The Art of Diplomacy
An old map of Romania and a fire-damaged print of London: Britain's Head of Soft Power and former Ambassador to Romania speaks with our historical curator about the links between art and diplomacy.
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 a photograph of its namesake. I think our guests welcomed our celebration of the deep historical connections between the two countries.
Were there works at the Residence in Bucharest that visitors might have been surprised to find in a diplomatic building?
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. My personal favourite among the Collection 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.
In a blog post you wrote in 2018, you concluded that the ‘Government Art Collection 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 Collection could make new contributions to soft power?
I think one area which could be developed more strongly is around enhancing awareness in the UK of the Collection and its role. To this end, the Collection’s forthcoming move, with the prospect of accessible display space at the new site, is I think an opportunity to showcase material which illuminates the role of the collection in support of diplomacy. Another important development is around technology, and the opportunities the digital revolution has created to make art from the Collection available to a wider audience than those who will physically visit an embassy or ambassadorial residence.
Interviewed by Dr Laura Popoviciu, Curator (Historical)
Understand 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, learn about the contexts in which our works are displayed and understand the deep connections they establish between Britain and other countries.
What does art have to do with international diplomacy, and how does the Collection help flex Britain’s soft power?
Between 2012 and 2016, the Collection worked with the British Ambassador to Japan on new displays of art for Tokyo. The former Ambassador reflects on the role that art played in diplomacy.