September 23 2014

Audio: Alison Carlier/Jerwood drawing prize

Roll up everyone, for here perhaps is a Guffwatch to beat all Guffwatches. From the BBC:

A sound piece, lasting 75 seconds, has won a prestigious prize for drawing.

Adjectives, lines and marks, the winner of this year's £8,000 Jerwood Drawing Prize, will be exhibited alongside two other prize winners from this week.

Its creator, Alison Carlier, describes the piece as "an open-ended audio drawing" that offers "a spoken description of an unknown object".

Established in 1994, the Jerwood Drawing Prize is the UK's largest annual open exhibition for drawing.

It is the first time an artwork consisting solely of sound has won the top prize in its 20-year history.

The extract Carlier reads aloud describes a "hard, red, brown" Roman pot found in the London borough of Southwark.

Its source is a reference book on Roman excavations in south London held by the Museum of London.

Yes, that's right: someone has won eight thousand quid just by having the chutzpah to read out a few lines from an old book, and enter the recording into a drawing prize. Absurdism has reached a new level. What next? Could I enter the Nobel prize for literature with a well-cooked steak?

To understand how a sound piece became 'a drawing', we must look to the guffy criteria of the Jerwood prize, as set out by one of the judges, Gavin Delahunty, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at Dallas Museum:

 “The shortlist is made up of those artists who knew how to embrace, or indeed reject, the manifold approaches to drawing that exist today. Naturally such a process of selection is always a subjective exercise grown out of the different visual and intellectual sensibilities of the jury. This vital tension between the judges ensured that the final selection went beyond any singular voice or tendency delivering a superb and surprising group of “drawings” for exhibition and commendation.”

Here we have a classic construct of Guff-ism; the need, because people don't know what else to say, to make every statement a contradiction. ' embrace, or indeed reject...' We see this all the time in contemporary-speak: 'something constructive, but at the same time also destructive', and its primary purpose, as demonstrated again by Gavin, is to permit the creation of 'tension', another favourite old chestnut from the contemporary world. 

Schama on MacGregor

September 23 2014

Image of Schama on MacGregor

Picture: FT

In the Financial Times, Simon Schama, one of our great historians, interviews one of our great museum directors, Neil MacGregor, and looks at the British Museum's new 'Germany' exhibition. Well worth a click. 

Wallace's 'Great Room' re-opens

September 22 2014

Video: BBC

I'm a big fan of seeing pictures in daylight, so it's great to see that the Wallace Collection's 'Great Room' is now open again, with a glass ceiling. 

They still (judging from my most recent visit) have an aversion to dusting the frames at the Wallace though...

Want to run the National Gallery?

September 22 2014

Image of Want to run the National Gallery?

Picture: BBC

Then click here for the candidate brief. This is what you need:


• A recognised and established leader in the art world with an international reputation for excellence and an outstanding record of achievement.

• Expert knowledge of The National Gallery’s collection probably with experience gained in museums or academia.

• Management experience gained in a major institution, with a track record of motivating staff, managing performance and delivering change.

• A proven ambassador with experience of successfully persuading and influencing a range of audiences, including funders.


• A passionate advocate for the role of old master painting in the modern world with the ability to communicate this passion widely.

• The ability to lead with wisdom, imagination and energy.

• A strategic thinker with a clear vision for the future of the National Gallery and the ability to provide direction whilst encouraging entrepreneurship, spontaneity and creativity in others.

• An exceptional communicator with the ability to inspire staff, engage supporters and excite partners; the ability to build relationships of trust and strength through diplomacy and persuasion.

• The ability to manage financial, operational and commercial activities including meeting ambitious targets for both income generation and efficiencies.

• The ability to demonstrate confidence, resilience and effectiveness in a high profile role; an impressive leader who can handle demanding organisational and political contexts well.

• A practical, inclusive and open management style with the ability to generate confidence, build teams, take difficult decisions and deliver change.

Applications close 6th October. 

De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

September 22 2014

Image of De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

Picture: DIA

I've been covering (most recently here) the disastrous way the Delaware Art Museum has gone about selling some of its collection to plug a financial black hole. Now, the director of the Detroit Institute of Arts which has (though through no fault of its own) the mother of all black holes to fill, has written this stinging riposte to Delaware's activities. In the DIA's newsletter, Graham Beal [above] writes:

There are those who assert that selling a couple of works to save the institution is a reasonable thing to do, as has come up in the Detroit bankruptcy case. But a sudden influx of cash to address a financial bind doesn't solve anything.

