Vincent Price on London, the British Museum and the Elgin Marbles

I Like What I Know (1959)In 1959, Vincent Price recounted his life-long passion for the art world in I Like What I Know. Here now are some extracts from Price’s visual autobiography, in which a 48-year-old Price reflects back on his stay in London in July 1928…

ON LONDON
‘London, the life of England. It is impressive that this little land contains the world’s greatest city, and it is equally impressive that its citizens have brought so much beauty into the welter of their poverty of space.’

‘I took London on like the biggest hick ever to hit a big city. Much as I wanted to see everything on our schedule, I decided one day, with permission, to forego another Christopher Wren church and head straight for my ultimate London goal on my own.’

ON THE BRITISH MUSEUM
‘There is really only one mysterious museum in the world: the British Museum. Nothing can touch it for clutter, for atmosphere, for gravity of purpose, that purpose being to collect civilization complete, under one roof. The past pops up around you as though it had sought refuge from the present. Secretively, crouching in every corner, treasures await discovery.

‘If the British didn’t succeed in colonizing the world, they succeeded in preserving it here. And if it is true that they are the most civilized people on the face of the earth, their source of inspiration – the sun from which they take their shine and polish – orbits here. It is the home of discovery, the Rosetta Stone, that key to conversation; the doors, lintels, pylons, caryatids, architraves, tympana, all the supports of our ultimate necessity – the roof over our heads. Here they all are.’

Vincent at the British Museum

Now and Then: Vincent Price at the British Museum

ON THE ELGIN MARBLES
‘If the ravages of British conquests, such as Benin, sometimes shock us, the spoils as gathered here can only delight us, for what sensitive souls who feel the Elgin Marbles would be better off in Athens should remember those centuries of neglect of the Parthenon, when it was a powderhouse and all the samplers of the past picked its anatomy apart so that heads, hands, and bodies are irretrievably separated.’

ON THE PORTLAND VASE
‘With Mademoiselle snapping at our heels to “to get on with it”, my hurried opinion of that other masterpiece in the British Museum, the Portland Vase, was that it looked like a reproduction by Wedgewood. And its importance escaped me to the point almost of condoning the maniac who, years before had hurled a brick at it.’

ON MISSING THE NATIONAL GALLERY
‘When you are doing seven capitals in seven weeks, you don’t see very much of everything, and being with a group, you do as they do. So the British Museum was the only museum considered a ‘must’ in our three days. The National Gallery, which I lived in later on (on another trip), I’d have to wait to see then. We had to eat, sleep, see the zoo, the Square, and Piccadilly. So all we could assume, jumping from one bus to another and walking endless miles of London streets, was that London was certainly the biggest city, that the British were intolerantly tolerant of American tourists, and that I, for one, wanted to come back.’

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