What's the greatest painting in Britain?
November 22 2013
Picture: English Heritage
In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones makes the case for Rembrandt's self-portrait at Kenwood, which is now open again after restoration:
This majestic work of art is about to go back on permanent public view when Kenwood House in north London reopens its doors on 28 November. It has been closed for repairs and restoration by English Heritage, and if you have been missing it, or have never been, an artistic feast awaits. Kenwood has a staggering art collection, including Gainsborough's Countess Howe and Turner's Iveagh Sea-Piece.
But the Rembrandt is something else. You don't have to take my word for it: when Kenwood was closed, this painting was excitedly borrowed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which showed it as one of Rembrandt's ultimate achievements alongside its own masterpieces by him.
Rembrandt, at the age of about 59, looks at us from the depth of his years, and with the authority of his craft. He has portrayed himself holding his brushes, maulstick and palette, in front of two circles drawn on a wall. Why the circles? Do they represent a sketch for a map of the world? Or is Rembrandt alluding, with this drawing on a brown surface, to stories that say the first picture was a drawing made with a stick in sand?
His eyes contain so much knowledge and melancholy that even looking at this painting on a computer screen, I get the eerie feeling that Rembrandt is looking back and weighing up my failures. You can deduce the power of the original.
Plug! Our Samuel Cooper exhibition (ctd.)
November 18 2013
What - you haven't been yet? Tut tut. In case you needed persuading, even the Grumpy Art Historian likes the show. Thanks GAH!
Plug! Samuel Cooper exhibition
November 12 2013
We've finally finished installing our Samuel Cooper portrait miniatures exhibition, and the catalogues have arrived. So my work is done. But yours, dear loyal readers, is only just beginning - you have between tomorrow at 10am and 5pm on December 7th to visit. We are also open Saturdays from 12-4pm. Despite working on such a small scale, Cooper was not only the first internationally recognised British artist, but also one of the best portraitists this country has ever produced.
The show is the first on Cooper for 40 years, and features loans from, among others, the Royal Collection, the V&A, the Fitzwilliam, the Ashmolean, and the National Portrait Gallery. The title, 'Warts and All', comes from Oliver Cromwell's famous instruction to Cooper, when the Protector sat for his portrait in about 1653.
New Claude discovery at Christie's
November 7 2013
Christie's December Old Master sale catalogues are online, and the cover lot for their evening sale is a newly discovered £3m-£5m Claude landscape. The picture was nearly a bargain of the year, having been included (but withdrawn) in a Christie's South Kensington sale earlier this year as 'follower of Claude'. More details in Christie's press release here.
The enticing-sleeper-withdrawn-at-the-last-minute thing happens a lot these days. There's a reason for this, and I'll leave to you to figure it out.
Understanding condition (ctd.)
October 17 2013
Regular readers will know I'm always beanging on about the importance of understanding a picture's condition, when buying at auction. The above picture, by Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert, was recently sold at Christie's Amsterdam for EUR133,000, against a EUR20-30,000 estimate. As an attractive and engaging image, painted fluidly in oil on panel, it ticked a lot of boxes. Kinda cute, don't you think?
But did you spot the later over-paint around the chin? The picture had been very cunningly 'restored' by a previous owner, which had the effect of making it look a touch 19th Century. Click 'read on' to see what it looks like now, with all the over-paint removed.
October 14 2013
Been playing around with the cover for our Samuel Cooper catalogue today. Looks good, don't you think? Slightly alarming that the ink came off in my hands, but apparently this is normal, at this stage.
Less than a week to print... Exhibition opens 13th November.
NPG buys Anne Clifford portrait
October 4 2013
Picture: The Guardian
The National Portrait Gallery has acquired a newly identified portrait of Lady Anne Clifford by William Larkin. The portrait was found by the Weiss Gallery in London. More details here.
Worcester Art Museum's new Veronese
September 24 2013
Picture: Worcester Art Museum
The museum announced Wednesday that it had acquired one of the few paintings by Paolo Veronese still in private hands, “Venus Disarming Cupid,” believed to be from 1560. Its attribution to Veronese came relatively recently, in 1990, when the painting was auctioned at Christie’s.
