To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the foundation of Birmingham’s Barber Institute of Fine Arts, the National Gallery, London is holding an exhibition of the first twelve paintings acquired by Professor Thomas Bodkin on behalf of the Henry Barber Trust during the 1930s. Birth of a Collection: Masterpieces from the Barber Institute of Fine Arts runs from 22 May to 1 September 2013 and features paintings by Poussin, Frans Hals, Turner, Manet, Monet and others.
The Barber Institute’s collection was purchased to fit Lady Barber’s criteria that everything should be of ‘that standard of quality required by the National Gallery or Wallace Collection’. All the works in the collection provide a comprehensive coverage of the great national schools and the different genres and styles. This exhibition finely bears out this ethos with religious, historical, portraits, landscapes and seascapes from late medieval, through Renaissance, Neoclassicism and the 19th century periods. While the Barber Institute galleries were under construction, and therefore could not display the newly purchased works, nine of the original paintings were lent to and displayed or stored at the National Gallery thanks to the National Gallery’s young director, Kenneth Clark. For the first time in 70 years, these works have been reunited together with the Manet and Monet that were shown at the Tate Gallery and another that remained with the dealer.
Italian medieval artist Simone Martini is not represented in the National Gallery’s collection, so his St John the Evangelist is well worth a viewing. It is fascinating to read on the labels the original price paid for these works, for example £3,675 for Manet’s Portrait of his artist friend Carolus-Duran, £1,350 for Turner’s 1809 The Sun Rising through Vapour and a mere £2,000 for Poussin’s Tancred and Erminia. Anthony Blunt In 1938 controversially challenged the authenticity of the Poussin but Bodkin successfully defended its attribution in the Burlington Magazine. However, Blunt later admitted that he wondered how he could ever have doubted it. Some of the Barber Institute’s finest objet d’art will also be on show at the Wallace Collection this summer. The loan includes a superb ancient Greek bronze helmet from Olympia; a magnificent and highly unusual 17th century English silver-gilt salt-cellar and a bronze sculpture of a boy on a goat.
A concurrent exhibition About Face: European Portrait Masterpieces from UK National Collections 17 May – 1 September 2013 at the Barber Institute, features portraits by Lucas van Leyde, Rembrandt, Goya and Cezanne on loan from the National Gallery which are being paired with comparable works.
Words/Photo: Sara Faith © Artlyst 2013