'The mysterious landscapes of Hercules Segers'
September 19 2016
Picture: Rijksmuseum/New York Times
The Rijksmuseum has spent two years re-examining the oeuvre of the 17th Century Dutch landscape artist Hercules Segers, and has added a number of newly attributed works, reports the New York Times. The research has been done ahead of a new exhibition on Segers' life, which opens at the Rijksmuseum on October 7th till January 8th, when it will then travel to the Met in New York, where it opens on February 13th.
More on the Rijksmuseum's research and exhibition here.
June 16 2016
The above painting made €1.56m (hammer) against an estimate of €6k-€8k in Paris last week. The 'Judgement of Paris' was catalogued as 'Workshop of Rubens', but a number of trade buyers thought it was the real deal. It's painted in oil on panel. Having seen some high-res photos (as far as one can judge these things from photos) I agree - it is probably 'right', and must be Rubens' study for the painting in the National Gallery in London. It was underbid by a London dealer. I don't know who bought it. At close to €2m with commissions I suppose the picture more or less made its money. All will depend on condition.
The National Gallery picture follows the sketch very clossely, but Rubens has altered the angle of Paris' leg. Look closely at the NG painting, however, and you can see that underneath the green background paint, the original position of Paris' leg is still visible - which matches the newly discovered sketch. Until now, the only evidence of Rubens' sketch for the NG painting has been a copy in the Gemaldegalerie in Dresden. You can read more about the genesis of the NG painting here in the 'National Gallery Technical Bulletin' (although I don't personally agree with all their conclusions).
I missed the auction in Paris entirely. My eye has been completely off the ball of late - too tied up with telly, which can be all consuming.
In fact, I haven't done very well with my Judgements of Paris this year. Some months ago I underbid a good, previously unknown studio version of the NG painting, which came up for sale in Antwerp. I thought that probably there were a number of areas that Rubens might have touched up himself. The painting was later flipped into a sale in Dorotheum in Vienna, and made a smooth profit of about €700k. That picture must have been made working from the newly discovered study, for it follows the original position of Paris' leg.
Anyway, thanks to these new discoveries we have a much more complete view of how Rubens tackled this subject. It's an example of how the marketplace can help advance art historical understanding.
Update - the Antiques Trade Gazette reports that the French auction house sent a photo of the painting to the Rubenianum in Antwerp before the sale. Their response was apparently that it was neither an autograph nor a studio work:
Cabinet Turquin’s Eric Turquin told ATG that they had studied and researched the work for three months before the auction and felt it was “a real workshop painting, that is of the period and something done under the direction of the master with or without his participation”.
The expert also said they made an enquiry and sent a photograph of the painting to the research centre in Antwerp, The Rubenianum, but the centre did not think it was either by Rubens or from his studio.
Flemish drawings at the Scottish National Gallery
June 2 2016
Picture: NGS, Jacob Jordaens, 'Head of an Old Woman'
It's a bumper time for lovers of Flemish drawing at the moment - as I mentioned earlier, there's a show at the V&A on until November, and opening soon here in Edinburgh is 'Rubens & Company - Flemish drawings from the Scottish National Gallery'. Says the Gallery's website:
The Scottish National Gallery has a fine collection of Flemish paintings, including famous works by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. The Print Room houses some 35,000 works on paper which, due to their fragility and sensitivity to light, can only be displayed for short periods of time and are therefore little-known.*
Rubens & Company highlights an outstanding selection of the Gallery’s Flemish drawings of the seventeenth century. Masterpieces by Rubens, the towering figure of the Flemish Baroque, are shown alongside famous works by Jordaens and Van Dyck and accompanied by works by less prominent artists such as Jan Cossiers, Abraham van Diepenbeeck and Cornelis Schut, which have rarely, in some cases never, been displayed before. Many of them are preparatory drawings or studies which offer a fascinating insight into the function of drawings as well as studio practice. Rubens & Company celebrates these artists and invites our visitors to discover and enjoy their skill in the art of drawing.
