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March 1998

Vol. 140 | No. 1140

Decorative Arts and Still-Life Painting


The V. & A. and Its Histories

Readers of this Magazine will not have forgotten that some of the most vociferous protests against the sackings and attempted restructurings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1988 came from curators in the United States - so many of whose great civic museums had been founded in explicit emulation of South Kensington. It is doubly appropriate therefore that the exhibition tracing the V. & A.'s history through two hundred of its objects - first mooted before the troubles - should now, in slightly happier times, be touring six museums in North America, before returning to London in October 1999. (Although doubts must remain about the advisability of sending fragile pieces on such a complex and extended itinerary.) The exhibition, now at Boston, has already been reviewed in these pages,1 but its catalogue provides such rich food for thought that it is worth returning to here. Always provocative, often irritating, never dull, its nine essays by various authors are far from composing a standard institutional history, and a tenacious editorial hand has ensured that the individual entries address wider questions of collecting history and ideology.


Editorial read more
  • An Early Still Life by Fede Galizia

    By Sam Segal

    Women artists played an important role in the early development of European still-life painting at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Fede Galizia in Italy and Clara Peeters in the Netherlands both had a considerable influence on the development of the genre. The importance of the former, however, has not been sufficiently recognised, and the discovery of a signed and dated still life of 1607 provides the opportunity to reassess the characteristics of her oeuvre.


  • High Rococo in Holland: William IV and Agostino Carlini

    By Reinier Baarsen

    For most of his life, Prince William IV of Orange and Nassau (1711-51) occupied an uncertain and tenuous position (Fig.14).' His inheritance, stemming from the Stadhouder King William III who had died without issue in 1702, was made insecure by the counter-claims of his cousins, the suc- cessive Kings of Prussia. Although these were resolved by the partitioning of 1732, William's political ambitions were realised only in 1747 when he was at last appointed Stadhouder of all the provinces of the Dutch Republic. When the position of Stadhouder was proclaimed hereditary the following year, William enjoyed a more monarchical status than had any of his forebears in the Netherlands, but his premature death in 1751 meant that he did not do so for long.


  • The Ownership of Vincent van Gogh's 'Sunflowers'

    By Bogomila Welsh-Ovcharov

    Between August 1887 and January 1889 Vincent van Gogh produced eleven still lifes of sunflowers - four in Paris and seven in Arles.' The theme has become inextricably linked with his artistic persona and creative processes, and the literature is replete with discussions of the decorative purposes and iconographic connotations he associated with these radiating chrome-yellow blooms. For Vincent these emblems of the French Midi contained 'certain qualities of colour', and expressed 'an idea symbolising gratitude' (L626).2 By the end of January 1889 he had accepted Gauguin's conclusion that the sunflower was 'the flower', and he informed his brother Theo 'You know that the peony isJ eannin's, the hollyhock belongs to Quost, but the sunflower is mine in a way' (L57 3).