Previous Posts: September 2014
De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)
September 22 2014
I've been covering (most recently here) the disastrous way the Delaware Art Museum has gone about selling some of its collection to plug a financial black hole. Now, the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts which has (though through no fault of its own) the mother of all black holes to fill, has written this stinging riposte to Delaware's activities. In the DIA's newsletter, Graham Beal [above] writes:
There are those who assert that selling a couple of works to save the institution is a reasonable thing to do, as has come up in the Detroit bankruptcy case. But a sudden influx of cash to address a financial bind doesn't solve anything.
Recently, there has been a lot in the press about the Delaware Art Museum's determination to sell as many as three of its most notable artworks to pay off debts incurred through an ambitious expansion about a decade ago. The first, William Holman Hunt's Pot of Basil, has already been sold.
While hardly a household name, Hunt was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of young painters who, in 1848, challenged the British art establishment with a vision entirely at odds with accepted practices. Because their brightly colored, meticulously detailed style was also at odds with most forms of modernism, their fall from prominence was precipitous and long- lasting. Now they are back in fashion with a vengeance and the Delaware trustees hoped to get $8 million out of the painting -- almost half the debt. It sold for $4 million, probably creating the need to sell more than the two already assigned for sale: a Winslow Homer painting and an Alexander Calder sculpture.
The museum and the community are being stripped of their masterpieces -- its very reason for being. The debt may be satisfied but patrons may be scared away and a new shadow cast over the museum.
A few years ago, rather than address the structural problems causing annual operational deficits, the National Academy of Design (NAD) -- the oldest art museum in the country founded by some of the nation's most important artists -- sold two paintings, one given by an original member!
There were alternatives that would have entailed sacrifice. But selling art did not solve the [Manhattan museum's] problem, and a few weeks ago, the NAD let go a significant portion of its staff.
In the Great Depression, the DIA remained open and staffed, largely thanks to the secret support of Edsel Ford. The City of Detroit arts commissioners could have sold the van Gogh self-portrait, Matisse's The Window, Ruisdael's Jewish Cemetery, or even Breugel's Wedding Dance, but the thought never seems to have crossed anyone's mind.
And if they had, not only would we not have them today, we would not have been given much of the art that came from private donors or the financial contributions that enabled so many purchases. Why give to a museum that, in times of crisis, converts your treasured donation into cash to make up for failed fundraising, bad management or poor fiduciary judgment?
Art Detective strikes again (ctd.)
September 22 2014
Picture: Your Paintings/ Bury Art Museum
Sharp-eyed Art Detective specialist Barbara Bryant has spotted the above portrait of the 14th Earl of Derby (the first man to be Prime Minister on three seperate occasions) sans attribution at Bury Art Museum. She has identified the portrait with an engraving after Henry Perronet Briggs, and presumably the Bury picture must be that exhibited by Briggs at the Royal Academy in 1839. You can see more discussion about the discovery here.
I'm especially pleased to see this discovery because I'm a bit of a Derby anorak. I wrote my PhD on Derby's son, the 15th Earl, who was Foreign Secretary under both his father and Benjamin Disraeli. I also own a marble bust of the 14th Earl by Matthew Noble, which is on display at the House of Commons. The last time I saw it, many years ago, someone had stuck a piece of chewing gum up his nostril.
Mr Turner (ctd.)
September 22 2014
The ArtFund has an interesting interview with Timothy Spall, the actor who plays Turner in Mike Leigh's forthcoming biopic. Here, he tells about the fateful day he heard he got the part, and how he learned painting for two years to prepare:
One day in 2010 I was walking down Maiden Lane, where JMW Turner was born, and I went into this pub [the Porterhouse] for a quick pint, and I saw Turner’s name on a plaque. So I phoned Mike Leigh because about seven years before he’d mentioned that he was thinking about doing something about Turner, and thought I might be right for it. So I left a message saying I was sitting right under where he was born. I was about to go home when I got a call asking me to come to his office, where he said: ‘Untitled 2013 is going to be the film about Turner I mentioned. I want you to play him, and I want you to start painting.’