The exhibition is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue, providing a lively panorama of Flemish draughtsmanship in the seventeenth century, its subjects and techniques.
The show opens 18th June, until 28th August. Come to Edinburgh!
*Note to the Scottish National Gallery - none of your drawings by Rubens and Van Dyck are illustrated on your website.
Dutch and Flemish drawings at the V&A
May 11 2016
Picture: V&A, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, 'Christ Crowned with Thorns'
Here's a good exhibition coming soon at the V&A: 'Master Strokes: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Golden Age'. The show opens on 14th May and runs till 13th November. Says the V&A press release:
This summer the V&A will for the first time display some of the most important works from the Museum’s outstanding collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings: one of the principle holdings in Britain. Master Strokes: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Golden Age will present over 70 works from the 16th to the 19th century, including masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Anthony van Dyck and Rembrandt van Rijn, and a recently re-attributed drawing by Carel Fabritius. These will be supported by rich collections of works from many lesser-known Golden Age artists who were hugely relevant in their day yet are no longer considered household names, such as Hans Bol and Jacob Jordaens. Designs for architecture and the applied arts will also be on display, demonstrating the diversity and enduring artistic and technical excellence of Netherlandish artists of the 17th century – a period of extraordinary prosperity and artistic output.
But what's this 'Jordaens no longer considered a household name'? We'll have to see what we can do about that...
Sleeper alert! (ctd.)
May 8 2016
Remember the early Rembrandt that came up for sale in the US as a '19th Century' work by an unknown artist, with the bidding starting at $500? Its subsequent purchase by the renowned Rembrandt collector Tom Kaplan has been covered on AHN already, but in the LA Times is a fascinating account of how Kaplan bought it - before the picture was cleaned and the attribution confirmed, in part by the discovery of a signature. Brave.
The picture was bought at auction by the Paris-based Galerie Talabardon et Gautier, and:
The following day, they received word that New York financier Thomas Kaplan was interested in purchasing the painting. Kaplan heads the Electrum Group, a privately owned investment management company that invests primarily in natural resources and precious metals, including gold.
Kaplan and his wife, Daphne, also own one of the world's largest private collections of art from the Dutch Golden Age. The Leiden Collection holds works by Vermeer, Rembrandt and other painters from around the 17th century.
Gautier traveled to New York to negotiate the deal aboard Kaplan's yacht, according to the gallery. The negotiations lasted about an hour. The gallery declined to say how much Kaplan paid for the work.
Kaplan wasn't available for comment but said in a statement that the discovery of the painting and its inclusion in his collection have been "a tremendous delight for me and my wife."[...]
After Kaplan purchased the Rembrandt, the painting was restored. During the process, which removed a layer of varnish, an artist's monogram was discovered in the upper left corner that reads "RF."
The monogram has been taken to stand for "Rembrandt Fecit," or "Made by Rembrandt." It is believed to be the earliest signature by Rembrandt on a work of art.
"After that, there was little doubt," said Talabardon, the Paris dealer.
A great purchase by a great collector - something you can't often say these days. The painting is now going on loan to the Getty.
London mid-season OMP sales
May 5 2016
I've been meaning to mention the mid-season Old Master sales in London - they did really quite well, with some strong prices and good selling rates. So bah to all those writing off the 'middle market'.
I noticed that portraiture did quite well. For example, the above Cornelius Johnson, which was in fine condition and extravagantly signed, soared to £158,500 against an estimate of just £15,000-£25,000.
Highlighting the vagaries of the auction world was this portrait by Gainsborough, which made £60,000 from an estimate of £15,000-£25,000, even though it had failed to sell earlier at a higher estimate.
Old Master fans are fortunate that the major auction houses are sticking with the OMP middle market, and not only that but still trying hard with it.
