In 1910, Sickert, writing about the newly formed Contemporary Art Society's plan to buy modern work for public galleries, gave three reasons for thinking it a bad idea. First, it would encourage artists to paint the wrong kind of picture: 'It will be the exhibition picture that will gain ground and the room picture that will suffer.' Second, spending decisions which should be personal would be delegated: 'I notice that the minimum subscription for membership is a guinea. I would beg those who wish to spend a guinea a year to buy a drawing a year by a man whose talent they fancy, at the very beginning of his career.' Third, the committee would be composed of experts and critics. It would put too much power in their hands: 'Why should a collector have to ask Mr MacColl if Mr Steer is a good painter?' (MacColl was on the staff of the Tate.) The Turner Prize is just one piece of evidence that Sickert had a shrewd sense of where things might be heading. There are still adequate, in some cases excellent, livings being earned from room pictures, but big reputations are made by way of exhibitions and the publicity that accompanies them.
LRB 8 August 2002 | PDF Download