Are these our 10 best paintings?

The search for Britain's favourite painting has produced a short-list of ten works. Louise Jury reports on the contest, while Tom Lubbock reviews the selections chosen by the public
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The Independent Online

Even allowing for the tweaking of a panel of experts asked to ensure that the list was "balanced," the first round of voting has shown that the public has eclectic tastes. The choices range from The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, from 1434, to David Hockney's 35-year-old portrait of his friends Ossie Clark, the late fashion designer, with his wife, Celia Birtwell, and cat, Percy.

Given the ubiquity of John Constable's The Hay Wain on everything from table mats to biscuit barrels, it was, perhaps, a sure bet for inclusion. Vincent van Gogh's eternally popular Sunflowers and Edouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère were also certainties.

For JMW Turner, the question was which of his works stood out from his vast oeuvre. It proved to be The Fighting Temeraire, his depiction of the last journey of a famous warship to the ship-breaker.

Four out of the 10 shortlisted works are owned by the National Gallery but the Courtauld, the Tate, Birmingham Art Gallery and the Sir John Soane's Museum are also represented. The only gallery outside England is the National Galleries of Scotland, with Reverend Dr Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, attributed to the Scottish portraitist Sir Henry Raeburn.

Rita McLean, head of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, said it was delighted to be the only local authority gallery with a picture in the selection, with the Ford Madox Brown in which he paints his own family. "It's one of our most popular images - it's such a compelling image," she said.

The voting now recommences on the Today programme website and text message (84844, with the name of the painting). The winner will be announced on air from the National Gallery on 5 September.

The Independent's art critic, Tom Lubbock, said the list showed a public with hit-and-miss tastes. "Nobody could call it lively. I should think even Her Majesty the Queen would have compiled a more exciting list. Yet I'm sure the chosen 10 do reflect public taste pretty accurately: sometimes absolutely right, sometimes bafflingly wrong.

"The Piero, the Raeburn, the Manet, the Van Gogh: no queries there. On the other hand, the two greatest British artists, George Stubbs and William Blake, are overlooked, as is the fact that British collections hold extraordinary paintings by Titian, Poussin, Rembrandt, Watteau, Degas.

"If you must have a pre-Raph, then it has to be Millais, not Brown. If there's only going to be one 20th-century British painter, then Wyndham Lewis, Stanley Spencer and Francis Bacon all score over Hockney. And I would like to see The Fighting Temeraire loaded on to The Hay Wain, and them both quietly wheeled off to some nice art dump."

Martin Gayford, the art critic, who was on the selection panel with Jonathan Yeo, an artist, and Deborah Bull, the dancer, has already admitted that there was strong polling for Turner in the initial nominations and a strong desire from the organisers for anything but The Hay Wain to win. The panel was asked to modify the shortlist so that not all were by the same artist or of the same period or theme.

The Arnolfini Portrait - Jan Van Eyck, National Gallery, London

Snob vote. Inert perfection. People often like paintings for the way they make the world tidy. But if it's sharp portrait presence you want, then surely Holbein trumps it, or better still Giovanni Moroni.

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy - DAVID HOCKNEY, TATE BRITAIN

Cat vote. And home improvement vote. And it's a beautiful image, another bit of art tidiness, and a homage to both the Arnolfini Portrait, and - great picture, absent - Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews.

The Baptism of Christ - PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA, NATIONAL GALLERY

Church vote. And it's the best one on the list. Straight up - feet, hands, head, trickle, bowl. The dove of the Holy Spirit hovers like a bolt in the blue, like a UFO.

The Hay Wain - JOHN CONSTABLE, NATIONAL GALLERY

Cottage vote. Why exactly is this dull and stodgy painting so well-loved? If you want the loveliness of the English countryside, go to the water-colourists, to Samuel Palmer, to John Sell Cotman.

A Rake's Progress - WILLIAM HOGARTH, SIR JOHN SOANE'S MUSEUM, LONDON

Tabloid vote. Hogarth seldom paints well. The Rake tells lots of scandalous stories, and points to lots of morals, but it's extremely dull to look at, and it isn't funny either.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère - EDOUARD MANET, COURTAULD INSTITUTE GALLERY, LONDON

Pub vote. The triumph of blank gazes: she seems to look straight at you, but her eyes look at nothing, and a whole crowd is reflected back at you in the wall mirror behind her.

The Fighting Temeraire - JMW TURNER, NATIONAL GALLERY, LONDON

Seaside vote. Why is this dull, murky painting so well loved? I mean, if you want the drama of the British seas ... hmm, I suppose it has to be big, blurry Turner, doesn't it?

The Last of England - FORD MADOX BROWN, BIRMINGHAM MUSEUMS AND ART GALLERY/THE FITZWILLIAM MUSEUM, CAMBRIDGE

Travel vote. The little emerging hand-in-hand is sweet. The whole picture is a tight little bundle. As for chocolate-boxy - just blur your vision, and it actually looks like a box of chocolates.

Sunflowers - VINCENT VAN GOGH, NATIONAL GALLERY, LONDON

Gardening vote. It's the best flower painting in the world - a flower portrait really. And it's the best yellow painting in the world - or is that Van Gogh's Chair, which hangs next to it?

Reverend Dr Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch - SIR HENRY RAEBURN, NATIONAL GALLERIES OF SCOTLAND

Sport vote. The man of the cloth zooms by, on one leg, demure, in profile silhouette. It's a great comic painting, about speed and balance and stillness and strain and dignity and decorum.

Tom Lubbock's alternative top 10

The Assassination of St Peter Martyr, Giovanni Bellini (National Gallery) Probably painted in 1507, it depicts the 13th-century Dominican friar.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Orazio Gentileschi (Birmingham City Art Gallery) Painted between 1615 and 1620, it portrays the Holy Family as ordinary Italian peasants.

Figures in a Landscape, Louis Le Nain (Victoria and Albert Museum) This 17th-century artist specialised in depicting the poor.

Landscape with the Ashes of Phocion, Nicolas Poussin (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) With this work, Poussin virtually created a new tradition of classical landscape.

The Pleasures of Life, Antoine Watteau (Wallace Collection) Dates from 1718, before the artist's death at the age of 37.

Gimcrack, with John Pratt up, George Stubbs (Fitzwilliam Museum) One of the most famous colts in racing history painted by Britain's greatest horse painter.

Elohim Creating Adam, William Blake (Tate Gallery) One of a series of illustrations of the book of Genesis.

Mr and Mrs Andrews, Thomas Gainsborough (National Gallery) A portrait of country gentleman Robert Andrews soon after his marriage in 1748.

Young Spartans Exercising, Edgar Degas (National Gallery) An 1860 work showing Spartan girls urging the boys to fight.

One of the Stations of the Dead, Percy Wyndham Lewis (Aberdeen Art Gallery) Wyndham Lewis founded Vorticism, a movement which emphasised the value of violence, energy and the machine.

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