Artwatch UK

Response to Attack

29 December 2010

In response to an appeal made to ArtWatch UK by Polish art historians which was reported by The Observer (and is carried here below in the post of December 13) Count Adam Zamoyski the Chairman of the Board of the Princes Czartoryski Foundation has made a quite extraordinary ad hominem attack on me and, in terms which would be actionable under British law, he has impugned the integrity, motives and reputation of both myself and ArtWatch UK in the Polish press.

While I can certainly understand that the interests of Count Zamoyski’s Foundation are endangered by the campaign to prevent Leonardo’s “Lady with an Ermine” from travelling to London, it seems gratuitous to impugn the standing of ArtWatch itself and, by implication, all those distinguished people who have contributed to it in the form of articles for its journal or lectures to its public meetings who include Professor Hellmut Wohl of Boston university; Professor Mark Zucker of the Louisiana State University; Professor Charles Hope, former Director of the Warburg Institute; Professor David Freedberg, Pierre Matisse Professor of the History of Art and Director of The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University; Michel Favre-Felix, President of the Association Internationale pour le Respect de l’Intégrité du Patrimoine Artistique (ARIPA); and Jessica Douglas-Home President of The Mihai Eminescu Trust.

Perhaps Count Zamoyski should consider confining himself to attacking the arguments of those he disagrees with rather than the individuals who voice opposition to his plans.

Rather more bizarre and inexplicable was an attack from the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones who claimed to find it absurd that the Polish art historians should appeal to ArtWatch UK for assistance in this matter since we were, by his account, an inconsequential group of crackpots. Perhaps Mr Jones has forgotten that one of his early free-lance pieces for the Guardian newspaper (which may indeed have helped him get his appointment as its regular art critic) was based on a consultation with me on the attribution of Michelangelo’s “Entombment” conducted while we made a joint tour (at his request) of the National Gallery’s collection. So at one point at least, Mr Jones seemed to regard ArtWatch’s judgment very highly, even though he has since attacked both me and my late colleague James Beck, Professor of Renaissance Art History at Columbia University.

This new-found animosity may, of course, be related to an item carried in a recent issue of the ArtWatch journal in which I simply quoted a published anecdote of his own in which he described his small daughter using the Elgin Marbles gallery as her “own personal race track”, as they jointly “play and yell” in museums – behaviour which occasionally caused “humourless [museum] guards” to tell them off. Mr Jones responded to this citing of his own words rather hysterically, describing it as an “attack on his family”. Sadly his assessment of ArtWatch’s activities now seems permanently affected – and remarkably ill-informed. He describes us as being implacably hostile to the National Gallery when, in fact, our relations with that great institution are extremely constructive: the current director, Nicholas Penny, and his predecessor, Charles Saumarez Smith, have been generous and helpful to ArtWatch UK, allowing me open access to their restoration dossiers and historical records. It’s a pity that Mr Jones has allowed his peculiar personal sensitivities to get in the way of understanding the issues – or even acquaintance with the facts.

Michael Daley, Director, ArtWatch UK

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Above: Leonardo da Vinci’s late 15th C. “Lady with an Ermine”, oil on wood panel, 54 cm x 39 cm. This painting, normally housed at the Czartoryski Museum, Kraków, is presently on show at the National Museum in Warsaw. It has recently been loaned to the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. It is planned to move the picture again to London for the National Gallery’s exhibition “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan” exhibition from November 2011 to February 2012 (See below for the post of December 13, which carries the appeal of the Polish art historians to ArtWatch UK and our response and accompanying report on the risks to art in international travelling exhibitions). Click on the image for a larger version. NOTE: zooming requires the Adobe Flash Plug-in.

Below: The National Gallery’s 16th C. oil on wood panel painting “Marcia” by Beccafumi. This panel painting was said by the gallery (Report, 13 March 2008) to be “fragile” and “never to be allowed to go out on loan”. Here, the picture is seen as when dropped and smashed at the National Gallery on 21 January 2008 during “the de-installation of the exhibition Renaissance Siena: Art for a City”.

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