Byline: Richard Edmonds
In Search of a Masterpiece: An Art-Lovers Guide to Great Britain By Christopher Lloyd Thames & Hudson, pounds 29.95 Summer holidays are curious things. Off you go in search of the perfect beach armed with a bottle of sun oil and the latest thing in deck chair reading.
Yet after a couple of days, the waves and the shops pall in inter1est and at least on the beach you soon grow weary of an eternity of winking navels and the smell of sun oil.
So what do you do - you visit the nearest city and after a troll around the shops and the restaurants you invariably gravitate to the nearest art gallery which provides a kind of cool sorbet after the heat of the streets not to mention a setting for whatever masterpieces the gallery has acquired over time.
And it is very much the case at the moment that modern art galleries are opening up all over the place - the latest one being in Wakefield.
But modern art to my mind, is often a case of the Emperor's New Clothes (is there anything there or not?). And after you've examined patiently the latest light installations, slabs of abstract paint or chunks of mysteriously unappealing carvings, you tend to turn back to landscapes and figure paintings from this century or earlier, things within which your mind may find a little piece and delight and thus the fret of getting your way through abstraction is traded in favour of an 18th, 19th or 20th century masterpiece which can give you a thrill.
Whether you are in Leeds, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Birmingham, Swindon or Falmouth, you will find glorious pictures to delight the eye and gladden the heart.
As this book proves so well, masterpieces can be found in galleries and museums throughout the British Isles and it would appear that Christopher Lloyd has discovered most of them sorting out these lovely things geographically thus condensing their beauty in to viable areas with London, naturally, holding the largest spread of beautiful works.
But Birmingham, as is recognised nationally, has its own particular magnificence and can quite honestly cock a snook at the rest of the country. And within a couple of miles or so you have The Barber Institute of Fine Arts for many years one of the best-kept secrets in the British art world. Here you find collections which resonate with quality. Hattie Barber, whose husband founded the gallery which opened in 1939, stipulated no gifts from outside sources and that works purchased by the trustees should be of a similar quality to the ones found in London's Wallace and The National Gallery.
It means that as you enter the Barber a life-size Rodin bronze male nude of some wonder greets you as you mount the staircase to the first floor where there is a wonderful Degas pastel of impatient racehorses not to mention Gainsborough's around the place and fine oil on canvas by Johan Christian Dahl of a mother and child observing a Romantic sunset which can stop you in your tracks.
The Barber offers much for a rainy afternoon and this can include a program of guest speakers, cabinets of rare antiquities and closely artist-focused exhibitions. …