Irish Guercino cleaned in LA
April 29 2016
Picture: Getty/National Gallery of Ireland
The National Gallery of Ireland has sent its Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Guercino to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for conservation. The work will be funded by a group of private donors called The Getty Museum Paintings Council, which is, says the Getty website:
[...] a group of generous individual donors, helps support the study and conservation of major art works from international museums and cultural institutions at the Getty; in exchange, the Getty enjoys the opportunity to display the paintings at the Getty Center for a few months after the completion of treatment.
I didn't know of this body of splendid people before - whoever you are, AHN salutes you.
Dobson self-portrait for sale
April 27 2016
Bonhams are offering William Dobson's earliest known self-portrait in their forthcoming July Old Master sale in London. The estimate is £200,000-£300,000, which strikes me as quite reasonable. A very similar painting of the artist's wife is in the Tate gallery. Tate should be really buy this one too.
Bonhams kindly showed me the picture the other day; it is compelling, and in good condition. Although painted around 1635-40, the most noticeable thing about it to me was how un Van Dyck-ian the technique is. Instead it seems more Dutch if anything. Although Dobson's tecnnique does become a little more Van Dyck-ian later on, in its smoother application of paint, early works such as the self-portrait at Bonhams only raise further questions about where Dobson emerges from, in an artistic sense. Was Dobson really a pupil of Van Dyck, as some sources suggest? Not on this evidence, at least. Sadly, we know few certain details about his life.
The above film was made by ZCZ Films, the Great Waldemar's production company. Waldemar is probably the world's no.1 Dobson fan, and made an excellent film on the artist some years ago.
"Van Dyck" at the Frick (ctd.)
March 12 2016
The curators of the Frick's wondrous new Van Dyck exhibition, Adam Eaker (above left) and Stijn Alsteens (right, who here looks as if he could well be in a Van Dyck) can be heard discussing their new show in some depth in this interview on New York's WNYC radion station.
"Georges de La Tour" at the Prado
March 12 2016
There's a new exhibition on at the Prado on the French 17th Century artist Georges de La Tour, of whom I've always been a fan. The show is on until 12th June this year. More here.
Breughel's 'Birdtrap' at Dorotheum in April
March 7 2016
I like to keep an eye on auction house's social media efforts, so it's good to see that Dorotheum (Austria's pre-eminent auctioneers) are making videos now. The above looks at a Pieter Brueghel the Younger 'Birdtrap' on offer in their April Old Master sale. We learn the astonishing fact that there are apparently 46 versoins of this scene by the artist.
No estimate is given in the video, alas. (Dorotheum folks, estimates are essential in videos like this!).
Update - a reader writes:
Brueghel estimate in the video on the label on the wall, bottom right €700-900k estimate. Not clear I grant you!
"Van Dyck" at the Frick
March 6 2016
Video: The Frick Collection
I greatly enjoyed the new Van Dyck exhibition athe Frick Collection in New York, 'Van Dyck, the Anatomy of Portraiture'. I will write in more depth about the show and the exhibits, but in the meantime, here is my review in The Financial Times.
The show is open now, till 5th June. There is a superb catalogue available here.
Louvre acquisition in New York
February 7 2016
A picture that sold well above estimate in the recent Sotheby's New York sale was the above Pandora by the 'School of Fontainebleau'. It sold for $754,000 (inc. premium) against an estimate of $300,000-$500,000, and was bought by the Louvre. Didier Rykner's Tribune de L'Art has the story here.
Van Dyck curiousness in the US
January 18 2016
Picture: The Georgia Museum of Art
The Georgia Museum of Art in the US has announced the acquisition of a portrait it says in by Anthony Van Dyck, of Archbishop William Laud:
Van Dyck’s painting, a large portrait of Archbishop William Laud, was donated to the museum by Dr. and Mrs. M. Daniel Byrd, of Atlanta. [...] The painting is on display in the museum’s H. Randolph Holder Gallery. Lynn Boland, Pierre Daura Curator of European Art, said, “This world-class example of 17th-century portraiture, offering multiple avenues for interdisciplinary study, will serve as a lynchpin for the museum's small but important collection of European painting. Acquisitions of this significance would be beyond our reach were it not for the generosity of donors like the Byrds.”
