Now that the oil paintings held by the Archives & Museum (representing about 10% of our art collection as a whole) are available to view on the BBC’s ‘Your Paintings’ website, we have taken up the same hobby as Tim Knox of Sir John Soane’s Museum (but shortly moving to the Fitzwilliam Museum), i.e. running online searches to see what can be found in public art collections in the UK. We know our own collection fairly well – and thumbnails of all our works have been browsable on our website for some time – but what is new is the unexpected juxtapositions thrown up by searching across collections of works in oil.
We have always known, for example, that a search on the term ‘aspiration’ would return the work of art of that title by Charles Sims, RA (1873-1928) in our collection. We didn’t know, however, of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s work of the same title by G.F. Watts, nor of Audrey Knight’s Aspirations at Worcester or of Timothy Jarvis’ Age of Aspirations in Leicestershire.
Similarly, a search on ‘indecision’ throws up the work we know about by Bryan Charnley, but also one we had never heard of in Plymouth by Andrea Landini; and a search on ‘depression’ brings up not only Marion Patrick’s Depression I and Depression II, but also a work by Jock McFadyen, located in Glasgow, simply titled Depression.
The fact that a search on ‘depression’ also brings up an artwork on the subject of the Great Depression serves as a reminder that search results need to be treated with discrimination. To take another example, searching on ‘anger’ returns five pages’ worth of paintings with that word in their titles, including Elise Pacquette (née Warriner)’s The Anger Within from the Archives & Museum’s collection and a few other relevant results, among them Roy Billingham’s Chaos, Anger, Frustration, Carel Weight’s The Seven Deadly Sins – Anger and Dez Quarréll’s Into the Anger Chamber. It also returns a page of paintings which have been subject-tagged with this term by visitors to the site. However, these pages of results are mostly filled with paintings with titles including words such as ‘danger’, ‘stranger’, ‘Granger’, ‘Angers’ (the French city), ‘hanger’, ‘doppelganger’, ‘tangerine’ and so on.
It would be difficult to interrogate the Your Paintings database in such a way as to ensure that all irrelevant results are filtered out. Yet this very fact opens up possibilities for serendipitous discovery. Our search on ‘anger’ is a good case in point, yielding – quite by accident – paintings on the subject of Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple by Il Garofalo, the school of Jacopo Bassano, Salvator Rosa, Stanley Spencer and William Roberts.
In any event, we here at the Archives & Museum are delighted by the enhanced public visibility of works in our collection by the likes of Sims, Charnley, Patrick and Warriner which results from their inclusion in the BBC’s Your Paintings website.
Charles Sims – Aspiration