17th Century

'The Girl with the Fake Pearl Earring'.

December 16 2014

Image of 'The Girl with the Fake Pearl Earring'.

Picture: Mauritshuis

A professor of Theoretical Astronomy, Vincent Icke, says the earring on Vermeer's famous subject is from Poundland, or whatever the 17th Century Dutch equivalent was. Guilderland I suppose. Says the Mauritshuis website:

In the December issue of popular science magazine New Scientist, Icke, a professor of Theoretical Astronomy at the University of Leiden, states that the pearl on the ear of the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer, could not have been a real pearl. The way in which a pearl would reflect the light does not match the reflection of the light in the painting, says Icke.

The article by Vincent Icke confirms what we at the Mauritshuis have been thinking and writing about Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring for some time now. In fact, it's one of the most fun facts about this painting. Just like the fact that it was purchased in 1881 by the previous owner at an auction for 2.30 guilders. At the museum, the caption for the painting also mentions the unrealistic size of the pearl. Vincent Icke reaches the same conclusion, but through a very different understanding and research. The Mauritshuis has taken note of his findings with great interest. This illustrates what makes seventeenth-century paintings so interesting to look at: nothing is what it seems.

The Mauritshuis has written previously about the jewel in the ear of Vermeer's girl, saying it was not a true pearl. Indeed, just like the turban, the "pearl" was no daily outfit for Dutch girls in the seventeenth century. Quentin Buvelot (Mauritshuis chief curator) described the painting together with fellow curator Ariane van Suchtelen in the catalogue for an exhibition on highlights of the Mauritshuis in Bologna earlier this year. They then wrote: "Some of the most salient features of Vermeer's painting include the girl's headpiece and the pearl in her ear. The headpiece consists of yellow fabric, with blue fabric on top of it, knotted around her forehead. The yellow-green jacket is painted in such a loose style that it isn't clear which material it's made from. It is probably wool fabric. This garment is often seen as part of the girl's exotic costume, but it is indeed a contemporary jacket. The low-set sleeve and small pleats are typical of the fashion in the 1660s, when this painting was made. The pearl on the girl's ear is remarkably large. Whereas most pearls nowadays come from farms, in the seventeenth century, they were natural ones. Pearls were formed in oyster-like sea mussels. Large pearls were rare and ended up in the hands of the richest people on the planet. In the seventeenth century, cheaper glass pearls, usually from Venice, were also quite common. They were made from glass, which was lacquered to give it a matt finish. Maybe the girl is wearing such a handcrafted 'pearl'."

I think we can generally assume that most of those whopping pearls we see in 17th Century portraits - at least the English ones with which I'm familiar - were 'fake' (sometimes made out of compressed fish scales), or indeed simply artistic creations.

Sleeper alert?

December 4 2014

Image of Sleeper alert?

Picture: Sotheby's

This curious picture, of Icarus and Daedalus, made £332,500 at Sotheby's day sale, against an estimate of just £8,000-£12,000. Catalogued as '18th Century follower of Van Dyck' the picture was in fact a 17th Century work, and also the original of that composition, which is known in a number of copies. The subject was a very popular one in the 17th Century. The picture was engraved in the late 18th Century as by Van Dyck. The condition was disarmingly good, which may have led some to think it was a later copy. I had a good look at the picture on Monday. But I didn't bid on it. I'm not sure who it's by, but I don't think it's Van Dyck. It's someone good though, like a Willeboirts Bosschaert type figure, or one of the many talented figures just downstream of Van Dyck.

Van Dyck discovery at Christie's

November 12 2014

Image of Van Dyck discovery at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

Christie's have unearthed the above, previously unknown head study by Van Dyck, and will offer it for sale in December with an estimate of £200,000-£300,000. It relates to the series of head studies for Van Dyck's now lost portraits of the magistrates of Brussels, which were probably painted in the early 1630s. The study is similar in handling to the two studies in the Ashmolean (here and here), one in a private collection (and formerly with the London dealer Fergus Hall, who discovered it in New York), and the study found recently through the BBC television programme, the Antiques Roadshow, with which I was involved. This last study was offered at Christie's in the summer, but failed to sell with an estimate of £300,000 - £500,000.

