Issue Number: 111
Want to know where to find hidden art treasures? Peter Murray goes in search of masterpieces with Christopher Lloyd and tours two great art cities
The new austerity has brought with it some unexpected dividends, not least a renewed appreciation of the wealth of fine art to be seen in so many public art galleries and museums throughout Britain and Ireland, where admission is generally free. In Christopher Lloyd’s In Search of a Masterpiece: An Art Lover’s Guide to Great Britain & Ireland the mysterious allure of fine art is reborn, with highlights of both well known and forgotten masterpieces.
The author has tramped acres of parquet floor in a search for works of art that are, quite simply, important. The reproductions give some information, but more usefully they make the reader want to see the original works of art. The selection is profound and humanistic, ranging from John Singer Sargent’s line of invalided soldiers in Gassed (1918), in the Imperial War Museum, to William Hazlitt’s compelling self-portrait, of 1802, in Maidstone Museum, to Thomas Jones’s Buildings in Naples (National Museum of Wales), a view painted in 1782 but so fresh and modern in conception, it could be by David Hockney RA. Lloyd cites Guy Barton, his art master at Marlborough, with inspiring his love of art, and this book, with its detailed and enlightening texts, takes that inspiration to a new audience.
In comparison to Lloyd’s selection, which offers a personal odyssey through Britain and Ireland, The Art Guide: London, by Sam Phillips, faces a tougher challenge – to combine a potted history of art, a quick guide to individual galleries and museums, maps to orient the visitor, and a representative selection of great works, spanning everything from Cycladic art to Cézanne. The first illustration, of the spendthrift husband and dishevelled wife in Hogarth’s Marriage A-la-Mode (1745) hints at the exhaustion that might inevitably follow an attempt to pack in so many gallery visits, and so this is a guide best suited for dipping into, rather than total immersion. It is a useful publication, not least because it reminds us of the many public sculptures in street and park, in addition to the great variety of art contained within London’s museums and galleries.
In the sister publication, Morgan Falconer’s The Art Guide: New York, there is a sensibility displayed in the works reproduced that communicates and celebrates that mysterious, indefinable experience that is great art. Who could not be charmed by the 4,000 year-old bronze hedgehog in the Brooklyn Museum, or moved to silence by Caspar David Friedrich’s Two Men Contemplating the Moon (c.1825-30) in the Met? Both guides are written in an informative, chatty style that would translate well into iPhone Apps – and probably will.