Cover of the latest issue of The Burlington Magazine
Frances Spalding, editor of The Burlington, has stepped down after staff rebelled against her planned changes at Britain’s oldest art magazine.
Spaulding quit along with her deputy after less than a year in the chair because she lost a battle of wills over over whether the 113-year-old publication was stuck in its ways. She wanted to bring in more ‘intellectual brio’ to the title, which combines high production values with detailed photographs of sumptuous works and an academic attitude.
The Times quoted former editor Richard Shone as saying Spalding had ‘made a complete mess of it’ leading to a vote of no confidence by senior editorial staff, who could be ‘very entrenched’ in the way they worked.
Spalding retorted that ‘There had been no change among the senior editorial team for almost 20 years. There had been no new voice, no fresh ideas. The existing team were entrenched in their way of doing things, and some of the editorial practices were slightly eccentric.’
Spalding wished to eradicate ‘dry Burlington prose’ and that she ‘wasn’t someone who was going to encourage high theory of an abstruse kind with jargon-ridden language’.
For those who don’t know The Burlington, not only has it been around for 113 years, making it one of Britain’s longest-published magazines, but one of its former editors, went on to become director of the National Gallery and then the British Museum, Neil MacGregor. Other former editors include the art critics Roger Fry and Herbert Read, and another former director of the National Gallery, Charles Holmes. It is run by The Burlington Magazine Foundation, both charitable companies, from London and New York.
Retro artwork for The Lady magazine from 27 March 2015
The Burlington‘s owners should have been alert to the risks after well-publicised similar problems at an even older title, The Lady. In 2009, the owners discovered that average reader of the weekly was 78, so journalist Rachel Johnson was brought in to update that venerable title – and the clashes were portrayed in a television series, The Lady and the Revamp. She lasted less than two years.
The Lady was founded in 1885 by Thomas Gibson Bowles, who also set up Vanity Fair, and is still controlled by the family, from offices in Covent garden, London, that probably date back to that time. Today, the Lady describes itself as ‘for elegant women with elegant minds’, though its website is one of the tackiest around.
Candidates for the Burlington editorship were interviewed last week.
To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design