Christie's sent me an image of the picture some time ago, and I had little hesitation in agreeing with the attribution. But like the four studies listed above, I suspect we can be fairly sure that the Christie's picture is somewhat unfinished, as there seems to be later overpaint in the drapery and background. The concept of the unfinished picture wasn't nearly as appealing in centuries gone by as it is today, and almost all Van Dyck's head studies (as with many other artists) were finished up by later artists to make them more saleable.

The Christie's catalogue speculates that the newly found study relates to Van Dyck's grisaille in the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris (above), which is all that survives of the artist's commission to paint the Brussels magistracy. In the grisaille, 7 sitters are seen. But we are fast running out of candidates for the head studies to relate to, for the new Christie's study and the Ashmolean heads could be said to candidates for the figures with their heads turned to the right.

However, most people forget that there was another, far larger Brussels magistrates group portrait painted by Van Dyck, for which we have not even a grisaille or drawing to give us an idea what it looked like. Both the large magistrates group and the smaller group related to the grisaille were destroyed in 1695 when French forces bombarded Brussels. The larger portrait had about two dozen sitters. So in fact the surviving studies could relate to either picture.

I'm fairly sure we can add to the five studies above heads such as this example in the Royal Collection. A series of similarly composed heads were worked up into more finished pictures with the addition of painted ovals, probably some time after Van Dyck's death. Some of them feature known magistrates such as Antonio de Tassis, but the majority are of unknown sitters. 

Important Van Dyck in Christie's December Old Master sale

November 4 2014

Image of Important Van Dyck in Christie's December Old Master sale

Picture: Christie's

It's now getting to that time of year when people like me begin to obsessively check the websites of Christie's and Sotheby's, to see if their London Old Master sale catalogues are online. Refresh, refresh, refresh...

They're not yet online, but I can tell you that Christie's have secured the above impressive portrait by Van Dyck of the musician Hendrick Liberti, which will carry an estimate of £2.5m to £3.5m. Painted in Antwerp in about 1628, it used to form part of the collection of Charles I, where it was described as 'ye singing man', and hung in the Bear Gallery at Whitehall Palace alongside Van Dyck's similarly dated portrait of Nicholas Lanier, the musician and courtier. It was Lanier's portrait which, in its brilliance, helped make Charles I so determined to secure Van Dyck's services as court painter from 1632 onwards.

Caravaggio 'Card Sharps' - opening arguments

October 28 2014

Image of Caravaggio 'Card Sharps' - opening arguments

Picture: TAN

Today's Telegraph reports some of the opening arguments from the Caravaggio/Not Caravaggio 'Card Sharps' case I mentioned yesterday. It reveals two things: first that the vendor's case is that Sotheby's didn't do all the tests he says he asked them to; and secondly, that Sotheby's PR people have come up with the daftest line of defence.

First, here's the outline of the vendor's (Lancelot Thwaytes) case:

In documents now submitted to the High Court hearing, Mr Thwaytes' lawyers criticised the auction house for negligence and claimed they failed to carry out proper tests and consult experts. [...]

Henry Legge QC, representing Mr Thwaytes, told the court the case was a “very simple story”, alleging Sotheby’s did not do the tests the owner had requested.

"They came back to him and said they had done the X-rays on the painting and said it wasn't Caravaggio, but they didn't do infrared imaging,” he said.

"When it was sold the new owner had it cleaned and submitted it to the tests, including infrared and it was subsequently attributed to Caravaggio.

"At the core this is a negligence case, it is about Sotheby's actions and not attribution."

Mr Legge said: "Believing that the painting had been thoroughly and exhaustively researched and was definitely not by Caravaggio, Mr Thwaytes decided to sell it through Sotheby's." [...]

In the written argument Mr Thwaytes' lawyers said: "Mr Thwaytes maintains that Sotheby's failed in its duty to research and advise upon the painting.

"Proper research would have resulted in Sotheby's consulting with experienced conservators and soliciting the opinions of Caravaggio scholars... which would thereby have established... the painting as being by the hand of Caravaggio."

Here we see one of the main weaknesses in Mr. Thwaytes' case. It is not enough for him to prove that Sotheby's were wrong on the attribution, and that the picture is indeed by Caravaggio. The standard auctioneer's terms and conditions agreed to by Mr Thwaytes when he consigned the picture for sale gives Sotheby's considerable scope to get things like attribution wrong, and not be liable for any damages. Instead, he has to show that Sotheby's were negligent - that they screwed up in a spectacular way by not doing even the basics properly. This negligence test has been well established through previous case law, and the bar is quite high.