I'm sorry to rain on the Georgia Museum's parade but this picture is not, alas, by Van Dyck. The picture listed as the original in the 2004 Yale catalogue raisonné is in the Fitzwilliam Museum in the UK (below), and is of course significantly better than the picture seen above. You can see a higher resolution image of the Georgia picture here. Notice in particular the angular and clumsy drapery.
Van Dyck's portrait of Laud was much copied, and confusion often arises over the various copies and studio versions that were made. Indeed, the Codart website, in its reporting of the Georgia acquisition, in fact reproduces the Fitzwilliam painting. A little Googling reveals that the Georgia picture was in fact recently offered at auction (and seemingly by the current donors too) in the US as 'Studio of Van Dyck'. It did not sell, against an estimate of $100,000-$150,000. The auction house stated that the attribution to Van Dyck was supported by the late Prof. Erik Larsen, who did indeed write a catalogue raisonné of Van Dyck's work. It is perhaps the most inept catalogue raisonné ever - even the front cover shows a copy. For more AHN on Larsen, see here.
From the photos currently available I'm not even sure the Georgia picture even qualifies as 'studio'.
The Georgia Museum's press release is here.
Update - the story was picked up by The Independent, which prompted a slight climbdown from the museum. Though they still describe the picture as 'world class' it is now described as 'Van Dyck and Studio'. On what grounds I am not entirely sure - but obviously it's hard to be certain from the image.
'Recovering Charles I's art collection'
December 16 2015
Picture: Royal Collection
Although the sale of Charles I's collection after his execution in 1649 is well documented, less is known about how Charles II managed to get so much art back. A fascinating new article by Dr Andrew Barclay of the History or Parliament Trust - title 'Recovering Charles I's art collection' - answers many questions, and is well worth a look. You have to pay I'm afraid, but institutions will have free access already. Details here.
Decoding a still life
November 17 2015
Christie's have a good website feature on the above still life by Edwaert Collier, looking at all the things we see in still lifes, and what they mean. The picture is coming up for sale in December at £80k-£120k. Clever marketing.
Does museum exposure increase the value of Old Masters?
October 23 2015
News that Sotheby's will sell a $25m-$35m Orazio Gentileschi of Danaë recently on display at the Met in New York has raised the eyebrow with eminent US arts writer Lee Rosenbaum, who, on her blog, says:
[...] It now appears that Danaë’s golden sojourn at the Met was an extended presale exhibition. [...]
Veteran dealer Richard Feigen‘s family trust was outed yesterday by the Wall Street Journal‘s Jennifer Smith as the owner cryptically identified on the Met’s “Danaë” label as “private collection.” The trust stands to reap rich rewards from gilt-by-association: Sotheby’s has announced that “Danaë” will be the star lot of its evening sale on Jan. 28, bearing a presale estimate of $25-35 million. [...]
Does a dealer/collector have a right to show works in a nonprofit museum’s galleries before dispatching them to auction? Of course.
Should museums allow themselves to be commercially exploited in his manner? Of course not.
Loan agreements should contain a clause imposing a several-year moratorium on selling a work after its museum exhibition. Otherwise, museums may appear to be complicit in market maneuvers and curators may see their scholarly prose instantly recycled as sales pitches.
So, does museum exposure add value to an Old Master painting? In my opinion (as a valuer of and dealer in Old Masters), not really. What we're dealing with in this case is essentially a chicken and egg situation: does the Met's decision to hang a Gentileschi on its walls make it a great (and thus valuable) painting, or does the fact that Danaë is a great painting make the Met want to hang it on their walls?
