October 27 2016

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Sorry for the lack of posts - I'm in London doing day job stuff. I was in the National Gallery this morning, and saw this uplifting sign.

'Beyond Caravaggio' (ctd.)

October 25 2016

Video: National Gallery

Here's the latest video from the National Gallery on their 'Beyond Caravaggio' exhibition.

Disney goes to LACMA

October 25 2016

Image of Disney goes to LACMA

Picture: Disney.com

I've mentioned before the clever social media work done by LACMA. Now they've joined up with Disney to retell Beauty and the Beast through their own paintings, and on Snapchat. Above is a Pourbus of Louis XIII, who has been pressed into the role of the wicked prince. More here.

New Burrell collection designs

October 25 2016

Image of New Burrell collection designs

Picture: BBC

Designs for the new Burrell collection building in Glasgow have been released. I'm very pleased to see that the target is to get 90% of the collection on public display, thanks to two new floors of exhibition space. More here.

$350m gift to Musée d'Orsay

October 25 2016

Image of $350m gift to Musée d'Orsay

Picture: NYT

A Texan couple have pledged to give more than 600 works of art to the Musée d'Orsay. The collection includes works by Matisse, Modigliani and Vuillard, and has been reported as being worth about $350m. Spencer and Marlene Hays have loved France since visiting in 1971, and even built a replica of a French mansion house in Tennessee. Francois Hollande has made both the Hays members of the Legion d'Honneur. More here in the New York Times

Not by Hogarth?

October 24 2016

Image of Not by Hogarth?

Picture: NGA

The Sunday Times reports that a painting of the Beggar's Opera in the National Gallery of Art in Washington (above) will be demoted from being by Hogarth in a forthcoming catalogue raisonné. Elizabeth Einberg, who is writing the catalogue for the Paul Mellon Centre in London, is not convinced by the painting, and nor is Hogarth scholar Robin Simon. You can zoom in on the painting here and have a look for yourself. It was previously thought to be one of four versions of the same subject. Another is here at Tate, and another here at Birmingham Museums Trust. 

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

October 20 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: Art Daily

By way of a reminder that it's not just the Old Master world reeling from a faking scandal at the moment, The Art Newspaper reports that another Knoedler case has been partially settled. The former Knoedler director, Ann Freedman, has reached an agreement with casino boss Frank Fertitta over a fake Rothko, 'Untitled (orange, red, blue)' (above) bought in 2008 for $7.2m.  

But another shocking part of the story is the fact that a Rothko scholar and museum curator, Oliver Wick, was paid $450,000 for his role in the sale. He said the picture was 'perfectly fine' and a genuine Rothko. The picture was exhibited at the museum where was a curator, the Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland. Did the cheque encourage Wick to think the picture was a genuine Rothko? Only he can tell us. Looking at the Foundation's website, I see that he's no longer employed there. 

Valentin de Boulogne at the Met

October 20 2016

Video: The Met

Great video here on the Met's new exhibition on Valentin de Boulogne - nice to see curator Keith Christiansen's passion for the artist. 

There's not many exhibitions that make me want to get on a plane - this is one. Open till January 16th.

Rare depiction of Louis XIV's coronation found

October 20 2016

Image of Rare depiction of Louis XIV's coronation found

Picture: BBC

An apparently unique painted representation of the coronation of Louis XIV has been discovered in the stables at Rokeby Park, a stately home in the UK. More here.

Update - Neil Jeffares tweets that the picture derives from this print of the coronation (below).

A-Level art history axed (ctd.)

October 20 2016

Image of A-Level art history axed (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

The art historian Michael Liversidge, Emeritus Dean at Bristol University's Faculty of Arts, has kindly written to AHN. He begins by saying that all is not necessarily lost for people aged 16-18 wanting to take a course in art history:

There is an alternative to the axed AQA History of Art.  It is the Cambridge International Exams Pre-U Certificate qualification - an excellent A-level by another name.  

