Category: Discoveries

€15m Leonardo drawing discovery (ctd.)

January 6 2017

Image of €15m Leonardo drawing discovery (ctd.)

Picture: Tajan

The newly discovered Leonardo drawing of St Sebastian has been declared 'un trésor national' by the French state, after the auction house Tajan (who discovered the work) applied for an export licence. The official value, which must be raised by any French museum wanting to buy the work, is €15m. The clock has three years to run. (During which time I predict that no museum will attempt to buy it.) More here.

Newly discovered Velasquez donated to the Prado

December 14 2016

Image of Newly discovered Velasquez donated to the Prado

Picture: Museo Prado

A new body called the American Friends of the Prado has acquired a recently discovered portrait of Philip III of Spain by Velasquez. The picture was found by the celebrated Velasquez scholar William B. Jordan, who has donated it to the AFP. Here's the full story from the Prado's press release:

The first donation received by American Friends of the Prado Museum, on this occasion made by the art historian William B. Jordan, has entered the Museo del Prado as a long-term deposit. This is a previously unpublished Portrait of Philip III, which exhaustive research and technical analysis have confirmed to be an autograph painting by Velázquez. It will be exhibited at the Prado as a temporary, renewable deposit.

The work is a preparatory painting for the face of Philip III executed by Velázquez in relation to his composition The Expulsion of the Moriscos, executed in 1627 but destroyed by the fire in the Real Alcázar in Madrid in 1734 and only known from written descriptions as no copy of it has survived. 

The addition of this work to the Museum’s collections as a long-term deposit will contribute to completing its representation of Velázquez as a royal portraitist, given that it is a work of outstanding quality and previously unpublished in the scholarly literature. As such, it will help to cast light on one of the key works of the artist’s early period at court.

The painting was acquired by William B. Jordan on the London art market, where it was catalogued as a Portrait of don Rodrigo Calderón due to a false inscription at the top. Following its restoration, Dr Jordan studied the painting, leading him to consider the idea that it is a work by Velázquez, specifically a preparatory painting for the face of Philip III in The Expulsion of the Moriscos. 

Among the reasons that have led Dr Jordan to defend this attribution are: 
Philip III appears to be aged around 40 in the painting, his age in 1609 when the moriscos were expelled from Spain. 

Stylistically, the work necessarily dates from later than 1609. It must have been produced between 1623, when Velázquez arrived at court and introduced a new style of royal portrait that corresponds to that of this work, and 1631, when he returned from Italy and adopted a notably different portrait style.

The fact that Philip III is in profile and looking up indicates that this is not a portrait (in which the sitter normally looks straight ahead) but an image to be included in a narrative scene.

The fact that the work’s characteristics are not comparable to the styles of the other portraitists working at the court in the 1620s, such as Van der Hamen, Maíno, Diricksen, etc. 

A study of written descriptions of The Expulsion of the Moriscos suggest that the portrait of Philip III in that scene had a similar expression to this one and was looking in the same direction. 

Again, a study of those descriptions led Dr Jordan to consider the idea that The Expulsion of the Moriscos was conceived as a pendant to Titian’s painting of Philip II offering the Infante don Fernando to Victory (Museo del Prado), which hung in the same room (the Salón Nuevo in the Alcázar) for which Velázquez’s work was painted. This idea led him to compare the portrait of Philip II in Titian’s work with that of Philip III in the present painting; a comparison that revealed numerous points of comparison with regard to the size and pose of the portraits.

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. 

New Rubens drawing after Raphael on display

December 10 2016

Image of New Rubens drawing after Raphael on display

Picture: Pheobus Foundation

A previously unknown drawing by Rubens after Raphael has gone on display for the first time in Belgium. The drawing (above) surfaced in a small auction house in Belgium earlier this year, and sold for €670,000 to the Phoebus foundation. I'm told the underbidder was the Metropolitan Museum in New York. 

