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?
A new Van Dyck discovery at the Royal Collection
May 15 2013
Pictures: Royal Collection, top, and below, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris
An exciting amendment to the Royal Collection's online catalogue - the above picture used to be called a copy of a Van Dyck, but has now been upgraded to Van Dyck in full. The text states:
This was until recently believed to be a contemporary copy after a lost Van Dyck portrait. It has however been convincingly suggested that this is the Van Dyck original: the handling certainly has the freshness and vigour of an original rather than a copy and the quality is sufficient to suggest Van Dyck's hand.
The sitter cannot be identified but the portrait belongs to the artist's second Flemish period (c.1630), when he painted a number of sitters in this particular format. Additions appear to have been made to the top and bottom of the canvas and it is possible that the fictive stone window was added alter.
I'm pleased to say that the first 'convincing suggestions' came from us here at Philip Mould & Company. The picture, which is probably first recorded in the Royal Collection in 1747, had been listed as a copy in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne (entry no. III.A31), with the late Sir Oliver Millar regarding it as 'probably a contemporary copy of a portrait painted c.1630'. However, I always thought it had a chance of being right from the illustrations available, and so asked the Royal Collection about two years ago if I could see it. They kindly showed it to Philip Mould and I in their store room at Hampton Court, where, under bright lights it was apparent that the face was of very high quality, and that the dress had in fact been finished off by a later hand. A different collar can be seen underneath part of the present one. Philip and I had no doubts at all that the head was by Van Dyck, with the described oval and parts of the costume being later additions. This seems to have been the common fate of a series of head studies Van Dyck painted in Antwerp in the early 1630s, some of which are thought to have been studies for his large group portrait The Magistrates of Brussels. Sadly, the original picture was destroyed in 1695 when the French army bombarded Brussels, but the composition is known in a grisaille sketch by Van Dyck now in the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
It is conceivable that the Royal Collection's newly accepted study relates to the figure on the far left of the grisaille. A similar (and fully accepted) head study, probably also with a later oval, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Possibly, the picture in the Muzeum Naradowe in Poznan which was also rejected as a copy of a lost original in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue, is also an original Van Dyck head with later additions.
Van Dyck in Canada
May 7 2013
Picture: National Gallery of Canada
A new exhibition on the working practices of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens looks to be worth visiting, if you're in Canada - the National Gallery of Canada is looking in depth into a number of the works it owns, including Van Dyck's Suffer Little Children Come unto Me. Displayed alongside this work will be no less than two studies for the children (the boy with clasped hands and the child bottom right), which were discovered by Philip Mould in sale rooms some years ago.
Two conferences in London
May 2 2013
Two conferences in June in London look to be worth going to. The first, at the V&A on 14th & 15th June, is all about England and Muscovy in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. The second, at the National Gallery on 21st and 22nd June, is on London and the Emergence of a European Art Market c.1780-1820.
The Raising of the Van Dyck?
April 25 2013
Video: De Standaard
The above video is in Dutch, but the jist of it is that a recently restored Raising of the Cross (in a church in Tienen, Belgium), has been suggested to be a work from the studio of Van Dyck. It was previously thought to be a later copy. It's impossible to say much from the video, but it does look like it has a chance of being a studio replica of the undoubted original in the Church of our Lady, Kortrijk. The original is exceptionally well documeted. The Canon who commissioned the Kortrijk picture was so pleased with it that he sent Van Dyck 12 waffles in gratitude. Yum.
Met buys Ritz Le Brun
April 19 2013
The Metropolitan Museum in New York has emerged as the buyer of Charles Le Brun's Sacrifice of Polyxena, which was sold at Christie's this week for EUR1.4m. It will be the Met's first work by Le Brun. The picture had been discovered in the Coco Chanel suite at the Ritz in Paris.
One might have expected the French authorities to pre-empt the picture, though I suppose there's no shortage of Le Brun's in France.
Update - more details here on Joseph Friedman's website. Joseph first discovered the picture.
Cleaning test fun (ctd.)
April 16 2013
Picture: Philip Mould & Co.
Here's the cleaned early Lely portrait I showed you a cleaning test of recently. I've never handled a Lely portrait in such good condition. The sitter's identity eludes us for now, but at least not the attribution - Erik 'Larceny' Larsen once included it in his deeply flawed catalogue raisonne on Van Dyck!
A collection disperses
April 15 2013
Picture: National Gallery
A sharp-eyed reader writes:
It seems as if the Lonsdale/Lowther collection is giving up its secrets. The Turner painting of Lowther castle, accepted in lieu, has been allocated to the Bowes [Museum]. As you have already posted, their Steen is on the block this Summer. And now this charming work [above] from the same source is on loan to the National Gallery.
