'The greatest depiction of love at first sight'

February 12 2016

Video: National Gallery

As part of their #PaintedLovers series, here National Gallery curator Matthias Wivel argues that Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne shows the greatest depicton of 'love at first' sight in art.

Louvre to clean another Leonardo (ctd.)

February 12 2016

Image of Louvre to clean another Leonardo (ctd.)

Picture: Louvre

Last month the Louvre announced that they would clean Leonardo's late work, St John the Baptist. Cue much outrage. Now, Leonardo 'expert' Prof. Carlo Pedretti has waded into the story, saying the Louvre shouldn't touch the picture

Regular readers will know that AHN holds Pedretti in rather low regard (put 'Pedretti' into the search box to see why). The minute he rallies to a cause, I feel myself taking the opposite side. But the case of the St John is a difficult one, and I'm not entirely sure what the answer is. Like the Great Waldemar, speaking about the matter here on BBC Radio 4's Front Row, I am 'conflicted' about whether the restoration should go ahead.

As Waldemar says, this is now a picture so dark you almost cannot see it. And he's right to say the Louvre should spend the money simply fixing the Italian gallery in which it hangs with better lighting (I would also add some feather dusters). But Waldemar says that if we were to clean one picture in that Italian gallery at the Louvre it should probably be this one.

And yet the Louvre's previous Leonardo restoration, of the Virgin with St Anne, was not considered a success. Hence the latest hoo ha. I have been to see that picture since it was cleaned, and it is indeed disappointing.

But the conservation debate has taken a curious turn of late. In my view, I don't think the Virgin with St Anne was 'over-cleaned' a great deal, as everyone says. Rather, the masking qualities of centuries of old varnish and dirt was removed, leaving visible all the damages that were inflicted on the picture in previous campaigns of 'cleaning', from past ages that thought it was ok to scrub pictures with urea, a potato cut in half, a rough sponge, and so on. 

Now, the problem comes because many of today's museum staff, and much punditry, has taken the view that we should leave such damages visible, and that these damages should not be retouched by a competent conservator. In other words, damage to a picture is 'part of its story', and we should just live with it. Consequently, the Virgin with St Anne looked like it had been 'over-cleaned' because suddenly the old damage was much more visible.

But this approach means that we end up celebrating the clods who have damaged pictures as equally as the geniuses that created them. And I don't see why we should do that. If you've done it, as I have, judiciously restoring pictures is actually not impossible. You just need the combined talents of a good conservator and the connoisseurial eye of someone who knows their way around an artist's oeuvre. The former is far more important than the latter of course, but it is best done as a team effort. It's not really that hard to identify the areas where, for example, a dark glaze has been abraded in the past, and to recreate where it went with the use of entirely reversible modern re-touching media.

Some people getting their ethical antenna in a twist about this approach, but it didn't stop Van Dyck happily re-touching damaged Titians. If the alternative, today, is looking at a wrecked picture, or making some effort to understand that a 400 year old picture has inevitably been damaged at some time in its life, and that we ought to be brave enough to aesthetically (but non-permanently) reverse that damage, then why shouldn't we? There is nothing dishonest about it. And if you went around most major museums of the world deliberately removing the efforts of past restorers, you would soon end up with collections in which about 80% of the works looked like they'd been given a good going over with sandpaper. If we wouldn't take that approach retrospectively, then why do it all? 

Stay in Van Gogh's bedroom

February 12 2016

Image of Stay in Van Gogh's bedroom

Picture AirBnB

The Art Institute of Chicago has recreated Van Gogh's bedroom, and is renting it out for $10 a night on airbnb. More here, and you can make a booking here

Knoedler trial ends! (ctd.)

February 12 2016

Image of Knoedler trial ends! (ctd.)

Picture: Illustrated Courtroom

Well, it really is all over now. Having settled with the Knoedler director Anne Freedman the De Soles (who had bought a fake $8m Rothko) have now settled with the Knoedler gallery. So we won't now here testimony from the main players in the events. Knoedler keeps its secrets, for now. But at least there was no nightmare outcome of the jury deciding in favour of Knoedler/Freedman, which (however unlikely) would have established an alarming legal precedent that it was up to the buyer to do their due diligence on things like attribution and provenance. 

