Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 28/07/2003It’s time for a little culture, so off we trot to the National Gallery (or NG to its friends). Here, HP and NG are announcing a new Print On Demand scheme: you select your favourite painting and out it pops from a huge HP printer.

Monday 28/07/2003
It’s time for a little culture, so off we trot to the National Gallery (or NG to its friends). Here, HP and NG are announcing a new Print On Demand scheme: you select your favourite painting and out it pops from a huge HP printer. The clever bit has been HP designing a scanner and printer combination that produces colour-perfect prints to satisfy even the most demanding of retinas. Also promised -- though not yet -- is a scheme whereby the image of a painting can be made to appear as if the work was fresh off the easel, with all the degeneration of time undone. So you can not only pick your favourite Turner or Velazquez, but decide how old it is when you get it.

It’s all very impressive, although if you collar some of the colour scientists circulating around they’ll freely admit that the colours only match properly under tungsten light and there’s still plenty of work to be done. A small price to pay, and it’s instructive to hear the Gallery marketing manager say how important it is to get the art out to people -- something that’s only possible because they own the copyright in all the images. Imagine having to do two thousand separate deals with two thousand separate media companies, each trying to negotiate the very best deal for their shareholders: there are many ways that intellectual property laws work against the spread of knowledge they are supposed to uphold, and it’s as well to remember it.

As we leave, we get our own print from a previous run -- Van Gogh’s Yellow Chair, a painting I’m particularly fond of following an encounter with it in Amsterdam some years ago. But others are not so happy at being given ones that have been prepared earlier: these are expertly deflected.

Leave it to Guy Kewney, the industry’s very own Old Master and one of decidedly Early Modern Dutch appearance in his beard and lugubrious face. What’s the point of print on demand, he asks, if I demand and you can’t print? I want a different one. The NG staff, although well versed in dealing with demanding types from dukes to dustmen, know when they’re beaten: the machinery is fired up especially for Mr K and his chosen masterpiece duly appears. Now that’s what I call artful.