London Old Master sales (ctd.)

December 6 2016

Image of London Old Master sales (ctd.)

Picture: BG

I'm sorry for the lack of posts lately, I've been hither thither in London during the Old Master sale week; meetings, client lunches, conservation planning, that sort of thing. I also managed to pick up a picture in a regional sale through an online bid which, miraculously, actually worked for once.

I thought I'd quickly mention a few things that have caught my eye in the London sales. 

Here is a piece I've written for The Art Newspaper about some of the highlights on offer in the main evening sales: Goya, Constable, Brueghel.

I didn't mention in TAN a rather interesting picture at Christie's; a previously unknown portrait of Erasmus by Peter Brueghel the Younger (above). It seems to be the only portrait Brueghel ever painted. Does the subject matter, taken after a portrait by Holbein, give us any insight into the artist himself? Or was it just a random commission? Who knows. The estimate is conservative: £40k-£60k.

All eyes at Sotheby's will be on this rare double child portrait (above) by Titian and his workshop. The estimate is £1m-£1.5m. It was last on the market in 1828 in Paris, when it made 200 'Louis'. The two boys are members (it is thought) of the Pesaro family, who commissioned Titian's famous Pesaro Madonna. I like the way the slightly anxious boy on the right is fiddling with his necklace.

A newly discovered Constable oil sketch at Bonhams (above) is real gem - small but sparkling, it will surely exceed it's estimate of £200k-£300k.

I've also been taken with some of the offerings in the cheaper (at least, relatively cheaper) Day Sales. 

This Madonna at Prayer (below) at Christie's is a newly identified Sassoferrato. There are Sassoferratos and there are 'Sassoferratos'. But I thought this one was unusually good, and beautiful. In the main areas it is in excellent condition. The estimate is £30k-£50k.

At Sotheby's this unfinished portrait by Danloux (below) is priced at £12k-£18k. The fact that it is unfinished makes it appear strikingly modern, and I would expect it to sell well. 

I love the story of Henry Cope, the 'Green Man', whose portrait by Francis Cotes is at Sotheby's (below, £15k-£20k). He was apparently obsessed with all things green, and according to one contemporary account; "He ate nothing but greens, fruit and vegetables; had his rooms painted green, furnished with green sofa, chairs, tables, bed and curtains. His gig, livery, portmanteau, gloves and whip were all green." He looks remarkably healthy, considering. Cotes painted in both oil and pastel. This portrait is in oil; the pastel expert Neil Jeffares tells me that Cotes didn't have a green pastel colour that was stable.

There were also some good pictures at Sotheby's from their New york preview, for the January sale, which looks to be very strong. I'll post more on these tomorrow.

Losing your looted art

December 6 2016

Image of Losing your looted art

Picture: Mail

In September this year, agents from the US department of Homeland Security arrived at the house of  Opera singer Craig Gilmore and his partner David Crocker looking for a painting; Melchior Geldorp’s “Portrait of a Lady” (above). The picture had been looted by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw, and through a sale in New York a decade ago had been traced to the Gilmore and Crocker. They agreed with the evidence and surrendered the painting. Writing in the LA Times, Gilmore describes what it's like to have to surrender such a favourite object, and how to send it off in style:

As the day of departure drew near, we did what anyone would do for a loved one who was leaving: We threw a farewell party. Emulating our 17th century lady, David and I sported neck-ruffs crafted from car air filters, and prepared a buffet of Polish sausages, pierogis and vodka punch. Our friends came, marveled at the story, and expressed their personal goodbyes. It was a cathartic evening. 

The evening before she was to leave, we carefully moved her to an easel at the end of our long entry hall. We desired to send her off in a style that honored the time she had graced our household. The next morning we dressed to the nines, chilled champagne for a final toast with the Homeland Security agents, and nervously awaited their arrival.

Throughout this ordeal, the lead agent had graciously allowed us to feel like we had control over the process. Receiving no formal request for the painting’s return, we felt we were repatriating of our own volition. Reading the necessary paperwork, however, there was no avoiding the terminology being used: seizure. It stung. We signed the paperwork, and then our beloved 400-year-old friend was unceremoniously wrapped in what looked like blankets and pillows from someone’s couch and put into the back of a nondescript vehicle. 

