Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Painting by numbers

Is there a connection between the purchase by the National Galleries of Scotland and England of a masterpiece by the 16th century Venetian painter Titian for a mere £50 million, and the man who claims to be in charge of the country, Gordon Brown? I only ask this because of the prime minister’s strange reference to the painter which left already bewildered political and economic elites even more bemused. 

Brown, who only the other month claimed to have saved the world economy singlehandedly by a series of masterstrokes (i.e. bank bail-outs), has finally bowed to events (the continuing collapse of banks and the deep recession) and acknowledged that, after all, global capitalism is still in dire straits. And what’s more, it’s Titian we should turn to for advice. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong in learning from one of the greatest artists of all times. But what did Titian have to say about the international economy? Perhaps as the Venetian Republic was the centre of global trading at the time, Titian new a thing or two about commodities and currencies, not to mention the odd rampage down the Adriatic to open up new markets? 

Unfortunately not. This did not stop Brown, however. As the World Economic Forum stumbled to a close in Davos at the weekend, Brown took to the stage and bizarrely compared himself to the celebrated Renaissance artist. “This is the first financial crisis of the global age,” he said, “and there is no clear map that has been set out from past experience to deal with it. 'I'm reminded of the story of Titian, who's the great painter who reached the age of 90, finished the last of his nearly 100 brilliant paintings, and he said at the end of it, ‘I'm finally beginning to learn how to paint,’ and that is where we are.” 

So presumably we will have to wait until Brown reaches 90 to find solutions to the crisis! No wonder the Tories made easy fun of him, treasury spokesman Greg Hands saying that the prime minister's political leadership was “more suited to painting by numbers”. But seriously, Titian did not spend his time staggering from one approach to another and was recognised by his contemporaries as "the sun amidst small stars". His application and use of colour influenced not only painters of the Italian Renaissance, but shaped the future direction of Western art. 

As for Brown, all he has shaped is the forthcoming demise of New Labour, which tied its fortunes to the fantasy world of corporate-driven globalisation, with the promise of permanent growth, stable markets, easy credit and personal enrichment. Brown is as confused as the rest of the elites as to why this has all come to an abrupt end, thus his wacky reference to Titian. 

Back to the purchase of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon. There is clearly something amiss when public funds are used to buy a painting from the Duke of Sutherland, whose ancestors led the brutal Highland Clearances. His paintings, along with the Queen’s massive collection which remains mostly hidden from public view, rightly belong to the nation - for free. Expropriating them and putting them on public display will have to wait, however, but hopefully not for too long. 

Paul Feldman
AWTW communications editor

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