Two of Titian's greatest paintings are on their first U.S. tour -- but not to the West Coast
Texans’ claims that they know how to manage a state budget much better than we Californians may be crumbling, but they do retain bragging rights on one impressive count: starting May 22, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston will offer its visitors an in-person encounter with two of Titian’s greatest masterpieces in a touring show that won’t make it to the West Coast.
"Diana and Actaeon" (pictured above) and "Diana and Callisto," painted in the late 1550s and normally lodged in Edinburgh, Scotland, are making their first U.S. appearances, and Houston is as close as they’ll get to Southern California.
“Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland” first alighted at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in October; the show, whose 13 paintings and 12 drawings also include works by Tintoretto, Lorenzo Lotto and Jacopo Bassano, opened last weekend at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, with Houston the next and last stop.
Reviewing the High Museum show in the New York Review of Books, author and art dealer Andrew Butterfield described the “Diana” paintings as “among the most celebrated works in the history of European art,” and quoted the contemporary British painter Lucian Freud’s comment that they are “the most beautiful pictures in the world.”
A year ago, the National Galleries of Scotland announced it had formed a partnership with the High Museum that would yield a four-year series of traveling exhibitions drawn from its collections, with the aim, basically, of compelling travelling American art lovers to put Edinburgh on their itineraries and to “broaden its international base of support.”
It’s perhaps no coincidence that a U.K. institution has decided to send some of its choicest goods to America at this moment: private philanthropy dominates our arts economy, and the Brits are starting to get used to the fact that their own economically pressed government is pulling back the kind of public support that has long made American arts institutions jealous.
Last month, the Guardian newspaper launched a new blog called “Culture Cuts” with the news that, following a “painful” 2010, all 850 recipients of national government arts grants in England face 6.9% cuts in the coming fiscal year, with other big changes to come.
Among the big arts stories of 2009 was the British government's willingness to kick in about half the nearly $80 million it took to buy "Diana and Actaeon" from its private owner, the Duke of Sutherland, and keep it off the auction block. But the fate of "Diana and Callisto" remains unresolved, the duke having given British authorities until 2012 to make a comparable deal to prevent its sale.
Could the Getty's recent success in prying loose a prized J.M.W. Turner painting of Rome, which also had resided (on loan) in the National Galleries of Scotland, owe something to British authorities' need to hoard dwindling government arts funds to save "Diana and Callisto?"
And might the two "Diana" paintings' arrival on these shores be part of a trend in which the British send some of their best stuff our way, in hopes of earning exhibition fees from U.S. museums (which typically rely on private sponsors to pay the freight), while perhaps creating openings to woo wealthy American museum patrons?
Hey, Brits –- there are folks like that in Southern California too!
-- Mike Boehm
Photos: "Diana and Actaeon" by Titian; "Diana and Callisto" by Titian. Credits: National Galleries of Scotland/National Gallery, London (Diana and Actaeon); Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland (Bridgewater loan, 1945) (Diana and Callisto).