Then she was gone.

Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's

December 6 2016

Image of Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

There's a wonderful self-portrait by Judith Leyster at Christie's in London, which I hadn't really paid much attention to until I came face to face with it on Sunday. I also hadn't realised that it's a new discovery (Christie's press office, where were you?) which has only been known to art historians through a reference to the painting through the inventory of Leyster's husband, Jan Miense Molenaer. The picture is quite different from Leyster's earlier and more famous self-portrait, which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The estimate is a very enticing £400,000-£600,000. It's from a UK collection - and I hope this picture can be acquired by a UK museum.

Update - some last minute digging in the attic of the vendor has uncovered the below family catalogue from 1957.

Interestingly, the picture was then known as a Leyster, but half a century later the identification had been lost, providing an interesting puzzle for Christie's specialists.

This happens quite a lot - indeed I've seen pictures appear at auction as 'sleepers' which had been sold as the real thing only a decade earlier. It's amazing how much information can be lost when one generation passes on. The analogy I often use is this; how many of us know the names of our great grandparents? Not many, I suspect, without looking it up. And yet we know so much about about our grandparents. 

The moral of the story is - always put a label your paintings!

Sotheby's new science department

December 6 2016

Image of Sotheby's new science department

Picture: Sotheby's

There was an interesting development in the fake story yesterday, when Sotheby's announced it had bought Orion Analytical, the company which has helped unmask forgeries in both the Old Master and Modern art sectors. Here's a report in the Financial Times (with some comments by me). Here's the Antiques trade Gazette, and here's the New York Times.

I think it's a shrewd move, and will help buyers be confident in attributions. Orion's Jamie Martin (above) will now become head of Sotheby's new head of scientific research. Jamie is perhaps best known for proving some of the Knoedler fakes, such as a Rothko, but has also shown a newly discovered Hals portrait to be fake too.

Christie's Classic Week (ctd.)

December 3 2016

Image of Christie's Classic Week (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's/Facebook

Here's my Britain's Lost Masterpieces colleague Jacky Klein in typically excellent form in a Facebook live video, looking at some of the highlights in Christie's classic week. It was posted on Facebook yesterday and already has over 7,000 views.

I'll be viewing the Old Master sales tomorrow, Sunday, and in London for most of next week. I'll be posting as much as I can here, but there'll also be more from me on Twitter.

'Treasures from Chatsworth' Episode 1

December 3 2016

Video: Sotheby's

The current Duke of Devonshire calls Lucian Freud's portrait of his mother, the late Duchess, 'the most beautiful thing at Chatsworth'.

This is well worth a click.

New Burlington editor announced

December 3 2016

Image of New Burlington editor announced

Picture: The Burlington Magazine

The Burlington Magazine has a new editor; Michael Hall. Here's a statement on the magazine's website:

Michael Hall was editor of Apollo from 2004 to 2010, during which time he oversaw the editorial transformation of the magazine. A former architectural editor and deputy editor of Country Life, he is an art historian who is known in particular for his work on the Gothic revival. His book George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America was awarded the Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain for the best book of architectural history published in 2014. Since leaving Apollo he has been a freelance author and editor, writing, among other books, Treasures of the Portland Collection, published in March this year to accompany the opening of a new gallery for the collection at Welbeck Abbey. He is currently working on a history of the Royal Collection, due be published in December 2017. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, he is chair of trustees of the Emery Walker Trust, which opens to the public Walker’s Arts and Crafts house in Hammersmith. He is also a trustee of the Marc Fitch Fund and the William Morris Society.

As is often the way these days I know Michael a bit, but only online; for example, he recently commissioned an article from me for Country Life magazine. I have no doubt he'll do a great job at the Burlington. 