And then gives some valuable background as to why the A-Level has been axed:

AQA's decision is based on two substantive factors, and one nonsensical argument.  Firstly, that with 'only' 839 entrants in 2016, the A-level is uneconomic.  In fact, the cost per candidate for entering the exam was set at £158.05; this compares to £84.20 for a 'standard' humanities subject such as English Literature or History for which there are thousands of candidates (the prices rise to £168.75 and £89.90 for June 2017).  Secondly, that there is a shortage of examiners.  A third explanation was also offered by AQA which stated that "Our number one priority is making sure every student gets the result they deserve - and the complex and specialist nature of the exams in this subject creates too many risks on that front..."  Managing the risk by taking away the opportunity is obviously an absurd argument - all it ensures is that nobody at all can get a result, whether deserved or otherwise.  The financial imperative is evidently the principal excuse, and it could be conceded that the work of reforming the examination to fit the new structure of A-levels would be an added cost which the income stream from candidates' fees would not cover since presumably every penny goes on administration and examiners.  But in fact much of the thinking needed has been carried out in consultation with the academic community, and rewriting the rules would be a relatively simple business.  The curriculum exists, and the Association of Art Historians has recently sponsored an excellent textbook by an experienced and expert teacher of the subject, Penny Huntsman's Thinking About Art (which I commend to all your readers).  

The cost of taking the A-level exam is a problem - not so much perhaps for independent schools (though budgetary considerations are important to them like everyone else in education), but certainly for the maintained sector.  Perhaps not insuperable, though, if the professional art world could come forward to subsidise it: AQA is an educational charity, so there is a tax-efficient way of contributing to the cause.  Finding examiners ought to be easier to solve, and surely not beyond the collective wisdom of the academic community to recruit them.

Changing an exam board's mind, especially when it has made the announcement, is not an easy thing to accomplish.  So the solution probably lies with schools going over to the Cambridge International Examinations Pre-U Certificate.  It is, in fact, an A-level, with a carefully structured two-year curriculum offering an excellent range of options involving visual analysis, historical periods, thematic topics and an extended research project.  Many UK schools already offer CIE qualifications, and they are fully recognised by British universities for admissions.  The Pre-U Art History, in other words, offers an existing, established exam which provides a rigorous and challenging qualification which universities accept, so whether a student is planning to go on to a degree in the subject or wants to do something else afterwards it affords an entirely credible indicator of intellectual attainment and potential.

Michael also takes aim at Jonathan Jones of The Guardian:

It has been quite shameful that someone like Jonathan Jones of The Guardian positively welcomed the axing of art history by AQA as "the end of one privilege of the public school elite" and has asserted that while scientists "are constantly communicating their latest whacky ideas in popular books or on TV, none of the readable books on art history you will find in shops are by academic art historians."  Maybe he doesn't read enough, and evidently he's missed a lot of good TV programmes recently.  The Association of Art Historians has achieved much to expand the subject by widening access through various initiatives, not least by investing in Thinking About Art, supporting its annual sell-out 'Ways of Seeing' study days at the British Museum and National Gallery (with free places for state school teachers and students funded by The Worshipful Company of Art Scholars), and through a range of schools initiatives it has encouraged universities around the country to engage with.  He's not the most coherent of commentators when it comes to parading his anti-elite credentials - £99 for three hours visiting the National Gallery last September, exclusively for Guardian members?  Hmmm.....more Swiss Cottage than Shepherds Bush?

A-Level art history axed (ctd.)

October 20 2016

Image of A-Level art history axed (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

There's a good letter in the Guardian from National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi, which not only states his support for the A-Level, but reveals that the Gallery was working with AQA on a new syllabus. (It looks more and more as if some AQA bean counter decided the A-level wasn't worth doing any more).

Further to the decision of the AQA exam board to discontinue the history of art A-level from 2018 (History of art A-level axed by last board offering subject, 13 October), I wanted to express concern and disappointment that history of art will no longer be an examined part of the school curriculum.