You always spend a lot of time working on a character, but preparing for Mr Turner is the most I’ve ever done. They found me a wonderful teacher, Tim Wright, who was absolutely brilliant. His portrait of me is in the BP Portrait Award exhibition [at the National Portrait Gallery until 21 September]. I had two years of lessons. We did life drawing, still life, speed drawing, working in ink, watercolour and then oils. I did about 300 images in all, including maybe 10 quite large watercolours and oils, culminating in a full-size copy of Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Edge, which is just so wonderful. Even having studied it so closely, it’s still one of my favourite paintings. Look at it, and you can tell that he was on that deck, you can see he went to the top of that mast. You know he was there.
Help buy William Blake's cottage
September 22 2014
The Blake Society is trying to buy the cottage where William Blake lived in Sussex between 1800 and 1803. They need to raise £520,000 by 31st October. More here.
'The Real Tudors'
September 22 2014
Picture: Society of Antiquaries, London; Mary I by Hans Eworth.
A new display at the National Portrait Gallery in London sounds interesting; 'The Real Tudors', says the NPG;
[...] allows visitors to rediscover the well-known Tudor monarchs through the most complete presentation of their portraiture staged to date.
Works from the Gallery’s Collection are presented alongside exceptional loans and a prized possession of each monarch, as well as recent research undertaken as part of the Making Art in Tudor Britain project, to help visitors understand how and why such images were made. The search for a ‘real’ portrait of Lady Jane Grey in the sixteenth century is also explored through the display of a commemorative portrait of Jane that dates from the Elizabethan period.
Following its London run The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered will form the core of a larger exhibition organised in partnership with Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais at the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, in 2015.
Will computers replace art historians?
September 22 2014
Picture: The Prisoner
In the Financial Times, I looked into the question of whether computers will soon replace art historians, following on from the recent research published by Rutgers University in the US. You can read the article here, or listen to the podcast here.
Constable Vs. Turner (ctd.)
September 22 2014
The V&A and Tate are showing exhibitions on Constable and Turner. In this ArtFund video, art historian Jacky Klein looks at who is better. She plumps for Constable in the end.
Update - Mark Lawson has also written about the two artists here in The New Statesman.
Update II - a reader writes:
Regarding Constable and Turner the former was the greater painter and the latter the greater artist.
A similar statement was made I believe regarding Picasso and Matisse.
Not Van Dyck at Downton?
September 22 2014
Downton Abbey is back for its latest series, and very enjoyable it is too. I've noticed a couple of times in the press that mention is made of Highclere Castle's (where the series is filmed) 'Van Dyck' of Charles I on horseback with M. de St Antoine, seen above. The latest is in the Daily Express, where cast member Kevin Doyle tells how the cast and crew take extra care around the picture, which is reportedly valued at £17m. Highclere Castle's own website also calls the picture 'Van Dyck'. I have never seen the picture in the flesh, but it is very clearly listed as a copy in Sir Oliver Millar's catalogue raisonne of Van Dyck's English period works. The original is here, in the Royal Collection.
Millar lists a number of copies after Van Dyck at Highclere, including a detail of the large portrait of Charles I's five children, which you can see just by Carson's head in the photo above.
Newly discovered Wtewael on show in London
September 22 2014
Picture: National Gallery
A newly discovered painting by Joachim Wtewael has gone on display at the National Gallery in London. The picture, a Raising of Lazarus painted c.1605-10, had lain unnoticed and without attribution at Wycombe Museum in Buckinghamshire, until it was suggested by a specialist at Bonhams that Wtewael might be the artist. The picture was then sent to the National Gallery for cleaning, and it will now be on show there for ten years. You can see a pre-restoration image here, on Your Paintings.
The picture is 'Painting of the Month' for October, and you can read more about the picture here.
I don't know who the Bonhams specialist was - well done whoever you are!
