Van Dyck's c.1628 self-portrait re-discovered

March 5 2015

Image of Van Dyck's c.1628 self-portrait re-discovered

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper seems to have scooped a story I've been dying to tell you about for some time; the re-discovery of an important self-portrait by Van Dyck. The picture was one of the last important portraits I worked on with Philip Mould in London. Martin Bailey writes:

A self-portrait by Van Dyck that was dismissed a decade ago as a copy is now hanging in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota, as an original work. The painting, which has been authenticated by experts, was quietly put on display in February, having been lent by a US collector based on the West Coast.

An unpublished paper on the self-portrait, prepared for the owner, dates the work to around 1629 and states that the attribution is accepted by four key experts: Susan Barnes, a co-author of the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonné, Christopher Brown, the former director of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, David Jaffé, a former senior curator at the National Gallery in London, and Malcolm Rogers, the outgoing director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The attribution is also accepted by Patrick Noon, the head of paintings at the Minneapolis museum.

The work is particularly important because it is the self-portrait by which Van Dyck wanted to be remembered. The artist produced an etching of the image in 1630 for the frontispiece of his book Iconography.

The late Oliver Millar, another co-author of the 2004 catalogue raisonné, dismissed the work as “possibly a very early copy”. He assumed that the original painting was missing.

When the self-portrait was put up for sale at Lempertz in Cologne on 12 May 2012, it was described as a “copy after Van Dyck”. The auction house estimated its value at €30,000 to €40,000. The painting fetched €512,000, showing that at least two bidders were reasonably confident that it was by Van Dyck.

For a Van Dyck anorak like me, finding this picture was as good as it gets. Working on it was like being in art historical heaven.

The unpublished paper referred to above was written by me, and I'll share further details with you soon. There's a great deal to discuss. I think the picture was probably painted in late 1628. A few quick additional points:

The Art Newspaper mentions that the late Sir Oliver Millar 'dismissed the work' - but in fact when he saw it at an Agnews exhibition in 1968 he pretty much accepted it. Indeed, although the picture was little known and only exhibited once, it was continously published as 'a Van Dyck' right up until 1999, and it was only in the 2004 Catalogue Raisonné co-written by Sir Oliver Millar that the picture was first doubted.

I'm not sure why Sir Oliver changed his mind, but it was probaby due its pre-conservation condition; it had been substantially over-painted, and was also really quite dirty under old varnish. I believe Sir Oliver was perhaps also misled by the gold chain, thinking that chain was that given to Van Dyck by King Charles I, and that the portrait must therefore be an English-period work (that is, in the section of the catalogue that he was responsible for), dating to after 1632 - when Van Dyck's technique was rather different. In fact, I linked hte portrait to a a gold chain Van Dyck was given earlier, in 1628 by the Archduchess Isabella in Brussels, when she appointed him her court painter. This was Van Dyck's first such official position, and in the picture he is proudly removing his cloak to show off the gold chain. Before the picture was cleaned, it was hard to discern the implicit downward movement in the hand and the drapery.

Other interesting things to note include a prominent pentiment around the hand, which showed that Van Dyck had originally gripped the cloak in a very different manner, and a distinctive application of two layers of ground for the head, which helps give the picture part of its force. It's an incredible portrait to look at in the flesh, and has great presence. What a pleasure it was to work with Philip Mould in his gallery with it - sometimes we would treat ourselves and hang it next to the later Van Dyck self-portrait we also had in the gallery (the one which was bought by the National Portrait Gallery last year). 

In fact, although the NPG's picture has now become rather famous, it was this earlier self-portrait that was until relatively recently perhaps the defining image of Van Dyck. It was the portrait he chose to be printed for his series of engraved portraits, which he called the Iconografie. It is best known in the famous unfinished etching below. 

The painting was also engraved by Paulus Pontius in a double portrait with Rubens. You can see an image of that engraving here.

The photo below shows me with the painting and the Rev. Dr Susan Barnes, who co-wrote the Van Dyck catalogue raisonneé in 2004. I went to show her the painting in New York a couple of years ago - for me, that was a very special moment.