The National Gallery has recently been working in close association with AQA to develop a new history of art A-level syllabus, and paintings from the national collections were to provide a significant focus for parts of the course. The study of history of art offers young people a particularly incisive approach to the understanding of both history and of contemporary culture, which is increasingly image-led. It also equips students for potential future careers in the arts, in galleries and museums, and in the creative industries in which the UK currently excels.

We must assume that fewer people will now study history of art at university and I am concerned at the impact this will have on recruiting the high-level skills required in our institutions.

Over three and a half decades ago, I took up history of art A-level aged 16. It was most certainly not a “soft” option, but rather a stimulating and challenging one that taught me to think and look critically, to analyse and to reflect. It also set me on my own particular career path.

I would urge AQA to look hard at options for continuing with the art history A-level. The National Gallery will be there to help.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director, The National Gallery

Refurbished Uffizi galleries

October 19 2016

Video: You Tube

The Uffizi gallery in Florence has refurbished some rooms, mainly those housing pictures by Botticelli and van der Weyden. It's the first time they've been renovated since 1978. In the video above you can see them moving one of the Botticellis. More details here.

Wonderful. But you still have to queue for an age to get in. And there's no functioning website, or online collection.

Change in auction price reports

October 19 2016

Image of Change in auction price reports

Picture: Christie's

Marion Maneker's invaluable Art Market Monitor alerts me to an important change in how auction houses report their prices (in a story first reported by Bloomberg). Until now, there has been a difference in how Sotheby's and others report sale prices, as well as how they operate their guarantee processes. But thanks to a ruling by New York's Department of Consumer Affairs, all auction houses will have to follow the same rules, and the result will be greater price transparency.

Some background: at Christie's and Phillips, a guarantor is able to bid on a painting they have already guaranteed, and, if they buy it, end up with what amounts to a signfication reduction in the various premiums that would be due to a regular buyer. This is because as part of their guarantor agreement with they had agreed to benefit from a slice of the commissions if the picture sold above a certain level. They still get that slice even if they buy it themselves. Therefore, a guarantor could buy a picture a reported '$10m', but not actually pay that amount. 

Why does this matter? Because in any market, price transparency is key to assessing value. Imagine a stock being advertised as being worth $10 on the Dow Jones, but available for sale for $8 to certain investors. Those investors could then sell, or borrow against, a share that everyone else thinks is worth $10. That would be illegal.

In some sectors of the art market, what a picture recently sold for matters a great deal to what the next one will sell for. In the modern and contemporary sector, where we often encounter multiples or series, the price of, say, a Warhol Elvis really does depend on what the last one fetched. The market depends on the price reported being what the picture really sold for.

As I say, until now only Christie's and Phillips have operated in this manner - and not many people realised it. When I wrote about the practice in 2014 in the Financial Times many people didn't believe me. One leading arts journalist said I had made a factual error (after having spoken to Christie's press office!). But now Sotheby's has sought to level the playing field. As Bloomberg reports:

Auction houses, whose public sales are often obscured by undisclosed fees, have to report the prices of the artworks they sell in New York with more transparency.

The city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, in a recent clarification to its law on auctioneers, outlined how companies should disclose prices for works that were guaranteed by third parties. The fees paid to the guarantors who end up buying the art must be subtracted from the total price reported to the public.

The disclosure of the selling price net of fees “reflects the true price paid by the bidder and promotes greater transparency in the auction process,” the department said in the letter dated Sept. 9.

“It levels the playing field,” said Mary Hoeveler, an art adviser in New York. “It’s important that the selling prices are not distorted by backroom transactions that are not made public. It’s not accurate representation of the actual price.”

Marion Maneker suggests the change is no big deal:

All of this is fine. Sotheby's went to the regulator; got a ruling in its favor; now all of the auction houses will have to change the reporting on these very few lots that appear in the course of a year.

How did this issue get elevated to the level where Bloomberg could write a headline declaring Auction Houses Told to Improve Transparency in Reporting Prices? Does reducing the reported figure on a handful of lots really improve transparency?