I have to say it seems to me, at this stage, that Sotheby's were not negligent, especially if they did an X-ray, which is not at all standard procedure when cataloguing Old Master paintings for auction. An x-ray suggests to me that they in fact took the picture more seriously than other comparable cases. Frankly, it's pretty irrelevant whether an infra-red was done too. For many people outside the art world, things like 'Infra-Red' seem far more important and useful than they really are. But it very often doesn't tell you much at all, and I strongly doubt (though we'll have to see) that in this case IR alone proves that the picture is by Caravaggio. I think it almost certain that Sir Denis Mahon made his attribution on the basis of his connoisseurial view; after all, he didn't do IR before the sale.

We also see mention of Sir Denis having the picture cleaned. Well, most people will know that cleaning a picture can reveal a great deal about a work. But it is far from standard practice that a picture is cleaned before being put into a sale. It's a task that can cost many thousands of pounds, and costs pretty much the same whether the picture is a masterpiece or a dud. So it's often a waste of money. One might ask why Mr Thwaytes, if he was so keen to find out whether the picture was by Caravaggio or not, didn't get the picture cleaned himself. Or perhaps at least conduct some cleaning tests.

All this would be much more straightforward if we could be certain that the picture was by Caravaggio. But that is far from the case, given the experts Sotheby's can produce to say it is not by him. I can't see, at this stage, how Sotheby's can reasonably lose the case. 

And now for Sotheby's daft defence. From The Telegraph again:

Sotheby’s denies any accusation of “negligence, causation and loss”, insisting its experts assessed the painting correctly and that “all due skill and diligence” had been applied.

It will argue the painting is “clearly” a replica, citing a range of Caravaggio scholars who support its view.

A spokesman for Sotheby's said: “The catalogue in which the painting was included was distributed among the world’s leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers – had they deemed the attribution different to that given in the catalogue, the price realised would doubtless have reflected that.”

Phooey. There's a number of points to make here. The picture was in a minor, Sotheby's 'Olympia' sale. These were mid-season sales, so not held during the main Old Master sales in July and December, when many people in the trade and museum world come to London to see what's being sold. The Olympia catalogues were also cursory affairs, with sometimes thumbnail sized images, and hardly any explanatory text. Also, in those days, the online images weren't always that good. Sotheby's don't have their Olympia saleroom any more, mainly because it was a pain in the arse to get to, and few bothered to make the trek out to Hammersmith. In other words, while it's possible that some of the world's 'leading dealers' may have gone there to sniff out a bargain, it's not true to say that 'the world’s leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers' were all poised to spot the mis-attribution in the catalogue. 

And in any case, what sort of a defence is that? Are Sotheby's really saying, well, it's all right if we mess up; your picture will always fetch its true value, because 'the world’s leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers' all pore over every painting they sell? Clearly not. And regular readers will know that sometimes even the most spectacular discoveries can be found hiding in plain sight, and bought for comparatively little. Even at Sotheby's.

Update - a reader rightly notes:

One would think that Sotheby's defense would include the fact that they didn't benefit from the attribution as a copy, and would have benefited from an attribution as an original, but that they have a greater duty to avoid false positives which would mislead a potential buyer than a false negative. Their investment in the painting shouldn't exceed their anticipated revenue from its sale. 

If they catalogued the painting as a Caravaggio they are certifying it to some extent which even the current attribution debate won't support according to the news reports.

Update II - another reader writes:

I fail to see the logic of the plaintiff's argument that the case is not about attribution. The plaintiff can only succeed in a negligence action if he proves he has suffered loss. Mere negligence without loss would not give rise to damages. The loss in this case would presumably be the difference in price between the actual sale price and the price if it were a genuine Caravaggio. Proof that the painting is on a balance of probabilities by Caravaggio would therefore be essential.

New Spanish Old Master gallery in County Durham

October 27 2014

Image of New Spanish Old Master gallery in County Durham

Picture: BBC

That's a headline you might not expect to see in these days of cut backs and austerity... 

The financier and philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer, who recently acquired the set of Zurbaran's Apostle paintings in Auckland Castle in County Durham (and Auckland Castle too), is to partly fund the creation of a new gallery in Bishop Auckland specialising in 17th Century Spanish art. The gallery will open in an old Barclay's Bank, above.

