If ever there were paintings looking for a home it is surely the Government’s own collection of over 13,000 works many of them currently in storage in a back street off Tottenham Court Road. The curators do a great job of placing them in government buildings all over the world in order to boost Britain’s political and cultural “brand” and they have also started their own roaming exhibitions. But at any one moment about a third of them are in storage – that’s over 4,000 that belong to us but aren’t being seen. The history of the collection can be read here.
On a recent visit with London Historians I had a glimpse of what we are missing – a cornucopia of treasures in transit ranging from a Lowry of Buckingham Palace commissioned for the Coronation to the original painting of Lord Byron (above, right) which, when temporarily requisitioned from the Athens embassy for the travelling exhibition, coincided with the collapse of the Greek economy. Maybe it’s imminent return will be an omen of revival.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson’ s favourite paintings were a Lowry and the curious one above (left) where red and blue shapes seem to be stalking each other, reflecting Wilson’s fears at the time (which were later proved to be true) that he was being spied on by his own spooks.
The Government Art Collection (GAC) would love to have its own gallery but this is highly unlikely on the present mood of self-imposed austerity which has already seen the GAC’s buying budget reduced to zero.
Or is it? There is one space I have written about before which cries out to be a gallery but which is now one of the longest car parks in the nation and the greatest misuse of any building in London. It is in The Mall, a congregating point for tourists by the foot of the Duke of York’s steps on the opposite side to the ICA (see photo below). It is owned by the Crown so it would not need to be purchased and could be kick-started with private sponsorship until the Government takes its hair shirt off. The downside is that whoever parks there – and I would guess that most of them don’t need to drive their cars into central London anyway – would have to find somewhere else to park or not bring their cars in at all. Another bonus.
Believe it or not, this historic building is a car park