Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Pre-Raphaelites

Part 6 of Opinion, Value & Taste series

Of course, it would be quite wrong to finger Kinkade alone. If we are to truly enter the realm of the overrated, one cannot ignore the contribution of the composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber. I suffered the relative misfortune of visiting an exhibition at The Royal Academy of works from his Pre-Raphaelite collection. Apparently, it is the finest assemblage of that genre in recent times but the look and feel of the exhibition told me to forget the quality and feel the width. I thought this was a disappointing show generally although the throng around me cooed in hushed appreciation. I wanted to redirect them two hours north to the Birmingham City Art Gallery where the true Pre-Raphaelite aficionado can enjoy a very fine selection indeed. Alas, Birmingham lacks both the cult of personality and oxygen of publicity to seduce a mainstream audience and, like many regional museums, lies in something of a cultural backwater.

So why did I find the Lloyd Webber exhibition so disagreeable? Well, apart from the fact that many of these works are so stylised and overblown, I didn’t take too kindly to the appearance of Munnings, Canaletto, Picasso, Reynolds and Stanley Spencer amongst the brotherhood. These paintings might all be fine individually but I had the sensation that their owner was demonstrating, above all, his power and range as a collector. His champions will doubtless argue otherwise but these works had no place in a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition and made a mockery of that which preceded them. Among his staunchest protectors was the noted critic and dealer in Victorian art, Christopher Wood, by all accounts an educated and sensible fellow, whose rhapsodic appreciation of the Lloyd Webber collection veered dangerously close to a hagiography. He clearly knows which side his bread is buttered. Hyperbole has never been acquainted with reasoned judgement.

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