When Art Meets Diplomacy
GAC historical curator, Dr Laura Popoviciu interviews Paul Brummell, Head of Soft Power and External Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
We decided to name the three official guest bedrooms in the Residence after three remarkable women who played important roles in the development of the UK-Romania relationship: Queen Marie of Romania (1875-1938), a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria; English-born Maria Rosetti (1827-1876), wife of the literary and political princely leader Constantin Alexandru Rosetti; and Elsie Inglis (1864-1917), the founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, who played a crucial role in caring for injured service personnel on the Romanian front in the First World War. Each bedroom was decorated with a painting or photograph of its subject. I think our guests welcomed the fact that we were celebrating the deep historical connections between the two countries.
Laura Popoviciu: Were there works at the Residence in Bucharest that you think visitors were surprised to find in a diplomatic building?
Paul Brummell: Perhaps the most surprising item on the Residence walls was a fire-damaged London print. We had retained it as a reminder of the damage sustained to the previous Residence building during the Romanian Revolution in 1989. But my personal favourite among the GAC artworks on display in Bucharest was Carel Weight’s Life in Putney, one of several pieces to enliven my office wall. It was a placid autumnal suburban scene, with the height of action represented by a couple walking their dog. I never did identify a Romanian connection to the painting, though.
Laura Popoviciu: In a blog post you wrote in 2018, you concluded that the ‘GAC plays an important part in the mobilisation of British soft power to support the development of our international friendships’. Looking ahead to the future of the UK’s foreign diplomatic relations, are there any ways you think the GAC could make new contributions to soft power?
Paul Brummell: I think one area which could be developed more strongly is around enhancing awareness in the UK of the GAC and its role. To this end, the GAC’s forthcoming move, with the prospect of accessible display space at the new site, is I think an important opportunity to be able to showcase material which illuminates the role of the collection in support of diplomacy. Another important development is around technology, and the opportunities that the digital revolution have given to make the GAC’s collection available to a wider audience than those who will physically visit an Embassy or ambassadorial residence. The revamping of the GAC website is of course a response to this opportunity.
Why the Government has an art collection, what it collects and why the Collection is spread across the world.
Take a journey around the world with the GAC and learn more about the contexts in which our works are displayed
Find out why art can be useful in international diplomacy, and the Collection’s role in strengthening Britain’s soft power
Tim Hitchens was Britain’s Ambassador to Japan from 2012–2016 and during that time, the GAC worked with him to curate new displays of art for the Embassy and Residence in Tokyo. In this interview from 2015, he reflects on the role that art played on site.