The greatest forger of all time? (ctd.)

April 23 2014

Image of The greatest forger of all time? (ctd.)

Picture: NY Times

US prosecutors have now decided to charge the artist who made a string of fakes sold by the now-closed Knoedler gallery in New York. Pei-Shen Qian (above) made over 60 paintings and drawings to order for Gloria Rosales, the dealer who claimed to have 'discovered' previously lost works by the likes of Pollock, Rothko, Motherwell and Diebenkorn, but who has since pleaded guilty to operating a fake scam.

However, it seems Mr. Qian is now safely holed up in China, which has no extradition treaty with the US. 

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Qian’s home in Queens, which was searched by the F.B.I., yielded an intriguing collection of materials, the indictment says, including “books on Abstract Expressionist artists and their techniques; auction catalogs containing works by famous American Abstract Expressionist artists; paints, brushes, canvases and other materials, including an envelope of old nails marked ‘Mark Rothko.’ ” [...]

Efforts to reach Mr. Qian [...] were unsuccessful on Monday. Mr. Qian, in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek in December, said he had no idea his work was being sold as the real thing, calling the case “a very big misunderstanding.” He said he had been told his paintings were being sold to art lovers who could not afford works by the masters.

Mr. Qian was [also] charged with lying to F.B.I. agents during an interview last June, when he said he did not recognize Ms. Rosales’s name, had never painted in the style of Jackson Pollock or Barnett Newman, and did not recognize the names Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko or Sam Francis.

Guffwatch - 'Art as Therapy'

April 23 2014

Image of Guffwatch - 'Art as Therapy'

Picture: Rijksmuseum

At last, the British philosopher Alain de Botton has completed his re-labelling of the Rijksmuseum's collection. This is billed as 'Art as Therapy', and seems to be a giant plug for his latest book. And, dear readers, prepare yourselves for an orgy of unparalleled Guff. I'll treat you to Alain's efforts sporadically over the next few days.

First, here's what Alain has to say about Adriaen Van Utrecht's 1644 'Banquet Still Life', above.:

It's easy to feel that consumerism is a bit evil. Yet it doesn't have to be stupid. A good response to anxiety about consumerism isn't to live without lobster and lemons, but to appreciate what goes into providing these at a just price. If the route to your table were truly honourable, a lemon would cost more, but our appreciation of its zest would be all the keener.

Priceless. The Rijksmuseum's website tells us why de Botton (and his co-author John Armstrong) think informative and factual labels are just so pointless:

De Botton and Armstrong feel that by providing the name of the artist, the material used, the period in which the object was made/created, etc., traditional museum text boards already suggest what the visitor should think about a certain object. The exhibition Art is Therapy, however, wants to question what the purpose of art is and highlight the therapeutic effect that art has on visitors who simply look at art and enjoy it. As far as the British philosophers are concerned, the focus should be less on where an art object comes from and who made it, and more on what it can do for the museum visitor in terms of issues that concern us all: love & relationships, work, status, memory and mortality.

Rare UK de-accession

April 23 2014

Image of Rare UK de-accession

Picture: TAN/Compton Verney

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that Compton Verney, the new (opened in 2004) art gallery in Warwickshire founded by the philanthropist Sir Peter Moores, is to sell the above work by Bernardo Strozzi. Sir Peter bought the work in 1998 for £1.3m before the gallery's collection strategy became more focused. Now that it's the only Genoese Old Master in the collection, the picture, The Incredulity of St Thomas, is being sold for a figure of around £2.5m. The sale will go towards new acquisitions.  

This is still not Shakespeare (ctd.)

April 23 2014

Image of This is still not Shakespeare (ctd.)

Picture: BG

It's Shakespeare's 450th birthday!* So cue national newspapers running photos of the wrong man. This time, however, the 'Cobbe portrait' is making fewer appearances than usual (though it creeps in here at The Guardian as 'believed to be the only authentic image of Shakespeare made during his life'). Instead we have both the Telegraph and the Independent, above, publishing a portrait, via Alamy images, from the Versailles Museum. The Versailles portrait shows a man aged 34 in a portrait of the early 1620s. Shakespeare died in 1616 at the age of 52. 

The continued use of incorrect but more flamboyant images is due, I presume, to our collective reluctanct to accept that the plain, humdrum man in the Chandos portrait shows the greatest writer of the English language. Even the Chandos portrait was fiddled with in later times to make it look more bohemian (such as the long hair).

PS - The last time I mentioned 'not Shakespeare' portraits, certain people got very cross with me. But fear not, AHN-ers I am undaunted. 

