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What’s on Oliver Dowden’s walls?

25 February 2021

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

The Secretary of State for Culture’s meeting with the heads of museums and heritage organisations was widely publicised, its purpose to ‘defend our history’ against the removal of controversial monuments trailed in the Sunday Telegraph ten days beforehand. But since the meeting took place on Tuesday afternoon, all that we know about what was actually discussed comes from a teaser of a tweet from Oliver Dowden himself.

Alas, your correspondent was not a fly on the wall – but while waiting for more information, he has found some diversion in the artworks hung on those walls. As described in the Guardian earlier this month by Claire FitzGerald, curator of the Government Art Collection, the painting on the back wall is Lubaina Himid’s Le Redour: The Pulley – from a series by the artist depicting the tragic voyage of a French slave ship in 1819. On the adjacent wall is a painting FitzGerald did not mention, but that has caught Rakewell’s eye: Procession in Whitehall, Coronation – an impressionistic scene depicting the Queen’s golden coach and its escort, viewed from a high balcony; it was commissioned by the government from Charles Mozley, who also painted the murals for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

So far, so conventional. But with that nifty two-screen set-up, Rakewell can’t help but wonder whether Dowden has been delving into some of the works in the government’s collection in his spare time – and got into video art. These meetings may be putting the department’s arms-length relationship with national museums under strain, but perhaps they are also inspired by viewings of the amusingly doomed ventures of Harrison and Wood, who have been called the Laurel and Hardy of conceptual art.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.