The idea is to build on the happy accident that County Durham has a wealth of Spanish 17th Century art, with institutions such as the Bowes Museum, Rokeby Hall, and Raby Castle all having strong collections from that period. Ruffer also wants overseas institutions like the Prado to lend works from their reserve collections too. It seems, wonderfully, that the Prado is keen to do so. So well done Mr Ruffer (and somebody give that man a knighthood). More details here

A new Van Dyck attribution at the Scottish National Gallery

October 23 2014

Image of A new Van Dyck attribution at the Scottish National Gallery

Picture: Scottish National Gallery

I'm pleased to be able to tell you that the above picture has recently gone on display at the Scottish National Gallery here in Edinburgh as a work by Sir Anthony Van Dyck. It had previously been regarded as a studio work. The portrait shows Ambrogio Spinola (1569-1630), the great Italian-born general who commanded the Spanish Habsburg armies in the Netherlands during the Dutch Revolt.

There has long been a ‘Spinola’ gap in Van Dyck’s iconography. We know from an engraving by Lucas Vorsterman (above, example from Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) that Van Dyck did once paint Spinola at some point, and there is also a quick drawing by Van Dyck (below, Musée Atger, Montpellier). However, the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonné of Van Dyck's works only lists portraits of Spinola in the 'A' section of catalogue, denoting that the original picture was presumed lost. 

The 2004 catalogue mentions many Van Dyck-like portraits of Spinola (as we might expect for such a famous sitter, Van Dyck’s original portrait was much copied). The most important of these include; a full-length studio variant in the Hebsacker Collection in Germany (above, apologies for the image quality) and a three-quarter length version formerly at Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire (below). The latter was sold at Christie’s in 2001 as 'Van Dyck and Studio’. But personally, I suspect it is more ‘studio' than ‘Van Dyck' - it looks a little hard in the handling.*

I would also place in the same 'studio' category another full-length variant in a private collection in Madrid (below, and discussed here by Matias Diaz Padron of the Prado in 2008, who labels it ‘Van Dyck’ in full.) 

But I think we can be sure that the Edinburgh picture is in fact the missing original by Van Dyck. In the 2004 catalogue raisonné (see entry no.III.A.25), the picture was described as what 'would seem to be a studio variant' of the full-length in the Hebsacker Collection. The wording might suggest that the author of that section of the catalogue, Horst Vey, didn't actually see the Edinburgh painting in the flesh. But crucially, as Vey notes, the Edinburgh picture is the only version which accords with the drawing by Van Dyck; the sitter's left hand rests on a helmet placed on a table beside him. In the Hebsacker picture, the ex-Cornbury picture and the Madrid picture, Spinola rests his arm on his sword (and, one might say, a little awkwardly too).  

I went to see the picture in the Scottish National Gallery stores earlier this year, after I was kindly invited to do so by Dr Tico Seifert, the Gallery’s Senior Curator of Northern European Art. We’d been discussing the picture after I saw an image of it on the ever-valuable Your Paintings website (the picture is not listed on the Scottish National Gallery's own site), and wondered if this was a picture that had been unjustly downgraded at some point. A number of areas in the picture struck me as having great quality, in particular the head, the sitter’s left hand, and much of the armour. The head conveys all the human authority one would expect from a great portraitist - perhaps you can see from the images here how much more impressive the head is than the apparently studio versions. The armour is painted with great dextrousness, conveying an impression of finely wrought, hand-beaten metal. The hand is finely weighted, and painted with assured, wet-in-wet strokes. The technique is free and spirited, betraying all the confidence of an artist painting something for the first time, rather than a studio assistant making a copy or a variant. Under bright lights, we noticed a number of small changes, or pentimenti, which also argued for the picture being the first of its type (though these are not in themselves always evidence of autograph status – sometimes it’s just copyists making a bish). After further analysis, Dr Seifert (who has a track record of making discoveries in the Scottish National Gallery, see here) and the Scottish National Gallery became more and more confident that the picture is indeed by Van Dyck.