The work, based on a drawing by Parmigianino and one of several paintings of the same theme known to have been made by Veronese, sold for $2.9 million to the collector Hester Diamond, who has decided to give it to the Worcester in honor of her stepdaughter, Rachel Kaminsky, a museum board member. In a statement Ms. Diamond said, “The Worcester Museum’s willingness to explore new ideas for encouraging audiences of every age to think differently about art reflects the arc of my own collecting.” Matthias Waschek, the museum’s director, called the donation “a game changer for our collection.”
When the painting’s previous owner consigned it to Christie’s, the work was identified as “Circle of François Boucher.” But the Veronese expert Terisio Pignatti and W. R. Rearick, an authority on 16th-century Venetian painting, endorsed its attribution to Veronese after examining it. The work has been described as notable for the expression on the face of Venus, a mixture of triumph, amusement and consternation. The painting was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in late 2006 and will go on view at Worcester beginning Sept. 21 as part of the museum’s re-installation of its old-master galleries.
September 13 2013
Image, detail, courtesy of His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, KBE
...for the bad service lately - I'm thick in the editing of Samuel Cooper catalogue. Above is our design for the exhibition flyer, which is a detail of Cooper's c.1653 portrait of Oliver Cromwell. The Protector famously instructed Cooper to paint him 'warts and all', and you can see the best painted wart in the whole of art history above Cromwell's eyebrow.
For your diaries, everyone, the exhibition opens 13th November till 7th December, Monday-Friday 10-5, Saturdays 12-4. We're going to have a lot of new things to say about Cooper and portraiture in England in the mid 17th Century...
Update - a reader writes:
I spotted in a recent update you attributed the Cromwell 'Warts an All' quote to a work by Samuel Cooper. I always understood this to be an instruction he'd given to Peter Lely - and in fact have set this as a question in a recent quiz I wrote...
Do you believe it to have been Cooper instead? Or was it just a mistype?
Good question! It is commonly believed to have been said to Lely, as shown in this Horrible Histories clip, but, as we shall show in our exhibition and catalogue, must in fact have been said to Cooper.
New website on Flemish Baroque art
July 10 2013
This looks interesting, a new website on Baroque Flemish art. The site gathers together works from museums across Flanders, and has notes of lectures and new research.
Readers won't be surprised to hear that I went straight to the Van Dyck section. There's some good stuff on there, though this portrait of Abbe Scaglia is not thought to be autograph in the latest catalogue raisonne, and is most likely a copy after the original in the National Gallery, London. Also, it's not absolutely certain, as the website's biography of Van Dyck states, that Rubens called Van Dyck his 'best pupil'. As the recent 'Young Van Dyck' exhibition catalogue pointed out, Rubens did not explicitly name Van Dyck in the letter concerned, and in any case Van Dyck was Rubens' assistant, not his pupil inthe conventional sense.
Prado goes LED, and unveils a new Ribera
July 9 2013
Picture: Museo Prado
The Prado Museum has announced that it is to convert its galleries to LED lighting. These give a much more natural sense of light, and as I've noted here before, it's probably as close to daylight as you can get. Mind you, there was that slightly alarming study into how LED lights cause some yellow pigments to go brown...
Still, basking happily for now in the Prado's new LEDs is a recently cleaned and newly attributed work by Jose de Ribera, Saint Jerome Writing. The picture was long thought to be by Esteban March, but recent restoration by the Prado has prompted a rethink. From the Prado's press release:
Formerly in the collection of Isabella Farnese, this work has been on deposit since 1940 at the Casa-Museo Colón in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. That loan agreement was cancelled last year in order for the work to be studied and restored.
Saint Jerome writing was in the Casa-Museo Colón in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with an attribution to the Valencian painter Esteban March. The expert on Caravaggism, Gianni Papi, has, however, recently identified and published it as an early work by José de Ribera, basing his attribution on the work’s close stylistic and compositional similarities with various works painted by Ribera around 1615, including some of the paintings in his series on “The Senses”. The present painting shares their descriptive preciseness and markedly tenebrist use of light, the origins of which lie in Ribera’s highly personal interpretation of Caravaggio’s models. In the light of the painting’s importance, it has been brought to the Prado for restoration and display in the galleries devoted to naturalism and Ribera. To replace the painting, the Casa-Museo Colón has received the long-term deposit of Saint Andrew, also by Ribera. From the viewpoint of the Prado’s collections, this is an important addition, given that together with his painting of The Raising of Lazarus, it will allow the public to gain an idea of the originality and high quality of Ribera’s work during his early years, which is a unique period in his career and one not represented in the Prado’s collection until around twelve years ago.