Update - the Cobbe portrait features in The Sun.

* Sort of. We don't know exactly when he was born. He was baptized on 26th April 1564.

Matisse - the movie

April 23 2014

Video: Tate

Goodness, isn't everyone getting excited about these Matisse scissor-y things. The critics have been eulogising Tate's new show as never before. My favourite so far is this film by the BBC, in which the rapper Goldie goes entertainingly bereserk over the whole thing.

If you can't get to the new blockbuster show, then fear not, for on Tuesday 3rd June a 'live' film of the exhibition will be shown in cinemas across the UK. More here.

In the meantime, here's the Great Brian urging us to enjoy Matisse's jottings, but to keep our feet on the ground:

Enjoy the gaiety of colour. Be moved by the myth of the old genius, victim of a botched stomach operation, discovering new inspiration when told that death was on his doorstep. Be astonished by this sensualist turned saint, finding God in his own work, lying a-bed and drawing on the wall with a six-foot pole, cluttering every surface with the worst drawings this worst of draughtsmen ever did. Delight in the jaunty amusements of the infants’ school,  but do not discard your critical faculties. Is what you see in this Matisse really a match for Michelangelo’s Adam, his nude youths, his prophets and sybils, his Last Judgement? What nonsense.

Enjoy these seductive trivialities for what they are — insubstantial, deceitful, fraudulent and, we must hope, transient, rather than some spiritual and mystical essence of art. Having no doubt that the number of visitors between now and September  will break the record for Tate Modern (and so, perhaps, it should), I hope only that, unlike the early critics, they will cling to reason.

Exclusive - The Met buys a sleeper

April 22 2014

Image of Exclusive - The Met buys a sleeper

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

Above is an interesting new acquisition for the Met in New York, a Salvator Mundi they say is by the Spanish painter Fernando Yanez de la Almedina, and painted in c.1505. In case you're thinking the picture looks a bit Leonardo-esque to be by a Spaniard, then the Met explains in its informative note:

Yáñez clearly spent time in Italy prior to his highly successful career in Spain and he rather than Llanos is usually identified with the "Ferrando Spagnuolo" who in April and August of 1505 collected money for work with Leonardo da Vinci on a mural depicting the battle of Anghiari in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence ("Ferrando Spagnolo, dipintore, per dipinguere con Lionardo da Vinci nella sala del consiglio florine 5 larghi e a Thomaso di Giovane Merini, su garzone per macinare e colori, florini 1 in oro"; see Benito et al., Los Hernandos, pintores hispanos del entorno de Leonardo, Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, 1998, p. 18). Besides Florence, he must also have spent time in northern Italy, where perhaps not coincidentally Leonardo was active prior to his return in Florence in February 1503. This remains highly speculative, however, and is based purely on the stylistic features of Yáñez’s documented work in Spain. The most thorough as well as convincing reconstruction of his early activity in Italy is that of Ibáñez Martínez (1999, pp. 221–40), who rejects earlier conjectures and attributions and considers the Metropolitan’s picture one of two done in Italy by the artist under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci.

The picture was recently offered by Christie's in New York as a work by Jacopo Barbari (1450-1515), where it bought in against an estimate of $400,000-$600,000. I don't know enough about either painter to make even a guess on the attribution, but I remember thinking it was of exceptional quality when I saw it, and was surprised it failed to sell. 

A new Raphael discovery!?

April 22 2014

Image of A new Raphael discovery!?

Picture: Cordoba University

Well, actually no... The Art Newspaper alerts us to claims by the University of Cordoba that it has discovered another version of Raphael's Madonna of Foligno [Vatican Museums]. The newly found work belongs to a private collector in Spain. Says TAN:

The Italian High Renaissance painter Raphael did not, it is generally believed, make copies of his own works. However, the University of Granada, in Southern Spain, says it has found an authentic copy of Raphael’s Madonna of Foligno (around 1511), which is displayed in the Vatican Museums (Room VIII). Luis Rodrigo Rodríguez Simón, a conservator and lecturer at the university, says that the rediscovered work has come to light in a private collection in Cordoba.

Known as The Madonna of Foligno, Small, the work was painted on a wooden panel and later transferred to canvas at the end of the 19th century: pages of a book printed in 1872 were pasted on to the reverse of the canvas. Simón says that the transfer was made in France.

