Priced at 3 shillings and 6 pence – the equivalent of £5 in 2017 – with a grey-azure, ‘broken blue’, cover and only black and white photography, The Burlington Magazine of February 1949, appears at first glance as belonging to another time (illustrated left).
Its austere look and few advertising pages remind the reader of a Great Britain, and Europe, that had only recently come out of World War II, and in which paper was still an expensive commodity. The almost predominantly male line-up (except Assistant Editor Edith Hoffmann and book review author Françoise Henry) also suggests a very different society.
The feeling of delving into another era continues when glancing at the advertising pages. These are dominated by a large image of the Duveen Brothers Galleries in New York’s Fifth Avenue, an imposing purpose-built structure, which recalled the ‘temple to the arts’ style of major national museums (illustrated here on the right). The gallery, designed by French architect René Sergent in 1912-1913, was to be demolished in 1953. The late 1940s were the last trading days of the once powerful firm of Duveen.
Yet, the 1949 pages of the Burlington are also very modern. The internal layout of the Magazine has remained largely the same since then. Neither has changed the emphasis placed on illustrations, central to the arguments of the authors. With the large frontispiece photograph that precedes the first article (illustrated below), the Burlington pagination is striking in its resemblance with twenty-first century art books.
The Magazine’s articles– written by major scholars such as the Italian Enzo Carli, the Hungarian Frederick Antal, and the Dutch-Icelandic Sturla Gudlaugsson – are still relevant to the bibliographies of their chosen subjects (full table of contents illustrated left). The internationalist stance has always been a feature of the Burlington since its very beginnings in 1903, when it meticulously reviewed the principal European journals and counted many international contributors. The journal’s remit has been principally European art, but many articles on Asian, African, South American and Middle-Eastern art have also appeared next to the more numerous pieces dedicated to Western examples. The issue of February 1949, however, is remarkably European in character, and with a preference for Italy: two of the main articles – Enzo Carli on sculptor Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Arthur Lane on Florentine painted glass – are dedicated to Tuscan matters of the fifteenth century.
The 1949 cover of the Magazine presents also an interesting puzzle, and readers may not be familiar with the initials ‘CR’ and a stylised crown above them (illustrated right). These stand for ‘Charles Rex’ and refer to Charles I Stuart, the king executed in the course of the 1649 revolution. 1949 was the tercentenary of Charles I’s death and the Burlington dedicated its newly designed cover, as well as several articles in the January 1949 issue of the Magazine, to the king.
The support of an absolute ruler who levied heavy taxation, ran a large deficit in the country’s finances, and refused to accept demands for a constitutional monarchy strikes the modern eye as an unusually conservative choice for a progressive art magazine. The January 1949 Editorial explained the rationale behind such decision: it is the patronage of art that makes Charles I a king to remember.
In particular, the Editorial praised Charles I for importing great European art and artists into Britain, and thus making it part of the European cultural tradition. As Nicolson wrote:
‘An enraged nationalist might object that [the works of art supported by Charles I] all run counter to the native, northern tradition, that […] there is something of un-English about them.’
For Nicolson, this ‘un-Englishness’ was, in fact, a positive aspect: ‘is not that precisely one of the finest of reasons why we should be grateful for them?’ he asked, rhetorically. ‘If we are in Britain today a substantial element of the cultural life of Western Europe […] we owe that responsible position to the conscious policy of Charles I more than to any other single cause’.
For the Burlington in 1949, being part of the European cultural life was an ideal worth remembering, and worth striving for.
BP, March 2017.