Letter: A nation careless with its Turners

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The Independent Online
Sir: Why are our great national galleries so careless with their Turners? The Tate Gallery lends - and loses - two of the artist's late and most precious works to a German gallery which fails to turn on 'its special night-time alarm system' ('Tate's pounds 20m Turners stolen from exhibition in Frankfurt', 30 July), and allows at least two persons to conceal themselves on its premises shortly before closing time.

The National Gallery once almost lost 20 Turners. A former Director, Kenneth Clark, found:

in a small and remote vault, some 20 rolls of canvas, thick with grime, which I took to be old tarpaulins. I was just about to tell the head attendant to throw them away, when curiosity prompted me to ask him to bring them upstairs and unroll one of them on the floor of the office entrance. It disclosed what seemed to be a layer of soot-smothered paint. I sent for soap, a brush and a bucket of water and, to the general amusement, went down on my knees to scrub the filthy surface. Out came an unquestionable Turner. I had just enough strength of mind to stop scrubbing, and to have the grimy rolls taken to the restoration department. They are now among the most admired Turners in the Tate Gallery.

One is left wondering whether the two stolen Turners were part of Lord Clark's recovered tranche and whether anything will be done to make safe that poor artist's magnificent bequest to the nation.

Yours sincerely,


UK Director

Art Watch International

East Barnet, Hertfordshire

31 July