I visited Windsor castle recently mainly to see if there were any Leonardo drawings in the Drawing gallery. The Crown owns the largest collection of his surviving works on paper, including pages from his notebooks and preparatory drawings for paintings. But their website says nothing useful: the gallery contains ‘a selection of treasures from the Royal Library‘.

I went based entirely on the assumption that there would be at least one Leonardo. There were five. They are arguably the most significant artworks in the entire building, which includes hundreds of paintings in the state rooms as well as the drawings in the Drawing gallery.

The drawings are the first works the visitor sees when they enter the drawing gallery. Most people shuffle past and hardly notice them. I stood the for about 30 minutes looking intently over the heads of the shufflers at these wonderful works.

Given that the National Gallery is currently holding a major exhibition of Leonardo’s painting and drawing from his time in Milan (my review of this is forthcoming), why is the Windsor collection so poorly explained, communicated and marketed? They could significantly increase their visitors if they marketed their permanent exhibition correctly.

Evidence for the popularity of Leonardo and his work is abundant. The National Gallery has sold every advance session ticket for the duration of the whole exhibition. Limited day sale tickets are available (at the end of a very long queue) but essentially the whole three month exhibition has sold out.

As a promotional exercise prior to its opening, the gallery allowed a live preview of the exhibition to be broadcast live from the gallery on the Sky HD arts channel and in cinemas around the UK. This broadcast was advertised widely around London (see the photo from Euston station below).

leonardolive thoughts on marketing art, and the enduring appeal of Leonardo da Vinci

I saw it in Edinburgh. I expected it would be shown in a smallish digital cinema like the ones at Nova in Carlton, and there would be about 10 people there. It seemed so niche, so esoteric, to go to a cinema to watch some talking heads chatting their way through an art exhibition. I was completely wrong. It was in the large cinema seating hundreds of people and it had sold out to the surprise of all the audience, who queued out the door and down the street on a cold misty evening.

The digital technology to broadcast live events around the world in real time in high definition has been around for nearly a decade, but unfortunately it has not been used to anything approaching its potential. The first such ‘film’ I saw was David Bowie’s ‘Reality’ tour promotional concert, which was broadcast (with a few hours delay to allow for the time difference) in Melbourne at the Jam Factory cinema in 2003.

Windsor is an easy 40 minute train ride from London. The Windsor marketing people are fools who are doing their own visitor numbers and the art loving public a serious disservice by not accurately promoting their current exhibition of Leonardo drawings.

thoughts on marketing art, and the enduring appeal of Leonardo da Vinci

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