17th Century

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.  

Wadsworth acquires Gentileschi self-portrait

March 28 2014

Image of Wadsworth acquires Gentileschi self-portrait

Picture: Wadsworth Atheneum

Regular readers may recall that I was surprised the above Self-Portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi failed to sell at Christie's most recent Old Master sale in New York. It's a fine picture, and I thought Christie's estimate of $3-$5m was very fair. So I'm pleased to see that the Wadsworth Atheneum bought the picture in an after-sale deal. Well done them and well done Christie's. More here.

Incidentally, did you know that the Atheneum was the first public art institution in the United States?

Was Veronese the Ai Wei Wei of his day?

March 28 2014

Image of Was Veronese the Ai Wei Wei of his day?

Picture: Accademia

Yes, says Jonathan Jones in this interesting piece on Veronese's greatest commission, the Feast in the House of Levi (above).

Van Dyck update (ctd.)

March 26 2014

Image of Van Dyck update (ctd.)

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

So, with belated apologies for the rather sparse blogging recently, let me be the first to tell you about what I've been working on over the last week or so: a new deal to help the National Portrait Gallery's campaign to acquire Van Dyck's final Self-Portrait (above). The target price has now been reduced from £12.5m to £10m. Here's a statement from the NPG:

The Art Fund and the National Portrait Gallery are pleased to announce that the campaign to save Van Dyck’s self-portrait for the nation has received a significant boost. Following discussions between the owner of the painting, Alfred Bader, the art dealer Philip Mould, and the collector, James Stunt, the National Portrait Gallery now has the opportunity to purchase the work for £10 million. 

This new offer gives the Save Van Dyck campaign, which has four months remaining and originally needed to raise £12.5 million, an improved chance of ensuring that the portrait remains on public display forever. The application process for an export licence has also now been halted.

To date the campaign has raised £3.6 million, with contributions already made by more than 8,000 members of the public. The campaign has until 20 July 2014 to raise the remaining funds.

Some explanatory quotes - here's one from Mr Stunt:

‘When I agreed to buy this great portrait I didn't expect the huge swell of public opinion and the strength of emotion its export would generate. In light of the people's passion to purchase the Van Dyck for the nation I have carefully reconsidered my position and have decided, with Dr Bader and Mr Mould's agreement, to withdraw from the process. I trust that my withdrawal, together with the reduced price at which the painting is now being offered, will see the appeal succeed and that Van Dyck's final self portrait will permanently hang in the National Portrait Gallery.’

Here's what my employer, Philip Mould, had to say:

‘Watching the public reaction to Van Dyck’s Self-portrait develop in this unprecedented way has been amazing, and, for this lover of British historical portraiture, reassuring. The picture has become an iconic focal point, and for many the thought of it going to the United States would be like losing a chunk of Stonehenge. I am delighted to be able to help the National Portrait Gallery’s campaign in this way.’

And here's what the Bader family had to say:

‘Alfred Bader CBE, an established philanthropist on both sides of the Atlantic, has been impressed by the public’s response to the painting, and the efforts that both the Art Fund and the National Portrait Gallery have made to keep the picture on public display. He very much hopes that the National Portrait Gallery is able to complete the rest of its fundraising challenge.’

And, for what it's worth, here's what I have to say. Regular readers will know that previously I've had to tread carefully (here and here, for example) when it came to the NPG's campaign. Van Dyck is my favourite artist, and I'd naturally like to see his final Self-Portrait stay in the UK and on public display. But my responsibilities towards our clients meant that I couldn't be as much of a cheerleader for the campaign as I'd liked. Now that Mr Stunt is no longer buying the picture, and Dr Baders and Philip Mould have agreed this new plan in favour of the NPG, however, all efforts can be focused on the Gallery's fundraising. I'm pleased with the outcome.

Update - here's The Guardian's take.

Update II - a reader writes:

Good luck!!  I can understand why it might be less (or less widely) appealing than, say, the big Titians, but it really is a lovely painting, not to mention a jewel for the Portrait Gallery historically.

At the Ashmolean...

March 24 2014

Image of At the Ashmolean...