Here's the Phoebus press release:

The pen-and-ink drawing with horsemen is a double-sided drawing. It is a study of Arab horsemen, which came under the management of The Phoebus Foundation in May of this year. Katharina Van Cauteren, curator of the exhibition and Chief of Staff of The Phoebus Foundation, explains why the work is so important. “This sketch is based on a scene by the Italian painter Raphael (1483-1520). However, Rubens isn’t making a copy. He breathes life into Raphael’s composition. Horses snort. Muscles are taut. A clever perspective draws the viewer into the story. This makes the drawing the first example of a brand new style: it is a forerunner of northern Baroque. With his entrepreneurial mind, Peter Paul Rubens was playing a new market here. His refreshing aesthetic was particularly to the taste of the public of his day. Rubens created an innovative visual language that conquered the world in no time”.

The drawing is on display in an exhibition organised by the Phoebus foundation in Ghent, called 'For God and Money: the Birth of Capitalism'. I went to see the show recently, and can highly recommend both it and Ghent. As regular readers will know, Belgium is my new favourite country. More on the show, which runs until 22nd January, here.

Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's

December 6 2016

Image of Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

There's a wonderful self-portrait by Judith Leyster at Christie's in London, which I hadn't really paid much attention to until I came face to face with it on Sunday. I also hadn't realised that it's a new discovery (Christie's press office, where were you?) which has only been known to art historians through a reference to the painting through the inventory of Leyster's husband, Jan Miense Molenaer. The picture is quite different from Leyster's earlier and more famous self-portrait, which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The estimate is a very enticing £400,000-£600,000. It's from a UK collection - and I hope this picture can be acquired by a UK museum.

Update - some last minute digging in the attic of the vendor has uncovered the below family catalogue from 1957.

Interestingly, the picture was then known as a Leyster, but half a century later the identification had been lost, providing an interesting puzzle for Christie's specialists.

This happens quite a lot - indeed I've seen pictures appear at auction as 'sleepers' which had been sold as the real thing only a decade earlier. It's amazing how much information can be lost when one generation passes on. The analogy I often use is this; how many of us know the names of our great grandparents? Not many, I suspect, without looking it up. And yet we know so much about about our grandparents. 

The moral of the story is - always put a label your paintings!

Sleeper Alert!

November 14 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Karl und Faber

The above small 'Florentine School' painting at Karl und Faber auction house in Germany, estimated at €3k-€4k, made €375k last week. The name Filippino Lippi has been suggested, and indeed the cataloguing of the picture on the auction house website has subsequently been amended to say that. Here's a comparable picture in the North Carolina Museum of Art.

New Breughel the Younger discovered in Bath

November 7 2016

Image of New Breughel the Younger discovered in Bath

Picture: Guardian/Holburne Museum

A newly discovered work by Peter Breughel the Younger will go on display next year at the Holburne Museum in Bath. The Wedding Dance was found by the new director there, Jennifer Scott, whilst having a rummage around the museum's stores. It was thought to be a later copy. The Guardian reports:

A rollicking painting of peasants dancing in the open air at a boozy wedding immediately caught the eye of the new director of the Holburne Museum in Bath when she first toured the stores of her new kingdom. Her eye was keen: from under layers of grime and discoloured varnish, a previously unrecognised work by the 17th-century Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger has emerged.

Wedding Dance in the Open Air had previously been catalogued not even as a studio work but as a lowly later copy. It has now been accepted by experts as a genuine work by the master, and will form the centrepiece of an exhibition next year at the museum on the Brueghel dynasty of artists, the first in the UK.

“The more I looked at the panel, the better it seemed,” said Jennifer Scott, who was curator of the Royal Collection before taking over in Bath two years ago. “Even under the grime the detail and the colour seemed fantastic, far too good for a mere copy.

“It helped that I had so recently been working on the Dutch and Flemish paintings in the Royal Collection. He is a wonderful painter, whose reputation has steadily been on the rise – even a few years ago people would have said: ‘Oh, bad luck, the Younger not the Elder,’ but now everyone is genuinely excited to hear of a new discovery of his work.”

The attribution means the museum now has three paintings by the artist, more than in any other UK collection.

The picture will be featured in an exhibition on the Brueghel dynasty, which opens February 11th, until June 4th. I'll be giving a talk at some point during the exhibition, date to be confirmed.

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.

Is this Van Dyck's portrait of Jordaens?

October 10 2016

Image of Is this Van Dyck's portrait of Jordaens?

