Letter: What graced Britain should go to California

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The Independent Online
Sir: Many of us find the work of Canova hard to appreciate ('Tug-of-war over 'Three Graces' to go to court', 10 August). Tastes in art are subject to change, and unfortunately this artist, and neo-classicism itself, have been largely out of favour for decades, if not the whole of this century.

This was not the case, of course, in the 19th century and during Canova's lifetime. He was lauded by the many travellers to Rome as the number of his works in Britain testifies. While Michelangelo was tolerated and Bernini decried, this artist was praised to the skies. I will quote just one such pertinent eulogy:

But it remains for me to speak of the most interesting exhibition that modern Rome can boast, and of the most interesting person in it and in all Italy, and that is the atelier of Canova and Canova himself, the greatest sculptor, perhaps, either of ancient or modern times, except the mighty unknown who conceived and executed the Apollo of the Vatican . . . Another beautiful group represents the Three Graces; this is intended for the Duke of Bedford. Were it given to me to chuse for myself among all the statues in the atelier of Canova, I should chuse these three, viz, the Ballerina, the Nymph reclining, and this group of Graces. (W. E. Frye, After Waterloo: Reminiscences of European Travel, 1815-1819)

Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, seems to have made the right decision to give us the chance to retain this sculpture. Might he now not go all the way, following the advice of Mr Frye, and find the funds to save this prize among Canova's oeuvre for the delight of future generations even if we cannot wholly share that delight?

Yours faithfully,

ROBERT SENECAL

Goldsmiths' College

London, SE14

10 August

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