Of the 2,400 paintings hanging in the National Gallery, how many are by women? 20, or 21 if you count the new Artemisia Gentileschi acquisition. Doesn’t look good, does it? It isn’t just the National Gallery that is taking stock of quite how few women artists there are on its walls — Sotheby’s is holding an all-women Old Masters sale in New York this month, spotting that there are chequebooks at the ready to try and get these numbers up.
Historically, there was never going to be equality, but to those who say women just never picked up the paintbrush, see the recent discovery of a medieval nun’s jaw with flecks of lapis lazuli in her mouth. It rather suggested she’d been doing the manuscript illuminations which the monks were getting the credit for. Then see the Sotheby’s catalogue for what happens when they do sign their own work.
What is also going to be worth watching is the prices people are willing to stump up. There’s a gender pay gap here, which hasn’t always matched talent. I’m reminded of how Georgia O’Keeffe, now celebrated, once did her part in rectifying this.
In the Eighties, the director of an American museum came to her New Mexico home to buy a piece. Asked how much she wanted for it, she said $1 million — a dizzying price then and one to rival the contemporary Jasper Johns.
The director returned to the museum board to try and persuade them she was worth it, and they just about agreed.
But when he reverted to O’Keeffe to say that the deal was done for a million, she said: “Two million.”
He pleaded with her, saying he’d only just persuaded the board for $1 million but O’Keeffe stuck to her guns.
Shortly afterwards, an envelope arrived on his desk. It contained a cheque for $1 million, made out as a donation to the museum, signed “Georgia O’Keeffe”.
Cable shows that Brexit is pants
Wednesday I found myself in the gallery of the Commons watching over the Withdrawal Bill debate. The fireworks of Bercow were over, and the slow trudge through the afternoon began. Then Vince Cable woke up everyone.
He was slicing and dicing the idea that WTO rules worked, because authority had been ebbing away from the WTO for the last couple of decades, even before Trump. The reason, he said, was a dispute in the Nineties between the US and Costa Rica, which the US lost.
The subject of the dispute was underpants. How such a small thing can disrupt the world order.
Men’s dog whistles in the city only confirm puppy love for my vizsla
Last week I mentioned I was about to be unfaithful to my dog, a vizsla who lives in the country and whom I see at weekends. Missing a canine companion in London, I found a friend with a border terrier who was looking for a walker, and the little chap and I took a lovely stroll through Hyde Park this week and agreed to meet again next week.
What I’d forgotten is how dogs attract the attention of men in town. I’ve had two Italians lean out of a car and whistle at me, except it wasn’t at me: it was at the vizsla. And with this border, I was stopped and fully chatted up in Mayfair, but really it was the dog who was the aim.
Dogs came into humans’ lives by hanging around our villages, hoping that humans would befriend them, feed them and give them shelter. We fell for this act big time and now everything now seems to have reversed. These men, with tongues hanging out of their mouths, are hanging around on street corners, trying to be adopted by dogs.
Bruce-ing up dusty Question Time
“I had no great hopes for Fiona Bruce in Question Time but by God she’s great,” says Tim Walker of the New European, a man who doesn’t issue compliments lightly. Why was it we had such low expectations? Was it that Bruce presents Antiques Roadshow, and where’s the comparison between Georgian timepieces and a grumpy QT audience? But perhaps that makes her qualified to deal with relics of questionable value, in the audience and panel. With Dimbleby going, going, gone.