It will be vitally important, however, for the trustees of the magazine to allow him time and space to do what he thinks best. The previous editor, Frances Spalding, left after only a year in the post, according to The Times, which reported that long-standing staff at the magazine didn't take kindly to Pro. Spalding's attempts to change things. She had wanted, for example, to eradicate 'dry Burlington prose' and said, 'I wasn't someone who was going to encourage high theory of an abstruse kind with jargon-ridden language'. (Quite so - there are too many articles in The Burlington that are just unreadable.) She also added that the previous editor, Richard Shone, had let things atrophy for too long; 'There had been no change among the senior editorial team for almost 20 years. There had been no new voice, no fresh ideas. The existing team were entrenched in their way of doing things, and some of the editorial practices were highly eccentric'.

From other conversations I've had about the magazine, it sounded as if the trustees were and are very reluctant to bring in the sort of changes needed to make sure this great art historical institution flourishes in the 21st Century. One change needed soon is to make the magazine more responsive to art historical developments as they happen. For example, I was interested to see that The Times said of the magazine that it 'has a reputation for scoops'. In the current edition there is an article headed 'A rediscovered portrait by Joshua Reynolds', and very good it is too. But the picture surfaced at auction at Christie's four years ago, in 2012.

AHN wishes Michael well!

A-Level art history saved!

December 1 2016

Image of A-Level art history saved!

Picture: Guardian

News is emerging that the art history A-Level will be back on the UK's national curriculum. It had been axed after the current provider, AQA, said they wouldn't offer the exam anymore. But now Pearson UK has announced that they will be offering a course and exam.

All of which is great news - well done to all those who campaigned to make sure 16 to 18 year olds were still able to study art history at A-Level.

We now need to build on this news and make sure the subject is more widely made available in schools, especially state schools. We must continue to ask the hard questions about why the A-Level is not offered in enough schools, and why only about 1,000 pupils took it last year.

More on the news as it emerges.

Job Opportunity!

November 30 2016

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: TAN

The director of the Prado museum, Miguel Zugaza, is to step down. He has been there for 15 years, and is now returning to lead the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum. More here

'Cover your members' - a history of the codpiece

November 30 2016

Image of 'Cover your members' - a history of the codpiece

Picture: Guardian

Here's a great article by Sotheby's Old Master specialist and costume expert Jonquil O'Reilly on the history of the codpiece. She explains that they may look odd to us today, but in the 1500s bulking out your 'package' (as she calls it) with vibrant cloth was considered perfectly normal:

Worn in courts across Europe primarily in the 16th century, codpieces were a potent symbol of their wearer’s masculinity and virility. Less than subtle even when in fashion, these flagrant accessories can be unsettlingly prominent to the modern eye. Yet in the context of courtly life – so steeped in honour, chivalry and romance – the adoption of codpieces was not so startling. At a time when continuing the family line was of the utmost importance, such embellishments were generally accepted displays of fertility and masculinity. And while codpieces stood out as blatant celebrations of men’s nether regions, the body parts themselves remained strictly unmentionable – they were usually referred to with colourful euphemisms instead. In fact in England, cod was everyday slang for testicles.

Having begun life as triangular flaps of cloth serving as humble flies, codpieces were first laced in place below the waist, covering the gap between the two legs of a gentleman’s hose or leg coverings. In the 15th century, men wore stockings with a loose gown, which King Edward IV’s parliament soundly decreed, in 1463, were to “cover his privy Members and Buttockkes.” Despite Edward’s appeal for decorum, however, gown hems crept ever higher. By the end of the 15th century, young men were commonly strutting around in cropped waist-length doublets, with tight hose and stockings that left little to the imagination. Whether to preserve men’s modesty or, conversely, to enhance their manhood, evolving fashions made it gradually acceptable for men to add a little extra padding to their package. And so before long, codpieces took on a life of their own, brazenly unfurling from the groin in scrolls or rising in unabashed satin salute, such as that modelled by the solemn Pietro Maria Rossi in his circa 1535 portrait by Parmigianino.

By the way, I must warn you not to do a Google image search for 'codpiece'.

Update - you couldn't resist it, could you? Ooph.

Sleeper Alert!