Finally, the provenance is fascinating; I was able to establish that the picture was almost certainly in the collection of a prominent Flemish collector, Jan-Baptiste Anthoine (d.1691) - it is listed in his 1691 inventory; 'Een contrefeijtsel van Van Dijck met eenen mantel in de handt' ['a portrait of Van Dyck with a cloak in his hand']. We know Anthoine marked his pictures with a wax seal - and although the picture has long since been re-lined, we did find the remains of a red wax seal on the back of the original canvas. 

During the research into the provenance, I found that the above painting in the Royal Collection by Jacob Formentrou (fl.1640-59) called simply 'A Cabinet of Pictures', which was thought to be a random assortment of paintings, in fact shows a large number of works from Anthoine's collection. (All of this requires much more time to set out, so I'll have to revisit it for you. I'm afraid this is a rather rushed post.) And if you look closely at the little portrait under the Crucifixion by the doorway, you'll see the Van Dyck self-portrait. You can zoom into the painting on the Royal Collection website here. Anthoine was very interested in Van Dyck it seems, and owned a number of works by him. He also had his family portrait (below) painted by the 'little Van Dyck', Gonzales Coques, [which portrait is also in the Royal Collection] in which he and his family are seen recreating various Van Dyck-ian poses. 

The really odd thing is that the Formentrou cabinet painting hangs at Hampton Court Palace, where I used to live (well, I lived in the park at Hampton Court, not the palace itself). And whenever I went round Hampton Court, which was often, I would look at the tiny depiction of the 'missing' Van Dyck self-portrait, and say to myself, 'one day, I'd like to find that picture'. And then one day I saw it in an online auction catalogue, described as 'after Van Dyck'. The chase was afoot. The gods of art history move in mysterious ways...

Update - a reader alerts me to the blog of Darren R. Rousar, a sharp-eyed visitor to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts who wrote about seeing the picture back on 10th February. He took some good-ish snaps of the painting if you want to see some details. I'm afraid I don't have a good photo that I can publish.

Update II - Iconografie, by the way, is the name of my new company. I'll tell you more about it soon.

Detroit de-accessioning after all

March 5 2015

Image of Detroit de-accessioning after all

Picture: DIA

After all that... The Detroit Institute of Arts will sell this still life by Van Gogh. The sale is not, says director Graham Beal in The Art Newspaper, related to the recent bankruptcy case, but part of the normal de-accessioning process to help buy better art. That said, they might have waited a year or two...

Update - the Association of Art Historians tweets in response:

Don't brew tempest over minor work. You seem to suggest DIA can't develop its collection responsibly.

Which is, erm, slightly over-reacting a little. Is there such a thing, in the public's eyes, as 'a minor' Van Gogh painting? In other words, might some people be a little confused that, after a fighting a highly public battle about not selling paintings, the DIA then announces that it's selling a painting by one of the most famous painters on the planet? Such questions are very far from suggesting the DIA 'can't develop its collection responsibly'.

Rembrandt and the Royals

March 5 2015

Image of Rembrandt and the Royals

Picture: Rijksmuseum

Flicking through my new online subscription to the Art Newspaper, I saw the above photo of the Dutch king Willem (left) opening the Rijksmuseum's leg of 'Late Rembrandt'. And it made me wonder when the last time the Queen opened an exhibition in the UK. It's been a while, hasn't it?

When I'm king, it won't be possible to open any exhibition without first inviting me.

Rembrandt and the meaning of life

March 5 2015

Image of Rembrandt and the meaning of life

Picture: Mirror

Here's a lovely tale in the Mirror: a dying woman was able to gaze at her favourite painting, Rembrandt's self-portrait (above) after the Dutch charity Ambulance Wish Foundation made the necessary arrangements. The Kenwood House picture is currently in Amsterdam at the Rijksmuseum for the second leg of 'Late Rembrandt'.

'Rubens and his Legacy' at the Royal Academy (ctd.)

March 5 2015

Image of 'Rubens and his Legacy' at the Royal Academy (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

The reviews of this show have tended to be a little underwhelming, but I must say I thought it was really rather good. You should certainly go if you can. Yes, there may be a relative dearth of 'great' Rubens paintings, but the show is packed with lesser known gems by Rubens, with many oil studies - which for me is where we often see Rubens at his virtuoso best. It was more interesting, I thought, to see works one isn't familiar with. And I greatly enjoyed seeing the very plausible links made between Rubens' work and those of other artists, from his contemporaries to much more recent artists.  

