In an increasingly tap-and-go era, the presence of cash – in its hoary, paper-thin form – is still a good way to send a soft-power message. That’s the idea behind the design of the UK’s new £20 note, to be issued in February, which bears a portrait of Romantic painter JMW Turner.
Also on the note is a blue-and-gold foil silhouette of the Margate Lighthouse and David Chipperfield-designed Turner Contemporary museum, both on the Kent coastline. The inclusion of architecture is a solid choice: buildings can become endearing emblems of a nation’s ingenuity (the Eiffel Tower), ambition (the soaring Burj Khalifa) or ethos (Lady Liberty). In this vein the seaside art hub is a fair choice: it plays up the UKs cultural clout and the often forgotten fact that there is life beyond London.
This is important at a time when the UK’s politics and parliament, and the nation’s primacy on the world stage, are wobbling in all the wrong places – like a portly daytripper on the Margate strand. However, had the Bank of England picked, say, The Shard (semi-occupied), Big Ben (under repair) or the Houses of Parliament (scaffolding-clad), it would have sent a rather less flattering – but equally apt – message about the fractious state of the nation today.