Jail him

October 22 2014

witnessed the tag #Whitney #JeffKoons

A video posted by J.Miller (@so_outlandish) on

Video: via Instagram

Regular readers will know I'm no Koons fan, but marvel at the self-importance of this berk as he spray paints a wall at the Whitney Museum's Koons exhibition. He was arrested. We don't know if he did any time. More here

Trouble at the Picasso Museum

October 22 2014

Picture: Guardian

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones has an excellent and detailed analysis of the seemingly endless sagas surrounding the Picasso Museum, which has been closed for renovation for years. The case is yet more proof that it's a bad idea to close museums entirely when doing renovations; stick to a wing at a time. Delays always build up, once the watchful pressure of public admission is removed. The Rijksmuseum is another recent case.

Stolen Louvre picture found at auction

October 22 2014

Image of Stolen Louvre picture found at auction

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports that a picture of Henri III at prayer, above, stolen from the Louvre during WW2 was spotted by an eagle-eyed French curator, Pierre-Gilles Girault. Well done him. More here.  

Still, sadly, not Jane Austen (ctd.)

October 22 2014

Image of Still, sadly, not Jane Austen (ctd.)

Picture: TLS

Regular readers will be aware of the ongoing debate over the 'Rice Portrait', which is claimed to show a young Jane Austen. I hadn't seen till now the latest argument on the picture, which is perhaps the most emphatic rejection of the identification yet (which I agree with). In the Times Literary Supplement, Henrietta Foster and Kathryn Sutherland not only neatly demolish many of the more curious claims about the picture (such as the fact that an old photo when 'forensically analysed' apparently shows it is signed and dated 'Ozias Humphry 178[9?] RA', above - simply a wrong claim anyway, and in any case Humphry was not an RA then), but also suggests that the whole thing was some elaborate practical joke by a known forger called Dr Thomas Harding Newman, who 'discovered' the picture inthe 19th Century. Well worth a click.

For more AHN on the picture, put 'Rice Portrait' into the search box. For the case in favour of the picture, see the Rice website here

In conservation with...

October 21 2014

Image of In conservation with...

Picture: BG

Apologies for the lack of service yesterday - I was in the conservation studio, where multiple layers of over-paint called for the heavy guns; namely, the solvent acetone. Used properly, it is a revealer of lost genius. In the wrong hands, it is art napalm.

In this case, we revealed a picture which is what I thought it was - a head study by a Great Painter - but which in some areas isn't, alas, in the best condition. It has evidently been in the hands of a previous 'restorer' some centuries ago.

I'm indebted to Michael Daley of Art Watch for making me aware of this 1886 quote by Count Giovanni Secco Suardo, a collector and conservator:

It has been neither time, nor war, nor fire, nor the iconoclasts who are responsible for the destruction of the majority of our paintings, rather the ignorant presumption of those who deigned to clean them.

Which is still true today, even after two world wars.

Rembrandt re-attributions (ctd.)

October 18 2014

Image of Rembrandt re-attributions (ctd.)

Picture: Clark Art Institute

Here's another Rembrandt re-attribution from the column marked, 'How the Hell was it Ever Doubted?'; the Clark Art Institute's Man Reading, a fine work of the 1640s. The CIA is calling it 'Attributed to', though Ernst van de Wetering in his catalogue raisonneé says it's deffo.

More at Art Daily here

Schama on Rembrandt

October 18 2014

Image of Schama on Rembrandt

Picture: BBC

Tonight we have the great Simon Schama's Rembrandt programme on BBC2. And here in The Guardian we have his take on the shifting Rembrandt corpus post-Rembrandt Research Project, while here in the Financial Times we have his review of the National Gallery exhibition. On the latter, because I'm tickled to be in the Pink'un alongside Schama on this, here's another plug for my Rembrandt podcast.

Paxman on Rembrandt

October 16 2014

Video: Art Fund

I'm a great Paxo fan. Nice video this.

Rembrandt: 3 re-attributions in Berlin

October 16 2014

Image of Rembrandt: 3 re-attributions in Berlin

Pictures: Berlin Gemaldegalerie

I'm not finding it easy to track down a comprehensive list of the 70 pictures that Dr Ernst van de Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project has re-attributed to Rembrandt - but here's an article in the Berliner Zeitung about three pictures Ernst has endorsed in the Gemaldegalerie.

First, and most excitingly, the 'Man with a Red Hat', above, is now back in the oeuvre. I'm surprised it was ever out. What a picture.