On his blog, Neil Jeffares took issue with the thematic element of the show, which it is true is perhaps a little too contrived. It certainly doesn't do the catalogue any favours here. I think Neil's wider points about what can go wrong with exhibitions are spot on.  

There was one curious aspect to the exhibition - many times, reference was made to Rubens' celebrated portrait 'Le Chapeau de Paille' (above), and that work's omission from the exhibition was a notable absence. The labels explained that the portrait 'is not able to travel'. But it lives just down the road at the National Gallery! I can't easily understand why such a painting can't be very carefully taken less than a mile across London, from one climate controlled place to another. It's always struck me as a picture in quite good condition. Personally, I'd take it in a cab...

Update - also in the RA show is a small Rubens panel discovered in Oslo by the curator of the exhibition, Nico van Hout, back in 2012. For earlier AHN on that story see here. Having seen the picture, I think there can now be little doubt that it is indeed by Rubens. So well done him.

Cleaning the 'Battle of the Boyne'

March 5 2015

Video: Irish Independent

The National Gallery of Ireland is cleaning Jan Wyck's enormous painting 'The Battle of the Boyne'. The work is being done in the Great Hall at Malahide Castle, from where fourteen members of the Talbot family sat down to breakfast before taking part in the battle. None returned. More here

Women in picture framing

March 4 2015

Image of Women in picture framing

Picture: Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Angers

There's a fascinating entry on the Frame Blog by Jacob Simon, king of all things frame-related, on the role of women frame makers. Goes right back to the 17th Century.

The above picture was unknown to me; it's by Louis Adam, called Emile.


March 4 2015

Image of Plug!

Picture: TAN

The latest issue of The Art Newspaper is out, and it has two articles by me on the great defining issues of our age: who should write catalogues raisonnés; and, why taking Sotheby's to court over that putative Caravaggio was a bad idea. 

Neither article is yet online, so you'll have to buy the paper!

PS - if anyone knows where I can buy a copy in Edinburgh, please let me know...

Update - I just took out a subscription to The Art Newspaper - it's just £85 a year for both print and full digital access, a great bargain for what you get. For some reason I thought it was more - I must have got it muddled with something like The Burlington. AHN'ers, sign up here

Freud's Auerbachs (ctd.)

March 4 2015

Image of Freud's Auerbachs (ctd.)

Picture: ACE

Good news: the Arts Council has shrewdly decided to spread Lucian Freud's collection of paintings by Auerbach - accepted by the UK government in lieu of death tax - across Britain. There was some suggestion they would all go to Tate. 

There are 15 paintings in oil, and 29 works on paper. The Guardian quotes Gerry McQuillan, a senior adviser at the Arts Council, on how the works were allocated:

“We’ve never had so many objects offered in one group,” said Gerry McQuillan, the panel’s senior adviser. “Nor was there any conditions on where they should go from the estate.”

The 15 oils and 29 works on paper were divided into 14 groups with around 20 galleries expected to apply. “Lo and behold we got double that,” said McQuillan.

Some of the works have been deliberately kept together: for example early drawings from the late 40s and 1950s which have gone to the British Museum.

A guiding principle was that they were distributed to as good a geographic spread as possible - including the capital. “Auerbach has spent his life painting London so it would have been perverse not to have given anything to London,” said McQuillan.

That means the Courtauld Institute in London is getting arguably the finest painting in the collection, Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square 1962.

The beneficiaries range from comparatively small galleries such as Abbot Hall in Kendal, Cumbria, to the big guns such as the National Museum Wales and Tate. The Hatton Gallery in Newcastle, Hartlepool Art Gallery and the New Art Gallery in Walsall will all receive their first ever AIL allocations while Glasgow museums are getting their second allocation in over 35 years.

Update - Here's the full list of allocations.

Test your connoisseurship

March 3 2015

Image of Test your connoisseurship

Picture: Google Art Project

Time for another quiz: can you guess the artist and subject? No prizes, just for fun...

Update - well done to those of you who got it: El Greco's Saint James the Younger, in the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. 