Picture: Warwick Castle

Here's an interesting blogpost by Adam Busiakiewicz, an art historian who used to work at Warwick Castle. It's about the above portrait by Van Dyck (detail) which hangs at Warwick Castle. The attribution to Van Dyck is not in doubt, but the sitter is 'unknown'. Adam cleverly thought reminded him of Jacob Jordaens, Van Dyck's fellow artist in Antwerp. The likeness is a good one, and the date of the painting would fit with Van Dyck painting Jordaens, whom of course he knew, and whom he portrayed for his famous 'Iconography' series of engravings.

Last year, Adam wrote a well argued piece for the British Art Journal - but unluckily for him he found a crucial piece of evidence after the BAJ article came out. It was a photograph in the Witt Library, which shows a copy of Van Dyck's original. The insription says 'Jacob Jordaens' - which would appear to be evidence that Adam's not the only person to have connected Jordaens to the sitter.

Personally I think Adam is right - it must be Jordaens. All we need to do now is find Van Dyck's missing portrait of Rubens...

The £1.4m doorstop

September 27 2016

Image of The £1.4m doorstop

Picture: BBC

A £1.4m marble bust which until recently was being used as a doorstop is to go on display at the Louvre. The bust is by the French sculptor Edme Bouchardon, and shows a Scottish MP, Sir John Gordon. It was made in 1728, and belongs to a Scottish local authority, Highland Council. They were bequeathed in the 1920s, but it became lost for decades, before being found on an industrial estate in 1998, propping open a door. Inevitably, the council tried to sell it. But hopefully its inclusion in a new Louvre exhibition dedicated to Bouchardon will help persuade them to keep this important piece of local heritage. 

Update - Colin Harrison, Senior Curator of European Art at the Ashmolean museum, writes:

Good to read that the bust of Gordon of Invergordon will be included in the forthcoming Bouchardon exhibition. It was published in:

Malcolm Baker, Colin Harrison, Alastair Laing, 'Bouchardon's British Sitters: Sculptural Portraiture in Rome and the Classicising Bust around 1730', The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 142, No. 1173 (Dec., 2000), pp. 752-762,

which you can read on JSTOR, if you have it.

Unfortunately, we found no evidence as to who owns the bust. Certainly, the local authority cannot claim title until it produces proper proof - ' found in a municipal store' might very well mean that, as often happened, it was merely lent by the owner for safe-keeping, perhaps in the First World War or at some other point of crisis. That particular branch of the Gordon family died out in the eighteenth century, but they married into the Mackenzie Earls of Cromartie, whose descendants may well be the legitimate owners. In the absence of any documentation, the only sensible solution would be for the bust to be displayed in Inverness Museum, where it has been in storage for nearly twenty years.

Fascinating. Might any claimants now come forward?

Brian Sewell sale

September 26 2016

Image of Brian Sewell sale

Picture: The Times

Just a reminder that the Brian Sewell sale is tomorrow at Christie's. I am very sad to report that I haven't been able to view the sale, nor can I make it to the auction. I'd really have loved to see his collection together. I will have to lurk in the auction room online to see what I can pick up. 

 

The flea market Durer

August 8 2016

Image of The flea market Durer

Picture: Guardian

A 1520 engraving by Albrecht Durer, Maria Crowned by an Angel, has been donated to the Staatsgallerie in Stuttgart after it was bought in a French flea market for just a few euros. The engraving had originally been in the museum's collection, but had been missing since the war. A museum stamp on the back identified the museum's ownership. The donor has remained anonymous, but whoever they are, AHN salutes them.

Recreating a lost Degas

August 8 2016

Image of Recreating a lost Degas

Pictures: NY Times

I've been amazed by the digital recreation (above right) of an over-painted portrait by Degas, made possible by the sort of thing they only discuss at Cern, a particle accelerator. The New York Times has the story:

For decades, a mysterious black stain has been spreading across the face of an anonymous woman in Australia [below]. She is the subject of a painting by Edgar Degas, the French Impressionist painter, and since the 1920s, the oil paints in her portrait have gradually faded, revealing the hints of another, hidden portrait underneath.