The painting arrived at the Museum with problems around its edges due to damp and an old attack of woodworm. The pictorial surface was generally well preserved but had an abnormal appearance due to the oxidization of the varnishes, surface irregularities caused by an old lining and an earlier selective cleaning that had concentrated on some zones to the detriment of others. During the restoration process the edges have been consolidated and straightened, dirt and oxidized varnishes have been removed, some small losses have been replaced and the painting has been cleaned. The result is the recovery of numerous spatial planes and as a consequence, a sense of volume in the saint’s figure.
'Finding Van Dyck'
June 19 2013
Picture: Philip Mould & Co.
If you want to know all about how to tell the difference between a real Van Dyck and a copy, or indeed a studio work, then the catalogue for our 2011 Van Dyck exhibition is now online.
Update - a reader writes:
I like your blog and your wit
I have nothing against an internet catalogue, but why publish an e-catalogue for your new exhibition "Rediscovering Van Dyck" if nearly half of the photographs when you browse it online are missing due to copyright problems?
Plug! New Lely exhibition
June 14 2013
Picture: Philip Mould & Company
Please indulge me while I plug a forthcoming selling exhibition at Philip Mould & Co. of works by Sir Peter Lely and his circle. The exhibition will coincide with Master Paintings Week (28th June-5th July) here in London, which is when London's best Old Master dealers show off their wares with exhibitions and extended opening times.
We'll be announcing more details nearer the time, including an exciting royal discovery. Here for now though is a newly discovered portrait by Lely from very early in his career. In fact, given the Dutch fashion and handling of the drapery, it was probably painted before he came to England (where he was by 1643). The sitter is unknown, but the picture's unfinished state and overall intimacy make me think that it might show a member of his family. The picture isn't, you might say, the most commercial picture, but sometimes Philip and I can't bear to let a miscatalogued picture by a favourite artist slip by, and feel that we have to rescue them.
We will also display newly found works by Lely's contemporaries, including John Michael Wright and Mary Beale.
June 13 2013
Dr Luuk Pijl writes from Holland:
The small copper enclosed is by Johan König (1586-1642). It was knocked down for 120.000 euro an hour ago at a sale in Toulouse against an estimate of 700/1000 euro, catalogued as Flemish school.
Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain (ctd.)
June 12 2013
I mentioned earlier the exciting discovery of two oil sketches by Mary Beale, which have gone on display at Tate Britain. The sleuth who found them (in a Paris antiques shop) is art historian and connoisseur extraordinaire James Mulraine, and he has sent AHN some further insights on the pictures:
Bendor has very kindly invited me, as the guy who discovered them, to say something about Mary Beale’s two sketches of the painter’s son Bartholomew c.1660, unveiled in Tate Britain’s BP Walk Through British Art. I am honoured, tho Tabitha Barber’s brilliant online catalogue entry could not be bettered.
They hang with Tate Britain’s other Beale, Young woman in profile, perhaps the studio assistant Keaty Trioche c.1681. These pieces that Beale painted for herself and her family have in Bendor’s words a ‘casual familiarity not often seen in seventeenth century English portraiture.’ Tate Britain visitors described them to me as ‘everyday,’ ‘real’ and ‘modern’.
How influential were they though? They were largely unknown outside the Beales’ circle and dispersed after their deaths. In the next gallery William Hogarth’s Heads of Six of the Artist’s Servants c.1750 – 55 has the same unpretentious humanity. Hogarth would have seen a set of Beale’s private work. His friend and patron Bishop Benjamin Hoadly married Mary Beale’s star pupil, Hogarth’s friend, the portraitist Sarah Curtis. Sarah brought nine Beales with her including a self-portrait, a portrait of Charles Beale Sr and ‘Two Children in a Landscape’, perhaps Bartholomew and Charles Jr.
Did Beale make an impression on Hogarth? If more of his work c.1740 was like the Stuart-retro Portrait of the Actor James Quin 1739 (Tate Britain) you’d say yes, quite probably. It’s not that simple. But there is an affinity of mood. The ‘sobriety, energy, directness and sincerity’ that Mark Hallet sees in Hogarth’s mature portraits describes Mary Beale’s as well. Perhaps his visits to the Hoadlys nourished him when he was trying to create a distinctly ‘English’ portraiture. Their godly good cheer must have had a flavour of Charles and Mary Beale’s household, and Sarah Hoadly would have preserved Beale’s memory as well as her painting.
