Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Civil servants and faithful hounds

Tom Grady gets a bit lost in the Library catalogue. 

I was doing some research recently, trying to find pictures of greyhounds in the Library’s Art Gallery Gift Collection. It turns out they’re difficult animals to track down (in more ways than one). We have a few books devoted to ‘sporting and animal prints’ but most of the ones I found depicted only stilted hunting scenes, improbably high-stepping horses, and barrel-shaped pigs.

A fairly typical 19th century depiction of a pig. "Gloucester Old Spot by John Miles 1834" by John Miles.
 Photograph of original. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
And then I came across this book and - as is often the case - I got a bit sidetracked: The German drawings in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle by Edmund Schilling [London ; New York : Phaidon, 1971].

It has an innocuous-enough sounding sub-title: “Supplements to the catalogues of Italian and French drawings, with a history of the Royal Collection of Drawings, by Anthony Blunt” but the name caught my eye.

Anthony Blunt. The wartime Russian spy.

The scandal of a Soviet spy-ring at the heart of the 1940’s British establishment tends to be the main thing everyone remembers about Blunt (and Burgess and Philby). Clearly I’m as guilty as anyone of that but, among many other achievements Blunt was responsible for the Queen’s collection of pictures, and was the director of the Courtauld Institute of Art for 27 years. He also published respected works on Nicolas Poussin, William Blake and Picasso. We have a few of his books in the Library.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (which you can access with your campus login):
In almost every sense he was a superb [Courtauld] director. He had a natural authority, an infectious enthusiasm for his subject, and a winning way with students and younger colleagues. Teaching more by example than by precept, he inspired those around him to give of their best. Under him the Courtauld became the principal centre for training art historians in Britain, with a worldwide reputation for excellence.
One of those younger colleagues was Brian Sewell, who went on to become the London Evening Standard’s art critic for decades. You may not know that as well as being a famously-acerbic critic of poor taste in art (“The public doesn't know good from bad” Guardian, 31 Aug 2009) Sewell is a passionate dog owner. He not only wrote a biography of all the dogs he’s owned and rescued (about 17 in total), but he has also commissioned and built an ostentatious tomb where he plans to be buried alongside the carefully-preserved bones of them all.

In a roundabout way, Brian Sewell’s canine mausoleum brings me back to where I began. Why did a book with a foreword by a former Russian spy catch my eye when I was actually looking for an illustration of a greyhound? Well, because this is on the front cover:

Detail from the cover of The German drawings in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle
by Edmund Schilling [London ; New York : Phaidon, 1971]
It's a funny-looking one and it's a bit hairier than most, but it's a greyhound nonetheless.

Further reading

If you’re interested in learning more about Anthony Blunt you can find Anthony Blunt : his lives by Carter, Miranda [London : Macmillan, 2001] in the Library; or for a fictionalised account of the days leading up to his fall from grace there’s Alan Bennett’s tremendous play “A Question of Attribution” which can be found in the Library along with its companion-piece “An Englishman Abroad”. They both appear in Single spies : a double bill or Plays: two and are both on the shelves at MA 192.9 BEN.

You could also try the book that precipitated Blunt’s fall from grace: Climate of Treason : Five Who Spied For Russia by Boyle, Andrew [Hutchinson & Co. Ltd ; London, 1979].

And if you’d like to know more about greyhounds, there are some fantastic groups around the country who rescue them from poor treatment at the hands of the racing industry. Here are two:

There's an organised walk by the river in York on 21 June if you'd like to see some up close and maybe get a chance to walk a greyhound yourself. It's part of The Great British Greyhound Walk - an annual national event:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anybody can comment on this blog, provided that your comment is constructive and relevant. Comments represent the view of the individual and do not represent those of The University of York Information Directorate. All comments are moderated and the Information Directorate reserves the right to decline, edit or remove any unsuitable comments.