It’s probably not very Tory in the strictest sense to care about how other people choose to waste their money, but I do. Specifically, I do hope that no one is silly enough to give the heirs of John Singer Sargent any of their lolly in order that ‘we’ might keep an image of our beloved [sic] Mademoiselle Claus in this country. This is not, sadly, a picture depicting Santa’s daughter, but instead a painting by Manet of a friend of his wife. It’s purportedly patriated here, which is to say, it’s part of “our culture” because some 16 years after Manet painted it, Sargent bought it, and the latter’s heirs have hung onto it ever since. Until now, when they’re flogging it. And that’s where the Ashmolean has stepped in, appealing to the mugs who comprise the great British art-simpering public to pony up circa 8 million quid for it. CR has a sterling track record in objecting to these inane public campaigns, such as the one to ‘save’ Culzean (for the NTS) or to keep AN Other Guardi here (for the literally 1000s who will look at it, in the course of a decade, when it’s on display). But it’s not the exercise in philanthropy we should object to per se, rather it’s the lack of discrimination habitually on offer, all the more criminally so when one considers just how few times leaders of public taste like the Ashmolean can go to the public well like this. In short, appeals like this should be reserved for things that really do matter: Ms. Claus patently doesn’t. Not to ‘us’.
When a member of the elect, such a Denis Mahon or the eximious Jonathan Ruffer follow where their connoisseurship takes them, this is always to be applauded. It’s invariably considered, right and wise. The same thing can’t be said for capitalism, least of all when it encounters our witless planning laws. The worst consequence of this nexus in London is by some distance the execrable Battersea unPowered Station. Hunched, as it is, over areas of London its brooding presence has done nothing but harm for thirty years and more. Gimcrack developer after bankruptee-to-be has grappled with this dinosaur’s Grade II* listing, making ever wilder, ever more implausible promises about what they’ll do it, and what it will then do to Battersea, Vauxhall and even, oft-times, monorail-linked Pimlico. Yet it won’t. Unlike Bankside, which was a thing of beauty, and in the right place at the right time and able to do a viable thing, Battersea Power Station’s shell isn’t. Even before it was let fall into ruin, it was an absurd, ugly thing, but also one inconveniently placed, even if billions were ultimately spent rejigging central London’s mass transit system to bring it notionally closer to the rest of the city. We should finish the job all its owners have variously begun since it stopped generating electricity and raze it to the ground.
Now this isn’t to say that we should then let some libertarian, Bladerunneresque zone spring up in its place. Planning is good practice. All sorts of ingenuity could be brought to bear about what this valuable space should be – and yes, unquestionably that should include both high end housing and social housing, as well as some civic zone. But nothing genuinely creative can be done if that carcass stays in place, whatever mummery its next owners engage in about how they’ll repurpose what’s left of what was always a vile body. Knock it down.
Where it goes
In a very depressing way, British, Euroinfected over-regulation can painfully combine with the robust willingness of other countries to sell off what’s undoubtedly part of their cultural patrimony. Such is the case with the Norwegian businessman currently selling a Scream at Sotheby’s. In New York. Not London. Thank you very much droit de suite, you utterly alien, art market hegemony destroying waste of time.
@NonPlacet is CR’s new culture blogger