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The Rake’s progress: last week in gossip

18 October 2016

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

UK readers will remember that during his tenure as education secretary, Michael Gove styled himself as the enemy of supposedly ‘soft’ subjects, instead advocating the STEM subjects and Victorian discipline.

However, reacting to an onslaught of criticism on Twitter after exam board AQA announced its decision to stop offering Art History as an A-Level option, Gove showed a more cuddly side to his educational beliefs. In response to a tweet by Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, Gove went on a charm offensive:

Fair enough. But the Rake does wonder: is Gove tacitly advocating emojis on exam papers?


There’s been no shortage of art-historical mysteries in the past few weeks, but one in particular has caught Rakewell’s eye. When famously gruff actor Timothy Spall was cast in the lead role of Mike Leigh’s 2014 Turner biopic, he took painting lessons to add authenticity to scenes depicting the great artist at work. Indeed, as his tutor Tim Wright revealed at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last week, Spall apparently showed himself to be a ‘gifted artist’. Alas, Wright also confessed that the highlight of Spall’s painting career to date – a reproduction of Turner’s Helvoetsluys to which the actor had added some red blobs – has gone missing. ‘It is still out there somewhere,’ Wright said. ‘It disappeared. It is on some art director’s wall, someone to do with the film [has it].’ One for the Art Loss Register?


To Brussels, where residents of the city’s Saint-Gilles neighbourhood are divided about the latest addition to its public art patrimoine. According to Le Figaro, a petition has been launched to preserve a giant – and detailed – graffito of a phallus daubed onto the side of an apartment block. The, erm, graphic design appeared on the building in mid September, and has apparently ‘shocked the whole of Belgium’. Though many residents have objected to it (including the building’s proprietor, who plans to get rid of it), an equal number have rallied to its defense. ‘Everybody likes it, I think,’ one Saint-Gilles dweller told Reuters. ‘People pretend to be shocked but they like it.’


Rod Stewart – or Sir Roderick, as is now the case – had quite the afternoon when he attended a special honours ceremony at the Royal Academy of Arts last week to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday year. While he may be more noted for his inappropriately tight trousers than his aesthetic sensibilities, the singer’s appreciation for art and design goes back some way – indeed, in the 1970s, he commissioned the radical architectural collective Archigram to build him a swimming pool.

No surprise, then, that he felt right at home in the RA. ‘I am a big collector of art – I collect pre-Raphaelite and Victorian paintings and some of them have the ‘RA’ after their names in the corner, so it was interesting for me to come’, Stewart told reporters from the Press Association, hinting that he aspires to get a personal tour of the institution. ‘I’ll melt – I love this stuff so much’, he gushed.


Finally, Rakewell would like to draw your attention to an important anniversary. On 18 October 1961, New York’s Museum of Modern Art opened its blockbuster exhibition ‘The Last Works of Henri Matisse’. The show received exactly the rapturous reception one might expect – indeed, few had a bad word to say about it. Until, that is, a stockbroker called Genevieve Habert contacted the museum to inform them the artist’s cut-out Le Bateau was upside down.

By the time Habert noticed that MoMA had inadvertently capsized Matisse’s boat, it had been hanging the wrong way up for 47 days, a fact unnoticed by critics, curators, staff and even the artist’s own son. Fortunately, the museum acknowledged the 180-degree slip-up and put itself back on an even keel.

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