Picture: Ashmolean Museum

...they're restoring the original Grinling Gibbons frame for John Riley's portrait of Elias Ashmole (1617-1692). The frame was carved in 1681-2, but the gilding now being removed was only added in 1729-30. I was lucky enough to see this work in progress some months ago. It's going to take an age, but will certainly be worth it.

Oxford College sells Ruisdael

March 10 2014

Image of Oxford College sells Ruisdael

Picture: Kimbell Art Museum

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas has bought the above landscape of c.1656 by Jacob van Ruisdael from Oxford University's  Worcester College. The price reported was up to £10m. The Kimbell has confirmed the acquisition, but the College's Provost has said the sale price was 'pure guesswork', and that the amount was confidential. In other words, he didn't deny it. The picture was donated to the college in the early 19th Century, and the money raised is going to build some new bedrooms.

Update - it has been pointed out to me that the picture seems not to have come up before the UK's reviewing committee for the export of works of art. At least, it doesn't feature in cases heard so far this year. The Dallas Morning News tells us that the picture goes on display in Texas in April, so an export licence was presumably granted some time ago. I find this most puzzling. Surely a picture of such importance and value should have been brought up before the main committee? It might have decided that it didn't meet any of the Waverley Criteria, and then let it go. But it seems not even to have been referred up for wider discussion.

Update II - a reader writes:

The export position does seem quite curious. The Kimbell Director is claiming it as one of the 5 or 6 best 17th century Dutch landscapes in the world. [...]

If there was a licence application, it makes one wonder what was said on it.

Van Dyck 'Selfie' update

February 17 2014

Image of Van Dyck 'Selfie' update

Picture: Philip Mould & Co.

The National Portrait Gallery has successfully argued for an extension to the export bar on Van Dyck's c.1640 Self-Portrait. This means they have another 5 months to try and raise £12.5m, which is the sum required to match the picture's sale price. The NPG has already raised a quarter of that amount, from bodies such as the Art Fund, the Monuments Trust, and also (impressively) nearly a million from smaller donations made by members of the public.*

I have to say that, although Van Dyck is my favourite artist, I never thought he would be this popular amongst the wider museum-going public. The picture itself has really caught on, and is regularly seen in the media - last week, it was on the front page of The Times, listed as the no. 5 top self-portrait of all time (Rembrandt was no. 1). In large part, this is due to the innovative campaign run by the NPG and the Art Fund, who have cleverly taken to social media to get their message across - you can now even get a Van Dyck 'Twibbon' for your Twitter profile. I'll still be surprised if the picture is 'saved', but it's really impressive to see the efforts being made to keep it. 

Elsewhere in the press, the picture was the subject of one of Brian Sewell's (mercifully rare) forays into the outer edge of art history's realm. In the Evening Standard, the Great Brian suggested that the portrait was painted by... two people! The head, he said was by Van Dyck, but the body by someone else, perhaps even Sir Peter Lely:

I sense dissonance between the face and the costume, as though two quite opposing aesthetics are at work. Does the head sit easily on the bust, the shoulder more brilliantly lit than the face? What exactly is the form of the wide collar and how is it related to the neck? Has the hair been extended over the collar to disguise this awkwardness? It is of a darker tone and subdued definition.

One question leads to another. Is it possible that Van Dyck painted no more than his face and rather shorter hair, and left posterity an unfinished portrait, to be completed by another painter? Was the canvas originally rectangular, now reduced to an oval? Examination of the reverse might give us an answer, for we can tell a great deal from distortions in the warp and weft. And if not by Van Dyck, then by whom is the costume? Could it be by Peter Lely, in whose collection there was Van Dyck’s “Own picture in an Oval” of similar size (measurements vary when paintings are taken from their frames)?