It's Referendum Day
September 17 2014
Today we're going to the polls here in Scotland to vote on whether the country should be independent. As I said before, I'll be voting 'no'. But my prediction is that 'yes' will win, just.
Anyone wanting to know something of the history behind all this can see the programme I made for the BBC above, on Bonnie Prince Charlie. It has been put onto YouTube in four 15 minute parts; part 1 is above, part 2 is here, 3 here and 4 here.
Update - going to bed now at midnight, and YouGov (the same pollsters who gave Yes a lead two weeks ago) have called it for No, 54% - 46%, citing a last minute shift. Great...
Update II - it's No! The UK is saved. But it will never be the same again. The Prime Minister has announced a raft of constitutional changes, including further devolution and a fundamental reform of the Westminster Parliament, which he wants completed before the next General Election in May 2015. It's all a bit last-minute, as we've come to expect.
Staff changes at AHN
September 9 2014
I'm pleased to announce that Art History News has a new Deputy Editor. She is very qualified for the job, being my daughter, but sadly cannot yet read or write, and her connoisseurship stretches only to being able to spot her cot, which she seems not to like. Please therefore excuse the lack of posts for a few days, while I train her up.
Update - many thanks indeed for all your kind emails.
Update II - her name is Gabriella.
Update III - Can I seek your further indulgence on paternity leave? I may have to take this week off too. I'm also a little distracted by the Scottish referendum (which I expect 'Yes' to win, just), and am working on what that means for the UK's art collections.
Italian Museums (ctd.)
September 4 2014
Picture: Galleria Sabauda
The Independent has more grim news from the Italian museum world; the Galleria Borghese's climate control system (which is, open the windows every now and then) has apparently caused Raphael's Deposition to 'warp'. But apparently the 'deformation in the painting ha[s] now been reduced'. So that's alright then.
But from Turin, there's better news, as the Galleria Sabauda is to be re-opened following refurbishment. But, reports The Spectator:
From 30 October, Leonardo’s drawings, including the famous sage-like self-portrait [above] and the drawing for the head of the angel in the Louvre’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’, will go on permanent display in the Sala Leonardo, while drawings by other masters in the collection — including Raphael’s ‘Study of a Youth Playing the Lute’ — will be shown in the second vault. In December, with the reopening of the Galleria Sabauda, the Savoy paintings will go back on view. As well as works by Duccio, Fra Angelico, Mantegna, the Pollaiuolos, Filippino Lippi, Veronese and Orazio Gentileschi, the collection includes Netherlandish paintings by Van der Weyden, Van Eyck, Memling, Rembrandt, Brueghel and Rubens — among them a charming portrait by Van Dyck of the three children of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, sent by the English Queen to her sister Christine of Savoy.
I presume the Leonardo drawings won't actually be on 'permanent display', as they certainly shouldn't be (for conservation reasons). By way of comparison, the Albertina in Vienna only brings out Durer's famous 'Hare' only once every six years.
'Late Turner' (ctd.)
September 4 2014
Picture: National Gallery
Apollo Magazine has an interview with David Blayney Brown, co-curator of the Tate's forthcoming 'Late Turner' exhibition. Here he reveals some details of the display:
As we are covering a period in depth, we are not doing so strictly chronologically, but thematically. That said, the first room is by way of an overview and retrospect, so visitors will see Turner’s death mask before they come to most of his work; and his last exhibits in 1850 will be on the last wall in the final room, which seems fitting. The only significant installation challenge is integrating watercolours and oils, which have to be zoned to allow for different light levels.
September 4 2014
In The Telegraph, 'Matt' has an art historical take on the 'celebrities' nude photo leaks' story.
Apollo Magazine's '40 Under 40'
September 3 2014
Picture: Apollo Magazine
I'm very flattered (and very surprised) to be included in Apollo's '40 Under 40', which, says the magazine:
[...] is a selection of the most talented and inspirational young people who are driving forward the art world today. This year, the list covers individuals whose main place of work is considered to be Europe; future editions will be dedicated to North America and the rest of the world. 40 Under 40 is published in association with AXA ART Insurance.