November 30 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Lempertz

The above drawing made €80,600 in Germany recently and Lempertz auction house. The estimate had been just €800-€900. I thought it was rather interesting from the catalogue and scratched my head for a while; the characterisation reminded me of someone like Del Sarto or Pontormo. But I know little about drawings so soon gave up . What makes this case interesting is that the drawing had previously been offered in a London auction (so the Lempertz press release says) and had failed to sell. It's a good example of just how much a lottery selling at auction can sometimes be.

The last director?

November 30 2016

Image of The last director?

Picture: Edinburgh Evening News

In September this year Michael Clarke retired as Director of the Scottish National Gallery. He had been director since 2001 - and an excellent one - having first joined the gallery in 1984. Many notable successes were achieved during his time in charge, including the acquisition of the two Sutherland Titians for £100m in partnership with the National Gallery in London. 

I have been waiting to do a 'job opportunity' post for some time. But there has been no vacancy listed on the SNG website. This is unusual, and a few weeks ago I asked the SNG press office when the vacancy might be listed. I was told the following:

The Trustees and management at the National Galleries of Scotland are currently considering how best to replace Michael Clarke following his recent retirement.

I have since learned, however, that Michael may in fact have been the last director. A 'management restructure' is under consideration, which would see the role of director abolished. I am not sure what will replace it, but it seems it may become a more general collections manager type of position.

We should avoid rushing to judgement, but to be honest I can't quite see why the trustees are considering this suggestion even for one moment. It is essential for great institutions such as the Scottish National Gallery to have a dedicted director, a leader who can inspire staff, invigorate audiences, and act as a recognisable ambassador for the collection. Of course, directors must also be a respected scholar in their field. Such people are not always easy to find.

The situation is made a little more complicated here by the fact that the Gallery is only one part of the National Galleries of Scotland structure, which also runs the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. This organisation has its own leadership team, with a Director-General. Personally, I would prefer to see each individual collection have more autonomy, and having individual directors is surely essential to this.

Another thing to consider is the fact that the curatorial staff at the Scottish National Gallery will no longer be based in the gallery itself, due to a redevelopment to expand exhibition space. Instead, the curators will be given office space in the Modern Art Gallery (in the basement, I gather), which is about a ten minute drive away. More display space is always a good thing, but in the long-term it must be a shame for curators to be physically removed from the collections they're charged with looking after, researching, and promoting. Add into this dislocation the abolition of the post of Director, and one can begin to fear for the future vibrancy of this important institution. We cannot let it become something that is just 'managed'. It has to be led, with conviction, expertise and passion.

Art history miracles (ctd.)

November 30 2016

Image of Art history miracles (ctd.)


A Jeff Koons 'balloon dog' has been damaged at Miami Art Basel. Apparently “it just fell out of the display” , according to a witness. More here.

New Prado extension

November 29 2016

Image of New Prado extension

Picture: TAN

The Prado has selected British architect Norman Foster to build its new extension in the Buen Retiro pleasure palace. The project has been planned since 1995. Construction will start in 2018. More here.

A Manet study or a replica?

November 29 2016

Image of A Manet study or a replica?

Picture: TAN/Courtauld

The Courtauld Institute now thinks that its version (above) of Manet's famous 'Le déjeuner sur l’herbe' is not an autograph replica made after the original in the Musée d’Orsay, but a preparatory study for it. The evidence is outlined here in Martin Bailey's Art Newspaper piece.

Joos van Cleeve restitution

November 29 2016

Image of Joos van Cleeve restitution

Picture: New York Times

In France, a painting attributed to Joos van Cleve has been restituted to the descendants of Hertha and Henry Bromberg, a German-Jewish couple who were forced to sell the painting in Paris. It was then sold to the German government for Hitler's planned art museum in Linz. It was returned to the French government in 1949, but has most recently been in the Musée des Beauz-Arts in Chambéry. More here.

Picasso's early self-portraits

November 28 2016

Video: NPG

New video from the National Portrait Gallery in London, which is currently hosting an exhibition on Picasso portraits.

