After a week confined to the house on puppy watching duty, it was with a great sense of freedom I left for work this morning. I wished Mirinda luck and strode off to the station without a care in the world.
I felt a bit like the Campbell sisters, all carefree and happy.
Who, I hear you ask, are the Campbell sisters. Well, they were the daughters of Lady Charlotte Campbell, the sister of the 6th Duke of Argyll (George William) and when the family holidayed in Florence, back in the early 1800’s, they asked a chap called Lorenzo Bartolini to knock up a statue of the pair of them waltzing.
In those dim pre-technology days, there was only a couple of choices when it came to holiday snaps. You had someone draw or paint you or, if you had the dosh and wanted to seriously pose off, you had a marble statue made. That’s what the Campbells did. For around £500, they set Lorenzo to work.
Bartolini loved Napoleon. His early patron was Napoleon so I guess that would explain it. He made no secret of his admiration for Bonaparte, even after the emperor’s death. When he moved to Florence to start teaching, it was not a popular position to hold and, because of it, commissions were a bit hard to come by. I’m thinking, he would have been happy for the Campbell cash. He also decried the style of the master Canova while teaching at a school that was very much into the classic Canova…which didn’t help.
So, the young Emma and Julia Campbell turned up to Lorenzo’s studio and, probably after a few preliminary sketches, he created a beautiful life size statue of the two of them.
I’m not sure how they managed to get it home but they did and, eventually, the statue was on loan to the National Galleries of Scotland, where it has sat for yonks. Then, as these things go, the family decided it needed some ready money (I guess) and set about selling the statue.
They sent word to Sotheby’s (or Christie’s, I can never remember which…) who rubbed their hands with glee and dutifully auctioned it off for £500,000 (which is a hell of a profit on the original cost of around £21,000…in today’s money) to, probably, an American with a spot in the entrance hall of their ridiculously ornate trailer park house. Or maybe an Italian
When ‘important’ works of art are sold to overseas buyers, they have to have an export licence to leave the country. The government tries to stop them leaving the country by postponing the granting of the licence in case anyone else can come up with the money. And so, the call went out. The nation really, really needs this statue because it shows the British presence in Florence in the early 19th century. (Which makes me wonder why it shouldn’t be in Florence.)
Anyway, the reason I’m writing about this is because the money was raised and the statue is going to go back to the National Galleries of Scotland but, for a short while, it can be seen in the Sculpture Gallery at the V&A, where I saw it today.
It is very beautiful. And it’s there until November 20.
It says a lot that I can walk into the Sculpture Gallery at the V&A and immediately know there’s a new piece there.