- Luca Massimo Barbero, Director of the Institute of Art History, Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice
- Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis, The Hague
- Isaac Julien, installation artist and filmmaker
- Thaddaeus Ropac, owner of Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris
- Martin Roth, director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Here's my entry:
Bendor Grosvenor is best known for his work as an art historian, most recently for his discovery of a lost Allan Ramsay portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Such high-profile finds have helped establish him as a regular presence on UK television, while confirming his credentials as an expert in the field of British art. This year, he was part of the steering panel behind Art Detective, a new online forum that encourages connoisseurs to provide specialist knowledge to public collections in the UK. After nearly a decade working in Philip Mould & Company, he has now left to concentrate on writing and consulting.
Which I suppose is a neat way of announcing another aspect of my move to Scotland, as I mentioned below. More anon...
By the way, I may need to be away for a couple of days, so apologies in advance for the lack of posts.
Selfies - nothing new
September 1 2014
These photos from the 1920s has been doing the rounds on Twitter today. Shame they're not in an art gallery; game, set and match in the photo debate.
Letter from Edinburgh: art and a 'Yes' vote
September 1 2014
Video: Jim Murphy MP
Regular readers may know by now that I’ve moved to Scotland. For anyone tired of the exorbitant and over-crowded streets of London (where I was born), Edinburgh is the place for you; a capital city with all the culture and commerce you could wish for, but at a fraction of the price, and sandy beaches just 20 minutes away.
My new home means, among other things,* that I’ll have a vote in the referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country. Folk down south (as they say up here), including friends of mine in the UK government, have always been relaxed that ‘No’ will win comfortably. But from where I am the outcome has long looked less certain.
It’ll be close. With less than three weeks to go, the latest poll (excluding undecideds of about 10%) gives 47% yes, and 53% no. From what I’ve seen, the Yes side is far, far more motivated to vote than the nos. And winning referenda, just like elections, is all about getting your vote out.
I’ll be voting no. When I lived in England, I sometimes thought that an independent Scotland would be no bad thing. The romance of a plucky nation going it alone was attractive, and there’s no denying Scotland has often been at the wrong end of bad decisions taken in London. For Jacobites like me, the history of these decisions stretches far back. And in fact I don’t think the sky will fall in if independence wins. I would cheerfully support the new Scotland in its endeavours to go solo.
But Britain and Britishness, I’ve come to realise, is more important than anything else. It may not be fashionable to take pride in being British, but when the alternative is the small-minded nationalism seen in the video above [since made unavailable after I posted this; it showed the Labour MP Jim Murphy being assaulted, and called a 'traitor', 'quisling', and much else], it makes you yearn for the solidity of traditions and institutions built up over many centuries; tolerance, fair play, the pound, the BBC, even the monarchy, to name just a few. In the last few weeks a dark enmity has crept into parts of the campaign, predominantly on the Yes side. Some of it is racist, some is violent; it’s all menacing. My fear is it’ll only get worse in any post-Yes negotiations, when the English drop their nice guy act and hold out for what is best for them.
Anyway, the point of this post is to look at what would happen to the UK’s art in the event of those negotiations. I know culture is pretty far down most people’s list of priorities at the moment, but it has hardly been looked at, and actually there are some quite serious issues at stake.
There will be two main areas for an independent Scotland to investigate when it comes to the UK’s art collections. First, how to divide up existing assets. And secondly, how and whether to maintain existing cultural programmes such as Acceptance in Lieu.
The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) ‘White Paper’ on an independent Scotland has only this to say about cultural objects:
Question: What will happen to cultural items related to Scotland and held in UK national collections in an independent Scotland?
Answer: Scotland currently owns a share of all UK national collections.
The national museums and galleries in both London and Scotland all hold items from different parts of the UK and collections assembled from across the world. They have long-established arrangements for loans, exchanges and partnerships, which will be able to continue when Scotland becomes independent.