Recently, there has been a lot in the press about the Delaware Art Museum's determination to sell as many as three of its most notable artworks to pay off debts incurred through an ambitious expansion about a decade ago. The first, William Holman Hunt's Pot of Basil, has already been sold.

While hardly a household name, Hunt was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of young painters who, in 1848, challenged the British art establishment with a vision entirely at odds with accepted practices. Because their brightly colored, meticulously detailed style was also at odds with most forms of modernism, their fall from prominence was precipitous and long- lasting. Now they are back in fashion with a vengeance and the Delaware trustees hoped to get $8 million out of the painting -- almost half the debt. It sold for $4 million, probably creating the need to sell more than the two already assigned for sale: a Winslow Homer painting and an Alexander Calder sculpture.

The museum and the community are being stripped of their masterpieces -- its very reason for being. The debt may be satisfied but patrons may be scared away and a new shadow cast over the museum.

A few years ago, rather than address the structural problems causing annual operational deficits, the National Academy of Design (NAD) -- the oldest art museum in the country founded by some of the nation's most important artists -- sold two paintings, one given by an original member!

There were alternatives that would have entailed sacrifice. But selling art did not solve the [Manhattan museum's] problem, and a few weeks ago, the NAD let go a significant portion of its staff.

In the Great Depression, the DIA remained open and staffed, largely thanks to the secret support of Edsel Ford. The City of Detroit arts commissioners could have sold the van Gogh self-portrait, Matisse's The Window, Ruisdael's Jewish Cemetery, or even Breugel's Wedding Dance, but the thought never seems to have crossed anyone's mind.

And if they had, not only would we not have them today, we would not have been given much of the art that came from private donors or the financial contributions that enabled so many purchases. Why give to a museum that, in times of crisis, converts your treasured donation into cash to make up for failed fundraising, bad management or poor fiduciary judgment?

Commendable stuff. 

Art Detective strikes again (ctd.)

September 22 2014

Image of Art Detective strikes again (ctd.)

Picture: Your Paintings/ Bury Art Museum

Sharp-eyed Art Detective specialist Barbara Bryant has spotted the above portrait of the 14th Earl of Derby (the first man to be Prime Minister on three seperate occasions) sans attribution at Bury Art Museum. She has identified the portrait with an engraving after Henry Perronet Briggs, and presumably the Bury picture must be that exhibited by Briggs at the Royal Academy in 1839. You can see more discussion about the discovery here

I'm especially pleased to see this discovery because I'm a bit of a Derby anorak. I wrote my PhD on Derby's son, the 15th Earl, who was Foreign Secretary under both his father and Benjamin Disraeli. I also own a marble bust of the 14th Earl by Matthew Noble, which is on display at the House of Commons. The last time I saw it, many years ago, someone had stuck a piece of chewing gum up his nostril. 

Mr Turner (ctd.)

September 22 2014

Image of Mr Turner (ctd.)

Picture: ArtFund

The ArtFund has an interesting interview with Timothy Spall, the actor who plays Turner in Mike Leigh's forthcoming biopic. Here, he tells about the fateful day he heard he got the part, and how he learned painting for two years to prepare:

One day in 2010 I was walking down Maiden Lane, where JMW Turner was born, and I went into this pub [the Porterhouse] for a quick pint, and I saw Turner’s name on a plaque. So I phoned Mike Leigh because about seven years before he’d mentioned that he was thinking about doing something about Turner, and thought I might be right for it. So I left a message saying I was sitting right under where he was born. I  was about to go home when I got a call asking me to come to his office, where he said: ‘Untitled 2013 is going to be the film about Turner I mentioned. I want you to play him, and I want you to start painting.’ 

You always spend a lot of time working on a character, but preparing for Mr Turner is the most I’ve ever done. They found me a wonderful teacher, Tim Wright, who was absolutely brilliant. His portrait of me is in the BP Portrait Award exhibition [at the National Portrait Gallery until 21 September]. I had two years of lessons. We did life drawing, still life, speed drawing, working in ink, watercolour and then oils. I did about 300 images in all, including maybe 10 quite large watercolours and oils, culminating in a full-size copy of Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Edge, which is just so wonderful. Even having studied it so closely, it’s still one of my favourite paintings. Look at it, and you can tell that he was on that deck, you can see he went to the top of that mast. You know he was there.

