Olympian effort to record the nation's oil paintings

PUBLISHED: 12:36 10 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:13 07 September 2010

By Charlotte Newton A GROUP of north London art historians is executing one of the most ambitious projects ever launched in the art world - to record every publicly owned oil painting in England. The Public Catalogue Foundation is a registered charity wh

By Charlotte Newton

A GROUP of north London art historians is executing one of the most ambitious projects ever launched in the art world - to record every publicly owned oil painting in England.

The Public Catalogue Foundation is a registered charity which was set up to record all oil, acrylic and tempera paintings in public galleries and civic buildings in the UK. It is estimated that there are 200,000 in museums, council buildings, universities, hospitals, police stations and fire stations.

Yet, up to 80 per cent of these are hidden from public view, either in musty storerooms or in public buildings for official use.

The aim of the foundation is to improve public access to the paintings by producing a series of affordable colour catalogues on a county-by-county basis.

Christopher Wright is an art historian with a distinguished published reputation and an inexhaustible knowledge on pre-1900 paintings.

Mr Wright, 63, from Maida Vale, said: "The value of the catalogues is that we can see amateur works of art alongside art of the highest order. They are also of great historical importance, and as interesting to the general public as they are to the specialists."

Foundation director Andrew Ellis, who lives off St James's Road in Muswell Hill, is a former city trader for JP Morgan.

Mr Ellis embarked on a career change in 2003. He went from working in Tokyo for one of the most successful merchant banks in the world to managing a small team of art historians at the foundation in Convent Garden, and visiting art collections all over the country.

Mr Ellis, 47, believes his interest in art history was awakened by a gap year spent at the Sorbonne in Paris, studying French culture along with treasured visits to Parisian art galleries.

He said: "I went to Cambridge to read economics, but I used to skip classes to listen to the art history lectures. I'd just slip into the lecture theatre and sit at the back.

"There are some similarities between being the director of the foundation and my role in the City, because I'm managing a team of analysts.

"It's just the subjects they are analysing that are so very different.

"These catalogues are beautiful but they are also of great cultural and historic interest.

"The real benefit is that they create public awareness about the collections and will hopefully encourage people to go to see them."

So far, 22 of the 90 catalogues have been printed which has exposed their uneven distribution around the country.

London is expected to have between 18-19 catalogues, while Birmingham only has one.

The Camden collection will include Kenwood House, which has work by three of the most famous Dutch artists, Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer, as well as the English painters Gainsborough, Reynolds and Turner.

A full list of the paintings will go online.

The aim is to finish cataloguing by 2012 so that the thousands of tourists who will visit Britain during the Olympics will be able to admire the extensive collections.

The catalogues cost £20 in soft backs and £35 in hardbacks.

For more information visit www.thepcf.org.uk.

charlotte.newton@hamhigh.co.uk

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