Our reader also has this excellent idea on the old problem of increasing public access for pictures that are exempted from tax, but which are for practical purposes difficult to see:
All are listed by HMRC on their site detailing objects which have been conditionally exempted from tax. As one of the “conditions” is a degree of public access, I have wondered whether, for example, the PCF shouldn’t include works from this source in their database – they do, after all, include collections generally on view to, but not actually owned by, the public. And what a great, additional resource it would be.
Update - a reader adds:
Surely paintings in the Royal collection could be included in the PCF catalogue, as they are state holdings, their inclusion would be natural.
Adam de Colone and Adam de Colonia (ctd.)
April 2 2013
Picture: Burlington Magazine
Last year I mentioned an article in The Burlington Magazine by Rudi Ekkart, which seemed to show that the Scottish artist Adam de Colone and the Netherlandish painter Adam de Colonia were one and the same person. Well, it turns out that they weren't. In the latest issue of The Burlington (above, which focuses on British Art), former Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Duncan Thomson has shown that Ekkart missed out, or misunderstood, a crucial piece of evidence in relation to Adam de Colone's upbringing in Scotland, that is, a document that Colone signed for the Privy Council proving that he was born and raised in Scotland. This means that he cannot have been Adam de Colonia, who was brought up in Dordrecht and Rotterdam. I can't link to the letter here, but it's an important one to note for anyone interested in Scottish art history.
Newly found Reni makes CHF 1.2m
March 27 2013
Picture: Gallerie Koller
A re-discovered Assumption by Guido Reni has been sold in Switzerland for CHF1.22m, against a CHF 120,000 reserve. More details here.
Vermeer and Music at the NG
March 26 2013
Picture: National Gallery
The National Gallery has released details of their summer exhibition, Vermeer and Music. Details here.
Hot, in a 17th Century way
March 26 2013
Picture: Royal Collection, Frances Stuart by Sir Peter Lely
Buzzfeed has posted an art historically essential guide to the 13 hottest portraits of Restoration England. Nell Gwynn is number one.
The selection misses out my favourite, and the undoubted beauty of her age, Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond. She also did it for Pepys, who wrote, on 13th July 1663:
into the Queen’s presence, where all the ladies walked, talking and fiddling with their hats and feathers, and changing and trying one another’s by one another’s heads, and laughing. But it was the finest sight to me, considering their great beautys and dress, that ever I did see in all my life. But, above all, Mrs. Stewart in this dress, with her hat cocked and a red plume, with her sweet eye, little Roman nose, and excellent taille, is now the greatest beauty I ever saw, I think, in my life; and, if ever woman can, do exceed my Lady Castlemaine, at least in this dress nor do I wonder if the King changes, which I verily believe is the reason of his coldness to my Lady Castlemaine.
Lely the romantic novelist
March 25 2013
A reader sends me the above book cover, featuring Lely's portrait of Nell Gwyn. If you want one, the book is The Saturday Book 26, edited by John Hadfield, and published by Little Brown, Boston, in 1966.
Steen mania continues
March 22 2013
Picture: Arts Council/Christie's
Last December Sotheby's sold a Jan Steen, The Prayer Before the Meal, for a record £5.6m (incl. premium). This summer, however, Christie's will offer Steen's 1660 Interior with the Artist Eating Oysters for up to £10m.
That at least is the 'Guide Price' being quoted on the Arts Council's 'Notice of Intention of Sale' page, where works being sold which have previously been exempted from capital taxation have to be placed, in case a museum wants to make a pre-emptive bid. We don't yet know what the auction estimate will be, for, as the Arts Council says:
Please note that the price given is intended as a rough guide only, and does not constitute an offer to sell at this price. The practice of the auction houses is usually to pitch this at their high auction estimate or, sometimes, even higher.
Happy Birthday Ant
March 22 2013
Picture: Prado/Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenen Künste, Vienna
I don't normally go in for 'on this day' things, but today is Van Dyck's birthday. So Happy Birthday Sir Anthony (or as we call you in the BG household, 'Ant'). Thanks for being the best.
This is still not Shakespeare (ctd.)
March 22 2013
Now it's appearing on pub signs. What next - the £5 note?
Rembrandt self-portrait proclaimed (ctd.)
March 19 2013
Picture: National Trust
You can see a high-res photo of the National Trust's newly attributed Rembrandt self-portrait here. The head looks very good.
Rembrandt self-portrait proclaimed
March 18 2013
Picture: National Trust
The head of the Rembrandt Research Project, Ernst van der Wetering, has proclaimed that a 1635 portrait of Rembrandt belonging to the National Trust is in fact an autograph self-portrait. The depiction, which shows an unusually rotund Rembrandt, and with a rather awkward representation of his right shoulder, was only recently bequeathed to the Trust by Lady Samuel of Wych Cross, the wife of a property developer. More details in The Guardian here, and a slightly larger photo of the picture on the National Trust database here (where it remains catalogued as 'Studio of Rembrandt').
