The 100 Best Paintings in Britain?
Ingleby, Richard, The Independent (London, England)
Th Independent on Sunday is proud of its arts pages and of its critics, but we have just enough humility to know not to attempt to dictate the taste of the nation. This principle has guided our search for the 100 best paintings in Britain, and was our reason for enlisting the help and opinions of 100 influential people from all corners of the art world. We asked a mixture of artists, critics, curators, writers, historians and dealers: a mixture of men and women from London and further afield, to each nominate 10 pictures for our list.
Their response was overwhelming. "Oh seductive man," replied Sister Wendy Beckett from the depths of her Norfolk retreat. "I was all set for my usual polite refusal when I realised I'd actually like to do this." A common reaction, although not quite everyone mustered this sort of enthusiasm: "I think the game of favourites is a bit childish," chided the distinguished Professor Ernst Gombrich. "I was once asked in the States on TV, `What is your favourite colour?' "
Happily our call was more often answered than not, by artists as diverse as Frank Auerbach and Eduardo Paolozzi, critics with such different opinions as Brian Sewell and Waldemar Janusczak, and the people who run such varied institutions as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Arts Council, Christie's and Sotheby's, the Contemporary Art Society, the National Art Collections Fund, the Whitworth in Manchester, the Walker Collection in Liverpool, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, the Ashmolean in Ox- ford and the Government Art Collection in London. We are grateful to them and to others too numerous to mention. Our two criteria were simply that the pictures should be on public view and that they should deserve a place in the Top 100. The first stipulation was clear enough, although it still presented problems with at least two pictures (Breughel's Woman Taken in Adultery from the Courtauld Collection and Lucian Freud's Portrait of Francis Bacon from the Tate, London), which were rendered ineligible by being in the hands of thieves rather than on public display. The second stipulation was a little more hazy and produced an inevitably subjective response. Not surprisingly, the members of our panel preferred the concept of "favourite" to that of "best" - it's an easier word, less judgmental, more inviting. But by canvassing as many and varied a selection of people as possible, we hope to have found common ground between the "favourites" and the "best"; as a result, the list we will be printing on these pages over the next two weeks represents a comprehensive and democratic selection of the country's greatest pictures. Rembrandt came out top, with more of his pictures mentioned more often than any other painter. And the most frequently nominated of all was his late and most mysterious Self-Portrait, currently hanging at Kenwood House on the edge of London's Hampstead Heath. It is an amazing picture - but part of its popularity may also stem from the appeal of the gallery that it inhabits, a notion suggested by the appearance on the list of two other pictures that share the same room - Gainsborough's Countess Howe and Vermeer's Guitar Player. Our public galleries are remarkably rich in Rembrandt's work, as they are in Titian's and Velazquez's, the artists that tied for second place. But the list also shows some notable gaps. There is nothing by Michelangelo (despite two beautiful but unfinished canvases in the National Gallery); there is no Braque, or Klee, no Durer, Delacroix or Dali. Works by women are also few and far between: although Berthe Morisot and Winifred Knights were both nominated more than once, only Gwen John made it into the Top 100. Two living women - Maggi Hambling and Paula Rego - were both mentioned, but like their male contemporaries Hockney, Caulfield and Hodgkin, they failed to make the final cut. Indeed, the only living painter on the list …
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Publication information: Article title: The 100 Best Paintings in Britain?. Contributors: Ingleby, Richard - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 26, 1997. Page number: 12+. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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