In 1937, the Art Fund purchased ‘A Moorland Road’ by Sir Charles Holmes and presented it to The Bowes Museum. It was the first work to be acquired by the Museum through the Art Fund.
But what does this artwork have to do with the National Gallery’s painting by Manet ‘The Execution of Maximilian’ that is currently on display at The Bowes Museum?
During World War I, the art critic Roger Fry, told his friend the economist Maynard Keynes about a sale of impressionist works from the collection of the artist Edgar Degas, who had recently died. And so, as the War continued to rage in the trenches of Flanders and northern France, Keynes and the then Director of The National Gallery, Sir Charles Holmes, caught a boat train to Boulogne and travelled by train to Paris with £20,000 in French banknotes. Aware that the French would be reluctant to sell to a British bidder and to preserve their anonymity, Holmes shaved off his moustache and adopted a faux French accent. As the auction began, Paris was rocked by the sound of German shells. Some bidders fled, prices tumbled, and Holmes and Keynes were able to secure some real bargains. One of those bargains was Manet’s ‘Execution of Maximilian’, which had been cut up after Manet’s death and partially reassembled by Degas.
If Sir Charles Holmes the artist who painted our wonderfully tranquil ‘A Moorland Road’ hadn’t travelled to Paris during the War it is unlikely we would be able to display the ‘Execution of Maximilian’ today.
By Emma House, Keeper of Fine Art