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Sometime in the early 1970s, I forget exactly when, but it was for the compilation of my Old Master Paintings in Britain, completed in 1974, I had planned a visit to the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead. There were some 600 pictures bequeathed by Alderman Joseph Ainsley Davidson Shipley in 1909, but the Gallery itself did not open until 1926. There is a delightful photograph of a bored King George V and a straight-faced and straight-laced Queen Mary officiating at the event.

The Meeting of David and Abigail

The Meeting of David and Abigail

Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael (1566–1638) (after)

Shipley Art Gallery

The last catalogue was the Handlist of 1951 that included Shipley’s pictures and a couple of hundred more which had come in since his death. Very few of these pictures had ever been published. Sadly one eminent German scholar in her catalogue raisonné of Jan Asselijn had caused the Shipley Art Gallery to migrate to the town of Shipley in Yorkshire. Such were the difficulties.

I was full of enthusiasm as usual, explaining to a colleague at the Courtauld Institute that one of the highlights of the Old Master collection was The Temptation of Adam and Eve by Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael. Puzzled at first, my colleague then said, ‘Oh, you mean Twittle’. Thus put in my place I set off for Gateshead. Given the rigidity of the Courtauld Institute in those days I could not help but think of Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for children, ‘You must not monkey with the Creed’.      

The Temptation of Adam and Eve

The Temptation of Adam and Eve 1614

Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael (1566–1638)

Shipley Art Gallery

My reception at Gateshead was welcoming and indeed the Wtewael of 1616 turned out to be a near perfect example of Dutch Mannerism. There were in fact quite a number of good Dutch pictures at Gateshead, and I was later to study them in the form of an exhibition held at the Alan Jacobs Gallery in London in 1979. The pictures then travelled to the Museum Het Princessehof at Leeuwarden (Ljouwert in Frisian) in Dutch Friesland. When I addressed the assembled company on the evening of the opening it was clear that the temporary return of Shipley's pictures to their country of origin was much appreciated. Following the Dutch custom I was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers that concealed me from the view of the audience although I suppose they could still hear what I had to say.

Christopher Wright, Art UK advisor, art historian, artist and author of numerous catalogues of Old Master paintings in Britain