I didn’t see this artwork by Canaletto at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the only artist that I routinely hunt out at every gallery I go to, but that’s primarily because it’s not on display. Painted between 1746 and 1755, it’s the interior of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and it was given to the gallery by Elizabeth Golsan Schneider, in memory of her mother, Florence Ramage Golsan.
This painting was once owned by Horace Walpole, the son of the first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole and was displayed at his Strawberry Hill House at Twickenham (which is part of the Borough of Richmond, relevant as that’s where this city in Virginia is named after). The Lewis Walpole Library of Yale University has managed to ascertain that this painting was being displayed in the breakfast room of the house in 1774 and in the waiting room in 1784. It was sold at auction on 17 May 1842 and then it got a bit lost to the record, but it was given to this gallery in 2002. As a little aside, that sale was because George Waldegrave, 7th Earl Waldegrave, has spent all the family money and they had to flog everything off, and one of his distant relatives was the far more capable William Waldegrave, the former Conservative Cabinet Minister.
It’s a great shame that this artwork isn’t on display and there’s an argument that I keep reading about just how much stuff is in the collections of museums and galleries that the public can’t see. I know some galleries will make artworks available on request, but I can’t imagine that many do given the complexity of shunting stuff about. Perhaps this painting will make an appearance on display in the future, but it’s a shame that it can’t be despatched somewhere else that could display it, particularly if it was in Cambridge. I also find it slightly sad that someone has donated an artwork to a gallery in memory of someone else and it’s just stuck in a backroom somewhere and not on display. On the positive side, there is a huge expansion of the gallery planned which will give them more space, so this might alleviate some of the limitations they have.