So far so good. But here on the University's own website are more details, and some decent quality images.* And oh dear. Raphael it ain't. It looks like a later, not especially good copy. But no matter, we still have breathless 'scientific' evidence that it's not just another version of the Vatican picture, but the first version:

A researcher at the University of Granada has successfully attributed to the great Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, Raphael the famous Renaissance painter, a work belonging to a private collector in Cordoba, Spain. The painting, entitled the ‘Small Madonna of Foligno’, depicts a scene identical to that of the ‘Madonna of Foligno’ and was probably a preliminary version of Raphael’s painting, which is exhibited in the Vatican Pinacoteca.

Luis Rodrigo Rodríguez-Simón, lecturer in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Granada, has identified and reliably attributed the work, hitherto by an unknown artist, following a minutely detailed study lasting several years.

He has conducted a technical, scientific study applying a series of advanced instrumental techniques and analytical methods: X-ray, infrared photography, infrared reflectography, fluorescence under ultraviolet light, analysis of paint layers, scanning electronic microscope linked to an Energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis system, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and micro Raman spectroscopy.

I see this a lot nowadays - paintings presented with a long description detailing all the various tests a painting has been subjected to, as if the mere mention of these convoluted procedures is somehow evidence itself. But sadly it's usually just proof of the old saying, 'bullsh*t baffles brains'. We're clearly dealing here with over-enthusiastic interpretation of scientific 'tests', many of which have limited use. If only the boffins at Cordoba had asked a collection of Raphael experts to look at the picture first, they'd have saved themselves much time, and money.

*click 'save image' to download high-res versions. 

New UK Culture Secretary

April 22 2014

Image of New UK Culture Secretary

Picture: Telegraph

While I was away, Maria Miller was 'resigned', over an expense claim. I once wrote a book called 'Crap MPs', so I take a dim view of this sort of thing. But regular readers will already know that AHN disagreed with her approach to arts funding. So a new Culture Secretary brings new hope.

Step forward former Treasury minister Sajid Javid, above. There's been a hoo-ha on the left, which claims he isn't cultured enough because his Who's Who entry doesn't list 'opera'. This strikes me as both patronising and pompous, and I agree with the Grumpy Art Historian in his response to the likes of Michael Rosen.

Let's wait and see what Mr Javid has to say for himself - and I'd wager that as a successful businessman, and son of an immigrant bus driver, it'll be impressive. In any case, with only one year until the election, there isn't much time for him to do a great deal, and I suspect that loftier matters like regulation of the press will take up most of Javid's time. In the meantime, we have the continued good stewardship of Arts Minister Ed Vaizey. He has been in the job since 2010, and has therefore had time to effect meaningful change. 

WW1 restitution for France

April 22 2014

Image of WW1 restitution for France

Picture: TAN

Martha Lufkin in The Art Newspaper reports that a French museum has successfully reclaimed a painting taken by the German army during World War One:

The painting [Apres La Lecture,* above, by Alix Marie de La Perelle-Poisson] was stolen from the musée de la Chartreuse in Douai in September 1918, during an emergency evacuation by the German army of its collections to Valenciennes. Deemed “disappeared”, the work was listed among the war damages suffered by the museum in the First World War. Provenance researchers in Germany connected Après la lecture, which was donated by a private collector to the Alte Nationalgalerie in 1959, with the work lost by Douai and the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage, Berlin returned the painting after conservation.

As I've written before, here and here, French museums are ace at launching restitution claims from long ago. But should we now think about imposing a time limit on restitution?

* Hardly the most scintillating picture, you'd have to say.

New Veronese drawing discovered?

April 22 2014

Image of New Veronese drawing discovered?

Picture: thesaleroom

I've come to this a bit late, but it's worth noting, given the current Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery in London, that there was a potential Veronese sleeper in the shires recently. The above drawing came up in a house clearance sale in Oxfordshire as attributed to Veronese, and made £15,500. In the same sale, and presumably from the same clearance, were some handsome pieces of jade, which made over half a million quid. Quite a house clearance!

Update - it may not be by Veronese... A sharp-eyed reader spotted the drawing when it came up for sale, and writes:

Just a thought, but I think the drawing that was sold as Attributed to Veronese in the regional sale in Oxford, was actually by Jan van der Straet [or Stradanus] (1523-1605). The British Museum hold a reverse engraving after the drawing [below], the print making up part of the series 'The Course of Human Life'.

I had a punt at buying it, but lack of funds meant I had to drop out...

De-accession time in Delaware

April 22 2014

Image of De-accession time in Delaware

Picture: Delawareonline

Cash-strapped Delaware Art Museum (DAM) in the US has been drawing fire for a while now over its declaration that it must sell $30m worth of art to keep the show on the road. In March, the US Association of Art Museum Directors sharply criticised the DAM for announcing the sell off, and urging it to look again at fundraising options.

