Turner and His Contemporaries, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria, U.K.
12/1/12 – 14/4/12
The full title of this exhibition is Turner and His Contemporaries: The Hickman-Bacon Watercolour Collection and it’s draw is almost as much about the collecting abilities of Sir Hickman-Bacon as it is about the work being exhibited. Well that’s not really true but Sir Hickman-Bacon (1855 – 1945) amassed a truly extraordinary collection of British watercolours in the early part of the 20th century. It remains the largest collection still held in private hands and the most the wealthy landowner ever paid for a watercolour was £315 for a Turner. In fact most of his acquisitions were had for much less; while completed Turners were selling for £1000+, Hickman-Bacon often paid around £10 for sketches and the like.
The largest room will in fact be devoted to J. M. W. Turner, demonstrating Hickman-Bacon’s attraction to Turner’s work at the time and also perhaps the ease with which it was possible to buy cheap Turner work before the First World War.
It’s not just about Turner though and the entire exhibition is a demonstration of the best of British watercolour from that period. John Sell Cotman, John Robert Cozens and Peter DeWint are among those whose work will be shown and perhaps above all others Tom Girtin. Girtin died when he was only 27 but was regarded by his contemporaries as the most talented of them all. Turner said of him: “Had Tom Girtin lived, I should have starved.”
Hickman-Bacon was an interesting collector in that he rarely displayed his acquisitions, even privately. Most of the time the work was kept stored away in dark places, meaning it dodged the exposure to daylight which can mar many of the great art works. It’s a fantastically preserved collection for that reason and if Kendal seems like a long way to go, it will be worth it when you get there.