Salon Archive

Issue: 21

Weekly meeting report

This week�s meeting consisted of a miscellany of papers, three of which were on a Romano-British theme. The Director, Martin Millett, showed how a fragment of timber retrieved during the excavation of a well at a small farmstead in Hayton, East Yorkshire, had formed part of a beautiful cupboard door, of bone-inlaid oak, perhaps from the adjacent bath-house.

David Neal, FSA, questioned the accepted late fourth-century date of the mosaics from Insula 27 at Verulamium, and demonstrated that they were late-second or early-third century in date, but perhaps patched and repaired late in the fourth century. Stephen Cosh, FSA, argued from a group of mosaics found in the Ilchester area that the so-called mosaic schools of fourth-century Britain were not in fact the work of town-based workshops, but rather of individual peripatetic mosaicists. He also suggested that there was a burgeoning demand for the work of these skilled craftsmen in the 370s and 380s but that the relatively crude mosaics produced after this date were well within the competence of a jobbing builder.

Finally David Morgan Evans, the General Secretary, exhibited two paintings from the Society�s collections that have recently been restored to their original colour and vigour by the Courtauld Institute. Painted in 1835 by Richard Tongue, a Bath-based shoe and bootmaker, and donated by the artist to the Society, they show a romanticized view of the Pentre Ifan megalithic monument in Pembrokeshire, and a boulder balanced on a pinnacle of rock interpreted at the time as being �Druidic�.

A more detailed account of Thursday�s proceedings can be found on the �Meeting programme� page of the Society�s website at www.sal.org.uk.

Car park controversy

English Heritage found itself at the centre of another controversy recently when, according to newspaper reports, the organization �slapped a Grade II listing on a car park�, forcing �property developers to walk away from an �80 million development in the West End of London�.

Weary at being characterised once again as arbitrary and unreasonable, English Heritage published a statement attempting to put the record straight, and saying that DCMS had listed the 1929 Brewer Street car park because of its importance to early motoring history. Far from standing in the way of the car park�s conversion to offices and flats, it was in discussion with the owner to find a solution that would retain the significant architectural elements whilst enabling development to take place. �Listing�, the statement said, �does not mean that a building is kept in aspic; it simply allows a pause for thought before it is irrevocably damaged or destroyed forever�.

New architectural visions

No doubt the competing merits of the old and the new will be thoroughly debated at the RIBA on 8 July when Patrick Wright chairs a discussion on the theme of New Visions of Britain: the future of British architecture. The discussion, with a panel of distinguished guests including Robert Adam, Charles Jencks and Amanda Levete, will be recorded for broadcasting on BBC Four (the digital TV station devoted to the arts) in the autumn. Tickets can be obtained by sending an email to visionofbritain@bbc.co.uk by 5 July.

RIBA President Elect

George Ferguson, of Acanthus Ferguson Mann (see www.acanthusfm.co.uk), was named RIBA President Elect at the end of May, and a week later gave a speech in his home base of Bristol saying that he wanted to raise the profile of historic building and conservation work within the architectural profession. This will come as welcome news to architects specialising in conservation work and represents the continuity of a process, begun under the present RIBA President, Paul Hyett, to redress what has been interpreted as a bias on the part of the RIBA in favour of all-new buildings at the expense of integrating and conserving the old

New Portrait Gallery chief

Sandy Nairne has been appointed to succeed Charles Saumarez Smith, FSA, as head of the National Portrait Gallery. Mr Nairne (49) will move to the NPG in the autumn after having spent eight years as director of programmes helping to found Tate Modern and develop Tate Britain working alongside Sir Nicholas Serota. Sir David Scholey, chairman of the National Portrait Gallery trustees, said of Mr Nairne: �He has considerable knowledge of British history and a wide range of experience in both historical and contemporary arts.� He added that the new director would be inheriting �the splendid legacy of Charles Saumarez Smith�.

Mr Nairne has worked previously at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, the ICA in London and as Director of Visual Arts for the Arts Council of Great Britain. In 1993 he was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship by the J Paul Getty Trust.

Re:source appoints new chief executive

Re:source (the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries) has appointed Anna Southall as its new Chief Executive. Anna is currently Director of National Museums and Galleries of Wales (NMGW). Anna will take up the post as Chief Executive in September.

