The £1.4m doorstop
September 27 2016
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
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.
Recreating a lost Degas
August 8 2016
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.
The flea market Durer
August 8 2016
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.
Early Freud revealed on 'Fake of Fortune?'
July 18 2016
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.
Cleaning test fun
July 13 2016
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.
Earliest known British architect portrait at NPG
July 13 2016
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.
A Modigliani found in the trash?
June 20 2016
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.
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.
June 16 2016
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?
Unknown Lucian Freud self-portrait
June 16 2016
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.
Allan Ramsay's 'Bonnie Prince' acquired by SNPG (ctd.)
May 11 2016
Just to say I've written more about the history of this picture in Country Life, which is available in all good newsagents now.
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.
A new 'lost' portrait of Anne Boleyn?
April 13 2016
There was a story in the newspapers (The Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday) over the weekend about a 'newly discovered' portrait of Anne Boleyn. Actually, what has been discovered is an old reproduction (above) of an apparently lost painting - and the fact that it was found on eBay has given the story added legs (although just to be precise, what was being sold on eBay were modern reproductions - for £70 - of a print found in a print shop near Oxford by a former farmer and Tudor portrait enthusiast Howard Jones).
The identity of the sitter as Anne Boleyn has been endorsed by the Tudor historian Alison Weir, and also by Tracy Borman, who is joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces. Borman says:
I'm very convinced by this. It is hugely exciting. This could well be a Coronation portrait.
The whereabouts of the original painting are reported as being unknown:
The original painting was sold in 1842 from Strawberry Hill, the Twickenham castle to a London art dealer.
He in turn sold it to Ralph Bernal, a British politician and collector who died in 1854.
Then the trail goes cold. Weir said: 'Someone might come forward and say they've got it. They don't realise it now because it's bound to be labelled Lady Bergavenny.'
As far as I can make out, the only evidence here to suggest that the sitter is Anne Boleyn is the letter 'A' at the centre of the necklace, and the repeated 'A's in the headdress, and a 'B' and an 'R' at the left and right of the necklace. These apparently point us to 'Anne Boleyn' and 'Anne Regina', hence the portrait being a coronation portrait. The fashion is also right for a portrait of the 1530s.
But of course, Anne Boleyn was not the only Anne in Tudor Britain, and we might even have to allow the possibility that the sitter was called Alice, or Angela, or some such name. Monogrammed jewels were all the rage in the 1530s, as the many surviving designs by Holbein show. And I think probably we would expect Anne, in a coronation portrait, to have either 'AR' for Anne Regina (as we see in the 1534 coronation medal) or 'HA' for Henry & Anne, which again we know was used by the couple thanks to Holbein's designs, and also from some surviving architectural elements. The use of 'AB', or even just a 'B', in the jewels some Anne Boleyn portraits come from posthumous portraits which we cannot take as reliable indicators of either likeness or what jewels she wore.
The image is not unknown, for it was engraved at least twice in the 19th Century (here and here). Then, the sitter was thought to be Joanna Fitzalan, Lady Bergavenny. This Lady Bergavenny, however, died some time before 1515, and the fashion would appear to rule her out as the sitter in this portrait (though one never knows in Tudor portraiture, and we cannot exclude the possibility that it shows another member of the family). The picture was once at Strawberry Hill, and we must tempted to assume that if there really was any historical chance this sitter might have been Anne Boleyn, then those old iconographical optimists of the 18th and 19th Centuries would have labelled it such.
Anyway, AHNers, I can tell you that the original portrait is not lost, for some years ago I saw a good colour photograph of it. I was shown the photo in strictest confidence by someone who had been asked to look into the possibility that the sitter might be Anne. That person, incidentally, certainly knew their Tudor portrait onions.
Our belief at the time was the sitter was most likely not Anne Boleyn, though the tedious thing is I can't now remember all of our conclusions. There was nothing in the way of provenance, or traditional identification, to lead us down that path. As far as I recall, there was no mathing necklace in any Royal Tudor jewel inventory. But I do remember paying attention to the other motifs in the headdress, and not being able to connect any of them to Anne Boleyn. It's much clearer in the photograph of the actual painting, but the other letter given equal prominence in the headdress alongside the 'A' is what is most likely an 'I' (to see a similar Tudor decorative 'I' see here). It is therefore likely that the sitter in the original portrait is someone called 'AI' or 'IA', with some other initials 'B' and 'R' elsewhere in her or her family's name.
