. Lucky them. 

*I'm told the picture has been on loan at the NPG for 'many years'.

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