Why connoisseurship matters (ctd.)
March 14 2013
Pictures: The Bowes Museum/BG/Your Paintings
Thanks for all your emails and comments about The Culture Show programme. It was fun to make, and I'm always glad to have a chance to evangelise about two of my favourite subjects; Van Dyck and connoisseurship. I promised a more detailed note about the picture, so here goes. I’m afraid it’ll be a little rushed, so don’t expect a Burlington type write-up.
I'll start with condition. At first sight, the picture looked a bit of a mess, and it was easy to see why it had been passed over as a copy for many years. One of the most disfiguring aspects of the portrait was the sitter's left eye, which did not seem to point in the right direction. With a portrait, small damages in a face can make the viewer question the whole image. We tend to look at portraits almost as human faces - and if the eyes are wonky, we assume that the whole portrait must be, in effect, also wonky.
However, as is often the case with condition issues, things looked worse than they in fact were. The wonky eye in question, which at first I thought had been over-painted, was merely missing a dark glaze over the pupil, and a tiny white highlight. Both of these had been cleaned off in a previous campaign of over-zealous restoration. Delicate glazes and pigments like those in an eye on a portrait can be easy to accidentally remove. Possibly, this was done centuries ago, for cleaning pictures used to be the job of the house keeper. Sliced potatoes, stale urine, and worse were used to wipe down paintings, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Wipe too vigorously, off comes a highlight, and suddenly an eye loses its direction.
Elsewhere in the picture, it was the usual story of old layers of dirt and varnish making the paint strokes and colours unreadable. There were also a few holes and some areas of abrasion. Although the picture had been over-cleaned it had not (and this is most unusual) been 'restored'. That is, there were no layers of old over-paint covering the losses and holes. Often, areas of old over-paint can be very hard to remove, especially if applied in oil. Even more fortunately, the picture was unlined, which meant that the original surface of the canvas was actually in excellent condition. I don't recall dealing with an un-lined Van Dyck before. Consequently, the paint layers had not been pressed or flattened in an old lining process (they used to use hot irons to bond the two canvases together, therefore melting and flattening the paint), and all the impasto was just as the artist had intended it. The picture had a fine texture, especially in the drapery. So despite appearances, the painting was in relatively good condition.
There was, however, one area where it had been dramatically altered by a later intervention, and this was in the curious grey, oval additions at the top and bottom. I've not seen these on a Van Dyck before, and again they must have been another reason to doubt the painting in the past. It was fairly easy to see that the edges were additions, especially at the bottom of the picture, as the remains of the sitter's sleeves were visible beneath the later paint. Our paint analysis also confirmed that, at the top, the grey background extended underneath the oval, and so we could safely rule out any question of the oval being original to the picture. In the past, it was not uncommon for owners to add ovals like this if a portrait was intended to be hung as part of a decorative set, perhaps in an architectural feature. When we cleaned the picture, it was decided to leave the oval additions on. It might have been possible to remove them, but they formed part of the picture's history. Below you can see a not very good effort by me at removing them on Photoshop, to give you an idea of how the portrait would originally have looked.
Cleaning the picture was a delicate but enjoyable experience. I was lucky that the Bowes Museum entrusted the picture to our care, and we were able, with Simon Gillespie's help, to use all our experience of conserving Van Dycks (over 20 so far, and many more studio works) to full advantage. Unless you really know what you're dealing with, cleaning Van Dycks can be a fraught business, given the extremely complex and delicate glazes he used. It is very easy to get things wrong, especially in areas with darker pigments like the hair. (If I may say so, the case demonstrates how sometimes the art trade and commercial restorers can have a greater understanding of how to conserve a painting than the museum world. Because we're portrait specialists here at Philip Mould & Company, with a particular expertise in Van Dyck, we have dealt with, researched and restored more Van Dycks in the last few years than a museum conservator might do in a lifetime.) Simon and I decided that the best approach would be to intervene minimally, and so where possible we have left on a layer of the oldest, possibly original, varnish over the whole picture. After the cleaning, there was some re-touching required, for example in areas of abrasion in the drapery, and most notably in the sitter's left eye, where a highlight was replaced. Fortunately, we had a useful guide for any re-touching with a good quality studio copy of the picture at Lamport Hall (below).
Although the picture was of an unidentified sitter when John Bowes bought it in 1866, curators at the Bowes museum had more recently suggested Olivia Porter (d.1663) as an identification, by comparing it to other portraits of her by Van Dyck. And they were right. The copy at Lamport Hall had originally been acquired in the late 17th Century as an unknown sitter, but was subsequently identified as Dorothy, Countess of Leicester. However, some further research, including a trip to the Heinz Archive at the National Portrait Gallery and some help from Olivia Porter's descendants, allowed us to prove conclusively that the Leicester identification was wrong, and that the sitter was indeed Olivia (or Olive, as she called herself). Olive was the wife of Van Dyck's closest friend in England, Endymion Porter, one of Charles I's key courtiers. Porter was the only person whom Van Dyck painted himself with [below, Museo Prado]. Olive was a lady-in-waiting to Henrietta Maria, and later, in 1637, converted to Catholicism with such zeal that she was eventually ordered to leave the country by Parliament.
