Universitätsbibliothek HeidelbergUniversitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

Studio: international art — 58.1913

DOI issue:
No. 242 (May 1913)
DOI article:
The lay figure: on a national duty
DOI Page / Citation link: 

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The Lay Figure


111 wonder if I should be accused of
Socialistic tendencies if I were to plead for the
nationalising of art ? " said the Art Critic. " It
always seems to me that all forms of art work
which have an educational value ought to be the
property of the nation and that their preservation
should be a national responsibility."

" But is not that already the position ? " asked
the Plain Man. " We have national galleries and
museums, the contents of which are the property
of the nation, and we are taxed heavily enough to
maintain such places. What more do you want ? "

" Oh, yes, I admit that all civilised countries
recognise the obligation to establish and keep up
institutions of that sort," returned the Critic; "and
I do not deny that most of them do their duty in
that respect quite reasonably well. But I want
something more than that."

" Do you want to have all artists subsidised by
the State ?" jeered the man with the Red Tie.
" That would be one way of nationalising art; but
what a row there would be if it were suggested ! "

"No, that would impose far too great a strain
upon the resources of any nation," replied the
Critic. "What I want to see subsidised is the
work of certain past masters whose achievements
teach lessons of supreme importance."

" What do you mean ? " broke in the Plain Man.
" Is there any kind of art work that we do not fuss
about a good deal more than is necessary ? "

" Well, I think we are not nearly as careful as we
ought to be over the preservation of those ancient
buildings which deserve to be counted as monu-
ments of architectural achievement and which
illustrate eloquently the highest development of the
art of the architect and builder," declared the
Critic. " In every country there are buildings of
this type which are educationally worth more than
the whole contents of one of the national museums."

" But buildings of that kind here and abroad are
mostly private property," objected the Plain Man.
" Why should the State interfere with them ? "

" Because they are almost the only kind of
private property that some Government Department
has not so far got under its thumb, I suppose,"
laughed the Man with the Red Tie.

"Not at all, but because they are too im-
portant nationally to be left to the chance
mercies of the private owner," asserted the Critic.
" As things are in most countries many a building
of superlative historical interest is liable to destruc-

tion at the whim of a temporary possessor, and
even cathedrals, which besides being of historical
interest have an infinite artistic significance, are in
danger of going to ruin because those who hold them
in trust cannot afford to keep them in adequate
repair. That ought to be made impossible."

" I am sure that when any really important
building wants doing up there is no difficulty about
getting people to subscribe towards the cost,"
grumbled the Plain Man. " Is not that enough? "

" No, of course it is not enough," cried the
Critic. " You have a great work of art in danger
of destruction and to save it you have to send the
hat round. If the response is liberal the work, we
may hope, is properly done ; if the subscriptions are
scanty some kind of tinkering up is attempted—
possibly by an ignorant restorer—and the building
is left, perhaps, in a worse state than it was in before.
It is just this uncertainty that worries me. I want
to see every nation accept its responsibilities in this
direction and act up to them."

" Things have worked all right so far : why upset
them ? " argued the Plain Man. " I do nut see the
need to impose new burdens upon the nation so
long as private ownership answers. Can you quote
any instances in which it has failed."

"Yes, a long list if necessary," replied the Critic;
" but that is not quite the point. We ought not to
wait for the spectacular destruction of some great
building to discover how much we value it; we
ought to put it and all others like it beyond the
risk of any damage which would decrease their
artistic value. The only way in which this desirable
condition of affairs can be arrived at is by throwing
the responsibility for their preservation on the
State. Each nation ought to maintain what are
really the chief treasures it has inherited, so that
they can be handed down intact and uninjured to
future generations."

"Are they worth the trouble and expense which
the possession of them would involve ? " enquired
the Plain Man.

"Why ask such a question?" answered the
Critic. "It is obvious that they are, because they
are the text-books of national architecture—of one
of the earliest and most vital of all the arts. It is
much wiser, I should say, to spend large sums upon
their preservation than to buy for the national
galleries grossly over-priced canvases by deceased
painters, and I believe that before long this fact
will be realised all over the world."

" What a blessing it is to have a hopeful tempera-
ment !" laughed the Man with the Red Tie.

The Lay Figure.