Sharp-eyed observers have now seen that the above painting by Winslow Homer, called Milking Time, has disappeared from the DAM's online collection. Given recent prices for Homers at auction, I wouldn't be surprised if the DAM solved in one sale their current cash crisis.

Incidentally, all this comes on top of the recent announcement that the Corcoran Gallery in Washington is so broke that it's giving up altogether. Suddenly, the much-lauded (at least, here in the UK) US model of wholly philanthropically funded museums is looking a lot less lustrous. 

Hanging 'Veronese'

April 22 2014

Video: National Gallery

Loving the movie music in this National Gallery behind-the-scenes for 'Veronese'.

I'm on...

April 14 2014

Just back, but will need a day or two to catch up on work business first. 

Update - very sorry about the lack of posts. Just too much to catch up on. And as it's nearly Easter, can I please seek your indulgence to let me off until next week, when I shall return with a vengeance.  

I'm off...

April 3 2014

Right, it's holiday time. Back in ten days or so. Random thoughts from me may continue over on Twitter, if I see a nice painting on my travels. See you all soon.

Stolen Gauguin and Bonnard found in Italy

April 2 2014

Image of Stolen Gauguin and Bonnard found in Italy

Picture: Guardian

A nice good news tale in The Guardian:

In 1975 a worker at the car firm Fiat went along to an auction of lost property organised by the Italian national railway in Turin.

He paid 45,000 lira (£32 – equivalent to about £300 today) for two paintings that caught his eye – one a still life and one an image of a woman relaxing in her garden.

For almost 40 years, the man – whose name has not been made public – kept the pictures hanging in his kitchen. They accompanied him on his move, post-retirement, to Sicily. At no point until last year, believe Italian police, did he realise quite what a bargain his purchase had been.

Now it has emerged that the paintings are stolen works by French artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard, and the first – a still life dating from 1869 – has an estimated value of between €10m and €30m (£8.3m to £24.8m). The second, entitled La femme aux Deux Fauteuils (woman with two armchairs) is believed to be worth around €600,000 (£497,000).

Stolen in London in 1970, reportedly from the widower of a daughter of one of the Marks & Spencer co-founders, they were unveiled on Wednesday to applause at the Italian culture ministry in Rome.

Note a lack of white gloves and the flamboyant red silk drape. They do things in style in Italy...

Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)

April 2 2014

Image of Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)

Picture: BBC/BG

Sad news that Martin Lang, the owner of the fake Chagall we featured on our BBC1 programme, 'Fake or Fortune?', has given up his legal battle to prevent the Chagall Committee from burning his picture (for which he paid £100,000 many years ago). The BBC reports:

Mr Lang paid £100,000 for the work in 1992. He originally wanted it back but has now said he will "walk away totally disillusioned with the French".

Can't say I blame him.

The Committee, run the artist's two granddaughters, is determined to destroy the work as a fake. This is despite the fact that such a course of action is a) monumentally ignorant, b) wilfully iconoclastic, and c) they have in the past cheerfully returned fake works to their owners, albeit with the offending 'Chagall' signature removed. 

Ai Wei Wei RA

April 2 2014

Image of Ai Wei Wei RA

Picture: RA

Did you know that Ai Wei Wei, of whom AHN is a big fan, had been elected a Royal Academician? I didn't. And nor did I know that the Chief Executive of the RA, Charles Saumarez Smith, has a blog. Excellent it is too, and here he is telling us about his recent presentation to Ai Wei Wei of his RA diploma:

We took Ai Weiwei’s diploma to his studio in a house somewhere in the deep outskirts of Beijing.   He was elected an RA a couple of years ago, just after he came out of prison, but we don’t like to consign the diploma to the vagaries of the international post.   It was unexpectedly moving handing it over to him.   He asked how many there are.   The answer is not many, about 25, because we are only allowed to elect two a year, and we don’t always remember those two.   He is the first Asian artist.   I read out the Obligation, which I luckily remembered was printed in the copy of my book which I had brought to give him, although I’m not convinced it was strictly necessary. 

Germany returns Guardi

April 1 2014

Image of Germany returns Guardi

Picture: BBC

The Germany government has returned a painting by Guardi, looted in 1939, to Poland. The case highlights the continuing tensions over the question of looted art between Germany and Poland, which I wasn't aware of. As the BBC explains:

After World War Two, the painting went to the University of Heidelberg and then to the State Gallery of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

It was recognised as belonging to Poland in the late 1990s. But political differences between Warsaw and Berlin over the broader issue of art lost during the war prevented a deal from being reached sooner.