The Bowes picture was of such high quality that I think we can safely say it was done from life. The portrait was not only exceptionally well painted (as Professor Christopher Brown said, ‘this is Van Dyck at his best’), but carried real authority in terms of characterisation and overall human presence. It's dangeours to be subjective about these things, but it feels as if it was someone Van Dyck knew intimately, and liked. The sketchy and unfinished nature of the drapery further suggests that the picture was conceived as a portrait from life, probably done with the intention of being able to use the likeness in the other portraits of Olive that Van Dyck was to paint. The same head, with a slightly different direction of gaze, was used again by Van Dyck in a larger three quarter length portrait now at Syon House (below, Duke of Northumberland collection), a picture which has been in the Northumberland collection since at least 1652.
The late Sir Oliver Millar, author of the section of the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne devoted to the artist's English works, dated the Syon House picture to c.1637, which I would agree with, and which also seems a most likely date for the Bowes Museum picture. Given Van Dyck's own strong Catholic faith, it is interesting to speculate whether the portraits of Olive done at this time were in any way linked to her conversion. Van Dyck also painted a group portrait of her with her husband and child [Private Collection - a copy (perhaps that recorded as being made by Mary Beale in 1672) is at Dunham Massey], but this is more difficult to date. A less securely identified portrait of Olive by Van Dyck was formerly at Shrubland Park. Two smaller copies of the Bowes picture exist, on panel. One was formerly at Balnagowan Castle, and was later sold at Christie’s as a portrait of Henrietta Maria, and the other remains in the private collection of Olive's descendants.
After filming was over, I was subsequently alerted (again by Olive's descendant) of another important likeness of her at Lacock Abbey. This portrait, above, is an early copy probably by Theodore Roussel (1614-1689) after the head of Olive in Van Dyck's group portrait of her with her family. The Lacock Abbey copy is important because Van Dyck’s original group portrait is in bad condition (even George Vertue in 1751 records this fact), and consequently the likenesses are not reliable as the picture has been substantially over-painted*. So the Lacock Abbey copy, done soon after the original was completed, is another useful guide to what Olive looked like. For more information on Olive's life and the history of some of her portraits, the best source is Gervas Huxley's ‘Endymion Porter: the Life of a Courtier’ (London, 1959).
John Bowes bought the portrait of Olive in Paris in 1866, from one of his regular dealers, Madame Lapautre. A receipt records that he bought it with another portrait then attributed to Van Dyck, of Henrietta Maria. The Henrietta Maria picture is also still at the Bowes Museum, but has sadly been very heavily over-cleaned, and badly restored (many years ago). It is hard to tell the quality due to the paint loss, but I would say that it was probably painted in Van Dyck’s studio. The earlier history of Olive’s portrait was unknown, but I found the remains of a wax collector’s seal (below) on the back of the un-lined canvas.
It's hard to make out from the photo, but what you can see is a coronet, the top of a shield with 'mascles' or lozenges, and part of the chain of the order of the Holy Spirit, France's highest order of chivalry (as denoted by the tiny ‘H’ in the chain). All of these combined meant that I was looking for a titled (the Coronet) member of the Rohan family (a coat of arms with nine mascles, since the shield was undivided) who was a member of the order of the St Esprit. With help from Dr. Clive Cheeseman, Richmond Herald at the College of Arms, and Hervé, Baron Pinoteau of the Académie Internationale d'Héraldique, we were able to establish that the arms belonged to either Henri, 2nd Duc de Montbazon (d.1654) (below, with his arms in the engraving), or his son Louis (d.1667).
Hopefully, further research in any Montbazon archives might yield further clues, but it was decided not to do this in the programme. What the wax seal does tell us, however, is that the picture was in France by the middle of the 17th Century. It is likely, therefore, that the Porters took the painting with them when they fled England into exile after Charles I lost the Civil War, and probably sold it soon afterwards. We know that the Porters were in dire financial straits when in exile. The supposition is that the picture remained in France until John Bowes bought it in Paris in 1866.
You can see a larger image of the cleaned painting here on the Your Paintings website. In addition to Professor Christopher Brown, the attribution to Van Dyck is also supported by the Rev. Dr. Susan Barnes, a renowned Van Dyck scholar who was one of the original authors of 'Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings' (New Haven and London, 2004)
* Incidentally, if you own the group picture, and would like some advice on possibly restoring it...