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Gerhard Richter’s painting Abstraktes Bild (809-4) which belonged to Eric Clapton, sold at Sotheby’s for £21m. It is a very large painting, which appears to be about 10 ft square; a successful but otherwise not particularly interesting abstract, very rectangular, loosely painted, in scarlet and yellow on a dark blue ground – or maybe vice versa, it’s difficult to tell. Not his most challenging work. I could have put the picture here for you, but someone would probably sue me for copyright – it was the centrefold in the Guardian on 8/10/2012,

Under Artist’s Resale Right (Droit de Suite), Richter will get the maximum royalty allowed, which is 12,500 Euros. (I don’t know if you work on the figure after the auctioneer’s cut). Clapton bought the painting in New York for £2.1 million in 2001. My calculator tells me that for £21m someone could buy 7,000 of my larger paintings.

If I had know Clapton was going to be such a Maecenas I would have kept in touch with him after we went to the Zoo together on a cold winter’s day in the ‘sixties. But that’s another story.

The best comment to make on this sale is the one Fisher made when urging John Constable to send The Hay Wain  (or Hay Cart, as he called it), to Paris in 1824;

Let your Hay Cart go to Paris by all means. I am too much pulled down by agricultural distress to hope to possess it. I would (I think) let it go at   less than its price for the sake of the eclat it may give you. The stupid English public,  which has no judgement of its own, will begin to think there is something in you if the French make your works national property. You have long laid under a mistake. Men do not purchase pictures because they admire them, but because others covet them. Hence they will only buy what they think no one else can possess: things scarce and unique.

and examination again

The case of John B Gurdon is a perfect example of the fallibility of judgement as forecast.  When he was at school his biology teacher wrote:

“I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can’t learn simple biological facts he             would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to   teach him.

Last week he jointly won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Most of us know people who are not ready or engaged at one stage, but shine at another. The moral is that we should none of us take too much notice of examinations as predictors – or foster teaching systems which are primarily aimed at examination success rather than the fulfilment of individual potential – harder work for teachers, of course. But how would Gove understand that?  As far as I can see he has never taught, and is basically School of Gradgrind.

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