30 September 2014

Australian WW1 widows Vs Prince of Wales

Rural Australia was in a discussion with Buckingham Palace over a very expensive pair of handmade, silk pyjamas. The royal pyjamas were a gift from the people of the Victorian city of Ballarat to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, as we will see.

In April 1920 Edward Prince of Wales, representing his father King George V, arrived in Australia to thank us for our heroic participat­ion in the First World War. 

After touring rural Ballarat in June, the Prince of Wales drove to the periphery of that city where he met the 400 women employed in the Lucas factory. Those women had already erected an Arch of Victory at the head of an avenue of trees, each named after a Ballarat soldier who died in the war. At the Arch of Victory, the women were massed on stands on each side. After singing God bless the Prince of Wales they presented the Prince with a pair of silver scissors and asked him to cut the ribbons which held the festoons of greenery across the arch. Then Mrs W Thompson, one of the principals of the firm, stepped forward and asked the Prince to accept pure silk pyjamas made by the factory women. The jacket was embroidered with the crest of the Prince on one side and a picture of the Arch of Victory on the other with the avenue of trees in the distance. 
Crowds in front of Ballarat's Arch of Victory
awaiting the Prince of Wales' arrival, June 1920

Apart from working in the factory while their husbands had been away at war, the women also worked hard for the Red Cross and the Comforts Fund. So this was a gift full of World War One sacrifices, showing how the women of rural Ballarat had loyally supported their husbands and the crown.

By 2008, Ballarat was asking to borrow the pyjamas back, in order to display the gift at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery with other artefacts. The Ballarat Art Gallery was interested in general in gifts made by Australians to the royal family, but in particular they had wanted draw attention to the local married women who worked in a factory for four years while their husbands were away.

A group of local historians, led by librarian Edith Fry, wrote to the Palace in 2008, requesting the pyjamas on loan. The royal secretary replied through the Royal Archives that the queen’s staff had no idea where the gift had ended up. It was suggested that when King Edward abdicated to marry Mrs Simpson in 1937, he may have taken the embroidered pure silk pyjamas in his suitcase to France.

This was not the first ever gift given to royalty, nor was it the most expensive. The exchange of official gifts on a State visit often served as a gesture of goodwill between the visiting and the host nation. The form of these gifts varied enormously, but they often used materials and craftsmen specific to that country and represented an aspect of its culture or heritage.

A presentation being made to the Prince of Wales, 
in front of Ballarat's Arch of Victory, 1920

Official gifts were not the private property of the member of the royal family who received them; rather they were received in an official capacity in the course of official duties on behalf of the king or queen. As such, members of the royal family were responsible for such gifts on behalf of the monarch. As a general rule, all official gifts given to the sovereign, from a Head of State or host government, automatically became part of the Royal Collection. Or they could be placed on tempor­ary or permanent loan with a reputable organisation like the British Museum. Or they could be loaned back to the donor, with the gift details clearly identified.

Official gifts had to be acknowledged wherever possible, recorded and be traceable at all times. The key information that had to be kept about each gift was recorded a] in an official record and b] as soon as possible after receipt of the gift. That way, when information on official gifts was requested, a timely response could be given.

In this case, Edward was officially invested as Prince of Wales in July 1911; the Ballarat gift was made to him in 1920 as the repres­ent­ative of his father King George V; Edward abdicated in December 1936; he married Wallis Simpson in June 1937; the gift was sought by Ballarat in 2008; and by 2014 has still not be accounted for. This is not “timely”.

I did not like Edward, so I never minded if he cavorted with Freda Dudley Ward, Lady Furness, Wallis Simpson or any other woman across the British Empire. Nor did I mind if, 17 years later, he honeymooned in the silk clothes or used them to polish his antiques. (How long does silk last?) But I did mind that the precious gift from Ballarat soldiers’ wives and war widows was unaccounted for, or was later deleted from the royal archives.

In 2011, more than 90 years later, the Governor-General Quentin Bryce attended the Ballarat arch’s re-opening after restoration works. The dilapidated silver scissors, originally used by the Prince of Wales in 1920, were recently restored at Sovereign Hill and used by the Governor General to cut the modern ribbon. Very timely!