Help buy William Blake's cottage

September 22 2014

Image of Help buy William Blake's cottage

Picture: Guardian

The Blake Society is trying to buy the cottage where William Blake lived in Sussex between 1800 and 1803. They need to raise £520,000 by 31st October. More here

'The Real Tudors'

September 22 2014

Image of 'The Real Tudors'

Picture: Society of Antiquaries, London; Mary I by Hans Eworth.

A new display at the National Portrait Gallery in London sounds interesting; 'The Real Tudors', says the NPG;

[...] allows visitors to rediscover the well-known Tudor monarchs through the most complete presentation of their portraiture staged to date.

Works from the Gallery’s Collection are presented alongside exceptional loans and a prized possession of each monarch, as well as recent research undertaken as part of the Making Art in Tudor Britain project, to help visitors understand how and why such images were made. The search for a ‘real’ portrait of Lady Jane Grey in the sixteenth century is also explored through the display of a commemorative portrait of Jane that dates from the Elizabethan period.

Following its London run The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered will form the core of a larger exhibition organised in partnership with Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais at the Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, in 2015.

The show closes 1st March 2015. More here, and a review by Alastair Smart in the Telegraph here

Will computers replace art historians?

September 22 2014

Image of Will computers replace art historians?

Picture: The Prisoner

In the Financial Times, I looked into the question of whether computers will soon replace art historians, following on from the recent research published by Rutgers University in the US. You can read the article here, or listen to the podcast here

Constable Vs. Turner (ctd.)

September 22 2014

Video: ArtFund

The V&A and Tate are showing exhibitions on Constable and Turner. In this ArtFund video, art historian Jacky Klein looks at who is better. She plumps for Constable in the end. 

Update - Mark Lawson has also written about the two artists here in The New Statesman.

Update II - a reader writes:

Regarding Constable and  Turner the former was the greater painter and the latter the greater artist.

A similar statement was made I believe regarding Picasso and Matisse.

Nice distinction.

Not Van Dyck at Downton?

September 22 2014

Image of Not Van Dyck at Downton?

Picture: ITV

Downton Abbey is back for its latest series, and very enjoyable it is too. I've noticed a couple of times in the press that mention is made of Highclere Castle's (where the series is filmed) 'Van Dyck' of Charles I on horseback with M. de St Antoine, seen above. The latest is in the Daily Express, where cast member Kevin Doyle tells how the cast and crew take extra care around the picture, which is reportedly valued at £17m. Highclere Castle's own website also calls the picture 'Van Dyck'. I have never seen the picture in the flesh, but it is very clearly listed as a copy in Sir Oliver Millar's catalogue raisonne of Van Dyck's English period works. The original is here, in the Royal Collection.

Millar lists a number of copies after Van Dyck at Highclere, including a detail of the large portrait of Charles I's five children, which you can see just by Carson's head in the photo above.

Newly discovered Wtewael on show in London

September 22 2014

Image of Newly discovered Wtewael on show in London

Picture: National Gallery

A newly discovered painting by Joachim Wtewael has gone on display at the National Gallery in London. The picture, a Raising of Lazarus painted c.1605-10, had lain unnoticed and without attribution at Wycombe Museum in Buckinghamshire, until it was suggested by a specialist at Bonhams that Wtewael might be the artist. The picture was then sent to the National Gallery for cleaning, and it will now be on show there for ten years. You can see a pre-restoration image here, on Your Paintings

The picture is 'Painting of the Month' for October, and you can read more about the picture here

I don't know who the Bonhams specialist was - well done whoever you are!

It's Referendum Day

September 17 2014

Video: BBC

Today we're going to the polls here in Scotland to vote on whether the country should be independent. As I said before, I'll be voting 'no'. But my prediction is that 'yes' will win, just.

Anyone wanting to know something of the history behind all this can see the programme I made for the BBC above, on Bonnie Prince Charlie. It has been put onto YouTube in four 15 minute parts; part 1 is above, part 2 is here, 3 here and 4 here.

Update - going to bed now at midnight, and YouGov (the same pollsters who gave Yes a lead two weeks ago) have called it for No, 54% - 46%, citing a last minute shift. Great...

Update II - it's No! The UK is saved. But it will never be the same again. The Prime Minister has announced a raft of constitutional changes, including further devolution and a fundamental reform of the Westminster Parliament, which he wants completed before the next General Election in May 2015. It's all a bit last-minute, as we've come to expect. 

Staff changes at AHN

September 9 2014

I'm pleased to announce that Art History News has a new Deputy Editor. She is very qualified for the job, being my daughter, but sadly cannot yet read or write, and her connoisseurship stretches only to being able to spot her cot, which she seems not to like. Please therefore excuse the lack of posts for a few days, while I train her up.  