Gardiner theft - 25 years on

March 2 2015

Image of Gardiner theft - 25 years on

Picture: New York Times

It's nearly 25 years since the most tragic art theft of recent times happened at the Gardiner Museum in Boston. In The New York Times, Tom Mashberg recounts the time he saw the stolen Rembrandt The Storm on the Sea of Galilee in 1997. Or thinks he did...

My guide had phoned me suggesting he knew something of the robbery, and he had some street credibility because he was allied with a known two-time Rembrandt thief. He took me into a storage locker and flashed his light on the painting, specifically at the master’s signature, on the bottom right of the work, where it should have been, and abruptly ushered me out.

The entire visit had taken all of two minutes.

Call me Inspector Clouseau — I’ve been called worse in this matter, including a “criminal accomplice” by a noted Harvard law professor — but I felt certain I was feet from the real thing, that the Rembrandt, and perhaps all the stolen art, would soon be home. I wrote a front-page article about the furtive unveiling for The Herald — with a headline that bellowed “We’ve Seen It!” — and stood by for the happy ending.

It never came. Negotiations between investigators and the supposed art-nappers crumbled amid dislike and suspicion. Gardner officials did not dismiss my “viewing” out of hand, but the federal agents in charge back then portrayed me as a dupe. Eighteen years later, I still wonder whether what I saw that night was a masterpiece or a masterly effort to con an eager reporter.

Stolen Tiepolo returned

March 2 2015

Image of Stolen Tiepolo returned

Picture: New York Times

An important picture by Giabattista Tiepolo (or, 'Mr. Tiepolo' as the New York Times calls him) has been returned to its owners in Italy, having been stolen in 1982. The picture, The Holy Trinity Appearing to Saint Clement, had been consigned to Christie's last year, and was due to be sold with an estimate of $500,000-$700,000 before it was spotted. 

According to the FBI website:

After being provided with evidence that the painting was the same piece previously reported stolen in 1982, the Tiepolo’s consignor agreed to its seizure by the FBI and its return to Italy. The United States Attorney’s Office submitted a proposed stipulation and order providing for the Tiepolo’s seizure and return, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered that order on January 23, 2015. Italian authorities continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the theft of the painting, including the circumstances of its importation into the United States.

Nothing here, pace the curious case of the two stolen Wolsey angels (below), about anyone buying the picture 'in good faith', and therefore being due a cut.

Guffwatch - 'nonprojections'

March 2 2015

Image of Guffwatch - 'nonprojections'

Picture: Tom Bisig/Basel

Video art has at last found its equivalent to the blank canvas. A new exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York by Paul Chan shows projectors wirring away, but there's no actual film to see. It's a 'nonprojection'. Or, as the Guggenheim website states:

Nonprojections (2013–) [is] a body of work comprised of video projectors and jury-rigged, power-conducting shoes that are connected by specially designed cords. Although the projectors’ lenses flicker and strobe as if outputting videos, there is no corresponding surface on which imagery might appear. Holding their contents within, these would-be projections remain illegible phantoms, replacing a passive experience of moving images with one that Chan characterizes as “inner-directed, like the ghostly visual impressions that one conjures up in one’s mind when reading a good (or bad) book.”

'Holding their contents within...'


March 2 2015

This blog post is holding its contents within.

National Museum of Iraq re-opens

March 2 2015

Image of National Museum of Iraq re-opens

Picture: Reuters

From Iraq, some slightly better news. The National Museum (above) has been re-opened for the first time in 12 years. But, as the BBC reminds us, many items are still missing, having been looted after the dumbest war of modern times 2003 invasion. 

The Iraq Museum estimates that some 15,000 items were taken in the chaos that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Almost one-third have been recovered.

How the V&A secured Wolsey's Angels

February 27 2015

Image of How the V&A secured Wolsey's Angels

Pictures: BG

I recently went to see the V&A's splendid new purchase, the four c.1524-9 bronze angels by Benedetto da Rovezzano. The angels were originally designed to go on Cardinal Wolsey's planned tomb in Westminster Abbey - but the tomb was never built after he was charged with treason.

In the Antiques Trade Gazette, Roland Arkell has the full story about how the angels were discovered, and how the V&A was able to acquire them.