27 September 2014

Golf and fine art in Edinburgh.

Golf has been played in Scotland since at least the 15th century. Whilst its origins are obscure, it is undoubtedly close to the Netherlandish game of colf, which was played over rough ground or on frozen waterways, and involved hitting a ball to a target stick fixed in the ground or the ice. Colvers playing on the frozen canals appeared often in Dutch 17th century paintings.

Winter landscape, with skaters playing colf,
by Hendrick Avercamp c1620

There are many works by Hendrik Avercamp, for example, displaying a pale grey winter sky, a range of people socialising and participating in ice skating or colf. In the foreground, the viewer could easily see who was playing colf via the sticks they used. Avercamp may have been the first Dutch artist to use watercolours and gouache drawings in formal paintings and perhaps the first to make colf an important sport for artists to focus on. Note, for example, the delicate gouache colouring that created a sense of shadows on the ice.

In Scotland the game was often played over links courses, originally rough common ground where the land met the sea. The majority of Scotland’s famous old courses, such as St Andrews or North Berwick, were links courses.

At the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, an exhibition called The Art of Golf tells the story of the birth and evolution of Scotland’s national sport by bringing together fine art, golfing equipment and museum pieces significant to the game’s history. I am not sure if golf is the national sport, but I know the timing of the exhibition has been excellent. Its dates overlapped with two important events: the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (July-August 2014) and the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles (Sep 2014), the biennial competition played between teams of professional golfers representing the USA and Europe.

Sir John Lavery,
Golfing at North Berwick c1920,
private collection
Photo credit: Scottish National Gallery

The exhibition starts in the early 17th century, as you would expect, with paintings of Dutch colf players. It then chart the origins of modern Golf in Scotland, including images of important early links courses in, for example, Leith. There are 60 paintings on display.

Moving into the C20th, The Art of Golf showcases a beautiful oil painting of the course at North Berwick, a coastal resort 40 ks east of Edinburgh. It was done by John Lavery, one of the Glasgow Boys. The exhibition also displays rare original golf-themed railway posters and takes the story of golf right up to the present day with aerial artworks of Scotland’s most famous golf courses, including Gleneagles.

The Edinburgh Reporter believed the centre piece of this exhibition is the greatest golfing painting in the world by Charles Lees (1800-80), The Golfers 1847. This work commemorated a match played on the Old Course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St Andrews, by Sir David Baird and Sir Ralph Anstruther, against Major Hugh Lyon Playfair and John Campbell of Saddell. It represented a who’s who of Scottish golf at that time and was reproduced in a fine engraving and sold well. Lees made use of (early) photography to help him design the painting’s overall compos­ition. The painting is jointly owned by the National Galleries of Scotland and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

Charles Lees
The Golfers at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, 1847
Photo credit: Scottish National Gallery

If art and golf fans miss the exhibition, I recommend the gallery's illustrated colour catalogue, with essays by Michael Clarke and Kenneth McConkey, Professor of Art History at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle.


I am assuming this is largely the same exhibition that went on show in Atlanta Georgia. Billed as the first substantial art survey on the subject organised by an American museum, The Art of Golf was on view in mid 2012 before touring four other American venues. The show featured 90 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture by artists as important as Rembrandt.

As in the Scottish exhibition, The Art of Golf in the USA tracked the game’s roots in the Netherlands and its development in Scotland, but then went on to give a specifically 20th century American feel to the history. Thus the artists included Scottish Enlightenment portraitist Sir Henry Raeburn and American artists James McNeill Whistler, Childe Hassam, Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol. A humour section included Charles Schulz's Peanuts and sly New Yorker cartoons about golf.

23 September 2014

Paris' Picasso treasures - when will the museum re-open?

A post called French Riviera Art Trail showed how the already mature artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) moved permanently to Vallauris, next to the town of Antibes, in the 1950s. There he slowly learned the skills of pottery art at the Galerie Madoura. The artist must have been busy – he created 4,000 pieces of ceramics during his life there. Vallauris was already well known for its cer­amics, but Picasso made the industry even more famous. The Ceramics Museum is thus a living reminder of Picasso’s and other ceramic artists’ contrib­ut­ions.

