Insomnia aggravated by reading the Guardian online and coming across Jonathan Jones’ piece calling on British Museums not to make the same mistake as the Louvre by sending treasures to the provinces. I am stunned by such ignorance in a man who should clearly know better. It has long been common practice for museums and galleries to lend their treasures to other museums and galleries,whether provincial or metropolis, around the world. Does he not know this? He seems shocked and surprised that it should even be considered. He writes that by sending ‘Liberty Leading the People’ to Lens, the Louvre ‘is breaking up a collection that is one of the wonders of the world. For every visitor who makes the trip to Lens, there will be people frantically scouring the Louvre in Paris looking for the vanished Delacroix that is usually one of its highlights.’ What? As far as I understand it the Delacroix is simply being lent for three months but Jones writes as if it has been wrenched from the wall and stuck in a cardboard box on the back of a hay lorry never to be seen again and possibly destroyed in the process. I have never read anything more stupid in my life and there’s a lot of stupid out there so that’s saying a lot.
I quote from a museums association publication on lending in the UK as an example of the practice: ‘Museums lend their collections in order to increase the public benefit derived from them, to promote access, to increase knowledge and understanding, and to support other museums. They balance their role in safeguarding items for future generations with their obligation to optimise access for and engagement with present audiences. Museums borrow items in order to complement and enhance the potential for learning and enjoyment in their own collection. Lending and borrowing is part of a well-managed and sustainable collection.’
How bloody fantastic that the Louvre have created a satellite in an old mining town. And how even more fantastic that they are placing such value on the venture by sending the Delacroix to be part of the opening exhibition.
Much as I love and have been very privileged to be able to visit museums and galleries in many European and North American capitals I have also gained a huge amount from seeing treasures that have been allowed out to travel. In addition to getting to see and experience such treasures face-to-face without having to go to Paris, say, and compete with all the other choices, such pieces are singled out in such as way as to bring fresh attention to work that is often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of illustrious company their homes are shared with.
And as to putting the work at risk – again, what an expression of deep ignorance. I once made a documentary about the loan of Whistler’s Mother to the Hunterian Gallery in Glasgow from the Musee D’Orsay and can personally testify to the expertise and skill, a craft in itself, of moving such treasures – on arrival as much as on departure. Specialists who have trained for years oversee such travel and do it superbly. I recommend watching Nicholas Philibert’s wonderful documentary The Louvre’ if you want to get a real sense of how many experts there are and how often works are moved.
I suspect Jones would not be at all dismayed if the Louvre lent the Delacroix to the Guggenheim, however, his real dismay is clear ie not only has he exposed his ignorance, he has also exposed a latent snobbery.
Jonathan Jones has previously been on judging panels for the Turner Prize I believe. In response to his call for British Museums not to follow the Louvre’s example, I call for all future prizes never to invite this man onto another judging panel again.
rant over. feel better.