First, the discovery:

The first suggestion of the existence of the angels emerged in the early 2000s. Italian scholar Francesco Caglioti chanced on a pair of bronzes owned or part-owned by the Parisian works of art dealer Guy Ladrière. The world authority on Benedetto, Caglioti compared the sculptures with those catalogued in an inventory of Wolsey's possessions in 1530, and the details matched exactly.

The V&A became aware of the discovery, but it was not until 2008, when a second pair of angels was tracked down at Harrowden Hall, a country house in Northamptonshire, that the case became more compelling.

It was a remarkable discovery and offered the unexpected opportunity to reunite four works of sculpture so intimately connected with the course of British history.

What a great piece of scholarship and connoisseurship from Francesco Caglioti. Amazing.

But - as Arkell writes:

[...] there was a problem.

It emerged that Harrowden Hall, owned since the 1970s by the Wellingborough Golf Club, had displayed all four sculptures from the tops of gateposts until as recently as 1988 when two were stolen. [...]

The remaining pair had been taken down from their prominent display for safer keeping inside the hall.

It emerged that the stolen pair had resurfaced six years later at an unwitting Sotheby's when, unillustrated and catalogued simply as being 'in Italian Renaissance style', they sold for just £12,000. Guy Ladrière (now of Galerie Ratton-Ladrière), acquired them soon afterwards in good faith and oversaw their repatination with a coat of 'bronze' coloured wax.

So what to do?

As soon as the club learned of the angels' provenance, they lent their pair to the V&A and were keen to monetise their asset. But any transaction would be far from straightforward.

The club were unable to sell their pair at auction because they formed part of the Grade I listing at Harrowden Hall.

Under English law the club also retained title to the stolen pair - but how would their claim stand up in France where Ladrière had acquired them in good faith and years had passed since the statute of limitations had expired?

Ultimately, a pragmatic compromise was reached, with the club ceding their claim to the stolen pair on the understanding that a syndicate created for the purpose would offer all four statues for sale on behalf of both the club and Ladrière. The resulting windfall should bring the club more than £2.5m to secure their future.

This raises some interesting points. First, it seems to me that the club have blundered by ceding so easily their title. The two angels were stolen, pure and simple. It should matter not a jot that someone subsequently bought them 'in good faith'. They're stolen goods. If we were dealing with two items that had provably been looted from, say, a jewish family by the Nazis, there would be no question of returning the works. 

Second, I'd be interested to know how the V&A has gotten around the question of the grade 1 listing. The ATG piece states that this would have prevented the items being 'sold at auction' - but as I understand it, the listing means they shouldn't be removed at all. 

And finally, the re-patination. I hope the V&A takes the newly applied 'bronze' wax off. It's ghastly, as you can perhaps see in the photo at the top. The angels look like cheap chocolates. They look infinitely better in their original state (above). 

Update - here's Hilary Mantel on the origin of the angels. 

Update II - a reader sends this helpful clarification:

I think the issue with the Angels is conflict of law - under English law, the golf club has title. Under French law, the new owner has title. It's unlikely a French court would accept jurisdiction of English law, so the golf club's claim is probably unenforceable in France. But it means they could sue for resitution if they're ever moved abroad, so their value is diminished. There was a similar case recently with the Marquis de Sade's papers, which were illegally exported from France to Switzerland. In that case the Swiss owners had title under local law, so a financial settlement was agreed there too.

I wonder what the value of two knowingly stolen works by Benedetto da Rovezzano would be in France alone? Ie, works that a new owner would know they could never export outside France? Not very much I shouldn't think. If the golf club settled for anything less than the great majority of the total £5m figure, they were (in my view) poorly advised.

Update III - a sculptor writes:

'I also enjoyed seeing  'Wolsey's Angels' the other day at the V&A. Unfortunately the wings which would have fitted into the slots on the shoulders are missing and would have mader them even  more splendid (see drawing). Concerning the original patination, I am sure Wolsey and Revezzano the sculptor would  have wanted them gilded like the angels on Torrigiano's tomb for Henry VII in Westminster Abbey, then recently completed, which surely would have been a great influence.

