Good for Richard III

Let’s hear it for Richard III and Leicester – such perseverance by a committed band of enthusiasts and archaeologists with great support from Leicester City Council. An exhibition has just opened in Leicester’s Guildhall, charting the project. The skeleton is not included but there is a model of the actual skull! Queues are likely….. The burial of Richard III is now planned for Leicester Cathedral in 2014 although there were others equally interested in this demon King. A 7ft long tomb is being designed – he was a tall man for the age. Years ago, your blogger was involved in another excavation in a car park – this time in Winchester where the search was on for the final resting place of the benevolent King Alfred. A small piece of bone was discovered and analysed. We held our breath, the world’s press was waiting, but it could not be confirmed one way or another. I understand they are going to give it another go. In the meantime, good for Leicester and Richard III!

Art in Education

Liz Forgan ended her term as chairman of the Arts Council with a please for arts in education. Well, it looks as though she and others have been heard as the Education Ministers reconsider their proposals for reforming the examination system. Of course, arts should be part of the curriculum, just as children should be welcome in museums and galleries. With half term bursting out around the country there will be more than ever visiting, with their parents and grandparents.

Dulwich Picture Gallery and the elderly

But let’s not forget the older visitor. Soon books from your local library will be prescribed to mental health patients. Visiting an art gallery may be just as therapeutic. And there are valuable programmes already under way. At the Dulwich Picture Gallery, developed in collaboration with GP practices, the Prescription for Art offshoot connects with residents who may be frail, lonely or busy caring for loved ones, but do not attend regular pensioners’ or community groups. They come to the gallery to paint, learning new techniques, as well as to socialise.

These types of initiatives depend on grants from trusts and foundations and often lose out in competition with schemes supporting the younger generation. But they can make a real difference to people’s lives.

Your Paintings – Public Catalogue Foundation

An amazing new resource is now available online thanks to the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC and it’s growing all the time. The website is the culmination of a huge project cataloguing the nation’s art collection in public ownership. It launched in 2011 with 60,000 oil paintings online and there are now over 210,000 in 2,800 collections. From the largest galleries to the smallest town hall (even fire stations) they are all there, even when the paintings are not generally on view. Sometimes the descriptions and the accredited artist are missing or dubious but there is an opportunity for registered members to tag and add information to paintings which they are familiar with. Your blogger was searching for paintings in country houses recently but only those in National Trust and English Heritage ownership are currently included. Let’s hope that privately owned collections in country houses open to the public will be added in the future.

Sign up for Houghton Hall in May….

Talking of country houses, a spectacular exhibition will open at Houghton Hall in Norfolk in May when Old Masters from the Hermitage Collection return for a four month stint for the first time in 200 years. The paintings, once at Houghton Hall, will be hung in their original positions recreating the design which featured the then Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole’s famous collection of paintings in the magnificent setting by William Kent, still intact.

So what happened? Well extravagant Walpole died with huge debts and to make it worse his grandson had gambled away most of his inheritance. It was Walpole’s youngest son, the eccentric Horace Walpole, who organised the sale in 1779 to save Houghton. Before the auction could go ahead Empress Catherine the Great of Russia bought the whole collection of 204 paintings for £50 million in today’s money. And they have been in the Hermitage ever since, with the occasional exhibition overseas.

So this will be something of a magic occasion. Go to the Houghton Revisited website to find out more.

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