Secondly, a Self-portrait (above, no details available on the Gemaldegalerie website), previously thought to perhaps be by Govaert Flinck, is also now recognised as being by Rembrandt. 

Thirdly, we have the above Portrait of a Woman, Probably Saskia van Ullenburg, back in the fold. 

However, it seems that 'Man with a Golden Helmet' (above, again, not on the Gemaldegalerie website), which was once thought to be one of Rembrandt's finest works, is still not seen as a work by him. Personally, I like it. I prefer it to the Self-portrait and Portrait of a Woman here.

More Rembrandt re-attributions as I get them.

Update - the more I think about this, the more curious I think it is that the National Gallery, for their new exhibition, didn't choose to work more closely with Ernst van de Wetering. What an opportunity it was to really shake up what we know about Rembrandt's later works, and to look afresh at some of his unjustly ignored pictures. I can't help thinking (but I may be totally wrong) that this is why the great Ernst has chosen this moment to unveil his own work on Rembrandt's later career; to remind us of his own dedication to Rembrandt. 

I thought (but again may be totally wrong) that it was similarly curious that the National Gallery, when it had its Leonardo show in 2012, didn't make more use of the renowned Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp. Are such cases evidence of the sometimes strained relationship between those working within museums, and the wider academic community? And is this because it tends to be the latter, the dedicated specialists, who more frequently put their heads above the parapet when it comes to making attributions?

Update II - Walter Straten writes from Berlin to correct my reading of the Zeitung's article (my German's a bit flimsy these days); the Portrait of a Woman was apparently flagged as a likely Rembrandt some years ago, and the news from Berlin is that the Gemaldegalerie's Portrait of an Old Man (also not on the museum's website) is now attributed to Rembrandt by Ernst van de Wetering. Walter kindly sends the below photo. Walter is, incidentally, the sports editor of Bild, and also has a keen interest in the Old Masters. So he writes on both sport and art history for Bild. Are there many better jobs in journalism?

Another strike at the National Gallery

October 16 2014

Image of Another strike at the National Gallery

Picture: Museums Journal

There was a strike by room wardens yesterday at the National Gallery, timed deliberately to coincide with the opening to the public of 'Late Rembrandt'. 40 out of 66 rooms had to be closed. But the Rembrandt show remained open, and the media paid little attention to the strike. So that's 1-0 to the National Gallery then.

Not that 'Late Rembrandt' was very busy. A reader who was there writes:

The crowds at the first afternoon of the Rembrandt exhibition were modest with rarely more than five or so people in front of each painting and fewer in front of the paper works.

As regular readers will know, it seems clear to me that the PCS Union's strategy at the National has been little short of disastrous. This latest action will only harden the NG's resolve to de-unionise their staff.

Update - there's some anti-National Gallery briefing in the Daily Mail:

The National Gallery’s ‘blockbuster’ new Rembrandt exhibition has been hailed a triumph by the critics, but visitors might be advised to keep a close eye on the masterpieces.

Some experienced security guards were replaced earlier this year by agency staff and sources claim the change is proving a disaster.

‘Five of them didn’t bother to turn up for training, while another has been sacked over a foul prank in a toilet,’ claims an insider.

‘When others were given a tour of the gallery, some showed little interest, texting away on their phones.

‘They have been spotted touching paintings and even caught on camera in the Rembrandt exhibition stroking works loaned to the gallery. They have apparently received warnings to stop, but this is really shocking.’

The gallery declines to discuss the claims. ‘We would never comment on matters relating to individual staff members as these are confidential between those involved and the National Gallery,’ a spokeswoman says.

However, she adds: ‘Safety and security are of paramount concern. CIS Security employees are vetted to the same level as existing staff; they will also undertake similar levels of training and assume identical responsibilities.’

When I went to the Rembrandt show on Tuesday, I thought the wardens, even if they were 'privatised' ones, were more zealous than ever. I was warned at least twice not to get too close to the pictures, or to point, and this was during a press preview, and in front of glazed pictures. 


Sleeper alert!

October 15 2014

Image of Sleeper alert!

Picture: Tooveys

The above picture came up at an auction house in West Sussex the other day, catalogued as '19th Century Continental School, and estimated at £70-£100. It made £406,400. So, a nice surprise for the vendor.

More images here. Looks like a Greuze to me. 

Update - a sleuthing reader writes:

The Greuze sketch was probably the one given by Greuze to the engraver Johann-Georg Willie on Nov 27th 1759. Willie describes it in his journal:

M. Greuze, this serious, solid painter, has just made me a present of one of his excellent drawings, a sign of true friendship. The drawing represents a kitchen maid stainding next to a cupboard, reading or calculating in her account book, after coming back from market, how she can best cheat her mistress. It is of great beauty, and boldly drawn.