To this end, Brian demanded that the NPG commission x-rays and infra-red images to see if his theory was right. regular readers will know what a fan of Brian's I am - but oh dear, where to begin? Has any art historian, to say nothing of any Van Dyck scholars, ever suggested this two-hand theory before? Nope. The picture was originally painted as an oval, as you can tell from the image above, where the paint in the drapery stops short of the edge of the canvas. In other words, it hasn't been cut down. Looking at the back of the painting wouldn't tell you much, as it has been re-lined. The picture Brian mentions in Lely's inventory is in the fact the picture the NPG is trying to buy - Lely even made his own copy of it (below), which we recently discovered here at Philip Mould & Co. Before that, it was almost certainly in Van Dyck's own collection. The Lely copy too shows that the painted surface stopped short of the canvas edge. And suffice to say, x-ray and infra-red reveal that the picture was painted all at the same time. Which is in fact what even a pretty cursory look with the naked eye tells you in any case. But then Brian does like to question attributions, as he did with Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks, and quite a few of the exhibits in the National Gallery's recent Leonardo exhibition. He is what the connoisseur Max Friedlander used to call a 'Nein-sager'. 

This is, of course, only the latest salvo in Brian's apparent campaign against the painting, which can only, I presume, benefit the overseas buyer. by contrast, more enthusiastic coverage of the self-portrait was found recently in the Telegraph and also the Wall Street Journal.

Incidentally, Lely's copy shows that the background to Van Dyck's self-portrait was originally a slightly later shade of dark brown, and that it has either been glazed over by a later hand (Brian must have missed this), or, more likely perhaps, been darkened by a combination of old-varnish and dirt. The two curious looking black round smudges to the right of Van Dyck's buttons seen in the Lely copy are in fact there in the original** (they must be pentimenti of sorts) but are obscured by the later over-paint. 

You can read more about the Van Dyck self-portrait, and its history, in my 'Finding Van Dyck' exhibition catalogue.

Update - interesting to see the official note of the Export Reviewing Committee's decision on the self-porrait. It states that;

All ten members voted that it met all three of the Waverley criteria. The painting was therefore found to meet the first, second and third Waverley criteria on the grounds that it was so closely connected with our history and national life its departure would be a misfortune; that it was of outstanding aesthetic importance; and that it was of outstanding significance for the study of seventeenth century painting and in particular the portraiture of Sir Anthony Van Dyck. 

I believe a clean sweep of votes like this hardly ever happens.

Update II - for perhaps the best selfie yet taken, albeit unintentionally, see here.

*Regular readers will know I'm in something of a quandry on this one, given that Philip Mould & Co., for which I work, sold the picture to an overseas buyer.  

** If you can't see it, take my word for it. I've looked at the picture pretty much every work day for the last four and a bit years. 

Looted picture returned to Poland

February 11 2014

Image of Looted picture returned to Poland

Picture: Allen Xie

From the Epoch Times:

Polish officials accepted a painting at the Polish consulate in New York that had been stolen from the National Museum of the City of Warsaw in 1944 on Thursday.

“National heritage is a crucial element of every national identity and as such, stolen pieces of history should be returned to their rightful place,” said Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, Consul General of the Republic of Poland at the repatriation ceremony. The painting “St. Philip Baptizing a Servant of Queen Kandaki” by German painter Johann Conrad Seekatz, was looted during the Second World War.

Even before the war, the painting was misidentified as “St. Philip Baptizes the Ethiopian Eunuch” by Dutch artist J.C. Saft, and in 2006 it was sold for $24,000 as “Manner of Theobald Michau St. Philip Baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch.” Doyle New York, an auction and appraisal company, sold it to Rafael Valls Ltd. gallery in London in October 2006.

The Poland government recognized the piece as one of its lost articles and worked with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to recover it. In 2012 it was verified as a stolen piece of Polish art and Rafael Valls, the current owner, agreed to forfeit it.

Such happenings are an all too familiar risk for dealers these days. But it's nice when there's a happy ending. 

Another sleuthing vicar

February 4 2014

Image of Another sleuthing vicar

Picture: TAN

Hot on the heels of the English vicar who found a Van Dyck recently, Father Joaquin Caler in Spain believes he has found a Murillo (above). However, there's disagreement amongst Murillo scholars. More in The Art Newspaper here.

£14m Poussin at risk of export

January 23 2014

Image of £14m Poussin at risk of export

Picture: DCMS

A temporary export bar has been placed on the above fine Poussin, which has been sold by the Duke of Bedford's trustees to an overseas buyer for £14m. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport says:

The painting by Nicolas Poussin depicting the moment the infant Moses trampled Pharaoh’s crown, will be exported overseas unless a matching offer of £14,000,000 is made. The Culture Minister issued the temporary export bar in the hope that a UK buyer can be found in the time allowed.