It seems to me that the latter is the case here - and in fact it is almost all the time. In my experience curators like those at the Met and other leading institutions are no pushover, and are hardly likely to take up valuable hanging space at their museums by installing a second rate work just to do a favour to - gasp - a dealer, or even a private owner. Curators curate based on a painting's individual merits. Indeed, look at an auction catalogue and you'll often see pictures that have been recently on long-term loan to museums, even major ones, sell for not much money at all. After all, museums and curators are often interested in pictures for their academic and art historical value, and this is frequently different from their commercial value.
The situation I think is different when it comes to contemporary art, where, because we have generally lost our collective ability to objectively assess art made from old spoons (and the like) we look for institutional and curatorial approval as a means of telling us what is good or not. Hence all those contemporary art catalogue entries which list reams of exhibitions, even really minor ones, as a means of saying 'this work is Good', and thus valuable.
But in the Old Master market the dynamic is very different. Lee Rosenbaum may think that the sort of person to drop $25m on a Gentileschi is encouraged to do so because it was recently on display at the Met. But I'm not so sure. In my experience, Old Master buyers are perfectly capable of assessing a work of art objectively. The Danaë is without doubt a great painting - you can tell that just by looking at it, whether it's on the Met's walls or Sotheby's. And like most great paintings it has at some point in its life been exhibited at a museum. Big deal.
There are so many other factors to take account of in the Old Master market. Sometimes, an Old Master painting can generate the most excitement, and bids, if it is seen to be 'new' and previously unseen. Hence all those auction house press releases that say 'not seen for X years', or 'never before publicly exhibited'. The Old Masters that really get the market going are often those which have come out of an eminent collection, have not been seen widely before, are a bit dirty, and so on, or are important new discoveries. In those circumstances you are likely get both trade and private buyers bidding. But when a picture like the Danaë comes along, and everyone knows it well from being at the Met, and also that it belongs to a dealer, then arguably it's a harder proposition to sell because you're chasing just the handful of private buyers able to spend that kind of money. And they tend to buy what they like, not what a museum curator likes.
But let us for the sake of argument assume that a spell on loan does indeed add significant value to a painting. Should, then, museums be careful not to display such works? Should we take seriously Lee's suggestion of a 'several year' moratorium on selling works that have been on loan?
Well, why? I certainly agree that it is unseemly to swiftly sell something which has been on public display. But should we say to the public, you can't see this great painting, because it belongs to someone who might one day sell it, and make money because you liked it? I suspect most museum visitors wouldn't give two hoots. People want to see great art because it's great art, and would rather it was on public display not in a private house. Most of them know that such art is expensive, whether it's sold today, tomorrow or in seven years time. (And don't forget that once upon a time Gentileschi himself was likely paid a fair sum for his Danaë.)
I certainly agree with Lee that care must be taken when considering the relationship between private lending and institutional probity. But I also think we should be grateful to Richard Feigen for putting his pictures on display, and applaud those curators and institutions prepared to run the risk of criticism by accepting (with care) such loans.
Update - a dealer writes:
It is an interesting discussion wheather museums are providing a seal of approval to works of art that come to the market. As you know, a similar discussion takes place when a painting, sculpture or drawing is being published in a first rate journal or exhibition catalogue.
At the request of the editor of The Burlington I have signed twice a statement that a work that was illustrated in one of my contributions was not due to appear on the market for at least five years. But when you think of it is a silly thing to do because, not being the owner it is not in ones hands wheather a work is going to be on offer for sale or not in the nearby future.
The Burlington is notorious for being windy about anything privately owned, or which might have anything to do with a dealer. Which is daft because a) dealers often make important discoveries, and The Burlington is merely recusing itself from the wider art historical debate and b) I fear, alas, that The Burlington is no longer important enough to really make a difference to the value of a painting.