If anyone has any better ideas as to who she is, let me know!
Of course, it's worth remembering that we do in fact have a life portrait of Anne Boleyn by Holbein...
Update - the print itself is now being offered for sale by Howard Jones on Ebay for £1,000. Which is a lot of money for a print of an unknown 16th Century sitter.
Update II - here's a long analysis of the claims (and a sceptical one) from Claire Ridgway, on her blog The Anne Boleyn Files, including a view that the costume is in fact from the 1520s.
Update III - and here's a blog post from Alison Weir (scroll down the page) on why she thinks it might be Anne. I'm afraid it displays some basic misunderstandings about Boleyn's iconography.
The Met's new David drawing
April 6 2016
Video: The Met
The Met has bought a drawing by Jacques Louis David, which according to the video above is one of the artist's first explorations of The Death of Socrates, a painting the Met owns. The drawing apparently surfaced on the art market last year. The new addition means that the Met has recently bought two preparatory drawings by David for The Death of Socrates, for in 2013 (regular readers may remember) they bought another, a 'sleeper' in a New York auction, for just $800. The video doesn't say how the two drawings are related.
Update - a reader points me to the latest drawing's sale at Christie's for $593,000. That's a quite a spread for David drawings of the same subject.
A new Caravaggio discovery?
April 4 2016
Picture: La Tribune de l'Art/Didier Rykner
Didier Rykner at La Tribune de l'Art reports that the French government has declared a 'national treasure' (and thus carrying certain export constraints) a possible new discovery of a work by Caravaggio. There is alas no photo available, but it is said to be Caravaggio's original version of Judith and Holofernes, which composition has been known until now through a copy by Louis Finson (above). Caravaggio's original is recorded as being in Finson's studio in 1607. The discovery has been hailed by Dr Mina Gregori. Let's hope some images are available soon.
New Rubens discovery in New York
April 1 2016
I was glad to see the above picture in Christie's forthcoming New York catalogue, correctly described as by Rubens. It had previously been in a Christie's South Kensington sale as 'Flemish School', and though I was disappointed to see it withdrawn shortly before the sale, the sleuther's loss is the consignor's gain.
The estimate of $120,000-$180,000 seems quite reasonable. The sale is on 14th April. Other highlights include a fine, small El Greco of The Entombment at $4m-$6m, and an important newly discovered Virgin and Child by Joos van Cleve $600k-$800k.
December 2 2015
The above small canvas (50 x 31.5 cm) came up in Austria the other day as 'Attributed to El Greco'. As such, a price of €54,000 wasn't too unusual. But the estimate of €400-€800, with a starting bid of just €200 certainly was cheap.
New research on Joseph Blackburn
November 20 2015
Picture: Portrait of Colonel Atkinson by Joseph Blackburn, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Resarchers at Worcestershire Archive service here in the UK have unearthed fascinating new details about the life of Joseph Blackburn, a British painter who was one of the most successful portraitists in Colonial America.
Here is how the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography begins its entry on Blackburn:
Blackburn [is] of obscure origins: nothing is known of his birth, parents, geographical area of origin, or education. His career is documented primarily by about seventy signed portraits painted between 1752 and 1777 in Bermuda, New England, Ireland, and the west of England. An equal number of portraits, mainly of New England subjects, are attributed to him. [...] Nothing is known of Blackburn's death or burial.
But thanks to the new research we now know:
- He died in 1787 in the parish of St Nicholas in Worcester, England, where his family is recorded as living from 1768.
- He was an active member of the church there.
- We now have his will (which reveals he was wealthy).
- He had two daughters, Henrietta and Elizabeth.
- He was buried in St Nicholas Church in Worcester on 11th July 1787.
- The church is now a pub, called the Slug and Lettuce.
More details of this excellent work here. Many congratulations to Angela Downton, Julia Pincott and Teresa Jones, archivists at Worcestershire Archive Service.
A Polish restitution
September 29 2015
Picture: Washington Post
The above portrait by Krzysztof Lubieniecki was looted during WW2 by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw. It was recovered by Allied forces, but as seems to have happened quite often was quietly taken back to America by a US soldier. Recently, the picture was traced to Ohio, and the current owners have agreed to send the picture back to Poland. More here.