The nice green patina, originally on two of the angels which are now a brown colour , would probably have been sandblasted to remove the green patina before being re-patinated the brown colour. This is standard foundry practice. So reverting to the green colour, caused simply by being exposed to the weather for a long time would mean a complex re-patination process.

To save time in sculpting, and to maximise his profit, I speculate that Revezanno, like Torrigiano before him would made a left and a right handed angel- rather than four different sculptures. Two sets of each would have been replicated in wax in only two moulds, and worked on with added details to make them slightly different from their twins. All four would then have been cast by the 'lost wax' process.'

The Royal Fig Leaf

February 27 2015

Image of The Royal Fig Leaf

Picture: BG

I had a look at the V&A's newly restored cast galleries on Wednesday, and very fine they are too. I was delighted to see, on the back of the plinth for their full-size copy of Michelangelo's David, the above plaster fig leaf. It used to be fixed to David's, er, Goliath for royal visits. Apparently, it hasn't been used since the early 20th Century. How times change...

The $37 Picasso

February 27 2015

Image of The $37 Picasso

Picture: NY Post

A painting by Picasso stolen from the George Pompidou centre in Paris sometime in 2001 (they don't quite know when) has surfaced in New York, after it was sent by Fedex from Belgium. Cunningly, the contents of the package were listed as 'art craft', and valued at $37. More here.

Barbarians at the (Nineveh) gate

February 26 2015



More here

Update - a reader writes:

I started to cry, I couldn't finish watching it.  I asked myself why and have no answers, just sadness.

Another says:

I hope the desecrators are punished.

Another reader makes this wider point:

I'll never forget my first visit to the British was hard to pull myself away from the Assyrian reliefs.

I've just finished a course on the Early Middle Ages (Yale Open University) and remember Professor Freeman talking about how the Catholic Church was instrumental in preserving and communicating the knowledge of the Roman world.  And so it was with Britain et. al., saving knowledge of these pre-Islamic cultures.  All is forgiven.

While another reader sends in this photo of Sir Austen Henry Layard, who first excavated Nineveh in the late 19th Century, and says:

Should have taken all of them.

The Director of the Met Museum, Thomas Campbell, also put out this statement yesterday:

Speaking with great sadness on behalf of the Metropolitan, a museum whose collection proudly protects and displays the arts of ancient and Islamic Mesopotamia, we strongly condemn this act of catastrophic destruction to one of the most important museums in the Middle East. The Mosul Museum’s collection covers the entire range of civilization in the region, with outstanding sculptures from royal cities such as Nimrud, Nineveh, and Hatra in northern Iraq. This mindless attack on great art, on history, and on human understanding constitutes a tragic assault not only on the Mosul Museum, but on our universal commitment to use art to unite people and promote human understanding. Such wanton brutality must stop, before all vestiges of the ancient world are obliterated.

Update II - another reader writes:

Please remind any pacifist art historian friends what happens when ISIS reaches Cairo and Istanbul and then Athens.

Update III - another reader writes:

What I found interesting was the museum director saying we watched the video closely and there are things missing from the museum floor. Apparently ISIS knows how to make a buck or two.


Update IV - another reader adds a longer perspective:

Dreadful, stupid….. Although does it not remind us of the barbarities committed upon artworks by of some of our own fundamentalist puritan ancestors (historical ancestors, whether or not genetically ours)?  That is no excuse, of course, especially today.  “[T]he worst / are full of passionate intensity….”; and the rest of Yeats’ poem is no less apposite — I just hope his pessimism is unjustified.

Always, beware religious extremists with hammers.

View from the Artist - no. 16

February 26 2015

Image of View from the Artist - no. 16


A loyal reader reminds me we haven't had one of these for a while. Can you guess the location and the artist? No prizes, just for fun...

Update - well done to those of you who got it right: Canaletto's view of Walton Bridge in the Dulwich Art Gallery. 

And thanks to the reader who sent in this:

I reckon that today's "View from the Artist" is a detail from  Old Walton Bridge by Canaletto.   A feature familar to me as I drive across the current incarnation of it a least twice a day.  Sadly the latest bridge is not nearly as quaint (see attached illustration)  and the traffic is considerably more congested.  Fishermen still a frequent sight but the washerwomen have been supplanted by flocks of Canada geese.

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