UK Museums Needs Assessment

Re:source has also just co-published (with the Heritage Lottery Fund) a comprehensive new report on the state of the UK's museums and galleries in which it argues that there are many shortcomings to address. The report points to a fragmented infrastructure that hampers collaboration, leadership and skills-sharing in the museum sector and to imbalances and shortages in funding, so that, whilst some flagship nationally-funded museums are amongst the most popular visitor attractions in the world, regional museums have not been able to achieve their full potential.

The report exposes a broad spectrum of needs, including improvements to physical infrastructure, more storage space, funds for new acquisitions, steps to achieve a standard format for recording information about collections, and resources to update computers and websites (at an average age of six years, most museum computers are museum pieces themselves, the report says). All these problems detract from visitors' experience of museums and galleries and impact on museums' provision for education and access, which varies enormously throughout the sector.

In response to the report, Matthew Evans, Chair of the Regional Museums Task Force, said: �This confirms everything that the museums community has been saying for some time. Museums and galleries stimulate, fascinate and educate; they satisfy our curiosity about the world and enlarge our understanding of the past and the present ... but we need new investment and a new framework to ensure that museums fulfil their huge potential and that the public reaps the full benefit of this invaluable resource.�

Copies of the report, called UK Museums Needs Assessment, can be obtained from the Re:source website, at www.resource.gov.uk/documents/museums.pdf.

Museums: centres of scholarship or theme parks?

In a lengthy feature in The Independent on 20 June, journalist Robert Hanks asked whether museums should be places of quiet contemplation or touchy-feely theme parks �with pongs and actors in medieval costume�. David Fleming, President of the Museums Association, was presented as one of the leading proponents of museums as agents for social change, and quoted as saying that too many curators want to get on with their scholarly pursuits, �undisturbed by the pesky public�.

By contrast, Fellow Peter Addyman was characterized as someone who has got the balance right and is �a walking illustration of the fact that populism and high seriousness can sometimes find common ground�. �While showing me around Jorvik last week, Hanks writes, �he [Addyman] indulged in embarrassed sarcasm about some of the display�s sillier aspects, but it was also clear that he is committed to reaching out to as broad a section of the public as possible � and Jorvik�s popularity generates a surplus that allows the York Archaeological Trust to get on with investigative and educational work. �

New Museum of London Director

The Museum of London�s Board of Governors has announced the appointment of Professor Jack Lohman as Director to succeed Dr Simon Thurley. Currently Chief Executive Officer for South Africa�s Iziko museums, Professor Lohman will take up his new position with effect from 5 August 2002.

A Londoner �born and bred�, Professor Lohman has worked in an advisory capacity for the Stonehenge Advisory Group (1996-8), the �Light of Venice� exhibition at the National Museum in Warsaw (1998), the Singapore History Museum (1999) and the Desmond Tutu Peace Trust and Leadership Academy (1999) amongst others. In 1999, he was appointed by the South African Minister for Arts, Culture, Science and Technology in 1999 to unite fifteen of South Africa�s national museums � including the South African National Gallery and the South African Museum � in a visionary new arts organization, Iziko.

�1.9 million for national museums

Dame Vivien Duffield, Chair of the Clore Duffield Foundation, last week announced donations totalling �1.9 million to the Museum of London and the National Galleries of Scotland.

The Museum of London will receive �903,000 to fund the creation of a Clore Education Centre, creating 50 per cent more space for education at the Museum, and doubling the number of people the Education Programme currently serves.

The National Galleries of Scotland will receive �1 million to fund the creation of a Clore Education Centre as part of The Playfair Project opening in 2005, linking the National Gallery of Scotland with the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. The new Centre will include a 200-seat lecture theatre and an information technology gallery.

The Clore Duffield Foundation is now established as one of the most significant private patrons of art education in Europe. These new announcements bring the total donations for educational projects by The Clore Duffield Foundation to over �20 million. There are already Clore Education Centres at the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, Tate Modern and the Foundling Museum.

