At the National Gallery

Peter Campbell

A few years ago a friend spent some weeks making a copy of Raeburn’s The Archers: the double portrait had recently been acquired by the National Gallery, their first painting by a Scottish artist. She began work at Christie’s, but the gallery wanted the picture on the wall and she had to finish her copy there. Public confrontation of picture and replica made comment inevitable. The pleasantries were repetitive – ‘You’ll be able to hang it on the wall and sneak off with the real one’ – and followed no national boundaries. Children generally made the most intelligent remarks: two shaven-headed boys looked for a long time, then one pointed out a fault in a shadow. The man who said that what she would need to match one area was red lead brought some in the following day. It was clear that many people found watching a copy being made more interesting than looking at the pictures they had come to see.

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