Van Dyck 'Selfie' update
February 17 2014
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, 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. But oh dear Brian - 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
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
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
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.
Also available on Amazon...
January 23 2014
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
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
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.