The William M B Berger Prize for British art history

The British Art Journal (copies of which are available in the Society�s Library) has announced the establishment of a new prize for excellence in the field of British art history, in honour of the late Willliam MB Berger. The prize of �5,000 ($7,500) will be awarded annually by The British Art Journal in association with the Berger Foundation Educational Trust of Denver, Colorado, USA.

The first prize will be awarded in December 2002 to an outstanding book, exhibition or catalogue (in any language) appearing during the twelve-month period from 1 September 2001 to 31 August 2002.

For further details of the prize, and of the discounts available to Fellows on subscriptions to The British Art Journal, send an email to editor@britishartjournal.co.uk.

Tyntesfield saved for the nation

Tyntesfield, the splendid Victorian house that was put on the market following the death of its last owner, the reclusive Lord Wraxall, has been acquired by the National Trust, along with its original contents and furnishings and part of the estate. Described by Fellow David Starkey as �a time capsule on an extraordinary scale�, Tyntesfield�s remarkable completeness persuaded the Trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund to offer �17.4 million towards the purchase price (which has exhausted the Fund and left it unable to assist with further purchases without an injection of new money). Two private benefactors made donations of �4 million and �1 million, and members of the public gave �1.5 million.

Writing in The Times, Fellow Marcus Binney paid tribute to three women for their role in the campaign to keep Tyntesfield intact: Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust for her decision to launch the Save Tyntesfield campaign, despite having previously said that the Trust would focus on countryside acquisitions in future; Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, for raising Tyntesfield to Grade 1 status and protecting all the fittings by means of a lengthy inventory; and Liz Forgan, Chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund for fast-tracking the application for funds and securing the agreement of her trustees to the NHMF�s largest ever grant.

Twentieth-century heritage

ICOMOS-UK has just published a list of Top Twenty Twentieth-century Sites in the UK (copies available from icomos-uk@icomos.org). The list takes in private houses (Marsh Court near Stockbridge, Hampshire, by Edwin Lutyens and Charles Rennie Macintosh�s Hill House, Glasgow), social housing (Letchworth Garden City and Cumbernauld New Town), cathedrals (Liverpool Anglican, and Coventry), radio-telescopes (the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank), educational institutions (Impington Village College, Stirling University, the Leicester University Engineering Building), bridges (the Forth Railway Bridge), collieries (Penallta in South Wales) and docks (Liverpool Pier Head).

The list was drawn up in consultation with numerous individuals and bodies and aims to promote understanding of the full diversity of twentieth-century heritage and highlight issues relating to its recognition and conservation.

News from Venice in Peril

Venice in Peril, the fund founded in the wake of the 1966 floods to campaign for the city�s conservation (and now Chaired by Fellow Anna Somers Cocks), held a conference last month to highlight some of the issues facing Venice in the twenty-first century. Called Deserted Houses; Homeless Venetians, the conference heard from the mayor of Venice that the decline in the city�s population has been halted, but that there still remains a large amount of empty property in the city (2,860 dwellings out of 40,000).

The challenges of converting property to modern housing has resulted in wholesale demolition in some places and the replacement of historic fabric with new concrete floors, roofs and rendering. The conference heard that Venice in Peril was determined to prove that such radical change to existing buildings was not only unnecessary, but also counter-productive. Traditional terrazzo floors and stucco made from seasoned lime and powdered Istrian stone are both far better at absorbing damp and withstanding thermal and structural change than cement, and have a lifetime of centuries rather than decades. To prove that careful repair can be cost-efficient, the Venice in Peril fund is to undertake the conversion of a seventeenth-century house in Canareggio to form four modern apartments.

The true home of golf

Those who dislike sport should look away now, but others might be interested to know that the International Journal of the History of Sport has just published an article by Heiner Gillmeister, sports historian at Bonn University, claiming that the rules of golf were first written down in 1545 by Pieter van Afferden, a Dutch school teacher living in Harderwijk. This contradicts long-standing claims, based on fifteenth-century laws banning the game, that Scotland is golf�s original home. Heiner Gillmeister believes that the game referred to in Scottish laws is street hockey, a violent game that often degenerated into inter-communal violence, hence its prohibition. Peter Lewis, Director of the British Golf Museum, said the museum would be sticking to the view that golf, as we know it today, was first codified in Scotland in 1744.