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Museum prepares for ‘art history landmark’

A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?), about 1526-28, oil on oak will be on display at the Shetland Museum as of 4 May. Photo: The National Gallery, London. Bought with contributions from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and The Art Fund and Mr J. Paul Getty Jnr (through the American Friends of the National Gallery, London), 1992

THE DIRECTOR of the National Gallery will be travelling to Shetland later this year to attend the opening of an exhibition of the most important artwork ever shown in the islands.

Shetland Museum and Archives have been successful in securing a 10-week long loan of the 500 year old painting A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Holbein, who was born in Augsburg, Germany, at the end of the 15th century, is perhaps best known for his portraits of Henry VIII and the nobility of the Tudor court.

The painting will be exhibited in Lerwick from 4 May until 15 July.

National Gallery director Dr Gabriele Finaldi said the organisation had been deeply impressed by the “very interesting learning programme” Shetland Museum had put together for the loan period, adding that this was the furthest north a National Gallery painting had ever travelled.

“This is the National Gallery after all, so we think of ourselves very much as being a collection for the whole of the country. Every year we collaborate with regional museums and show great masterpieces from the National Gallery,” he said.

Finaldi said the painting on show was one of three Holbeins the National Gallery held in its collection.

National Gallery director Dr Gabriele Finaldi. Photo: National Gallery

“Holbein is a key figure, not only in the National Gallery collection but a key figure in the history of art in Europe and in Britain, and best known, of course, for the portraits that he made at the Tudor court, and particular of the king himself,” he said.

“His images have become the way we think of and remember the Tudor court, I don’t think anyone can think of Henry VIII without having Holbein’s portrait of him imprinted on their mind.

“Most people will not know of Holbein but they will most certainly have an image in their memory of Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII.

“This is the power of a great artist who can essentially put his stamp on a historical period and define it visually for future generations.”

The director added the masterpiece’s loan programme was a great opportunity for professional contact with colleagues in museums across the country as well as with local audiences.

He said he would be travelling north for the opening of the exhibition and his colleague, the Holbein expert Dr Susan Foister, would be giving a public lecture in Lerwick.

Shetland Museum curator Ian Tait described the scoop of hosting a masterpiece exhibit as an “art history landmark for these islands”.

“We can hardly believe that local people will see an artist the status of Holbein right here in Shetland,” he said.

“For us, the attraction of this 16th-century masterwork is that it has no links to local culture or our regular exhibitions and learning programme. Shetlanders have many interests beyond their own heritage, but local folk can’t readily visit major institutions.

“Our highest visitor numbers come from our occasionally sharing topics from beyond these shores, and we will treat the painting on its own to emphasise the artist’s status, unencumbered by any reference to local history.

“In the show we’ll encourage audiences to learn about portraiture, the life and times of Holbein, and – more than anything – appreciate world-class art.

“None of this could happen without the extraordinary generosity of the National Gallery and their tour sponsor.”