Cataloging and Access in Britain
An alarming, baffling, and very interesting November 9th article
from The Art Newspaper informs that a large number of publicly owned paintings in Britain are in danger of slipping through the cracks. Most organizations with pictures (libraries, town halls, etc) had dodgy, sometimes totally incomplete records of their works. Most did not have an adequate visual record (let alone an updated, digital, color record) of their paintings.
I am slightly surprised. In the back of my mind, I’ve always suspected that the British harbored a meticulous, obsessive, borderline neurotic penchant for collecting. After all, the history of the crowded, ornate, yet surprisingly ordered Victorian living space has been laboriously chronicled. Proof positive, I guess, that not all Victorian sentiments have persisted – though their moral legacy still grimly lingers on.
The article mentions an entity called the “Public Catalogue Foundation,” which seems like a step in the right direction. My suspicion is that the museums and National Trust properties included in this survey do have their act together. Several years ago, I purchased an excellent catalogue of the holdings of Stourhead Manor – though not annotated, it provided me with a solid reference while touring the grounds and was useful as something that I could later consult.
As the study of art grows inevitably more plural – that is, more polyvocal and more necessarily obscure (we will invent new Old Masters as we grow tired of our old Old Masters), these Public Catalogues will be indispensable. I feel that these will be useful (on the one hand) to an academic researcher or a student writing a thesis and (on the other) to the casual picture-viewer.