Brexit threat to Pontormo

November 28 2016

Image of Brexit threat to Pontormo

Picture: NG/ACE

The National Gallery's laudable attempt to raise £30.7m to keep Pontormo's 'Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap' (above) appears to have been stymied by the UK's recent Brexit vote. The fall in the pound means that the picture has now become up to £5m more expensive, because its overseas owner paid in dollars, when the £/$ rate was much higher.

To recap; the painting was sold by the Earl of Caledon (and or his trustees) to the US collector Tom Hill last year. Mr Hill, a US citizen, paid £30.7m for the painting, having reportedly converted his dollars into pounds. We don't know when Mr Hill actually paid for the painting, but for most of last year the exchange rate was about £1.50 to the $.

As procedure dictates, Mr Hill applied for an export licence. But now the rate is about £1.24, which means that although the National Gallery has raised the required £30.7m, Mr Hill is sitting on a potential dollar loss of many millions. Quite reasonably, Mr Hill has (it has been reported) asked that the National Gallery increase its offer if they want to buy the picture from him.

I think the case is without modern precedent, and at the moment it's not clear what will happen. The UK's export guidance states that museums can stop works from being exported overseas if they raise a 'matching offer'. But there is nothing specific in the guidance or the legislation, as far as I can see, about how that matching offer is defined. In other words, should it be a matching offer in GBP, or in the currency they paid? 

It's a general rule of the UK's export system that owners should not be financially disadvantaged by any part of the process. So on the face of it I think Mr Hill is entitled to ask for the matching offer to be a properly matching one, as far as he is concerned. That said, the legislation gives the Secretary of State for Culture (Karen Bradley MP) considerable leeway over these matters, and it will I suspect be for her to decide what happens next.

If she decides that the National Gallery's £30.7m offer is indeed 'matching', then Mr Hill can either accept it (highly unlikely, you'd imagine) or refuse it. If the latter, he retains ownership of the painting, but cannot export it from the UK, nor re-apply for a licence within ten years. 

If the Secretary of State decides that the matching offer must fully compensate Mr Hill, then the NG will be obliged to seek another £5m (it is thought). Which will of course be difficult. It's interesting that no public campaign has yet been launched for this painting - might we see one now? But that said, it could be difficult to ask the public to cough up more money on the basis that it's due to the Brexit vote. Hardly an easy sell.

And that's the wider point here. The vote to leave the EU, and the subsequent decline in the pound (which looks set to be stay in the short-term at least) has made UK heritage assets cheaper for overseas buyers. Now is therefore a historically advantageous time for those wanting to snap up important British works of art, and we can expect to see an increase in export licence applications. But due to the various economic and fiscal pressures the UK is facing in the years ahead, can we also expect an increase in the money required to 'save' these works? I doubt it. So much for 'Vote Leave, Take Control'.

More on the Pontormo story here in The Art Newspaper, and here in The Sunday Times (with a quote from me).

Update - a reader writes:

This has happened before, sort of.  It was one of the arguments put forward by the Prince of Liechtenstein for upping the value of the Coello portrait of Don Diego after it had been held by UK authorities for a couple of years while HMRC investigated the Simon Dickinson deal. When the National Gallery refused to meet the new price. The application for an export license was withdrawn – temporarily as you know. An application was then submitted again a few years later with the work re-valued upwards even more.

 It is rather surprising, given the time these events take, that this hasn’t happened more often  And I suppose if the increase now is agreed to, then the reverse situation must also come in to play – ie when currency fluctuations disadvantage the buyer.

Update II - a reader writes:

In your piece on the Pontormo you suggest that there is ambiguity at what represents a matching offer. If you look at the case hearing, it would seem to me that the  system and the nature of the written undertaking given as part of it are entirely clear:

"The Committee recommended the sum of £30,618,987 (representing the private sale price of £29m plus £1,618,987 commission of $2.5m converted into GBP at the date of the meeting at the rate 1.5441756581) as a fair matching price."


"The applicant confirmed that the owner would accept a matching offer at the price recommended by the Committee if the decision on the licence was deferred by the Secretary of State."