The old Grimaldi family castle in Vallauris was built in the Renais­sance style and later converted into the town hall of Antibes. After WW1, the chateau became known as the Grimaldi Museum. Since it was the home of artist Pablo Picasso after WW2, the castle was eventual­ly turned into the Picasso Museum, one of the first museums anywhere to be dedicated to that artist.

Picasso himself donated important works to the museum, especially his paintings The Goat and La Joie de Vivre. Jacqueline Roque married Picasso in Vallauris in March 1961 and she too presented the museum with many important Picasso art objects. Today the museum holds 245 works by Picasso, collected from 1952 on.

On the walls of a ruined Romanesque chapel, in the Castle at Vall­aur­is, lies the Musée National Picasso’s War and Peace. In 1952, Picasso had decided to erect a temple there with his monumental composition. He painted two huge panels, one portraying the horrors of war and one depicting the benefits of peace. Another panel was added at the far end of the chapel to make the link between the two themes.

Musée Picasso
in Le Marais district of Paris
Opened in 1985, closed in 2009 for renovations, due to open September 2014

So the south of France is well served, but what about Paris? The post Le Marais, Paris showed how the main hôtels particuliers (private houses) were not pulled down in Le Marais. Instead they became excellent museums eg the Paris Historical Museum is in Hôtel Carnavalet. Where possible, the interiors of these private houses were maintained and modernised.

Picasso had amassed an enormous collection of his own work by the time of his death in 1973 and bequeathed them to the French state in his will. Paris' Musée Picasso, which opened in 1985 in the old Hôtel Salé, gathered thousands of the artist's own art objects, plus Picasso's personal art collection of works by Cézanne, Degas, Seurat, Matisse and others. 

In time the museum had to be renovated. The decision to renovate the façades, the exterior decoration and the surrounding wall was easy; it all took place between 2006 and 2009. This operation was effective in saving the important sculptural pieces of the building’s mouldings and pediments.

Musée Picasso, Paris before it closed. The rooms were arranged chronologically.

But the old palace also needed major extensions and this was where things went badly wrong. What caused the delay in reopening the Picasso Museum in Le Marais district and what caused a serious financial blowout? The final bill for the renovated 17th-century baroque mansion now stands at €52million. I hope it will be worth it. The museum's exhibition space has been more than doubled to 3,800 square metres after the renovation, and the garden and the planted terrace were redesigned.

Alas there is a serious a fight between the French Culture Ministry and the family of Pablo Picasso. As of September 2014, the museum is still not ready. Claude Picasso, Pablo’s only living son, was furious that the museum’s director (Anne Baldassari) was sacked by the Culture Ministry. She had been the driving force behind the renovations, and as a result of her dismissal, Claude Picasso threatened to withhold donations of his father’s work to the museum.

The 37 rooms of  renovated Musee Picasso are being temporarily opened this weekend  (Sept 2014) in honour of France's annual heritage weekend. But the rooms will be empty; the enormous collection of paintings and sculptural works will still be in storage.


The 17th-century Hôtel de Savoie on the Rue des Grands Augustins in the chic 6th arrondissement of Paris is one of the gorgeous grand mansions mentioned earlier. A plaque next to the building's wrought iron gates reveals that Pablo Picasso lived in this building between 1936 and 1955. It is in this studio he painted Guernica in 1937. The studio is "so large that the skylight fails to illuminate the corners"; it is reached via an impressive entrance hall and spiral staircase, recognisable from old photos showing Picasso at work.

Picasso's attic studio in  Hôtel de Savoie

According to Art Media Agency, a campaign is on to save the attic studio which is owned by the Chamber of Legal Bailiffs. The Association du Comité National pour l’Éducation Artistique completely renovated the space in 2002, and in the intervening years has used it to host free exhibitions, concerts, readings, and educational workshops. After years of rent-free tenancy, CNEA was evicted by the owners in August 2013, and Picasso's wide airy studio has sat vacant and tragic for months.