United Kingdom

Royal Collection opts out of oil painting survey

Surprise decision as Duchess of Cornwall is patron of the project

london. The Royal Collection has declined to participate in a project to record Britain’s oil paintings, although the National Trust is now joining. Organised by the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF), the venture aims to publish, in printed catalogues and later online, colour reproductions and brief details of 200,000 paintings which are in public collections. So far 27 regional volumes have been issued, and the foundation hopes at least 60 more will be completed by 2012.

The National Trust (with 10,000 works) and the Royal Collection (7,000 works) have the two largest collections of oil paintings in Britain, each with more pictures than either Tate or the National Gallery. Initially the National Trust decided not to join the scheme, because it was in the midst of an internal review and lacked the resources to participate. But it has since reconsidered: its paintings will be published in four volumes.

To the regret of the Public Catalogue Fund, the Royal Collection is still holding out. It told The Art Newspaper that it is compiling its own series of scholarly catalogues, and “with limited resources, involvement in the [scheme] would have involved a duplication of work and taken the focus off its own publishing projects”. The Royal Collection adds that 1,370 of its paintings are now on its website.

But although the Royal Collection’s scholarly catalogues are exemplary, they take a long time to complete. The publication of the first volume was in 1963: to date, only half the collection has been covered. All but one are now out-of-print, and a second-hand set would cost well over £1,000.

The decision not to join the project comes as a surprise to Christopher Lloyd, who, until 2005, was Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. He said that “having frequently used the PCF volumes which are out, I am puzzled that the Royal Collection is not participating.”

Equally mystifying is the fact that the Duchess of Cornwall agreed to become the PCF’s main patron last October. Her husband, the Prince of Wales, chairs the Royal Collection Trust.

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