The Independent Turner Society
Turner House, 153 Cromwell Road, London SW5 OTQ
Report for 2004
2004 has been a year of encouragement and discouragement. As I write, the Charity Commission has yet to publish a scheme for the Turner insurance money. We sent its last Chairman a copy of our representation to the Tate of 2003, which the Commission denied receiving. It has now acknowledged our further letter and copies.
Andrew Hunter MP has had two meetings with us and tabled four questions for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport concerning the continuing failure to do justice to the Turner Bequest. Other MPs have written to the Secretary of State and the Tate. From the replies it has emerged that the official defence of the status quo and the Clore solution has changed as radically as have arguments for the Iraq war. We have circulated a summary of Ministerial Replies 1994-2004 (with a glance at 1989-93) demonstrating this. The shortlived Shadow Arts Minister, Boris Johnson MP, responded in September by saying, “I absolutely agree that there should be a full and, crucially, public discussion on this matter.” That seems to be the last thing the actual Minister, Estelle Morris, wants, despite her professions that Turner is her favourite painter. Others have noted her lack of interest in the arts and that she is simply serving out her term until the general election in 2005.
It is clear that the authorities now rely on legal arguments. This makes the desirability of obtaining a legal opinion all the greater. While we have had some more large contributions to the Appeal for money to pay for that, at the same time the estimated cost has gone up.
To publicise these questions Selby Whittingham has twice appeared on BBC Radio 4 (Front Row, 30 July; PM, 10 September) and has had articles published in Right Now! (June; www.right-now.org) and The Jackdaw (November; www.thejackdaw.co.uk).
The last was devoted to the shenanigans over the Royal Academy’s Turner Fund. We as usual attended the AGM of the Artists’ General Benevolent Institution. Its, and the RA’s, President, Professor Phillip King, evaded questioning by leaving the meeting early, but did admit that Turner’s death mask was still missing.
On the publication of Income generated by the museums and galleries, following an earlier report on the same topic, by the Committee of Public Accounts in July, we have submitted our critiques of the recommendations, drawing attention to what they ignore, to its Chairman, Edward Leigh MP. One of the galleries which the committee visited was the Wallace Collection, to the Chairman of which we have also written concerning its controversial exhibition policies. The jargon (“Tate brand” etc.) of a witness, the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Sue Street, shows where she comes from. She was formerly a management consultant.
Robert Walmsley attended the Turner conference at Birmingham in January and Selby Whittingham the launching at the Norwegian Embassy of “Turner Contemporary” as the name for the Margate modern art centre on 5 February. As usual friends old and new were welcomed at Turner House on Turner’s birthday.
Selby Whittingham supported the initiative of Art WatchUK (www.artwatch.org.uk) in challenging the restoration of Turner’s Rockets and Blue Lights by the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, and had letters published by the Manchester Evening News (online) and The Herald. Reactions to this saga are a touchstone of how far people really care about Turner’s works and their fate.
We have made representations to the (New) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published on 23 September, about the false remarks about the Turner Bequest made by Professor Luke Herrmann in his entry on Turner. Selby Whittingham had written to the second editor in 2001, following earlier representations to Oxford University Press about inadequacies in The Oxford Companion to J.M.W.Turner.
On 3 July we had a visit to Sandycombe Lodge. Thirteen people came, half by boat and half by land. Twice that number had expressed a wish to come. The tour given by Professor Livermore was much enjoyed. This came amid a heavy schedule of activities for him – the founding of The Friends of Turner’s House (tel: 020 8892 3908) the following Saturday, their and his opposition to planning applications for the neighbouring site and his own 90th birthday in September. We sent two letters to the borough council against the applications and had two letters published in The Richmond & Twickenham Times. All these efforts have been met with some success so far.
The Old Turner Society has joined in the opposition (as also to the Tate’s application to use the Turner insurance money as it wishes), but minutes of its 2003 AGM give a rather damp impression. So long as it remains beholden to the Tate and other institutions, not much can be expected. Latterly it has seen itself simply as a supplement to the Tate’s promotion of Turner. Health supplements tend to be expensive and ineffective when not positively harmful, and so too with this one. Stanley Warburton, Chairman in the 1980s, has resigned as a Vice-President, saying it should do more to bring about a really adequate Turner Gallery. Douglass Graham (who has also been writing and talking about Rockets and Blue Lights) was surreptitiously removed as a Vice-President a year ago for supporting our criticisms of its failures in that respect.
The Hammersmith & Fulham Buildings Group is seeking our support for its opposition to the building of tower blocks on the site of the Lots Road Power Station, Chelsea. We attended on 8 November the pre-enquiry meeting at Kensington Town Hall, at which numerous bodies established their right to be heard. What should be our position? Turner’s Cheyne Walk cottage is already overshadowed by the World’s End housing estate. Would Turner object to skyscrapers? (David Roberts, following Turner’s suggestion of painting London from the Thames, showed a towering St Paul’s, as reproduced in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, 7 November). To the historian it is sad to see how far the old pattern of streets and blocks has been obliterated by the Cyclopean developments along the waterfront in the centre of London and gradually further afield. Our espousal of greater use of the Thames is partly intended to reveal how far views from the river are neglected.
Sales of J.M.W.Turner’s Tonbridge & District, issued by J.M.W.Turner, R.A., Publications in 2003 in conjunction with our visit to Tonbridge, continued to be exceptionally healthy into 2004. Pressure of work (including sorting out the bank’s muddles over the society’s account) has delayed other publications and also the appearance of the Journal and News and the posting of the last on the website (www.jmwturner.org) which Robert Walmsley set up in 2003. Following the November 2003 issue of the News an 8-page one appeared in April and another is scheduled for December. Work on the next issue of the Journal and other publications is under way.
Renewal of subscriptions (£10) is due on 1 January. Payment for that, and contributions to the Turner Bequest Appeal, should be made payable to “The Independent Turner Society.”