No sensations in this art collection

ADMITTEDLY, DAMIEN Hirst's dissected cows, or Tracey Emin's accounts of her botched abortion might be a little much for the public rooms of Downing Street.

But surely, with all the government bluster about its support of modern culture, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown could have chosen something more adventurous than this.

At a time when the "Sensation" generation are leading the international field, Mr Brown has opted for three safe, and decidedly unradical painters. They are Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach and Patrick Caulfield, all of them established figures and fast approaching the status of grand old men of British art.

Kossoff and Auerbach, members of the so-called London school, are superlative painters of miserableness, a far cry from the playful irony and shock tactics of the current Britpack. Sludgy textures and muddy colours are their trademark style.

Their subjects are grey-faced crowds and dingy corners of London, the kind of urban scenes that seem scarcely to have emerged from post-war depression.

Caulfield, whose work was recently seen at the Hayward Gallery, may use a brighter palette, but he is also a melancholic at heart. His sumptuously coloured interiors of cafes and bars, and his graphic still lifes, draw on the techniques of French cubism, but they manage to exude a quintessential English restraint.

They are moody meditations on art and life, the world seen through the bottom of a wine glass in the last bar in town. A jolly bunch they are not, but then perhaps that suits the dour Mr Brown just fine.

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