"This painting has been on a long odyssey," Mr Steinmeier said. "[It represents] the difficult history that connects our two countries."

Poland is still searching for thousands of artefacts looted from its museums and private collections during the war, although many items are believed to have been destroyed during the war. Mr Steinmeier said he hoped the move would "be a signal to restart the stalled German-Polish dialogue on cultural artefacts".

Germany has long sought the return of some 300,000 books, drawings and manuscripts - known as the Berlinka collection - from Poland. The collection includes handwritten musical scores by Mozart, Beethoven and Bach that the Nazis moved to Poland to keep them safe from bombing during the war. Abandoned by retreating German troops in what is now Poland, many of the items are now held by the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

So it has taken Germany since the 1990s to return this one Guardi? Forgive me, but I think this is absurd. Surely the German government should put the return of its musical mansucripts to one side, and treat that as a seperate question. There is no excuse for not promptly acting on Germany's obligation to Poland to return all art looted by its forces during the Nazi occupation. 

PS - at least they're not wearing white gloves.

Exclusive - 'Mona Lisa' being cleaned

April 1 2014

Image of Exclusive - 'Mona Lisa' being cleaned

Picture: Louvre

It's the big one, folks: the Louvre has finally decided to take the plunge and clean the Mona Lisa. Pleased with their success in cleaning Leonardo's Virgin and Child with St Anne, curators decided that they had now perfected the art of restoring Leonardos, and felt that it was at last time to remove the many layers of varnish and over-paint that have been obscuring the Mona Lisa's true qualities for the last few centuries.

In fact, it seems that the restoration of Virgin and Child with St Anne was always considered a dry run for cleaning the Mona Lisa. However, the news of Mona Lisa's restoration wasn't supposed to be made public until it had finished. Given the inevitable protests, staff at the Louvre had planned to do the cleaning in the utmost secrecy.

The plan had been working well till now. The 'Mona Lisa' that's been on display for the last few months is in fact a photographic copy - the barriers and thick glass where the portrait hangs of course meant that nobody has noticed. However, a concerned curator at the Louvre, who is an AHN reader, has been in touch to relay some disturbing news. He has sent me the above secretly taken photo, showing some cleaning tests in the background. These had been very encouraging, and everyone at the Louvre was very pleased. But what appears to be a potential disaster is the area around the mouth. Look closely - the smile has disappeared, for it turns out to have been an early 17th Century addition. 

Said my curatorial source:

We were shocked: one whiff of acetone, and pouf, the famous smile was gone. Now, she looks utterly miserable. Nobody knows what to do. This is going right to the top. President Hollande has even been consulted. But he said he prefers her this way. It reflects the national mood.

More on this as I get it.

Update - thanks for all your comments. Here's some of them:

The reports of riots in Paris have been exaggerated I'm sure.

Thank you for reminding me that it's April Fool's day.

Quite shocking news, and what amazing contacts you must have in the museum world ! As I read on I got more and more upset and was just about to rush downstairs and tell the rest of the house about it, when, wait a minute.........

Brilliant, Quite the best April the 1st joke in years! So well done that I actually doesn't feel embarrased about having been totally fooled.......

I’m hoping that this is another April fool’s joke, and that the smile has been digitally edited… I’ve already been the subject of a prank today, so I’m a little more prepared than most of your readers. Despite this I must admit that upon seeing the image, my heart still skipped a beat, so congrats I guess…

Yeah nice April's fools joke. I didnt buy it for a second. They will never clean it (at least not in my lifetime), much like the Fete Champetre on the other side of the wall

No, no, your secret source has it all wrong, she is laughing out loud -- the photo was taken from a fun-house mirror image of the real restoration!

Thank you, Bendor, and a happy April Fool's Day to you and all AHN readers.

Were all today's blogs satire, or just the one about the Guardi?

Finally, a reader sends me this classic cartoon by Tony Reeve:

The white glove fallacy (ctd.)

April 1 2014

Image of The white glove fallacy (ctd.)

Picture: via ArtDaily

Regular readers will know that one of my favourite ranting topics is the needless use of white gloves (see here, for example), especially when photographers or TV crews are around. The above photo, in which someone uses white gloves to open a facsimile of the Brevarium Grimani, to publicise an exhibition in Mainz, Germany, is a classic of the genre. 

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