I think it does matter. Price transparency is, or rather should be, absolute; we should be able to believe the prices stated for all lots, not have to guess for some of them. Even if his guarantee process represents a handful of lots (and I can think of quite a few, even in the Old Master world) then it's worth remembering that even a few transactions can have a significant effect in a limited market.

A lost Durer in Germany?

October 19 2016

Image of A lost Durer in Germany?

Picture: BR24

A historian in Germany claims to have discovered a lost painting by Durer, above, in a museum in Regensburg. Rudolf Reiser's theory is based on letters by Durer, which apparently match the painting. But when asked about why Durer experts don't agree that the painting can be by Durer (which, alas it seems it cannot be) he said:

"I'm not interested in their expertise, they're only envious, and art historians do not go into archives."

Anyway, the main news I think is that it might be a looted picture, having once been owned by Goering. There is no recorded provenance between 1918 and 1942, when Goering acquired it. More details here

Old Master emojis

October 19 2016

Image of Old Master emojis

Picture: ArtNet news

Apparently you can now put these on your emails and texts. More here


October 18 2016

Image of Provenance

Picture: BG

For many, the response to the Old Master fake scandal has been to say; 'we must do more scientific testing'. That may be so, and it's true in the case of the Hals it was science that unmasked the fake in the end. But we shouldn't forget that the Louvre, when they tried to buy the picture, also conducted their own tests, and found nothing alarming. Scientific testing is only as reliable as the humans that do it. Likewise connoisseurship.

So while I'm all in favour of scientific testing, it's not going to always be the silver bullet here. The history of faking tells us that forgers soon work out ways to get around the latests tests. Each advance into the technical study of an artist is effectively a forger's charter. 

Instead, it seems to me that the elephant in the room is provenance. None of the allegedly fake paintings in this case came with convincing, verifiable provenance going back further than the 1980s or 90s. Mr Ruffini, the collector who has sold these works, has said some have come from the deceased French industrialist, André Borie. But no proof of this has been published, and nor has anyone found any evidence of Borie being a collector. No trace of any of these pictures has been found before Borie's alleged ownership. The Cranach that was sold from Ruffini to Colnaghi, and then to the Liechtenstein collection, was linked to some entirely spurious provenance about an anonymous Belgian family. 

And that's the problem here - too often in the art world, provenance is treated far too casually. How often do we see 'private collection', and just accept it? Most of the time we don't even ask for a private assurance of who the private collector was. To me, the suprising lack of any convincing story about previous ownership, even fake provenance, is evidence that the fakers knew that in the art world the question of provenance was not always probed as much as it should be.

Sometimes, masking true provenance is done because owners and dealers don't want to reveal where they bought a picture, or the price they paid for it. Other times it's because sellers want to maintain privacy. Both impulses are understandable.

But I'm not sure we can get away with that anymore. I don't think, really, that the art world has anything to fear from being more transparent about ownership. Provenance can rarely prove authenticity (that is, the difference between say a studio replica and an autograph original), just as science can't. But it can very quickly tell us if we're dealing with a modern forgery or not. It was dodgy provenance that led to the unwinding of the Knoedler fake scandal.

So in future, if someone turns up a new discovery with absolutely no provenance before the late 20th Century, we must proceed with great caution. 'Private collection' will no longer do. It sounds obvious, now, doesn't it?

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

October 18 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's/TAN

Vincent Noce in The Art Newspaper reports that another picture connected to Giulano Ruffini (the former owner of the recently declared fake Hals and the suspect Cranach) is to be scientifically tested. The picture, a St Jerome sold as Circle of Parmigianino (above) by Sotheby's in New York in 2012, was until recently on display at the Metropolitan Museum. There, its status had been upgraded to 'Attributed to Parmigianino'. It used to belong to Ruffini before it was consigned to Sotheby's.

The testing will be done by Jamie Martin of Orion Analytical in the US. He also tested the Hals, and discovered modern, synthetic materials not available before the 20th Century. He was also involved in exposing the Knoedler fake scandal, and tested a supposed 'Rothko'. In other words, he knows how to spot a fake.

