Where the public art is

(c) Pontefract Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Pontefract Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
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I’ve been reading about one of the biggest art cataloging projects ever undertaken.

For the past ten years or so, a team of photographers and researchers from a charity called the Public Catalogue Foundation in conjunction with the BBC have been attempting to record and photograph every single painting in public ownership.

They have recently completed their work and it involves a complete record of 210,000 paintings by 46,000 artists in more than 3,000 galleries, museums and public buildings.

In theory anybody who is interested can now see any of these works by visiting the place where they are held or online at www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/ and the astonishing thing about it all is that every single one of the works is owned by you! Well, at least part owned by you, because they belong to all of us.

The other Sunday afternoon I lost three hours to browsing this fascinating site. I was particularly interested to see what things we’ve got and which things might be hidden in the dusty backrooms of our local public buildings.

I found that there some very beautiful works. Have a look for yourself, but these are some of my favourites.

At the National Coal Mining Museum, they have a Dave Prudhoe painting called Miners, it’s a very good example of Dave’s work and deserves a good looking at.

Dave of course was known as the Castleford brick painter and painted scenes of the red bricked terraced rows he knew well from his many years living in the Smawthorne area of Cas.

I own a couple of Dave’s pieces myself, including one I commissioned from him that depicts the Featherstone shootings, it takes pride of place in our house above the telly.

There is a very fine portrait of the Marquis of Ripon who was the first chairman of the West Riding Board in 1889, held at Wakefield. It’s a striking oil painting of him sitting in a chair and was painted by Hubert von Herkomer. I’ve since discovered that Herkomer was the son of a poor Bavarian wood carver who settled in England when he was eight. I shall visit this painting in person next time I’m at County Hall in Wakefield.

The paintings held by Pontefract Museum proved to be a real eye opener. Of course the magnificent painting of Pontefract Castle by Kierinx is on constant display, but there are some other fascinating ones that I’ve never seen.

There’s a nice one of Bullock’s pet shop and another of Bagley’s Glassworks but also a startling portrait of a man wearing the regalia of the ‘Knights of the Golden Horn’ which sounds like a secret society if I ever heard one.

Actually, the knights of the golden horn are derived from the RAOB, or buffs as we know them, they were particularly popular in the north east of England, but also in Wakefield. The painting is in oil and described as ‘English School’ which is shorthand for we don’t know the name of the artist. It’s another one though that I’d like to see if ever it was displayed.

The one I found most intriguing is called Bubwith Farm, Knottingley Road, Pontefract. It’s a lovely little oil painting (31 x 41cm) of a farm, a bridge, and a windmill, again described as English School. I don’t know which store room the painting is kept in but I’d like to see it brought out, because it’s a little beauty.

I believe it features the very bridge, that when it was broken, gave Pontefract its name. Now, if ever that painting was put on public show for the people who own it, ie thee and me, it might settle a few arguments.

This brings me to my point, it’s one thing to say that we own these paintings, but if we never get the chance to see them, what’s the point in keeping them?

If we own all these paintings and they do exist, because there are photos of them, how come they’re rarely displayed? And, if we are never destined to see them, because restoration is too expensive or there’s just not room, how about flogging a few and using the money to help some of our young and current artists?