Britain unveils historic and hip government art

Fri Jun 3, 2011 7:16am EDT
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By Matt Falloon

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Lowry's lonely people, Tracey Emin's scrawlings and a mysterious portrait of Elizabeth I are just a few of the gems from the British government's art collection unveiled to the public for the first time this week.

The exhibition, at London's Whitechapel Gallery and picked by top government officials old and new from offices scattered across the globe, brings together a mix from five centuries of art and diplomacy.

L.S. Lowry's masterpiece 'Lancashire Fair: Good Friday, Daisy Nook', chosen by the wife of British Prime Minister David Cameron, shows a drab and alienating crowd of northern English folk at an Easter fair a year after the end of World War Two.

The painting, which usually hangs in Cameron's Downing Street headquarters, fetched a record price of 3.8 million pounds ($6.2 million) at auction in 2007.

Emin's 'Still Love You Margate' and 'Margate 1 Sand' will also catch the eye -- stark and blurry odes to an unspectacular English seaside resort town. In one, a lone child-like seagull hovers, in the other, a couple copulate on the beach.

"I spent every summer with my aunty and uncle in Margate as a child, so there is a strong personal connection for me in the pieces," said culture minister Ed Vaizey, who chose both pieces.

The three-month exhibition, the first of five from the 13,500-piece collection to feature at the gallery until September 2012, also sheds some light on the thinking of Britain's top diplomats and spies.

Gallery curator Daniel Herrmann said he was fascinated to discover the way the large collection "navigated the waters of history but also the waters of diplomacy."   Continued...