Until recently, attempts to capture the image underlying “Portrait of a Woman” with conventional X-ray and infrared techniques have only yielded the shadowy outline of another woman. In a study published on Thursday, however, a team of researchers reports that they have revealed the hidden layer underneath the painting, which hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia, at a very high resolution. It seems to be a portrait of Emma Dobigny, a model who was a favored subject of Degas. [...]

To get their high-resolution image, the research team used a type of particle accelerator called a synchrotron. Synchrotrons are sources of extremely high-energy light. They work by directing that light, which is a million times brighter than the sun, into an X-ray beam that’s one tenth the diameter of a human hair.

Early Freud revealed on 'Fake of Fortune?'

July 18 2016

Image of Early Freud revealed on 'Fake of Fortune?'

Picture: BBC

Well I know I'm biased, but I thought last night's episode of 'Fake or Fortune?' was one of our best yet. The story involved an early work by Lucian Freud, which the artist painted when he was about 16, but which he later denied having created (mainly, we suspect, because he dislliked its owner). However, we managed to find a note of a conversation Freud had with his solicitor, in which he conceded that he had painted at least the substantial part of it. More here.

Update - the viewing figures were 4.3m.

Update II - Toby Treves has set out his reasons as to why he has not accepted that the picture is entirely by Freud, and thus won't be included in the catalogue raisonneé of Freud's work. He will include it in an appendix of the book, instead. His argument seems to be based on doubts by Freud that he painted the whole painting, even though Treves concedes that the figure - that is, the key feature of the painting - was painted all at once, by Freud. It seems to be doubts over who painted the landscape that means Treves cannot accept the work as 'a Freud'.

To be honest, I find this slightly puzzling, for it would be perfectly possible to list the painting in the  main body of the catalogue raisonné, but with all the caveats fully set out. To exclude a painting Freud admitted to making, even in part, from the catalogue of the artist's work seems a little harsh, as well as defining a 'catalogue raisonné' in unusually prescriptive terms. After all, many is the artist who relied on studio assistance over time, but we don't say those works are not (for example) by Rubens.

Update III - a reader writes:

To be honest, I find this slightly puzzling, for it would be perfectly possible to list the painting in the  main body of the catalogue raisonné, but with all the caveats fully set out. To exclude a painting Freud admitted to making, even in part, from the catalogue of the artist's work seems a little harsh, as well as defining a 'catalogue raisonné' in unusually prescriptive terms

It might be instructive to look at Martin Harrison’s approach - in respect of Denis Wirth Miller, funnily enough - on page 19 of his recent and monumental Bacon cat. rais:

‘His friend Denis Wirth Miller helped him with at least two paintings (52-03 and 52-04)  [Dog, 1952 and  Landscape, 1952] and reputedly contributed to House in Barbados, 1952 (52-02) and one of the Van Gogh series in 1957. It is unknown whether the two artists painted side-by-side, or which parts of the paintings Wirth Miller was responsible.’

All are included in the main body of the cat. rais.

Earliest known British architect portrait at NPG

July 13 2016

Image of Earliest known British architect portrait at NPG

Picture: NPG

The National Portrait Gallery in London has acquired a newly discovered portrait of Ralph Simons, the 16th Century architect. Painted in c.1595, the painting is the earliest known portrait of a British architect. It was discovered in an Italian auction by the sleuthing Lawrence Hendra, of Philip Mould & Co in London. More here.

Cleaning test fun

July 13 2016

Image of Cleaning test fun

Picture: BG

I had a fun afternoon yesterday doing some cleaning tests on a picture I discovered recently, a genre painting by Matthijs Naiveu (1647-1721). Naiveu was a pupil of Gerrit Dou, and this I think might be an early work, perhaps made whilst he was working in Dou's studio. A number of props in the painting appear in works by Dou. It's signed lower right 'M. Naiveu'. Though Naiveu is not a widely known name, I just can't resist these things when they surface in a country sale - especially when they're crying out to be rescued from beneath three or four hundred years of dirt and old varnish.

A Modigliani found in the trash?

June 20 2016

Image of A Modigliani found in the trash?