I suspect the reason the picture became doubted is because of its condition. It is a little abraded in places, especially the main body of the armour (which would have been painted with darker, softer pigments more vulnerable to ‘cleaning’). And the picture is also rendered slightly unreadable by a rather opaque old varnish. I can’t be sure at this stage, but it seems to me, even viewing the picture inside its frame, that it might well have been cut down from a full-length. Three things make me think this; the first is the abrupt ending of the sitter’s right hand; the second is evidence of significant disruption to the canvas along the bottom edge, as if that area was once either damaged and repaired, or resting on the cross-beam of an old, larger stretcher; the third reason is what appears at first to be the awkward rendering of the sitter’s armour at the bottom of the picture, over his thighs – the gap in the armour between the legs is facing too far around towards the left-hand side of the picture to properly match up with the torso. But this mis-alignment (which we wouldn’t expect to see in portrait Van Dyck began as a half-length) is understandable if we know that the picture would have originally been a full-length, according to the drawing, in which the sitter’s legs and feet are pointing more towards the viewer, while his body, head and arm are turned more towards the table. Any future conservation work carried out by the SNG would help determine this further.  

The picture must have been executed very soon after Van Dyck returned to the Netherlands from Italy, in late 1627, for on 3rd January 1628 Spinola left the Netherlands. As we might expect, the picture betrays elements of Van Dyck’s Italian-period style (with quite high-pitch, almost pastel-like colouring in the face) with the slightly glazier aspect of what we call his ‘second Antwerp’ period (the years 1627-1632, or thereabouts, being his second professional period in Antwerp before he left for London). The picture’s provenance is from the Palazzo Gentile in Genoa (which I think has Spinola connections), where Spinola headed to when he left the Netherlands. Previously, Van Dyck had painted both his son and daughter in Genoa.

* Probably Christie's were influenced by the then most recent catalogue raisonneé of Van Dyck's works, by Erik Larsen (pub.1988), but which was, er, somewhat inaccurate. 

Rembrandt: 3 re-attributions in Berlin

October 16 2014

Image of Rembrandt: 3 re-attributions in Berlin

Pictures: Berlin Gemaldegalerie

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

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

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

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

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

More Rembrandt re-attributions as I get them.

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

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

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

Newly discovered Wtewael on show in London

September 22 2014

Image of Newly discovered Wtewael on show in London

Picture: National Gallery

A newly discovered painting by Joachim Wtewael has gone on display at the National Gallery in London. The picture, a Raising of Lazarus painted c.1605-10, had lain unnoticed and without attribution at Wycombe Museum in Buckinghamshire, until it was suggested by a specialist at Bonhams that Wtewael might be the artist. The picture was then sent to the National Gallery for cleaning, and it will now be on show there for ten years. You can see a pre-restoration image here, on Your Paintings

The picture is 'Painting of the Month' for October, and you can read more about the picture here

I don't know who the Bonhams specialist was - well done whoever you are!

'Rembrandt - the Late Works'

July 9 2014

Image of 'Rembrandt - the Late Works'

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery have released details of their forthcoming Rembrandt show. It opens 15th October, and runs till 18th January 2015. there will be 40 paintings by the great man. More here and here.

It looks like their newly elevated 'Portrait of an Old Man in an Armchair' (at least, elevated by the Rembrandt Research Project) won't be in the show, however. Which is a little strange. Why not hang it in the show next to other late works (perhaps as 'attributed to'), and see how it fits in? I had a good look at it the other day, and couldn't find myself disagreeing with Ernst van der Wetering's new conclusion.

For sale - 'the earliest Vermeer' (ctd.)

July 9 2014

Image of For sale - 'the earliest Vermeer' (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

The 'earliest Vermeer' I reported on last month sold last night at Christie's for £6.2m (incl. premium). Congrats to them, and the new owner. A fuller update on the sales follows when the week is over. 

The vicar's Van Dyck (ctd.)

July 8 2014

Image of The vicar's Van Dyck (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

The Van Dyck found on the Antiques Roadshow will be up for sale tonight at Christie's. What will it make? Send me your best guess. The estimate is £300,000-£500,000. I reckon it'll make between £400k-£450k hammer. I have no inside information.

Update - a reader writes:

I think it will top £500,000 since this is a rare opportunity to buy a Van Dyck at what many will view as a great discount over the normal offerings. Besides it’s a wonderful piece of art with a  great story.

Update II - another reader punts:

I think the head will sell for £350-385,000,beautifully painted,but due to it's state,it's appeal to buyers will be limited...

