Friday, May 07, 2010

Poor prints

A couple of years ago we reported on a Gauguin reproduction we found in the Statue Bargain Barn that came from the Auckland Public Library’s loan collection. Late last week we saw a bunch of framed reproductions piled up outside a local second hand shop that were all from the National Art Gallery loan collection. This collection was started in 1936 with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. A National Art Gallery’s Annual Report of the time noted, ‘As it is quite impossible for the Gallery to acquire a collection of original old masters, it is felt that the excellent reproductions which are now obtainable will be far more valuable to students than second rate originals.' At its peak the Reproduction Loan Collection numbered around 1,400 items.

One of the repros we saw up for sale was The painter on the road to Tarascon by Vincent van Gogh rather casually titled on the back Man on the way to work. It’s rather poignant to note that this reproduction was out on loan as late as May 1975. If the borrower had held out for a couple of months, he or she could have checked out the real thing in the exhibition Van Gogh in Auckland at the Auckland City Art Gallery.

The other poignant thing about The painter on the road to Tarascon is that the original of was lost during the Second World War when allied bombing set fire to the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Magdeburg. Other copies do exist, well versions really, they were painted by Francis Bacon in 1957. In an art-in-the-movies moment, it is said that Bacon saw the film Lust for life, which was released late in 1956, and based his composition on a sequence of Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh walking along the road. Bacon went on to make a number of paintings based on the Van Gogh. One of them, painted in 1985, he sent on long-term loan to Arles for the 100th anniversary of Van Gogh’s stay this. This month, battle is being waged in the courts as the Bacon estate try to have this painting returned. You can buy a reproduction of the Lust for life poster here.