19 JULY 1957, Page 34

Art and Money

A GAUGUIN for £104,000, a third of a million spent in two hours on a fine if not great collection, a press correspondence on the condi- tion and future of our galleries and

museums, the prospect of more State funds for the purchase of works—the economics of art is right in the news. In all this we must recognise, as many seem reluctant to do, that we cannot compete, in our old eighteenth- and nineteenth-century way with Greek ship- owners or the expanding societies of the Americas, North and South. We could, however, encourage many to make an active and decisive . contribution to our national collections if we followed the policy of the United States and exempted from taxation gifts to museums. But this is still to put too much emphasis, typical in a country where it is easier to raise money and arouse emotion in support of preservation and conservation, upon the art of the past.

London is more than adequately stocked with art works of every kind and period to fulfil the two main purposes of institutions such as the National Gallery, the British Museum and the V&A—to give people the pleasure and spiritual comfort to be gained from art and to provide inspiration and standards for the work of the .present. if none of these were to receive any more accessions for fifty years,hhey would still provide vastly more nourishment than any individual could hope to absorb in one lifetime. The exception to this is the Tate, whose modern collections are, comparatively, not good enough. Again, it is surely not the purpose of more than one or two museums outside the capital to provide minor National Galleries or BMs. In a small country, and under modern conditions, their most useful function is to represent the art and culture of their own regional tradition and, more importantly, to be the centres of the active artistic life of their communities today. The claims made for a more enlightened and generous government attitude to the arts must grow progressively less persuasive if they are simply claims for a richer stock of historical objects, more carefully displayed and restored, more accurately investigated and cata- logued. The decline in true, not false and patron- ising, patronage has had a direct relationship with the growth of the museum, of connoisseur- ship and with the increase in the middlemen of the arts. The academic student of art tends to display an extreme and greedy acquisitiveness which is not of much use to anyone else. In the United States the museum and the studio need not be in conflict, but here and at this particular moment we cannot afford to be hesitant or com- promising about this particular question of priority.