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Great Britain's fiscal woes might help the Getty Museum

November 8, 2010 |  9:31 am

Turner News last week that Great Britain would hold up an export license for J.M.W. Turner's 1839 masterpiece, “Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino,” bought at auction last summer by the J. Paul Getty Museum, came as scant surprise. The British government regularly makes claims -- often insupportable -- that this or that work of art is a crucial element of the national patrimony, and its loss to a buyer elsewhere in the world would make grown men and women fall into irrevocable despair and cause future generations to shrivel into blithering cultural idiocy.

Mostly, the real goal is just to keep the truly good stuff at home -- and who can blame them for manipulating the levers to make it happen?

One wonders, though, whether Britain might not now be facing a significant problem. Over the summer, numerous philanthropists said that proposed severe cuts to the government's arts budget could not possibly be offset by private money, traditionally the source to which Britain turns in cases like the Turner. In late October, those cuts came anyway -- more than $160 million worth in the first four years. Pressures on private philanthropy to make up the difference will only grow. And that might help the Getty in its quest to bring the great Turner to Los Angeles.

The search is on in Britain to find private funds to match the $44.9 million the Getty had agreed to pay for the painting. Britain has until February to come up with the cash, with an extension to next summer likely. (The British government is not averse to bending the rules, either, so the money hunt might go on even longer.) But, with the lion's share of the country's hefty arts budget cuts coming in the next two years, and with benefactors protesting that they can't make up the difference, will the British people be pleased to see nearly a third of the amount being slashed going to "save" a single painting from export?

The question grows even larger given the artist. Tate Britain is home to the Turner Bequest-- a cache of some 300 paintings and tens of thousands of works on paper, which makes claims of national tragedy should “Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino” leave for America even more dubious than they already are.

--Christopher Knight


Photo: J.M.W. Turner, “Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino,” 1839; Credit: Sotheby's

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Comments () | Archives (6)

The Tate Gallery only houses part of the Turner Bequest, which has been scandalously divided contrary to the wishes of Turner. It does, however, have Ancient Rome, the pair to Modern Rome, and it would be good to see them reunited. However they would not be reunited for long, as the Tate has a policy of keeping many of the Turners in store or on tour, contrary to what it promised when it fought to keep its share of the bequest 30 years ago. Perfidious Albion!

I earned the Getty Oil Company shareholders 4 Billion Bucks
On the Reserve acquisition; the way they treat me -- it really sucks!
As the Getty inheritors bask in glee;
All I asked for was that they look after me.
Four billion dollars they earned on Reserve
My fee I surely deserve.
It turns out J.P. Getty may have been a Nazi;
His family even goes back to Germany.
With Hitler, Goring & Goebbels he did stand;
While trying to undermine the American land!
For paintings & artifacts he did receive
With his oil he was able to deceive?
Hoover & the FBI and Roosevelt they knew
That J.P. Getty & espionage he drew!
Many a young lad and Jew did die
As planes dropped bombs from the sky.
For years while Getty sat in Berlin
He may have committed many a sin.
The ashes and smoke from the chimneys it rose
While old man Getty sat cozy; he chose.
With artwork held tightly under his arm
Still dripping in blood -- as the real owner met harm.
Into the ovens & on meat-hooks, bullets between the eyes
Listen very carefully you can still hear their cries!
While the Gettys sit in England; at their estate at Wormsley
And Gordon sings in San Francisco
With his 727 in tow.
The Getty museum sits atop Malibu
While the corpses of World War 2 scream -- J.P. Getty -- We know you!

The irony of course, is that the image in question looks remarkably like modern day Los Angeles.
From the dusky mountains to the sprawling city, this misty Roman atmosphere could easily be confused with notorious Angeleno smog.
We have plenty of art in the UK and the US, let's not be so set in our ways and start sharing.

that looks great, temptation in the limo you're feeling like a widow, if you're watching me i feel i'm going down.

"Great Britain"(?!) Ha. Another brutal empire bit the dust.

Calling the U.K. "Great Britain" is like refering
to the states as the 13 colonies again.
Why not just call it Atlantis.
Like the paintings and relics
Old Brittania has seen better days.

All great art is humanity's common heritage.
In the 21st Century, with ease of communication and advance in reproduction techniques any specific works' actual location rarely matters.
What matters - that their temporary custodians do their best to share it with the widest audience possible - and in the best possible context.
And go to the limit to conserve them.
The Getty has passed those criteria marvelously over and over again.


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