Independence supporters say Scotland is entitled to at least an 8.4% share of the UK government’s total assets, based on population levels. There has been much debate over whether Scotland could have a similar share in the institutions of the UK, but it looks unlikely. In other words, Scotland could reasonably claim to have a share of the assets of the British Museum (its collection), but not the institution itself.
How many Lewis Chessmen that gets you I’m not sure. But for art lovers in Scotland, the key prize at the British Museum is its superlative collection of Old Master drawings. As David Black pointed out in The Art Newspaper in February, one of the BM’s most important single collection of drawings is was acquired from the Scot John Malcolm of Poltalloch, whose 1,400 works (see them here) included efforts by the likes of Michelangelo, Raphael and Rembrandt. The National Gallery in Scotland often bases its collecting policies on works that have been owned by leading Scots in the past, and if provenance was to form the basis of any acquisition strategy the Malcolm collection would be an obvious place to start.
What of the National Gallery in London? You could argue that Scotland’s claim to anything in the National Gallery in London is balanced out by the rest of the UK’s claim to anything in the National Gallery of Scotland (below). Jointly acquired pictures like the two Dianas by Titian can obviously continue shuttling back and forth between London and Edinburgh (despite Nick Penny’s earlier doubts).
Other national institutions without a ‘reciprocal’ location in Scotland, such as Tate, are another matter. An independent Scotland could quite reasonably argue (despite Tate’s origins as an off-shoot of the National Gallery in London) that it deserved more or less 10% of Tate’s collection, based if nothing else on the fact that Scots have funded Tate’s growth through their taxes. I would agree.
What gems from Tate’s collection should Scotland choose? Again, the provenance strategy is one route. Or one could just go for purely Scottish art; the Ramsays, the Raeburns. But we’ve a surfeit of those up here already, and I would suggest taking a wider view by identifying gaps in any Scottish national collection. The National Galleries of Scotland has (as far as I can see) one painting by Hogarth; Tate has 20. Many of these sit unseen in a London storage depot.
An alternative to such cherry picking would to insist that Tate opens a satellite institution in Scotland. This would be funded by Scotland, but would have guaranteed access to a fair share of the whole Tate collection, allowing regular exhibitions and a good more ‘permanent’ display. Tate already has satellite sites in Liverpool and St Ives, and the lack of one in Scotland has always seemed strange. It’s (alas) unlikely that Scotland would want a representative gallery of ‘British’ art, and I would envisage most of the works chosen having Scottish connections. Of course, in the event of a Yes vote, Tate Britain would have to re-brand itself, again.
The really difficult case, though, is the Royal Collection. The SNP has said that the monarchy would remain, with a single monarch presiding over two separate nations, as we had between James I & VI’s accession in 1603 and before the Act of Union in 1707. In the longer term, few should be in any doubt that a strong republican feeling would soon express itself after Elizabeth II died, and though I would regret it, I can see an independent Scotland being a republic within my lifetime. In which case any Scottish Royal Collection might be short-lived…
Even so, one could argue that this shouldn’t get in the way of any discussion over a fair distribution of cultural assets. At the moment, the Royal Collection has an excellent gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's Gallery, which gets most of the exhibitions that take place in London. Since these are regularly amongst the best in the world, I would personally hope that arrangement continues. Holyroodhouse itself has some good pictures, but not many, and if we’re going by the 8.4% principle, then more art would have to be raided from other locations such as Windsor, Kensington, and St James’.
Here, the identification of more ‘Scottish’ works might be easier, with portraits of monarchs like James I & VI (naturally, I would chose the posthumous one by Van Dyck). One might even try and stretch the provenance route to its limits and seek a share of works acquired by Charles I, a Stuart. That would be a crafty way of getting some of the best pieces in the Royal Collection, but perhaps worth a go. Alternatively, a Scottish government could promise to leave the Royal Collection as a shared asset, but demand certain guarantees from the Royal Collection Trust that the Queen’s Gallery and Holyroodhouse would have access to a fair proportion of the overall collection for long term loans.
