Friday, 24 June 2011

TV - Spooner gives us window on past (BBC1 Hidden Paintings Sunday 10.25)

AS a painter, Arthur Spooner was a historian's dream. Notts' great painter lived from 1873 to 1962, so his early work was done at a time when photography was more rudimentary and less readily available.

So when strapping TV historian Dan Snow began looking into the artist's work, he liked what he saw.

"It's an incredible treasure trove as to what Nottingham and Nottinghamshire looked like at that time," he said.

"It was a surprising bit of research and it was so exciting to find out how rich and full of detail his paintings were. He was painting like a photographer. As a historian it's the most fantastic source. We were just thrilled to have him,"

"We" includes the team Dan brought to film Hidden Paintings, a BBC documentary airing on Sunday in partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation, an organisation working to track and display images of all publicly owned oil paintings across the UK.

When the foundation released its Notts book several years ago, it was a revelation – thousands of paintings, some hidden in plain sight in modest public buildings. They tell the story of a place.

And few tell that story better than the works of Arthur Spooner, as Dan found when he began exploring Notts with local historians and art experts.

"They took us on like a treasure hunt around the region," he said. "Armed with those paintings, we had a real understanding with what the region looked like at the time."

Spooner's most famous painting, the image of Goose Fair that hangs in the museum at Nottingham Castle, gets a look-in. But his painting of Welbeck Abbey plays a more important role in the programme.

"It was a fascinating one," Dan said of the Welbeck work. "I've known about the Goose Fair paintings for years and my dad (TV presenter Peter Snow) lived in Nottinghamshire for years so we knew a bit about what happened there."

Dan's a huge fan of the Public Catalogue Foundation and the work it does making publicly owned artwork easier to find and more accessible for the people who own it.

Which is, of course, all of us.

"It's just a fantastic project," he said. "It's a brilliantly logical project.

"We own this artwork, and it's amazing that it's there for us."

Hidden Paintings airs on BBC One this Sunday at 10:25pm.

To learn more about the Public Catalogue Foundation, visit

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