Ed Vaizey took the decision following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England. The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds that the painting is of outstanding aesthetic importance and significance for the study of Poussin’s art.

Of the 30 or so paintings by Poussin in UK galleries and museums, none are quite so insistently severe in either their colouring or composition as this piece.

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred until 22 April 2014, although this may be extended until 22 October if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the painting at the recommended price is made.

More here.

Also available on Amazon...

January 23 2014

Image of Also available on Amazon...

Picture: Amazon

You can now buy my Samuel Cooper exhibition catalogue on Amazon. But the recommendation to buy a cream for genital warts as well is nothing to do with me...

Save Van Dyck! (ctd.)

December 16 2013

Image of Save Van Dyck! (ctd.)

Picture: The Sunday Times

There have been two more heavyweight articles on the NPG's Van Dyck campaign - first, a really excellent piece by Ben Macintyre in The Times [paywall] on Friday, headed 'This portrait changed how Britain saw itself'. Then yesterday in the Sunday Times Waldemar, in his usual engaging style, drew attention to William Dobson's self-portrait (above right), which was of course inspired by Van Dyck's. Waldemar is another who thinks the NPG should have bought the picture at auction in 2009 for just one bid over the £8.4m it made, despite the fact that winning bidder was prepared to go much, much higher. Anyway, these broadly positive pieces are in addition to all the press from earlier this month, even an article in the Spectator, and I can't recall a 'save this picture' campaign ever receiving so much serious comment in the media. The NPG and the ArtFund have done a good job so far.

Dobson is a particular favourite of Waldemar's, and he'd like the nation to own that self-portrait too. He may in fact get his wish, for while at the moment the picture belongs to the Earls of Jersey, the Jersey Trustees have recently been selling works of art (the latest being the unfinished Lawrence of the Duke of Wellington at Sotheby's two weeks ago). Incidentally, I can tell you that the Dobson will soon be going on public display at Osterley Park outside London, where it used to hang until the Earls of Jersey gave the house to the National Trust.

Dobson was of course not the only mid-17th Century artist inspired by Van Dyck, and by Van Dyck's self-portrait. Regular readers will also know that Samuel Cooper was similarly inspired, following it for his own self-portrait in 1645 (below, (C) Royal Collection Trust, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). Add to this the fact that Sir Peter Lely, Van Dyck's successor as court artist, owned the Van Dyck self-portrait, and it's not too fanciful to see in one painting the very axis upon which British portraiture in the 17th Century, and even beyond, turns.

Update - a reader writes:

It seems that for those of us who don't want another trinket or more sweets for Christmas a contribution to the NPG is just the thing, of more enduring value and free from GMOs and calories.

Update II - a reader writes:

Your citing of Waldemar’s article this weekend with approval is interesting.

Firstly, he says this – the sort of thing you have been very displeased with others for: “It’s a marvellous picture. So I’ll certainly be putting my money in the box. But the annoying fact remains, instead of the £8 I could have put in in 2009, I now have to put in £12. Something isn’t working.”

Secondly, is it fair to wonder aloud why, if Waldemar has always thought so much of this particular painting, he didn’t give it even a cursory mention in his review of the ‘Van Dyck and Britain’ show back in 2009, or express his supposed ‘regret’ at the ‘failure’ of the NPG to acquire it in 2009, via any of the various channels available to him?

What's the greatest painting in Britain?

November 22 2013

Image of What's the greatest painting in Britain?

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

Image of Plug! Our Samuel Cooper exhibition (ctd.)

Picture: BG

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

Image of Plug! Samuel Cooper exhibition

Picture: BG

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

Image of New Claude discovery at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

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

Image of Understanding condition (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

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.

Read More

That catalogue

October 14 2013

Image of That catalogue

Picture: BG

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

Image of NPG buys Anne Clifford portrait

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

Image of Worcester Art Museum's new Veronese

Picture: Worcester Art Museum

I'm slightly late on this I'm afraid, but last month the Worcester Art Museum acquired the above Veronese, 'Venus Disarming Cupid', which (the New York Times reports) was once a bit of a sleeper:

 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.

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