What Scotland decides to do with questions over the funding, retention and acquisition of art is more complicated, and hasn’t been mentioned by the SNP in its White Paper on independence. Many funding bodies such as the Art Fund have yet to say whether they would continue to fund projects in an independent Scotland. At the moment, just 1% of their members are based in Scotland. Would it pull out?
The SNP says the National Lottery, which through its Heritage Lottery Fund generously supports painting acquisitions and other art programmes, would continue to operate as normal. But I think we can safely expect it to soon become a Scottish National Lottery, with much reduced prizes and ‘good cause’ funds. A Scottish Heritage Lottery fund would have far less firepower to acquire important works of art. An appeal to ‘save’ a really expensive Old Master might be almost impossible to pull off.
Of course, the question of ‘saving’ important art assumes that a Scottish government would implement the same export controls as those currently used by the UK. These are amongst the fairest in the world, and seek to properly compensate the owners of important works should the state decide to acquire them. However, a Scottish government might seek to follow policies similar to those used in Italy or France, where the state has the right to pre-empt the purchase of important works, which effectively makes them worth a fraction of their value in a fair, open market. I would strongly advise against that, for if, in the negotiations prior to a formal split, a Scottish government even indicated that it wished to pursue such a policy, there would be an immediate ‘art flight’ of works south of the border.
(A related point on the question of export controls concerns what happens to art in the rest of the UK after a Yes vote but before a formal split, a period which might take two or three years. There could be a scenario in which important art in England leaves the UK by the back door. For example, an owner wishing to sell a picture abroad without risking an export stop could, in early 2016, ship (let us say) their Constable of Hampstead Heath over the Scottish border, and leave it there till independence. Will a Scottish government try to stop such a quintessentially English picture from being exported? Probably not, and even if it did, it’s unlikely Scottish funding bodies could match the price. I raise this unlikely prospect only to point out that the English could begin to impose certain border controls prior to formal Scottish independence.)
Other possible changes to the tax and cultural asset policies could also encourage a swift transfer of art south to England. For example, at the moment the UK Treasury allows private owners to defer the payment of inheritance tax on certain pre-eminent works of art, provided they are put on public display. The policy is called ‘conditional exemption’, and is designed to allow collections to remain intact, and sometimes in situ (in an important country house that is open to the public, for example). In the event of independence, therefore, will owners of conditionally exempt paintings see their deferred taxes called in by a Scottish government? A quick glance at the labels in the National Gallery of Scotland reveals how many major works are on loan from private aristocratic collections (such as the Dukes of Sutherland and Buccleuch). Might it be harder for a Scottish government to be seen to be 'giving tax breaks to toffs'? Again, if there’s even a hint of that we can expect to see conditionally exempt art shipped swiftly over the border.
Less of an immediate impact, but still important, is whether the successful Acceptance in Lieu scheme is continued by an independent Scotland. This allows the nation to acquire works of art directly from estates in return for an amount of inheritance tax foregone, and reduces the risk of them being sold on the open market or overseas. At the moment, the annual allowance for this policy in the UK is set at £40m. Could a Scottish government hope to continue such an effective policy with a necessarily lesser limit? A single work of art could easily exceed a proportionally lower limit.
On the other hand, at least some reassurance is provided by the SNP’s track record in government when it comes to the arts; it has contributed directly and generously towards projects like the acquisition of Titian’s Diana and Callisto and the Public Catalogue Foundation (in contrast to the UK government). And as I reported here before, the SNP has advocated funding the arts for arts sake, as opposed to any of the more limited arguments about economic value and the like. But as with the whole question of independence, the many, many uncertainties make keeping the status quo a more attractive option.
Yesterday we hung a union flag in the window.
Update II - another poll just out shows Yes gaining even more momentum. Independence is just 3 points away. Undecideds are going for Yes at a rate of 2 to 1. Better start choosing those Hogarths...
