Colourists please, but not kilts or claymores

Devolution
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The Independent Online
The news that Tony Blair wants Scottish art for the walls of Downing Street is cheering. It may help fan interest in one of Europe's lesser known traditions. It is not, however, as unexpected as it may seem. One of the Prime Minister's closest friends, Derry Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, is a keen collector of Scottish painting, while another Cabinet minister, Donald Dewar, is hugely knowledgeable on the subject.

It would be a pity, however, if all that happened was the despatch to London of a few varnished yards of uneasy-looking men in fake Highland gear, courtesy of one of the Victorians. There are much more interesting things to borrow.

If Mr Dewar or Lord Irvine are consulted, Blair will end up with a few Scottish colourists - those fluid post-Impressionists whose dazzling landscapes brought full colour to Scotland in the Twenties and Thirties. He will have seen some on Lord Irvine's walls. He should ask for a Peploe, a Cadell or a Leslie Hunter, whose best work is much better than most of the stuff in No 10.

An alternative is to go for one of the earlier giants of Scottish art, such as Allan Ramsay or Raeburn. Both are very fine, and deserve to hang alongside Gainsborough or Reynolds. But they are hardly in tune with Blair's promise of a "young country"'.

So should he, perhaps, come bang up to date and go for the young figurative painters from Glasgow, or the sculptors? The trouble there is that they are ... well, not quite suitable. Peter Howson is best known for his paintings of fat, tattooed and sweating maniacs being pulled along by pit-bull terriers. They are undeniably vivid accounts of contemporary life - but not, perhaps, quite the image Blair wants to convey. As for Ken Currie, the best of the lot, he is (let us lower our voices) a militant socialist. He paints sadists, secret policemen, and tormented-looking souls. There are heroes in his work, but they look worrying like Communists. Again, not quite the thing for a champagne reception.

Then there are people such as Andy Goldsworthy, the sculptor who now lives in south-west Scotland. The trouble is, he works in ice, mud, leaves, sticks and stones. A lot of puddles, one fears, on the nice Persian carpets.

So it's a tricky job, perhaps, that the galleries in Scotland now have. Who shall they send to the court of King Tony? There should be only one rule: no kilts, stags or claymores.

Andrew Marr

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