What are the best-loved paintings?

The My Favourite Painting column in Country Life has now run for almost five years, a good time to draw conclusions about our prevailing tastes. Inevitably, a British magazine, however international, will reflect British taste, but our third invitee was the Venetian art historian, Francesco da Mosto, who chose Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin from the Frari. Doris Day chose a picture she owns by Edward Szmyd.

Chefs and show-business personalities tend to select from their own collections, often with reference to their professions. Notable exceptions have been Lulu (Monet’s Water Lilies), Joan Collins (Boldini’s Consuelo Vanderbilt, to whom she bears a striking resemblance) and Dame Helen Mirren’s strange picture by Goya containing only a dog.

Horsey people tend to select a horse picture. Clare Balding chose Stubbs’s rearing Whistlejacket, Lucinda Green Susan Crawford’s We Three Kings (depicting Arkle, Red Rum and Desert Orchid) and the best amateur jumps jockey of our time, Sam Waley-Cohen, picked one of Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographic sequences of a galloping horse: ‘In a stride, 100 things are happening when you’re on top, you can feel this, but, here, you can see it.’

No picture may be chosen twice. The top 10 most popular artists have been Pieter Bruegel the Elder (7 times); Piero della Francesca, Titian, Picasso (6); Rembrandt, Turner (5); Caravaggio, Vermeer (4); Caspar David Friedrich, Rothko (3). This disguises the overwhelming preference for English artists (113) (plus a few Scots and Irish, but no Welsh), which accounts for more than the Italians (39), French (28), Dutch/Flemish (27) and Americans (19) put together.

The only choices to represent east of Suez have been William Dalrymple’s Mughal miniature and former Chief of the Defence Staff Gen Sir David Richards’s memento of Old Kabul by Sediq Zhakfar.

The English preference reflects the majority taste for landscapes (60), led by The Prince of Wales, who chose Storiths in Wharfedale on The Bolton Abbey Estate by Reginald ‘Rex’ Vicat Cole for the November 13, 2013, issue he guest-edited. Portraits (48) were next, with sacred pictures (45), mostly Italian, third. Only Kenneth Baker and Gavin Stamp provided humorous selections a Gillray satire and a Rex Whistler caricature and there have been only two nudes.

Abstract art (13) is principally favoured by artists: John Hoyland and Sir Anthony Caro both went for Matisse. Sadly, these titans of the contemporary art scene have since died, as have Craigie Aitchison and Lucian Freud, who, with David Hockney, are the only contemporary artists to have been chosen more than once.

Coming soon are the choices of Boris Johnson (October 8), P. D. James, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Neil MacGregor and Val McDermid.

Countrylife.co.uk has now begun putting some of the highlights online; the series will be added to in the coming months let us know your favourite (www.countrylife.co.uk/my-favourite-painting).

Who chose Pieter Bruegel the Elder?
CLA president Henry Robinson The Harvesters
Python actor Terry Jones The Massacre of the Innocents
Former Chancellor Denis Healey Hunters in the Snow
Actress Honeysuckle Weeks The Tower of Babel
Songwriter Andy McCluskey The Census at Bethlehem
Actor Simon Russell Beale Landscape with the fall of Icarus
Artist Grayson Perry Christ Carrying the Cross

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