Take a closer look – the art galleries among victims of the pandemic

Apr 13, 2021

There are many things so many of us have missed during lockdowns that it is difficult to make a list – or even start to develop one in ranked order – even though there has been plenty of time to think about it.

Two of them would be art galleries and museums. Some might deem that a First World problem and the Morrison Government wouldn’t rank it highly given that the arts – and those who like them – are high on their enemies list.

The government might have got worried about the tourism impact, if they had realised how important it was to that industry, but Morrison’s marketing efforts in New Zealand and Australia didn’t show any indication of awareness of that as part of the tourism mix.

While it was not the reason for him being sacked from both jobs it wouldn’t have helped that he had little time for the arts as a tourist opportunity while he was frantically busy with the organisational political manoeuvring which prompted the New Zealand media to describe him as a cross between Rasputin and Crocodile Dundee.

The thought came to mind while recently visiting the astonishing Clarice Beckett exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia. It added piquancy that the magnificent paintings and brilliant hang were occurring 86 years after her death, the tragic destruction or loss of much of her work, long periods of critical neglect and a career blighted by the 1930s version of the Morrison attitude to women during and after her life.

Around the same time as the Beckett exhibition the National Gallery in London has lent a number of paintings to the NGA for an exhibition. The NGA is limiting visitors to an hour’s viewing, which probably suits Morrison’s view of art when compared with the beauty of Rugby League, but necessitates the multiple visits the Beckett exhibition is experiencing.

If you can’t get to Canberra the London National Gallery is, as are other galleries around the world, offering access to their collection virtually.

The National Gallery has been keeping track of the online visits and the most popular painting page, with the highest number of views, is Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, followed by Holbein’s The Ambassadors and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

“Other visitor favourites include works by Turner, Leonardo, Velázquez, Titian, Constable, Botticelli, Monet, Caravaggio and Vermeer.” The figures are based on the largest number of individual views of a page from 19 March 2020 when the Gallery first locked down, until February 2021,” the Gallery said.

While it’s not the same experience there are advantages in digital exhibition and it is interesting that the Gallery reports that: “There has been a rise in audience interaction with painting pages (on the website) overall.

“These pages provide an in-depth look into the story behind each work with text descriptions and video content. They also allow the viewer to zoom in for a closer look – not unlike the experience of standing in front of a painting in the gallery, leaning in to focus on a particular section or inspecting a certain element in greater detail.”

Good luck with that at most galleries as the staff would converge if you got too close – but nevertheless the thought is there.

“Whether revisiting beloved favourites or discovering these masterpieces for the first time, the painting pages help guide the viewer and provide new layers of insight,” the Gallery said.

The Gallery also monitored the visit stats and found that the top 20 most visited paintings were:

1.The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434 – Jan van Eyck
2. The Ambassadors, 1533 – Hans Holbein the Younger
3. Sunflowers, 1888 – Vincent van Gogh
4. The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 – Joseph Mallord William Turner
5. The Virgin of the Rocks, about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8 – Leonardo da Vinci
6. Rain, Steam, and Speed, 1844 – Joseph Mallord William Turner
7. The Rokeby Venus, 1647-51- Diego Velázquez
8. Surprised!, 1891 – Henri Rosseau
9. Bacchus and Ariadne, 1520-3 – Titian
10. The Hay Wain, 1821 – John Constable
11. Venus and Mars, about 1485 – Sandro Botticelli
12. The Water-Lily Pond, 1899 – Claude Monet
13. Bathers at Asnières, 1884 – Georges Seurat
14. The Supper at Emmaus, 1601 – Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
15. Marriage A-la-Mode: 1, The Marriage Settlement, about 1743 – William Hogarth
16. A Young Woman standing at a Virginal, about 1670-72 – Johannes Vermeer
17. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump, 1768 – Joseph Wright ‘of Derby’
18. Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano, probably about 1438-40 – Paolo Uccello
19. A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, 1889 – Vincent van Gogh
20. The Sultan Mehmet II, 1480 – Gentile Bellini.

Clarice Beckett would not have been surprised that everyone on the list was a bloke – even if Scott Morrison thought that was only right.

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