Picture: AP

So an antiques dealer finds a Modigliani near a rubbish bin in Rome, and gets the picture approved by a PR firm doubling as the 'Amadeao Modigliani Institute'. What could possibly be curious about that? Nicole Winfield of AP investigates:

It’s a story almost too fantastical to be true: A flea market dealer finds a painting near a subway trash bin, submits it to laboratory analysis and emerges convinced he has a Modigliani on his hands.

No one would believe it, given the modernist master is one of the most sought-after and forged artists around.

But a public relations firm in Rome that doubles as the Amedeo Modigliani Institute is claiming a signed portrait of “Odette” could be a real deal. It’s putting the work on public view next week saying it hopes to start an academic debate on its authenticity.

“I assure you, this isn’t a fake and we are dealing with a discovery,” insisted Luciano Renzi, the institute’s president and head of an eponymous publicity firm. While acknowledging that experts must make such a certification, he said he wouldn’t put it up to critical review “if the institute didn’t firmly believe it.”

However, the institute has no role or expertise in authenticating Modigliani works, has a financial interest in drumming up publicity for its exhibit, and even the lab it hired refuses to date the painting.

More here.

Update - a painter writes:

The face of the alleged Modigliani painting looks1960's just as the female faces in Van Meergeren's fake Vermeers look in retrospect like silent film stars. Difficult to spot at the time? Interesting too that the canvas is attached to the stretcher with staples. Staple guns for this purpose seem to have appeared in 1934 at the earliest. Modi died in 1920. He probably couldn't have afforded one anyway.

New Van Dyck self-portrait at the National Gallery

June 17 2016

Video: National Gallery

I was delighted to see in the above video, for the National Gallery's new Painters' Paintings exhibition, a newly discovered Van Dyck self-portrait I helped unearth. The picture was bought by Philip Mould back in 2012 on behalf of a private client from a minor German auction, where it was described as a copy. An inspired and brave purchase (the bidding went way above €500,000), and probably the most exciting picture I worked on when I was working for Philip, he later sold it to a US private collector. It has been on loan at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, but now makes its London debut.

I remember going to see the painting with Philip at the auction. Anxious that we were being watched, we dared not look at the painting for any prolonged period. Philip knew within a second that it was 'right', even though it was extensively overpainted. It took me a little longer.

More on the picture here.

Unknown Lucian Freud self-portrait

June 16 2016

Image of Unknown Lucian Freud self-portrait

Picture: Lucian Freud Archive

A previously unknown self-portrait by Lucian Freud (archive) has gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London. A new exhibition will explore the NPG's recently acquired Freud archive, which features a range of letters and sketches. More here at the NPG's website.

Sleeper alert?

June 16 2016

Image of Sleeper alert?

Picture: Christie's

The above painting described as 'After George Stubbs' was offered in a minor Christie's New York 'Living with Art' sale earlier this week, with an estimate of $3,000-$5,000. It sold for $215,000.

The picture was deaccessioned by the Huntington Art Collection in California.

But its status as 'not Stubbs' is new. The picture is listed in the recent Yale catalogue raisonné as a genuine work by Stubbs. It was acquired by the Huntington as a Stubbs. It is signed (lower right) and is on panel, as is often the case with Stubbs. From the (not especially good) online photo I can see why the picture might have struck some as being 'right'. According to the catalogue note, the painting is now 'understood' to be a copy of another work, even though the whereabouts of that work is not currently known, and could only be judged on the basis (it seems) of a photo from 1958.

Hmmm. Has a bish been made here? If so, it's one of the biggest deaccessioning blunders of modern times. The Huntington is not awash with Stubbs, and has only one other painting by him. Or is it the most expensive Stubbs copy in history?

Either way, here's what I don't really understand about these deaccessioning cases. The picture was offered 'without reserve', which means that the Huntington were happy to literally give it away. If only one person had bid $50, then that's what they would have been obliged to sell it for. But that being so, then why bother selling it in the first place? The picture had evidently been recognised as a genuine Stubbs for many years. It was dirty and apparently overpainted in parts - and thus impossible to judge with certainty whether it was by Stubbs or not. So why take the risk of getting it wrong? And why have such little institutional curiosity as to not investigate the possibility of Stubbs' authorship more fully, if only as an interesting academic exercise?

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