Paintings are, from time to time, called tours de force, but now three masterpieces are being forced to tour. (Groan.) As part of the National Gallery Masterpiece Tour, next year Manet’s chopped up Execution of Maximilian (1867/8) gets to put its best frame on and visit galleries in Canterbury, County Durham and Warwick.
Sponsored by Christie’s, the tour of the executed archduke who headed a short-lived empire in Mexico (obviously) is a grand idea, and no doubt smart on the National Gallery’s part: with government funding looking ever tighter, the NG needs to be the gallery that reaches the regions other galleries can’t reach.
Each recipient gallery had to submit a proposal for how they’d show the painting. The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge in Canterbury will think about the portrayal of political murder, since it also has paintings about Thomas Beckett’s murder, while the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Teesdale, will set it in a Second Empire context with contemporary pictures and publications.
The Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick is being most adventurous, if also most art-speaky: they are presenting it ‘in dialogue with existing and newly commissioned work by 21st-century Latin American artists… to explore the themes of western imperialism, political and personal betrayal and censorship implicit in Manet’s great work’. I think Manet surrounded by completely jarring Contemporary art should be a great experience.
(If the picture looks odd, it’s because various people – including Manet – have sliced it up for unknown reasons, some possibly for post-mortem resale. It’s a shame, though there’s almost certainly an exhibition – at another stop? – on destroyed pictures.)
2015 sees a Canaletto jump off its wall and it will, I guess, visit Birmingham, which has more canals than Venice, while 2016 will bring Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait at the Age of 63 to new audiences. Art does travel every day, with huge exhibitions regularly stopping at three or four international galleries, but it’s nice to see some local transit, especially of first-rate pictures.
If the Masterpiece Tour, which comes after the NG has sent facsimiles of paintings around the country to literary festivals and such, opens eyes to the great contents of regional museums, which are often neglected in the rush to London, it will have performed a double service.