October 15 2014

Image of Selfie!

Picture: BG

Yesterday, I was in the National Gallery for the first time since they allowed photography. So I took a selfie (in front of Rembrandt's - or not, depending on your view - 'Old Man in an Armchair'). I didn't see anyone else taking selfies, and nor did I see any bad photography behaviour either. But I was in the quieter rooms, and I didn't stay for that long. 

Anyway, I also got this email from a reader on the issue, who more or less hits the nail on the head:

I have been mulling over the photography issue over the last while and in the last 30 days (not to mention the London trip in July) I have visited numerous museums in Boston, Philadelphia (we saw a Vermeer on the its last day!) and Edinburgh – I really enjoyed the American Impressionists exhibition in Edinburgh - and taking photos is simply not an issue. I take a lot of photos and I exercise just the barest amount of restraint and wait until people have left a painting before stepping in to take my photo and it impacts no one. If it’s really crowded brush stroke aficionados then I simply return when it’s not so busy. My camera emits no sounds and with nobody in the vicinity it’s really a non-issue.

The real issue based on my experience is overcrowding and whether people are taking pictures or not it makes no difference if too many people are in a gallery. The National Gallery was the busiest by far and it was a different experience to the other galleries. If galleries want to increase traffic as seems to be the fashion of late they might want to consider set times as the Gardiner Museum in Boston does; it was busy but not over crowded (but they don’t allow photos).

The last two decades have seen, in the UK, a sustained attempt, driven by government policy, to significantly increase gallery visitor numbers. I think this was a good thing, and it has worked. The result is, though, some over-crowding at times. And the thing is, we're just going to have to get used to it. 

Titian's toes

October 15 2014

Image of Titian's toes

Picture: Museo Prado

One of the reasons I go on about connoisseurship so much is that it's not just about working out who painted what, but knowing how they might have painted it. This is particularly important for conservators. Putting a damaged picture back together is not just a technical exercise in joining up the dots - that is, filling in the holes, retouching some abrasion - but having an insight into how a painter would have approached a certain area.

Here is an example of a work by Titian which has been ever so slightly misunderstood during conservation. Titian, like most of his Venetian colleagues, was an artist who liked to work quite freely on the canvas, and as a result you get a lot of changes, or as the arty lingo calls them, pentimenti, in his paintings.

In the picture above, we see a foot from his Danaeë receiving the Golden Rain in the Prado. Clearly, Titian would never have let such wonky toes leave his studio, even if they were painted by an assistant. So what's happened? As you can see from the image, there is a faint outline of an earlier, slightly lower position of the foot - it's that differently coloured 'halo' between the white sheet and the dark outline of the base of the foot. At some point in the past, the picture has been overcleaned, exposing this alteration, and the ends of the toes as they were originally drawn in. And then, probably at a later date, a conservator has got into a muddle as to where each of the toes should end. As a result, two toes look unnaturally long, and the foot looks out of balance. Small errors like this can then make us question the whole painting. 

I recently went to see a conservator with a view to seeing if they could clean one of my pictures. But when I heard that they didn't know who painted a (reasonably well known) portrait they were already working on (which belonged to a museum), I made my excuses and left. Some conservators approach pictures as a purely technical exercise, with an identikit, one-size-fits-all approach. But of course different artists used different techniques, and it is essential to know these things when cleaning a picture - some pigments and techniques are much more vulnerable to solvents than others, for example. And as Titian's toes show us, there needs to be and element of artistry involved too, when it comes to re-touching. 

'Spectacular Rubens'

October 15 2014

Image of 'Spectacular Rubens'

Picture: Getty

The Getty has a interesting new show, on Rubens and his Eucharist series of tapestries, called Spectacular Rubens. I'm a bit of a tapestry fan, so would love to see it. The show, says the museum:

[...] reunites several of Rubens's exuberant preparatory oil sketches for this commission with four of the corresponding tapestries from the Madrid church for which they were made. Vivid and dynamic, the Eucharist series reveals the enormous powers of invention of a brilliant artist who helped define the Baroque.

There are some good images here. The catalogue, available here, is co-edited by Alejandro Vergara, the Prado curator whose recent 'The Young Van Dyck' catalogue at the Prado was a model of good catalogue writing. 

Update - a reader alerts me to these videos on the exhibition, made when it was on show at the Prado.

