Friday, 5 July 2013

Berger Prize Winner 2013: Wall Paintings of Eton

The William MB Berger Prize for British Art History 2013 was awarded to Wall Paintings of Eton by Emily Howe, Henrietta McBurney, David Park, Stephen Rickerby, and Lisa Shekede, published in 2012 by Scala, at a reception in London on the evening of Thursday 4 July 2013, held at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The prize, worth £5000 to be shared among the authors, was presented by Professor Mark Hallett. The assessors said: 'This is a very exciting, major project on the the most important surviving 15th-century wall decoration of the north of the Alps. It also features a major discovery of a 16th-century mural of a school scene that came to light in 2005 in the Head Master’s Chambers. The production was perfect, the scholarship outstanding, the international context explored; the book combines, in the most successful manner, conservation and technical reports with history of great clarity and authority. There was also the romance of the story of the involvement of M.R. James in the preservation of these very important paintings. Congratulations are also due to those who encouraged the project, including the Provost of Eton, Lord Waldegrave, and to the publisher and designer for creating such an attractive, beautifully produced book."

The assessors are:
Timothy J Standring, Gates Foundation Curator of Painting & Sculpture, Denver Art Museum
Dr John Wilson, Director, Timken Museum of Art, San Diego
Dr Rosemary Hill
Andrew Wilton
Dr James Hamilton
Professor Robin Simon, Editor, The British Art Journal

The assessors commented on the other shortlisted books as follows:

Basil Spence, Buildings and Projects
Louise Campbell, Miles Glendinning and Jane Thomas, eds.
RIBA Publishing
This is a tricky moment for Basil Spence: still recent enough to be vulnerable to fashion and taste, the impact of such buildings as Coventry Cathedral, the British embassy in Rome and the University of Sussex still fresh in the memory. But this elegantly produced book is hugely impressive and to the point, filling in much invaluable material and making sense of 20th-century Modernism in Britain and the place of Spence within it. An example to all of how to combine several contribution into a whole, that was the product of a vast amount of research.

Japanned Papier Mâché and Tinware c1740-1940
Yvonne Jones
The Antique Collectors Club
The assessors all agreed that this was a pioneering work, on a subject that no-one knew anything about, but which opened a window onto the interconnecting worlds of art, design and commerce. It was 'wondrous' and in addition an ‘unbelievably beautiful book”' ‘I felt I was being introduced to a world that was new and exciting, in a book that was especially well written.' It might seem to the be last word, but the assessors felt that it really opened the way forward to more research and further publications. A model of its kind.

The London Square
Todd Longstaff-Gowan
Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
This was, all the assessors agreed, quite wonderful. The Prize several observed, has often shown how writers outside the academic world are free from boundaries limiting their investigations, for the very good reason that they simply do not care to recognize that they exist. This book therefore moved freely and fruitfully over architecture, design, social history, modern developments, garden history, and more, over a long sweep of time, with endless cross-references and interconnections. It was refreshing, and opened everyone’s eyes to something, the London square, that we think we know but in fact rarely properly reflect upon. There is now simply no excuse… 

James Wyatt, Architect to George III
John Martin Robinson
Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
Wyatt the destroyer… Not a popular man. A tricky topic… This is a book that has been long in the making and is comprehensive in its scope, arguing for a more positive appreciation of one of the most important but neglected architects in British history. It revealed the range and variety of Wyatt’s inventiveness, his capacity to change and adapt, his sheer professionalism but also, significantly, the beauty of many of his buildings. The illustrations were of the highest quality and altogether the book represents an enduring resource.

George Stubbs: 1724-1806 Science into Art
Herbert W Rott, ed.
Prestel Publishing Ltd
This is the catalogue of an outstanding exhibition that only one of the assessors had been lucky enough to see in Munich. The editor of the catalogue, Herbert Rott, director at the Neue Pinakothek, succeeded in persuading his board to agree to a Stubbs exhibition, with angle towards science, reflected in the title. The exhibition and the book were therefore shaped for a particular audience but both succeeded triumphantly. 'The catalogue is a perfect model of what a catalogue ought to be but so rarely is, these days…' It is especially important in its treatment of the engravings and the scientific aspect of Stubbs’ works. In the event, the exhibition was one of the most successful exhibitions of recent time and in shortlisting this outstanding catalogue the assessors were especially happy to be acknowledging a major initiative in the introduction of Stubbs to a German audience.

Finally, not all books that ought to win prizes are large and the assessors wished especially to commend Ian Waites for Common Land in English Painting 1700-1850 published by The Boydell Press, a most elegantly written book that calmly knocked many entrenched but erroneous notions about British landscape painting firmly on the head, almost in passing…