17th Century

Sotheby's NY Old Master sales

December 20 2016

Image of Sotheby's NY Old Master sales

Picture: BG

Sotheby's January New York sale catalogues are online; Evening sale here; Day sale here; drawings here. There are many fine things as ever; Turner, Zurburan, an equestrian study by Rubens, and an Orazio Gentileschi that used to belong to Charles I. Shown above is a picture that caught my eye when it was previewed in London, a wonderfully zany El Greco, which is catalogued cautiously as 'attributed to El Greco' with an estimate of $400k-$600k.

I'll be in New York for the sales, part of a US jaunt I'm making to visit a few museums. There's an intriguing picture called 'attributed to Rembrandt' which I'm looking forward to seeing. The estimate is $300k-$500k, which is not much for a Rembrandt - if it is one. It seems from the text and exhibition history that the attribution is or was supported by Seymour Slive, Christopher Brown and Horst Gerson. We can doubtless deduce by the absence of his name from the catalogue that Ernst van de Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project does not endorse the attribution. Looking at the literature, it seems it has been published and exhibited as a work by Rembrandt in full - until now. Such are the vagaries of Rembrandt scholarship.

Sleeper Alert!

December 13 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Sotheby's

This 'Roman School, 17th Century' picture soared above its £1k-£15k estimate at Sotheby's last week to make £380,750 (inc. premium). There was even a round of applause in the room when the hammer came down. I've no idea what it was, but the provenance shows that it was once thought to be by Bernini.

Update - Colin Gleadell reports that it was bought by Nando Peretti of the Walpole Gallery. 

Sleeper alert?!

October 13 2016

Image of Sleeper alert?!

Picture: Christie's

Well, nearly. The above picture has been withdrawn. But zoom in on the picture here, and to the right of the ruff you can just make out a signature. It begins with 'R...'

Too early to say much from the photos. But possibly quite exciting.

'The mysterious landscapes of Hercules Segers'

September 19 2016

Image of 'The mysterious landscapes of Hercules Segers'

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.

Sleeper Alert!

June 16 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Ferri-Drouot

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

Image of Flemish drawings at the Scottish National Gallery

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

Image of Dutch and Flemish drawings at the V&A

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

Image of Sleeper alert! (ctd.)

Picture: AHN

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

Image of London mid-season OMP sales

Picture: Christie's

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

Image of Irish Guercino cleaned in LA

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

Video: Bonhams

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

Image of "Van Dyck" at the Frick (ctd.)

Picture: Frick

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

Video: Prado

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

Video: Dorotheum

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

Image of Louvre acquisition in New York

Picture: Sotheby's

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

Image of Van Dyck curiousness in the US

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

Image of 'Recovering Charles I's art collection'

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

Image of Decoding a still life

Picture: Christie's

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

Image of Does museum exposure increase the value of Old Masters?

Picture: Sotheby's

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.

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