Inspiring a younger generation to be passionate and excited about the Old Masters is the major challenge for today. How are we going to ensure that future generations continue to engage with great art of the past? One way of igniting curiosity and stimulating ‘younger’ eyes is to challenge boundaries and encourage debate. We certainly learnt this last year at Dulwich Picture Gallery when we collaborated with contemporary artist Doug Fishbone on a project that involved purchasing on the internet a hand painted replica of Fragonard’s Portrait of a Girl from a Chinese workshop in the Xiamen province for the total of 120 dollars (which included postage). Fragonard’s original was temporarily removed and replaced with the replica and visitors were encouraged to test their connoisseur skills to identify the ‘impostor’. Fragonard’s painting, normally ignored, became a celebrated Old Master, as international press coverage and a sudden surge of visitor numbers came to see it once it was revealed.
If public galleries and dealers are going to continue inspiring new generations there is no doubt that we have to think of new ways of breathing fresh air into our collections and galleries. This year Dulwich has seen Mark Wallinger’s self-portrait in the form of a sculpture of the letter ‘ I ’ juxtaposed with Van Dyck’s Self-Portrait from the National Portrait Gallery and most recently a life size x-radiograph of Rubens’s Venus, Mars and Cupid, has been installed at the end of Soane’s enfilade, not as a scientific object but as a work of art in its own right. And now, to coincide with London Art Week, Dulwich’s Gerrit Dou, Woman Playing a Clavichord, will be shown for the first time since 1665 with Dou’s second version of the same subject from a private collection. In the corner, a viola da gamba rests in silence, its player absent. For this reason we have commissioned Liam Byrne, a prodigious viola da gamba player, to compose a ‘soundscape’ which will be installed not in front of the painting but in the Gallery’s mausoleum where our founders, Desenfans and Bourgeois, are buried. Both were dealers and collectors who would have greatly enjoyed London Art Week, and who ultimately wanted their collection to be made available to the public, to educate and inspire. Their mission remains ours and dealers today also continue to play a major role as mediators to make great art accessible to all.
Dr Xavier Bray
Arturo and Holly Melosi Chief Curator, Dulwich Picture Gallery
NB: A personal tip for fellow dealers and collectors: a pilgrimage to Dulwich is well worth it, as legend has that paying homage and touching the tombs of our founders can bring forth a good year!