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Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Blue Poles

An American reviewer once described Jackson Pollock, the eminent painter as ‘Jack the Dripper’. I would not go that far but I am not a great admirer of his work. There is one exception: ‘Blue Poles No. 11’, to give it its full title. Indeed, such is my admiration of the work that I purchased the original many years ago. It now hangs in splendour in the hall of Bagshot Mansion where it looks quite ravissante.

There is an interesting piece of history surrounding this work. An acceptable but slightly inferior copy had been doing the rounds of exhibitions for many years to considerable critical acclaim. I used to smile while showing the real masterpiece to friends; they gasped with admiration. But I have also tried to keep my eye on the copy over the years to see what happens to it. The tale is intriguing.

In 1973, Gough Whitlam’s government purchased ‘Blue Poles No. 11’ for the Australian nation. (Whitlam was the premier of Australia sacked (yes, sacked) by John Kerr the Governor General. This bit of the Aussie constitution allows the Queen to dismiss Australian parliaments. Would you believe it?) There was an outcry at the time because the painting cost many millions of dollars. Thirty years later, Whitlam has the last laugh: it’s now worth ten times as much.

The painting normally hangs in the Australian National Gallery in Canberra and, as is my habit, I make a pilgrimage there from my base in Melbourne to look at it. This visit, I am having a wander round the delightful Canberra gallery when I come across a small notice telling me that the painting is on temporary loan to the State Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne.

Back in Melbourne, I find it in the international section of Victoria’s exquisite gallery. It looks even better there than it did in Canberra and, I have to admit, better than the version in Bagshot Mansion.

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