'Early Rembrandt'

October 15 2014

Image of 'Early Rembrandt'

Picture: Getty

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports the excellent news that the Ashmolean will have an exhibition on early Rembrandt in 2018. It's  being organised by the Ashmolean's recently retired director, and emminent Rembrandt scholar, Christopher Brown. More here.

'Late Rembrandt' - the catalogue

October 15 2014

Image of 'Late Rembrandt' - the catalogue

Picture: NG

The catalogue for the 'Late Rembrandt' show (above) is not a traditional catalogue - that is, there are no entries for the individual pictures. Instead, it's a series of essays. I'm an old stick in the mud when it comes to these things, so I prefer in depth analysis of each picture.

More curious, though, is the fact that if you want to know the provenance of the exhibits, you need to download a seperate PDF from the National Gallery website, here. There's 'selected literature' available too, but only some of the entries have page numbers. 

I think it's great that this information is freely available on the NG's website, but I'd have liked to have had it in the catalogue too. Perhaps it was considered necessary to save the cost of printing the extra 35 pages. Or is it just that not many people are interested in this kind of thing any more?

The Missing Rembrandt

October 15 2014

Image of The Missing Rembrandt

Picture: Six Collection

There's a missing picture in the National Gallery's 'Late Rembrandt' show. The catalogue calls Rembrandt's 'Portrait of Jan Six' (one of the finest he ever painted, I reckon) 'Catalogue Number 101'. But it isn't there. The catalogue states 'loan decision pending'. I wonder what happened. It's privately owned, by the Six family. In my experience, private owners are usually the most straightforward to deal with (except on this occasion).

Update - a reader writes:

How young you are! In 1984, Christopher White, one of the most distinguished scholars of Rembrandt, was refused permission by the owners of the portrait of Jan Six even to reproduce the painting in his Thames & Hudson monograph on Rembrandt. 30 years later, the trustees have probably changed, but their [...] unwillingness to lend the portrait to the National Gallery cannot therefore have been unexpected.

'Late Rembrandt' - the reviews

October 15 2014

Image of 'Late Rembrandt' - the reviews

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery's new show gets five starts from everyone so far, as well as dollops of over-exuberance. Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, here, says:

Rembrandt is so high in the ranking of great artists that our amassed reverence has sunk like syrup into the brown and gold surfaces of his paintings.

There he is in the first room of this startling exhibition, gazing back from his self-portraits, a sage and infinitely gentle soul: Rembrandt the master. Then the curators pull a hidden lever and the floor disappears.

This brilliant, brave blockbuster reveals the true Rembrandt – a man at the end of his tether. It is a shocking and cathartic journey through the tragedy of his fall. By exposing that, it reveals his ultimate triumph. It is like seeing a great actor play King Lear and Prospero as a double bill.

Ben Luke in The Evening Standard (does this mean no Brian Sewell? We hope not) says:

It opens with the artistic equivalent of a punch to the solar plexus. Spotlit in the gloom are a cluster of Rembrandt's self portraits, among the greatest portraits ever made — there's no pussyfooting around with context, just a room of Rembrandt's eyes meeting yours, in masterpieces of such moving humanity that it's enough to make you sink to your knees.

Mark Hudson in The Telegraph says:

This is an exhibition that makes you realise there is still validity in the old idea of the universal masterpiece. I counted 10, maybe 11, along with perhaps 20 paintings that are merely superb and a few more that look like generic Rembrandt. As to which paintings fall into which category, you can make your own mind up, because if you have any feeling for Rembrandt, for painting or for art of any sort, you must see this show. When it comes to the great themes of human existence, there is still no one above Rembrandt. 

Karen Wright in The Independent gives it also gives the show 5 stars, though it's not clear if she's actually seen it. 

Sooke on Rembrandt 'Selfies'

October 15 2014

Video: Telegraph

Good video here from Alistair Sooke on Rembrandt's Kenwood House Self-Portrait. 

Update - a reader writes:

Excellent and interesting video from  Alistair Sooke on the Kenwood House Rembrandt self-portrait but why on earth did we need the intensely irritating violin playing in the background? Is this an attempt to distract us from the greatness of the art in case it is too much for us?

Gurlitt hoard - Berne accepts

October 15 2014

Image of Gurlitt hoard - Berne accepts

Picture: Jewish Voice

The Jewish Voice reports that the Berne Art Museum, to which Cornelius Gurlitt left his entire collection, will accept the donation - but only for pieces for which restitution claims can be entirely ruled out. More details here

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