During the course of the Art UK paintings project, I checked the entries for all of the over 3,000 collections. The high standard of information provided by all but a tiny minority of institutions has made my part of the task increasingly less daunting. However, when an error does creep in, it can sometimes stand out, not like the proverbial sore thumb, but as a source of innocent amusement.
One particular entry concerned the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, which had been acquired mostly from the Mander and Mitchinson Theatre Collection, formerly housed in South London.
Among this material was a portrait of a young man – one Rodney West, apparently by an anonymous artist, and bequeathed by the sitter in 2010. Mr West had long been prominent in Bristol, and had, as a young man, been manager of the Bristol Old Vic, the company based in Bristol’s beautiful eighteenth-century theatre. Casting my eye over the entry, I soon recalled that Rodney West and I had both been undergraduates at Leeds University in the 1960s, along with subsequently more illustrious figures, such as Jack Straw and Alan Yentob. What was more difficult for me to recall, was the picture itself, but it had a ghost-like familiarity.
I therefore telephoned Evelyn Munns in Brighton, who has long been my amanuensis, especially necessary, as my attempts to handle computers have yet to be successful. She called up the image of Rodney West on the Art UK database, and kindly pointed out to me that the picture bore the signature of one ‘CJN Wright’, clearly visible on screen, as it were. While the cause of this degringolade remains unclear, it is nice that the artist has lived long enough to write this note.
Christopher Wright, Art UK advisor, art historian, artist and author of numerous catalogues of Old Master paintings in Britain