Update III - it didn't sell! I'm surprised. Maybe an after sale offer will be made. 

Poussin rescue plan fails to fly

July 3 2014

Image of Poussin rescue plan fails to fly

Picture: ACE

Sad news that a last-minute attempt by 'a consortium of regional museums' (according to the Arts Council) has failed to raise the £14m required to keep Poussin's 'Moses trampling the Pharoah's Crown' in the UK. The picture had been sold by the Duke of Beford to an overseas buyer, and now the export will go ahead. The good news is that the UK is still flush when it comes to great Poussins. And with three more of the Duke of Rutland's remaining Sacraments potentially available (he's sold two in the last two years), there will still be plenty of opportunities for UK museums to acquire more Poussins.

Whale!

June 4 2014

Image of Whale!

Picture: The Guardian/Fitzwilliam

Restorers at the Fitzwilliam museum have discovered a whale beneath 18th Century overpaint on Hendrick van Anthonissen's View of Scheveningen Sands. More here from Maeve Kennedy in The Guardian. Below is the 'before' picture.

Louvre basement Poussin find

June 4 2014

Image of Louvre basement Poussin find

Picture: Louvre

Didier Rykner of La Tribune de l'Art reports that the former director of the Louvre Pierre Rosenberg has decided that the above Venus & Mars, which belongs to the museum but has been thought to be a copy after Poussin since the 19th Century, is in fact by the master himself. More details here.

The vicar's Van Dyck

May 30 2014

Image of The vicar's Van Dyck

Picture: Christie's

A head study by Van Dyck discovered on The Antiques Roadshow, and which was originally bought by a priest in an antiques shop in Nantwich for £400, will be sold this summer by Christie's. The estimate will be £400,000-£500,000. 

The picture was first spotted by Fiona Bruce on the show, who was up on all things Van Dyck after making an episode of Fake or Fortune? about Van Dyck's lost portrait of Henrietta Maria. She recognised the picture's Van Dyck-ian hallmarks, and then arranged for Philip Mould and I to see Father Jamie MacLeod's picture in London. The picture had been almost entirely overpainted by a later restorer, and over the next few months the later paint was gradually removed. The newly revealed, unfinished portrait was painted by Van Dyck as a study for his now lost group portrait, the Magistrates of Brussels

Where are the women in art? (ctd.)

May 21 2014

Image of Where are the women in art? (ctd.)

Picture: Philip Mould

Following my post yesterday on the question of women artists, I wonder if (plug alert) you would allow me to mention a recent, home-grown discovery of the above work by Mary Beale. It turned up in some rural sale recently, as 'English School'. Beale can be said to be Britain's first commercially successful female artist, and secured a quite a wide circle of patronage. She was encouraged by Sir Peter Lely, among others.

The above picture, a Penitent Magdalene, was mentioned by Beale's husband, Charles Beale, in a list of her paintings 'done from the life', and was painted in the early 1670s. The art historian George Vertue (praised be him) noted that the sitter was 'Moll Trioche - a yong woman'. Moll was doubtless related to Kate Trioche, who was one of Beale's models and assistants, and who is thought to appear in this painting at Tate Britain. 

The picture relates to two intriguing drawings at the British Museum, which are today attributed to Mary's son, Charles Jr. (also an artist), though previously the drawings were thought to be by Mary (personally, I think some of them still might be). One of the drawings seems to suggest that when sitting for this picture, Moll Trioche must have fallen asleep, for a little urchin is seen sticking something up her nose.  

More details on the picture can be found here on the Philip Mould website. 

PS - I see from the provenance of the Tate picture that was discovered by Philip in 1991. 

Update - Richard Stephens, creator and editor of pioneering site The Art World in Britain 1660-1735, sends this interesting information:

In the 17th & 18th century Britain there were plenty of women in the art trade, just not always as painters. Jacob Simon wrote a blog entry about female frame makers and gilders, which is here:

And you could make much the same points about picture dealing. In the early modern period it was not at all uncommon to find widows carrying on their late husbands' trade as picture sellers - their families still needed money to eat, after all. Working was hardly ever a matter of personal fulfilment like it is so often nowadays. Indeed, so far as the evidence allows for such a generalisation, I'd say it was even normal for women to sell pictures after theri husbands died and doubtless they played their part in the business while their husbands were still living. Some women dealers whose names spring to mind are Elizabeth Turner (d.1732/3), wife of Captain Henry Turner who was based at the Palace of Westminster in the early 18th century; Elizabeth Davis (died 1714), wife of engraver and dealer Edward Davis; Margaret Hay, wife of painter/dealer Andrew Hay; and the widow of copyist and picture seller Henry Peart (died 1700), who ended up selling her stock to the 1st Earl of Bristol in return for an annual pension. The Pearts were neighbours of the Beales in Pall Mall as you know.