TAN also reports that the dealer for whom Sotheby's sold the Hals, Mark Weiss, has not yet re-imbursed Sotheby's for the monies he recieved from the sale, even though Sotheby's has reimbursed the buyer, the Seattle-based collector Richard Hedreen. Weiss says that he believes further tests should be carried out on the Hals, and that he has 'yet to be convinced' it is a fake. 

You can zoom in on the St Jerome on Sotheby's website here. It is an exceptionally good picture, really skillfully painted. The picture was described as 'newly discovered' in 1999. The list of literature references is long and impressive, and it seems the picture was given the enthusiastic endorsement of numerous scholars as a genuine Parmigianino. It was exhibited as a Parmigianino at the Kunsthistorisches Mueum in Vienna in 2003.

In other words, like the Hals sold by Sotheby's (and also handled by Christie's in Paris) this picture enjoyed a clean bill of health. That said, Sotheby's catalogued it cautiously as 'Circle of', after the leading British scholar for Parmigianino, Prof. David Ekserdjian said he didn't think it was by Parmigianino. The description 'Circle of' still means it was thought to be a 16th Century picture.

Is it? I've never seen the painting in the flesh. But I have to say I begin to doubt it. Now that we know how good this faker is, vis the Hals, we can begin to understand how they can also successfully mimic the work of an artist like Parmigianino. For a while, people in the art world, when wondering about this alleged cache of fake pictures, said; 'but that Hals has got to be right, it's too good'. It was considered the best of the bunch. The suggestion was that some of the pictures may be suspect, but that many of them were ok. But as we know now, the Hals is not ok.

Similarly, this St Jerome is seriously impressive - look at the hand, for example. The fingers look just like Parmigianino fingers. The modelling is superb. And yet is there something odd about the craquelure, across the whole panel? Are some of the darker pigments a little muddy, in areas like the wrist, and the junction of the elbow? Are there similarities to other suspect works, in the way the paint is handled (notwithstanding the fact that the faker seems to be a master at impersonating the styles of other artists)? Yes, I think there are. Does this picture follow what appears to be a modus operandi of the alleged faker, in creating a new composition that is based on existing elements of other works (answer, yes)? Must we seriously wonder about the origins of this painting, when we know it came from the collection of someone who (albeit, as I'm sure they would say, uknowingly) has been showed to have at least one proven fake in their collection?

Whether I'd have been able to raise all these questions if I didn't already know the suggestion of fakery had been made, I can't honestly say. I never viewed the sale, but I remember seeing the painting on the cover of the catalogue, and thinking; 'that looks like a nice picture.' So I'd better stop speculating and wait for Orion Analytical to do their thing.

In the meantime, I think we ought to applaud Sotheby's for tackling this issue openly and swiftly. 

Jacky Klein's must-see shows

October 17 2016

Video: Art Fund

Here's my telly colleague Jacky Klein giving her pick of the exhibitions on offer in the UK over the next few months.

'Beyond Caravaggio' (ctd.)

October 17 2016

Video: Art Fund

Here's an Art Fund video from Kate Bryan, with her five highlights of the National Gallery's new exhibition.

UK Government offers £19m for Pontormo

October 17 2016

Image of UK Government offers £19m for Pontormo

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London could be on course to acquire the above portrait by Pontormo for £30m, after the Treasury agreed to make an exceptional £19m grant. That leaves £11m to raise by 22nd October.

The picture had been sold to an overseas buyer in controversial circumstances. Normally, if treasures like the Pontormo are to be exported, UK museums have the ability to benefit from the UK government forgoing any taxes the seller might have had to pay on the painting (such as Capital Gains Tax or Inheritance Tax). But in this case, the painting was sold and paid for in quick order, meaning that the seller - the 7th Earl of Caledon - had already paid the tax by the time the National Gallery had thought about mounting a campaign to save the painting. But happily, the Treasury has agreed to effectively unwind this process, which means the National Gallery has £11m to find, rather than the full £30m. 

More details here from Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper. The US buyer was apparently Tom Hill, of the hedge fund Blackstone.

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