The issue is not, I think, that there is ambiguity about the sterling value of the matching offer, but rather that there is no legal mechanism to force an applicant to honour their undertaking regardless of any currency issues. The system relies on applicants playing by the rules, which they are increasingly disinclined to do. The result is that on the rare occasions when galleries go through the difficult process of trying to put together the funding for a major acquisition it is becoming increasingly frequent that all the effort proves to be in vain. As far as I'm aware Rembrandt's Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet and the Pontormo would have represented the second and third largest purchases  in the National Gallery's history (treating the Sutherland Titians as one deal) - not minor deals.

It is fair to feel sorry for the American buyer, though the structure of the deal seems to have been designed to make a matching offer harder, and the currency exposure resulted from that structure. On the other hand, our system already gives more weight to the rights of owners and less to the rights of society in relation to heritage items than many other countries. If owners seek to undermine the system it must surely be right to respond by rebalancing the system to ensure that galleries retain some chance of "saving" at least occasional major works. 

Your analysis on the effect of Bexit is probably right. There appear only to be two viable solutions:

1) Provide increased acquisition funds to galleries.

2) Simply ban the export of major heritage items, which would result in lower prices for items that could only be sold to UK buyers.

Without one or other the result will clearly be that the existing flood of great artworks out of the country will become a deluge. In cultural terms our descent to third world status will be more or less complete. Can the last one out please turn off the light (unless it was a Tiffany - in which case it will already have gone).

It's interesting to read that the buyer accepted in principle the prospect of a matching offer being made, and of accepting it. Of course, the system means that if at that stage the buyer says they won't accept a matching offer then the application is effectively rejected. So in one sense, from the point of view of buyers, there really isn't much alternative to saying they will accept a matching offer. Many cross the fingers and hope like hell that one won't be made. We can certainly say that buyers aren't playing fair by doing this. But the fact is it happens, and we need to address why. Previously, I have sugested that the effective penalty for declining to accept a matching offer should be increased; we should raise the ten year period in which owners cannot re-apply for a licence to even longer, say 20 or 30 years. 

And evidently, at this stage of the proceedings (in late 2015) the buyer or their agent was not anticipating the sharp currency change as a result of Brexit. They must have been prepared to accept some change in the exchange rate at around the 1.544 £/$ rate. If I was the buyer (Mr Hill) I'd want to know two things; why didn't my adviser secure a better committment from the committee on the exchange rate question or make sure I'd hedged the currency, and whether the dramatic change in the rate triggered by Brexit doesn't in effect mean the deal has to be re-visited.

Update III - a reader responds:

Pace your reader who says that it is fair to feel sorry for the American purchaser of the Pontormo, it is fair to feel nothing of the kind. The purchaser must have known that the National Gallery would want to buy the painting, he must have known that it was loan on there and that his deal involved removing it suddenly from the Gallery's walls, forcing the Gallery to raise a matching offer in great haste. 

I do think various people have behaved badly in this affair, but I don't think Mr Hill is one of them. He liked a picture, wanted to buy it, and bought it. So far, the UK's export system is performing its part of the bargain in such cases, which is to give UK institutions every chance of keeping the painting in the country and on public display, but without penalising, financially, either the buyer or the seller. 

Update IV - Change needs to take place at the other end of the process too. I think it is imperative that the requirement for owners of conditionally exempt works of art to notify the government before a sale is completed - thus giving museums more notice and time to raise funds - is made legally binding.

Re-framing Sebastiano

November 28 2016

Image of Re-framing Sebastiano

Picture: Peter Schade

I'm enjoying Peter Schade's updates (on Twitter) on his work re-framing the National Gallery's Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo. It's an entirely new frame; quite an achievement. It's fascinating to see how the gilding begins life with the full Donald Trump (as below) before being aged, and to speculate on just how blingey such frames might have been originally.

The frame will be finished for the National's new 'Michelangelo & Sebastiano' show opening in March.

"Painting Stars"

November 28 2016

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery has a new video series on how the star has appeared in art. Because, they say, 'you can trace the entire history of European painting through this one element; the star'.

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