The Art Newspaper speculates here as to why the De Soles might have settled. 


February 9 2016

Image of $1,049,465,009

Picture: New Yorker

That's the amount a Russian billionaire, Dmitry Rybolovlev (above) claims that his one time art agent, Yves Bouvier, overcharged him on art deals. Bouvier claims he was merely being 'clever', which is one way of describing an alleged mark-up of about $50m on the sale of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi. Others might call it a con. Sam Knight has an excellent account of the saga in The New Yorker.

Michelangelo's villa for sale

February 9 2016

Image of Michelangelo's villa for sale

Picture: via Hyperallergic

Yours for just $8.4m, reports Claire Voon at Hyperallergic.


February 9 2016

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery is getting in on the Valentine's act with a new video series called Painted Lovers. Here we learn about Holbein's portrait of Christina of Denmark, which briefly sent Henry VIII head over heels.

The pull of modern art

February 9 2016

Image of The pull of modern art

Picture: Ishbel Grosvenor

AHN had a staff outing the other day, to an exhibition on William Gear: The Painter that Britain Forgot at the Edinburgh City Art Gallery. Highly recommended, though it closes on Sunday 14th February.

As you can see, the Deputy Editor is determined to get me looking at modern art. She's with Scott Reyburn - Old Masters are so last season. 

Waldemar on the Renaissance

February 9 2016

Image of Waldemar on the Renaissance

Picture: BBC

The Great Waldemar will be back on our screens next week, with a new series on the Renaissance. Says the BBC:

Have we got the Renaissance wrong? Waldemar Januszczak thinks so, and in this four-part series for BBC Four he challenges the traditional view of art’s most important epoch.

According to Giorgio Vasari, the first art historian, the Renaissance was centred on a revival of interest in classical art that began and flourished in Italy. Waldemar disagrees, and accuses Vasari of errant jingoism. In fact, the most significant early developments in Renaissance art took place not in Italy, but in the ‘barbarian’ lands of Flanders and Germany. Instead of understanding the Renaissance as a return to classical models, we should see it as a climax of medieval values - an epoch of huge religious passions and powerful human emotions.

The series will celebrate material that is new to television. Waldemar will include art that is not usually thought of as Renaissance art. This will involve 're-classifying' what is sometimes called Late Gothic, and showing it off as a marvellous and native artistic tradition, particularly in the remarkable field of polychrome sculpture. On top of all the new art to be introduced, Waldemar will also look from fresh and intriguing angles at many of the established Renaissance giants, including Michelangelo in the Vatican, Leonardo in the Louvre, Botticelli in the Uffizi and Van Eyck in Ghent.

In the first episode Waldemar will challenge the southern ‘myth’ of the Renaissance, and showcase the pioneering achievements of the north. With the invention of oil paints and the development of optics and lenses, artists such as Van Eyck, Memling, Van der Weyden, Cranach, Riemenschneider and Durer took art into marvellous new territories.

The series starts on Monday 15th February at 9pm on BBC4, and runs for four weeks. More here.

New Bosch discovery

February 9 2016

Image of New Bosch discovery

Picture: Bosch Research and Conservation Project

Hieronymous Bosch scholars have identified a previously lost painting by the artist - in the store rooms of a US museum. From The Guardian:

The painting lay in storage for years at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, which acquired it in the 1930s.

Entitled The Temptation of St Anthony, it shows the saint gathering water in a jug as he leans on a staff in what was probably part of a larger panel, possibly a triptych.

Initially it had been believed to be the work of one of the many students who flocked to Bosch’s workshop in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

But an international team who carried out a five-year research project using sophisticated infrared technology determined that the painting was in fact by the master himself.

There will be a major Bosch exhibition soon in Holland, at the Noordbrabants Museum, opening 13th February. More here.