June 10 2013
We were sad to underbid, at CHF125,000 (hammer price), this interesting portrait by Sir Peter Lely at the weekend, which came up in Switzerland as 'English School'. The sitter is currently unknown. The pose is repeated by Lely a number of times with different heads, so one must watch for the dread hand of studio.
Honthorst's 'Duet' sold in New York
June 10 2013
Christie's did well with the above Honthorst in their New York Old Master sale last week, selling 'The Duet' for $3.37m (inc. premium). The estimate was $2-3m. The picture had an interesting provenance; having once been in the collection a Russian aristocratic family, the Stroganovs, it was seized by the Soviets and displayed in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. It was then sold by the Soviets in Berlin in 1931, where it was bought by Bruno and Ellen Spiro. Their possessions were seized by the Nazis in 1938, and it was re-sold, again in Berlin, only to end up in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1969. Happily, the picture was restituted to the Spiro heirs earlier this year.
Update - a reader Tweets:
Happy for the Spiros, but will they be dividing the proceeds with the Stroganovs?
Interesting point - how far back should we take restitution cases?
How not to hang a painting
May 29 2013
Picture: NY Times
Reader Adam Busiakiewicz from Warwick Castle sends this clipping from The New York Times in 1890. Happily, the picture, which is a studio piece, is now hung much more securely, and in a frame.
Rubens drawing discovery
May 28 2013
The Reading Post reports:
A 17th century drawing by artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens has been discovered at the University of Reading.
Just 10.8cm x 8.9cm in size, the drawing is valued at £75,000 and shows a profile view of the head of Marie de Médicis, Queen of France as the second wife of King Henry IV of France.
The sketch was probably made in preparation for some life size paintings in the collection of the Louvre.
The drawing was acquired by an Oxford collector Henry Wellesly, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Wellington, who bought drawings for the Ashmolean. The university acquired the sketch for teaching purposes in the 1950s for no more than £50.
Update - a reader asks:
Was it acquired in the 1950’s as an anonymous drawing and has now been correctly attributed ?
£50.00 for a drawing in the 1950’s would have not been insignificant.
Have they now just worked out where it’s been all this time (like stuck to the back of a David Shepherd watercolour of an elephant) ?
Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain
May 16 2013
I was pleased to see in The Independent that Tate Britain is emphasising the work of women artists in the new Walk Through British Art. As Chris Stephens, Tate's head of displays, says, 'it's an area where we have underachieved in recent years'. One could say the same of most UK museums, alas.
Two newly discovered works by Mary Beale (one shown above) have now gone on show at Tate. They were bought in 2010, having been found in a Paris antiques shop. Tate Curator Tabitha Barber says of Beale:
“I think she’s remarkably important and very underrated. People don’t tend to know her now. She was commercially very popular at the time.”
Anne Killigrew is another female artist of the period who has recently come back into the public arena. You can see her striking classical scene Venus Attired by the Graces by Anne Killigrew (discovered, ahem, by Philip Mould & Co.), at Falmouth Art Gallery, while another fine work by her can now be seen at the Queen's Gallery, where her Portrait of James II is part of the In Fine Style exhibition.
Update - apparently the frames are modern, but reconstruct the type described by Mary's husband, Charles, in his diary.
Update II - a reader writes:
We might talk of Kneller or Lely being "commercially very popular", but the Beales? They were constantly in debt, relying on handouts from well-wishers and that was even after Charles Beale's income from colourmaking was added to Mary's from portrait painting. They were economically vulnerable their whole lives, that was simply the reality of painters' lives back then. In 1671 Mary Beale's rate for a half length portrait was £10, whereas in the same year, Lely's was £20 for a head. In 1674 she painted fewer than 30 portraits: that is not the record of someone who was "very popular", commercially or otherwise.
Secondly, what does it say about our museums and art world now, that in order to "celebrate" a 17th century painter we must highlight their (spurious) commercial popularity? The truth - that she struggled to make ends meet her entire life but, even so, persevered as a painter in a society that little understood women artists - is surely more interesting?