Update - many thanks indeed for all your kind emails.

Update II - her name is Gabriella.

Update III - Can I seek your further indulgence on paternity leave? I may have to take this week off too. I'm also a little distracted by the Scottish referendum (which I expect 'Yes' to win, just), and am working on what that means for the UK's art collections. 

Italian Museums (ctd.)

September 4 2014

Image of Italian Museums (ctd.)

Picture: Galleria Sabauda

The Independent has more grim news from the Italian museum world; the Galleria Borghese's climate control system (which is, open the windows every now and then) has apparently caused Raphael's Deposition to 'warp'. But apparently the 'deformation in the painting ha[s] now been reduced'. So that's alright then.

But from Turin, there's better news, as the Galleria Sabauda is to be re-opened following refurbishment. But, reports The Spectator:

From 30 October, Leonardo’s drawings, including the famous sage-like self-portrait [above] and the drawing for the head of the angel in the Louvre’s ‘Virgin of the Rocks’, will go on permanent display in the Sala Leonardo, while drawings by other masters in the collection — including Raphael’s ‘Study of a Youth Playing the Lute’ — will be shown in the second vault. In December, with the reopening of the Galleria Sabauda, the Savoy paintings will go back on view. As well as works by Duccio, Fra Angelico, Mantegna, the Pollaiuolos, Filippino Lippi, Veronese and Orazio Gentileschi, the collection includes Netherlandish paintings by Van der Weyden, Van Eyck, Memling, Rembrandt, Brueghel and Rubens — among them a charming portrait by Van Dyck of the three children of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, sent by the English Queen to her sister Christine of Savoy.

I presume the Leonardo drawings won't actually be on 'permanent display', as they certainly shouldn't be (for conservation reasons). By way of comparison, the Albertina in Vienna only brings out Durer's famous 'Hare' only once every six years. 

'Late Turner' (ctd.)

September 4 2014

Image of 'Late Turner' (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

Apollo Magazine has an interview with David Blayney Brown, co-curator of the Tate's forthcoming 'Late Turner' exhibition. Here he reveals some details of the display:

As we are covering a period in depth, we are not doing so strictly chronologically, but thematically. That said, the first room is by way of an overview and retrospect, so visitors will see Turner’s death mask before they come to most of his work; and his last exhibits in 1850 will be on the last wall in the final room, which seems fitting. The only significant installation challenge is integrating watercolours and oils, which have to be zoned to allow for different light levels.

Thursday amusement

September 4 2014

Image of Thursday amusement

Picture: Telegraph

In The Telegraph, 'Matt' has an art historical take on the 'celebrities' nude photo leaks' story.

Apollo Magazine's '40 Under 40'

September 3 2014

Image of Apollo Magazine's '40 Under 40'

Picture: Apollo Magazine

I'm very flattered (and very surprised) to be included in Apollo's '40 Under 40', which, says the magazine:

[...] is a selection of the most talented and inspirational young people who are driving forward the art world today. This year, the list covers individuals whose main place of work is considered to be Europe; future editions will be dedicated to North America and the rest of the world. 40 Under 40 is published in association with AXA ART Insurance.

The 40 are broken down into four categories; 'Artists', 'Thinkers', 'Collectors' and 'The Business', which is where I am. The judges were:

  •     Luca Massimo Barbero, Director of the Institute of Art History, Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice
  •     Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis, The Hague
  •     Isaac Julien, installation artist and filmmaker
  •     Thaddaeus Ropac, owner of Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg and Paris
  •     Martin Roth, director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Here's my entry:

Bendor Grosvenor is best  known for his work as an art historian, most recently for his discovery of a lost Allan Ramsay portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Such high-profile finds have helped establish him as a regular presence on UK television, while confirming his credentials as an expert in the field of British art. This year, he was part of the steering panel behind Art Detective, a new online forum that encourages connoisseurs to provide specialist knowledge to public collections in the UK. After nearly a decade working in Philip Mould & Company, he has now left to concentrate on writing and consulting.

Which I suppose is a neat way of announcing another aspect of my move to Scotland, as I mentioned below. More anon... 

By the way, I may need to be away for a couple of days, so apologies in advance for the lack of posts.

Selfies - nothing new

September 1 2014

Image of Selfies - nothing new


These photos from the 1920s has been doing the rounds on Twitter today. Shame they're not in an art gallery; game, set and match in the photo debate.

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