Old Master yourself

February 9 2016

Image of Old Master yourself

Pictures: Nobilified.com

There's a new website called Nobilified which allows you to get a portrait painted in the style of the Old Masters (or in the style of the '1%' as they put it). The way to get your face 'painted in history' is simple. You take a selfie, upload it to the site, choose your Old Master pose, pay $99, and hey presto. Here are two of my favourite examples so far:

A Miereveld:

And a Caravaggio (which looks like it has been painted by the Monkey Jesus lady):

Mercifully there's not yet a Van Dyck. Though of course I am tempted...

White glove shot (ctd.)

February 9 2016

Image of White glove shot (ctd.)

Picture: Times/AHN reader

Ok, now they're just taunting me. From today's Times.

Update - a reader asks:

Wait!  Is the volcanic Lady Hamilton in the painting in the newspaper photo not wearing diaphanous white gloves herself, to hold her tambourine ???  (And if not, why not?)

Knoedler trial ends!

February 8 2016

Image of Knoedler trial ends!

Picture: NYT

Drat - the De Soles and Ann Freedman have settled their case. Just as it was getting interesting. Freedman (above) was due to take the stand. 

I am still baffled as to why no criminal case has been brought.

Update - the Knoedler trial is not ending! The De Soles were suing both Ann Freedman and Knoedler. Freedman has settled, but (a reader kindly points out) the case against Knoedler, the entity, goes on.

Knoedler fake trial begins (ctd.)

February 7 2016

Image of Knoedler fake trial begins (ctd.)

Picture: Illustrated Courtroom

The first few days of testimony at the Knoedler fake trial have swung a lamp over some of the most deplorable aspects of the art market. Mr and Mrs De Soles are suing Ann Freedman, director of the now closed Knoedler gallery, for selling them a fake Rothko. The picture is admitted to be a fake, but the Knoedler defence is that the De Soles should have checked it out themselves. In other words, tough cheese. The Knoedler defence has gotten off to a shaky start, however, with numerous experts who were cited by Knoedler as endorsing the painting's attribution in fact saying they did not. It looks like Knoedler was behaving in an extraordinary way, and you have to wonder how they did not realise the suspiciously cheap, previously unknown works were not fake.

But for me the  my eye was most drawn to this snippet reported in Art News:

The total sale price [of the 'Rothko'] was, in fact, $8.5 million, according to an invoice presented as evidence. Kelly, who purchased the painting on the De Soles’ behalf, said on Thursday that he negotiated with Freedman a $200,000 discount—and, as he told the jury, he kept $100,000 of that discount for himself as his commission after telling the De Soles that Freedman only offered them a $100,000 discount. “I could have kept the $200,000,” he said.

This fellow James Kelly should be deeply ashamed of himself. Asked to negotiate the purchase of a painting on behalf of the De Soles, he decided to pocket half the proferred discount himself. That's a disgusting thing to do, but I guess he's not the first person to have done it. Kelly runs an art gallery in Santa Fe.

There have been a number of eye-opening revelations about the Knoedler modus operandi. My favourite was the fact that they asked technical investigator James Martin of Orion Analytical to make massive changes to his report on one fake painting, in effect falsifying his own results. Of course, Martin rightly told them where to go.

See the top 5 aspects of the case so far here on ArtNet News.

'Picasso' seized in Turkey

February 7 2016

Image of 'Picasso' seized in Turkey

Picture: Guardian

Another week, another story from the Turkish police about how they've seized another valuable work of art. Earlier this month we had a story about a '$4.6m Van Dyck' which was not by Van Dyck. Now we've got one about an $8m Picasso. The picture, Woman Dressing her Hair, is supposed to be a Picasso stolen from a private collection in New York. But in fact Picasso's Woman Dressing her Hair belongs to Moma, and as far as I know has not been stolen. Isn't the picture in Turkey just a 'distressed' copy?