Update III - a reader writes:
Given that the Scotland Referendum refuses to recognise anyone as Scottish and worthy of a vote if they live South of the Border - most of the Scottish men/women who either gave works of art to the Nation or created the wealth in the former empire would not have qualified to vote yes or no. Alex Salmond and his party do not count these men and woman as Scottish.
My great-grandmother (Scottish) gave a lovely Rossetti to the Tate Britain, but she lived in England.
Another reader has been looking at the numbers, and wonders if Scotland has enough pictures already:
According to the Public Catalogue Foundation:
The National Gallery, London has 2332 works and Tate has 5358 works (of which c.2400 date up to 1900) for 91.6% of the total population [that is, the remainder of the UK]
The National Gallery of Scotland has 1201 works, for 8.4% of the total population
Result, Edinburgh owes London 703 works.
Another reader writes:
It’s a horribly complicated issue as you indicate but, surely, English collections would have a claim on the Scottish National Collections too in the event of independence? The contents, where purchased, were surely supported by English (or rUK) taxpayers over the decades.
Keep the union flag flying!!
Update IV - according to their online collection, the National Gallery of Scotland has just two oil paintings by Turner. Tate has too many to count.
Update V - a reader sends this sobering view:
On the 7th March I predicated a 42 % Yes vote for Scottish Independence. All right, perhaps a bit optimistic, but I, a resident of a former British colony in North America, still believe that the UK and Scotland are “Better Together.”
As for the effects of an independent Scotland on national art collections, the result would have little impact in the remainder of the UK and in the longer term would result in more new resources for art in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Very simply, Scotland is subsidized in all respects including arts funding by the economic engine that is the Southeast of England.
If Scotland received 8.7 % of the national art collections, and assuming that it already has perhaps half of that in its existing collections, then the remaining national art collections would have to relinquish about 5 % of their holdings. In has been stated in this website that about 80 % of the national collections are in storage, and so the entire Scottish transfer could be effected nearly unnoticed. Of course, they would demand and might receive some trophy works, but then the remaining Art Fund and Heritage Lottery proceeds could make up for that within a decade.
Scotland in its desire to double its art holding may have ignored the costs associated with owning and maintaining an expanded art collection. Who will provide the doubling of space for the newly expanded collections as well as the staff required and conservation costs of the collection. An independent Scotland will already be under pressure financially because of its demographics which will result in greater demand for health, national pensions, and social services in a rapidly aging society.
The National Gallery has seen its Grant in Aid reduced by 15 % during the four years to March 2015 and is anticipating an additional 5 % reduction for the next year. It is uncertain that an independent Scotland will afford to double its grants to its national art institutions after independence.
There are many reasons why an independent Scotland will result in a much more difficult and expensive life for those living there with the government requiring more from and providing less to its working population. The transfer of art is just a small part of this new overhead and reduction in financial resources, but like some others is a net long term benefit to the remainder of the UK which can always go north to view paintings now being maintained by others.
Update VI - Selby Whittingham of the Independent Turner Society writes:
The NG of Scotland lost a prize Turner when the Earl of Rosebery sold the one he loaned to it - the marvellous one of Rome now in the Getty Museum. The pressure for England to hand over many from the Turner Bequest will presumably be great. H A J Munro of Novar, the main patron of late Turner, was a Scot, so was John Ruskin by paternity. A major Turner collaboration was with Sir Walter Scott. The "iconic" Norham Castle depicts a scene on the border. Of course the NG of S has the important Vaughan Bequest of Turner watercolours - the terms of which bequest are better honoured than are Turner's!
Update VII - Prof. Mary Beard has been considering the queston too, in The Times.
Update VIII - The Art Newspaper has a piece on how Scottish artists are viewing the question.
Update IX - Now the polls show Yes leading. Yikes. But I'm not surprised. The No campaign has been an absolute disaster, and continues to make mind-boggling blunders. Even as a strong supporter of the Union, I find myself thinking, with each statement that comes from the 'No' side, 'well, perhaps...'