Another reader writes:
And if having “displayed at the Met” does add value, the Met and the public have enjoyed the free display of a valuable work. The Met didn't rent the painting, as with some exhibitions, or have to invest in acquiring it so there was a quid pro quo if the display of the painting added any value. Lending to an exhibition might add some value and curators still seek and occasionally pay for exhibitions loans of important works.
It is all right if a private party benefits from public display so long as the public gets an adequate benefit as well. Lending doesn't come with [tax] eductions that donations create.
Another reader adds:
Yes, to an established old master, I agree the pull-up is minimal, but public benefit museums should be just that - pro bono. Time on the Met's walls undoubtedly has a commercial value - and sticking pictures on their wall prior to an auction or indeed any commercial sale is not what they're supposed to be for. It just wouldn't wash in other commercial areas - it would be seen as a conflict of interests.
And that grey area is being exploited - wthout anybdy questioning it - so supine is arts journalism. Dealers are using museums to lend credence and substance to private offerings in the most blatant way. The quid pro quo is obviously that the museum gets interesting exhibitions but the prime purpose of a museum should be objective presentation of material - not to tease the public into buying stuff.
The above reader then mentions a regional UK museum which recently staged two exhibitions on 20th Century artists which were sponsored by a commercial gallery. The commercial gallery, he says, had listed the works for sale on their website while the exhibition was on.
Help clean this Rubens?
September 29 2015
Picture: National Gallery
The National Gallery in London has launched a new online fundraising campaign (after the success of their recent first effort) to raise money to clean the above painting by Rubens, The Birth of Venus. The Gallery seeks £34,500, because:
Preliminary cleaning tests undertaken by National Gallery conservator Paul Ackroyd have revealed the shimmering white and grey tones of the original sketch, which would have vividly evoked the lustre of polished silver. By removing the top layer of discoloured varnish, Rubens’s modelling and detailing will be revealed.
£34,500 seems an awful lot of money just to remove a layer of old varnish. If my conservator quoted that price to me for such a straightforward job, I'd tell him where to go.
But still, it's a good cause, and I guess they like to take their time at the Gallery. The picture itself seems to be in excellent condition. More here.
Update - a reader writes:
[...] I guess [the appeal is] part of a new initiative to raise funds for smaller projects, following on from that for the frame for a Titian earlier.
Problem for me is that it’s for the wrong project.
It’s a primary function of the Gallery to look after their (i.e. our) paintings and they have established an extensive conservation studio to do this so, in effect, this appeal is reimbursing them for something they should be doing already. Indeed, and as the published Minutes for the Board Meeting in May note, the Gallery started the process last May. By this appeal are they indicating that it won’t go ahead if the money’s not raised?
And, as you rightly point out, It’s a lot of money. As the work looks fairly straightforward, it would be interesting to find out what their estimated hourly rate they are using to come up with the figure. And they do tend to take their time over things – Rembrandt’s Rihel portrait was in the studio for three and a half years. [...]
Why don’t they appeal for additions to the collection? Edinburgh have greatly enriched their collection over recent years by purchasing significant, but relatively inexpensive, acquisitions – this sort of project would be the ideal subject for fundraising through JustGiving.
I think I agree. Relatively low-level online appeals like this, which I am entirely in favour of, are probably best used to acquire things, be they frames or pictures. There's an element of 'crying wolf' here; if the National Gallery is seen to be using such appeals to simply substitute things they should already be doing, and indeed in this case have already started doing, then people may begin to tune out, and ignore appeals they think are just yet another way of boosting the coffers. I really don't think the high price tag in this case helps either. And, while I'm at it (National Gallery development team please note) these appeals really need to be better presented - video, better photos, that sort of thing.
September 22 2015
Picture: AHN Reader
They're coming thick and fast at the moment. The above screenshot comes courtesy of a sleuthing reader, and shows the $870,000 closing bid on a '19th C Continental School, Portrait with Lady Fainting' sold today in the US. The estimate was $500-$800. Someone has taken quite a punt.
