We British Are the Most Creative People on Earth. Why, Then, Are We So Embarrassed about Liking Art? SATURDAY ESSAY THE GREATEST HISTORY OF ART HAS JUST BEEN PUBLISHED. ITSHOULD REMIND US ALL THAT THIS NATION HAS SO MUCH TO BE PROUD OF

Daily Mail (London), November 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

We British Are the Most Creative People on Earth. Why, Then, Are We So Embarrassed about Liking Art? SATURDAY ESSAY THE GREATEST HISTORY OF ART HAS JUST BEEN PUBLISHED. ITSHOULD REMIND US ALL THAT THIS NATION HAS SO MUCH TO BE PROUD OF


Byline: PAUL JOHNSON

THERE is no simpler and purer way of promoting delight - and so snatching a few instants of happiness from the monotony or misery of life - than to look at a work of art. I wish more people were aware of this pastime and took advantage of it.

For Britain is crowded with works of art of every conceivable kind, made or accumulated by our forebears and added to hugely even in the present generation. Access to them is increasingly easy and in many cases free.

How long is it since you visited one of our 8,000 medieval parish churches? They range in chronological style from Anglo-Saxon to Late Perpendicular (early 16th century) and many are full of beautiful things - carved tombs in stone, alabaster and marble, stained glass, superb brasswork, wood carved with a skill, sometimes amounting to genius, which hardly exists today.

These buildings are usually open, so you can wander about at will, and are provided with modestly-priced guidebooks to tell you about their glories. It is all free, though grateful visitors put a coin in the box.

Then there are the cathedrals, scores of them, including some wonderful 19th-century examples like the Episcopalian one in Edinburgh, seldom visited by anyone who does not worship there.

England's top ten medieval Cathedrals - Canterbury, York, Lincoln, Wells, Ely, Salisbury, Norwich, Exeter, Durham and Gloucester - are among the finest in Europe, much better preserved than most Continental ones and crowded with incomparable works of art of every description.

York has the greatest collection of medieval stained glass on Earth, Wells the finest collection of sculpture (and a medieval clock), Winchester and Southwark superb tombs, Chester the best woodcarving in Europe, Norwich the largest collection of carved and painted ceiling-bosses, Canterbury the finest medieval crypt, and so on.

Nor should we forget the castles. You may think it odd to regard castles as works of art but most of them were built by the same architects and master-masons who were responsible for the cathedrals. And today, stripped of their horrors and military menace, they are works of art, to be enjoyed.

There are many more of them than you may think. When I was preparing my book on British castles for the National Trust, I found there were well over 3,000. Many are no more than heaps of stones but some are intact and hundreds are worth visiting. The chances are there is one within 20 miles of where you live, probably within ten miles.

England's top ten - Dover, Framlingham, Raglan, Ludlow, Richmond (Yorkshire), Windsor, Leeds (Kent), Bodiam, Arundel and Warwick - are matched by the great Welsh castles, Harlech, Caernavon, Beaumaris, Conway and Caerphilly, and by some tremendous Scottish ones: Stirling, Caerlaverock, Eilean Donan, Glamis, Cawdor and Craigievar. Entry is cheap, sometimes free.

Then there are the country houses, hundreds of them open to the public, well maintained, their treasures superbly displayed. To visit a house like Chatsworth in Derbyshire, Woburn in Bedfordshire or Drumlandrig on the Scots Borders is an artistic education in itself.

When a tiny selection of our country-house works of art was recently shipped across the Atlantic and displayed in Washington, the Americans - rich though they were with the loot of Europe - were overwhelmed by the glory and glitter of our heritage.

Finally there are Britain's public art galleries, nearly all of them free. London has a dozen of world class: the National, the Tate, the Wallace Collection, the Victoria and Albert, the Courtauld, the British Museum, the Royal Collection, Kenwood, Apsley House and the National Portrait Gallery.

Galleries of comparable importance are in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, York, Norwich, Oxford and Cambridge. Most of these places are free and all go to enormous trouble to explain their collections and point out the merits of their treasures. …

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We British Are the Most Creative People on Earth. Why, Then, Are We So Embarrassed about Liking Art? SATURDAY ESSAY THE GREATEST HISTORY OF ART HAS JUST BEEN PUBLISHED. ITSHOULD REMIND US ALL THAT THIS NATION HAS SO MUCH TO BE PROUD OF
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