Louvre acquisition in New York

February 7 2016

Image of Louvre acquisition in New York

Picture: Sotheby's

A picture that sold well above estimate in the recent Sotheby's New York sale was the above Pandora by the 'School of Fontainebleau'. It sold for $754,000 (inc. premium) against an estimate of $300,000-$500,000, and was bought by the Louvre. Didier Rykner's Tribune de L'Art has the story here.

New Tefaf fair in New York

February 7 2016

Image of New Tefaf fair in New York

Picture: Tefaf

The European Fine Art Foundation (Tefaf), which runs the annual art fair in Maastricht, is to open two new satellite fairs in New York. Reports Scott Reyburn in The New York Times:

Tefaf New York Fall will open in October to showcase dealers specializing in artworks from antiquity to the 20th century. Tefaf New York Spring, scheduled for May 2017, will focus on high-end modern art and design. Each fair is to feature about 80 to 90 international exhibitors.

Because Reyburn seems to be on a campaign against Old Masters, we get the following remark in a passage about the Maastricht fair:

Awkward to get to (unless by private plane), overstocked with unfashionable old masters and situated in the middle of a continent with plenty of economic problems, Tefaf has been looking to widen its reach for some time. 

I find the concept of art being 'fashionable' pretty weird. And how do we judge it? Jeff Koons' work may be extremely valuable at the moment, and doubtless Reyburn would declare it 'fashionable'. But how many Koons prints do you see in living rooms up and down the country? 

Update - a reader writes:

The NYT article mentions that the unreachable TEFAF is full of unfashionable items but that it is also visited by 200 museums and 75 000 visitors.


A bit incoherent should we say?


Boom (ctd.)

February 7 2016

Image of Boom (ctd.)

Picture: Blouin Artinfo

It's been interesting to see how the media narrative for the health of the 'art market' has turned to talk of correction. Everyone is now firmly convinced of it, even though we're only one major sale into the year (Impressionists in London), and the evidence is slight. That's not to say it won't happen - I just find it interesting how impatient the media can be.

Anyway, contemporary art harrumphers like me are used to warning that the most valuable names now might not be so valuable in a generation or so. But I was surprised to see endorsement of that view from Marc Spiegler (above), who is director of the contemporary mega-fair, Art Basel. He said recently (in The Art Newspaper):

Of the artists selling well today, roughly 80% will be basically unsellable in 20 years, which is perfectly fine. Because collecting contemporary art is about engaging with the zeitgeist. People should buy art that they believe in.

Wise words.


February 2 2016

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I've taken ill.

Update - recovered now, thanks for your kind emails!

Getty buys $30.5m Gentileschi

January 29 2016

Image of Getty buys $30.5m Gentileschi

Picture: Sotheby's

The Getty museum were the triumphant buyers of Orazio Gentileschi's Danäe last night at Sotheby's. The total price after commission was $30.5m. There were at least three bidders going for the picture, though I presume one of them was the third party guarantor. Another underbidder was (I presume) an Asian collector speaking to the Chairman of Sotheby's Asia, Patti Wong. The Getty will hang the picture next to Gentileschi's Lot and his Daughters, which was originally hung next to Danäe. So, well done the Getty. There was a curious little scene after the bidding - the Getty's victorious bidder walked up to the rostrum and handed over a letter to George Wachter, the head of Sotheby's New York Old Master department. I wonder what it said.

The sale totalled $53.4m - which (says Bloomberg) was below the low estimate. It was a patchy affair, which some lots soaring away, others just squeaking by (like the newly discovered Jordaens selling at the low estimate of $4m) but almost half the lots failing to sell. I'll post a fuller analysis later on - I'm heading back to the UK today. The volatility can be put down to a few things it seems to me: first, the weather robbed Sotheby's of three days viewing time; second, the recent stock market wobbles put off more than a few collectors; and finally, though this is more long-term, I think this is what an auction market looks like when you no longer have a firm base of trade buyers ready and willing to pick up the slack. But with the Taubman pictures doing ok, and some clear strong prices across the board, it seems we can end the week knowing that the Old Master market is still alive and kicking. At a time when everyone is predicting a slowing art market across the board, this is no small thing.

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