Still, $870,000 (or close to $1m with premium) is cheap for an early Rembrandt. It's a little expensive for an early Dou.
Judging by the head of the figure in a red hat, I'd say the former is a better bet. If you bought it, good spot - and good luck!
Update - a reader writes:
Sleeper is definitely by Jan Lievens.
Update II - another reader writes:
Surely can't be any doubt [Rembrandt] - from his senses series. But not so cheap - I seem to recall that the last one sold from the series didn't make that much more than this. Given relationship to the other accepted works, it's hard to see much room for debate in the attribution. But Wetering can be unpredictable.
Update III - another sleuthing bidder writes:
Definitely an early Rembrandt, as part of the five senses: Smell
I was for 2 seconds the highest bidder at 1800 dollar...
Ach! Better luck next time.
It seems the world and its wife had spotted this one (except me, I missed this sale entirely). Is there such a thing as a cheap sleeper in this internet age?
Still, I did fare a little better the other day, and somewhat closer to home. Phew...
Update IV - Paul Jeromack in The Art Newspaper reports further on the Sense series, and tells us that the underbidder was 'a British dealer'.
Update V - here in Volume V of the Rembrandt Research Project is more information on the Senses series. This latest sleeper is beginning to look like a slam dunk.
Update VI - a sleuthing friend writes:
Let us remember that we are only as good as the next one... we soon become Salieris to younger Mozarts unless we madly pursue what drives us...
Nice phrase that, I might have to steal it. In the meantime, I'm off to thesaleroom.com.
Update VII - Rembrandt scholar Gary Schwartz seems pretty convinced.
A trip to Antwerp
June 26 2015
I was in Antwerp last week, and took the time to hunt out Van Dyck's birthplace, which is thought to be no. 4 on the Grotemarkt. In Van Dyck's day it was called 'Den Berendans', or 'the Bear Dance'. Today, the house is rather a sad sight - there's a rusting plaque declaring that Van Dyck was indeed born there, but the place itself is empty, having been a tea room by the look of it. Next door is the 'Pizzeria Antonio', which must be where the great man went for his Friday night takeaway.
In fact, no. 4 Grotemarkt is available to rent, if anyone fancies turning the place into a 'Van Dyck-huis', rather like the excellent Rubenshuis museum just down the road. If I was a billionaire, that's what I'd do.
Talking of the Rubenshuis, I went to have another look at the really excellent Rubens in Private exhibition. It closes on 28th June, so you have two days left to go and see it. I particularly enjoyed seeing the juxtaposition of Van Dyck's portrait of Rubens' first wife, Isabella Brant, and Rubens' own portrait of her. In the below snap, you can see Van Dyck's portrait on the left, and just in the distance in the next room, Rubens' portrait.
For me, Van Dyck will always be the better portraitist, for when you encounter a Van Dyck portrait you get the sense of truly individual human character. He (usually) resists the temptation to stick to a formulaic way of constructing heads, as so many portraitists do - in England, the likes of Lely and Kneller are obvious examples of artists who, it can feel, barely bothered to look at the person they were tasked with painting. Sometimes, it must be said, one does sense this towards the end of Van Dyck's career in England, when he was beginning to churn portraits out with the help of assistants - but it's rare.
Rubens, who was not fond of painting portraits, doesn't fall into this trap either, but can sometimes seem to produce works that border on the caricature - are they real people, we wonder? But the flipside of Rubens' approach is that his portraits are often full of character, even if this sometimes comes at the expense of verisimilitude, an age old problem for the portraitist. And in Rubens' portrait of Isabella Brant (below)* we see an example of a great artist painting a portrait that conveys both character and likeness to an almost perfect degree. In Van Dyck's portrait we feel confident to say 'this is what Isabella Brant looked like'. But in Rubens' portrait we can just as confidently say, 'this is what Isabella Brant was like'.
*I'm not entirely sure that hand is by Rubens by the way, could be an addition.