In the records of the Painter Stainers company at this time one finds women-only workshops too, although it's never clear what trade they were carrying on.

Exclusive - Sleeper alert!

May 18 2014

Image of Exclusive - Sleeper alert!

Picture: Lempertz

The above 'Nederlandischer Meister' picture, estimated at just EUR15,000-EUR18,000, sold yesterday in Germany for EUR1.3m. An explanation as to why probably lies in the fact that, as the catalogue noted, several faces in the background appear in the oeuvre of one Rembrandt. What the catalogue didn't point out is that one of these, top right, in fact shows Rembrandt himself. You can zoom in on the image here

If it is by him (and I've no idea, as it's outside my rather limited field), it must be an early work. It used to be called Flinck. Needless to say, I didn't pay the picture any attention at all in the catalogue. Whoops...

Update - a reader writes:

What makes the Lempertz picture an odd candidate for being by RHL is that it is on canvas, while all history paintings by Rembrandt and Lievens from their Leiden period are on panel. The figure at the left derives from Rembrandt's painting in Lyon from 1625, which was discovered by Horst Gerson in 1962.

Update II - a reader corrects the above, and supplies us with further information:

Have to be pedanty with reader above - Lievens Raising of Lazarus is most def on canvas...

This Lempertz painting relates to some sketches in the British Museum attributed to Nicholas Maes which are also thought studies for the National Gallery's Christ blessing the Children by Maes (all of which were formerly attributed to Rembrandt).

There are some sketches attributed to Hoogstraten at the RKD and other sketches (read the British Museum curator notes) that relate more to the Lempertz picture.

Another sleuthing reader suggests an alternative attribution:

A very fine Claes Moeyaert, see comparison [below]... Moeyaert was also a partner of Uylenburgh, RHL's dealer and friend. Background figures show other familiar faces. A daring purchase...

The value of dirt

April 30 2014

Image of The value of dirt

Picture: Christie's (left), Sotheby's (right)

We've just had a round of rather uninspiring Old Master sales here in London. I haven't noticed any special prices to report, on the sleeper front. However, I was interested to see that the above portrait in oil on copper by Gonzales Coques sold at Sotheby's for £16,250. This was some seven years after it sold at Christie's in Paris for a whopping EUR78,000. So someone has presumably taken quite a hit...

Why the dramatic price difference? Well, first, as we say in the trade, 'cleaning is the friend of a good picture, and the enemy of a bad one'. The cleaned picture, as seen this week at Sotheby's, isn't an especially bad one. But it's fair to say that it's not as enticing as the pre-cleaning, Christie's image might have led one to believe.

Then there's the question of whether it's better to enter a picture into a sale cleaned or 'dirty'. I'm often asked by consignors whether they should restore a picture before sending it to auction, and the answer is - rarely. Despite the auction houses' best efforts to work against art dealers, it is still the case that dealers underpin most prices at auction, particularly for the middle market. So when the Coques was at Christie's in 2007 its dirty and alluring state would have appealed to the trade, who, in taking a risk on the painting in its unclear condition and then restoring it, could be seen to have added value to the sale price which, in this era of online prices, anyone could easily look up. The dirty picture, therefore, would have been a good piece of stock for dealers to buy, and consequntly the number of potential bidders went up, and the price was high. I know it was bought by a major European dealer, whom I shan't name. 

This time round, alas, there would have been no trade buyers for such a shiny bright work, and so the price achieved was much less. It's still the same picture of course. Which value was more appropriate? I don't know. But the moral of the story is, keep your picture's dirty (most of the time).

Sleeper alert

April 29 2014

Image of Sleeper alert

Picture: Pook & Pook

This drawing came up in the USA last week, catalogued as 'School of Bronzino, and with a reserve of just $1,000. It sold for $228,000!

Update - see above for more on this one.

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