Friday, 24 June 2011

'The Badminton Game': David Inshaw's Hidden Masterpiece

David Inshaw, The Badminton Game, 1972-3
Poor old Tate Britain. Barely weeks after one TV channel exposed the absence from its walls of paintings by LS Lowry, the BBC is about to broadcast a programme dedicated to another artist whose work is languishing in Tate Storage. In fact it focuses on one particular painting, David Inshaw's 'The Badminton Game'. Would it, I wonder, be all that hard for someone to rush off this afternoon to Tate Storage, retrieve the picture and hang it BEFORE the Beeb's presenter starts complaining about its concealment from the poor, overtaxed public?

I used to sell art at a gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in my pomp I could rehang a room in minutes. Does it really take longer to pull a painting out of storage than it does to make a TV programme? Might it be sensible, in the age of instant media, to reserve one room for pop-up exhibitions, allowing TB to respond swiftly to public interest in a particular work or artist (and make TV pundits look silly to boot)?

David Inshaw, Our days were a joy and our paths through flowers, 1971/2
Often, the best place to see work by a favourite painter is in one of our many brilliant regional galleries and museums. The last time I went to Bristol's City Museum and Art Gallery they were showing another exquisite painting of Inshaw's, 'Our days were a joy and our paths through flowers', which had been painted in 1971/2 for an exhibition at the Arnolfini Gallery.  The title, Inshaw has explained, "comes from Thomas Hardy's poem, 'After a Journey', about a dead lover whose spirit lives on in the sights and sounds of nature."

Unfortunately, 20th century British painters like David Inshaw are insufficiently represented at major London museums, which have far more art than space to show it. Happily, regional museums can and do support the legacy of particular artists - the Fry Art Gallery's devotion to Eric Ravilious and the Great Bardfield artists is a case in point - and now art lovers can travel around the country armed with Christopher Lloyd's comprehensive guide, 'In Search of a Masterpiece'.

Yet even regional museums lack the wall space to hang more than a small proportion of their holdings, and this situation can only worsen as time passes. At the same time, the costs of insurance and transport can make the sharing of art works between institutions prohibitive; from talking to gallery people one gets the impression that some think it safer and therefore more desirable to keep a picture in storage rather than share it with another institution. Of course there are many exceptions, but I think there is a genuine dilemma.

If people want to see publicly owned art, shouldn't every effort be made to help them do so? Taking digital pictures is one possibility, but it doesn't get to the root of the problem. The artworks themselves, as objects, are treated as valuable pieces of property, to be preserved in the best possible condition. This is as it should be, but only up to a point. After all, a painting is only really worth as much as the pleasure it gives, and a painting stuck in a basement for decades is giving pleasure to nobody.

PS The Bristol Evening Post have an interview with BBC presenter Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen here.


  1. Roger Farrant24 June, 2011

    The programme you've mentioned is called 'Hidden Paintings of the West' and it'll be broadcast on BBC One in the West region at 10.25pm on Sunday 26th June.

    Interestingly the second painting you've shown of Inshaw's 'Our paths..." is also now in storage. It was taken off the walls of the Bristol City Art Gallery shortly before filming began for Laurence Llewelyn Bowen's documentary.

    Laurence has suggested 'The Badminton Game' should be loaned out to the museum in Devizes so that people can enjoy it.

  2. Thank you, Roger - Laurence's suggestion about loaning the painting is spot on... I'm looking forward to the programme.

  3. What a fabulous collection Bristol Museum must have! Inshaw's exquisite "Our days were a joy and our paths through flowers" was replaced by Megan Davies' wonderful "Gran Turismo", more recently spotted fighting for space in a busy gallery in the M Shed. Then came an abstract work by I don't know who, and now there's an excellent painting by John Craxton of some goats coming out of a cave.
    I will keep you posted as the situation develops.

  4. I have a random question: a long time ago I had a book (of fiction) in my hands whose cover was "The Badminton Game" by David Inshaw. Unfortunately, I do not remember the title of the book. I see you mention the Shakepeare´s Arden edition as using an Inshaw illustration on its cover, so maybe you know what book I am talking about? I seem to remember it was a book published by Penguin.

    1. It was probably 'The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories' edited by Malcom Bradbury:

  5. The book was probably 'The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories':