Category: Discoveries

More of Leonardo's Sala delle Asse mural uncovered

October 24 2013

Image of More of Leonardo's Sala delle Asse mural uncovered


Removal of whitewash in Sforzesco Castle, Italy, has apparently revealed the remains of Leonardo's decoration in the Sala delle Asse. From the Gazzetta del Sud:

New sections of artwork by Leonardo da Vinci have been found in a room of the Sforzesco Castle, where he was the court artist for the duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro, in the late 1400s. Restoration work on the Sala delle Asse (room of the planks), which da Vinci decorated from April to September of 1498 with a mural of trees soaring into a vaulted canopy, has revealed additional sections of the original work under several layers of whitewash - sometimes up to 17 - according to representatives of the Florentine restoration institute Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Restoration workers say they are uncovering a monochrome section of the mural depicting a huge tree root [below], stuck in rock at the base of the many trees that adorn the room - a giant, surprising 'trompe l'oeil'. Analyses done on the face of the mural to reconstruct the original composition give "quite interesting results", they say, and give hope of restoring large parts of the original decoration. So far the work of scraping away newer layers has been performed with mechanical means, like scalpels and hammers, but further work will likely require other methods, like ultrasound scaling, laser instruments and chemical products.

More photos of the work in action here.

Newly found Brueghel the Younger at Frieze

October 17 2013

Image of Newly found Brueghel the Younger at Frieze

Picture: FT

It's good to see that one of the headline pictures from this week's Frieze fairs has come from the Masters (ie, 'old') part. Congratulations to famed Old Master dealer Johnny Van Haeften for finding a lost work by Pieter Breughel the Younger in East Africa. The FT reports:

“I can tell you, it nearly blew my socks off,” Johnny Van Haeften laughed. “In my – what is it? – almost 44 years in the art world I’ve never known an experience like this.”

Van Haeften, one of London’s most respected dealers in Old Masters, sounded almost breathless as he told his story. Speaking from his Mayfair gallery, he was describing his first sight of a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger that has for the 400 years since its creation been completely unknown to the world.

It has been continuously in the possession of the same English family since a distant ancestor bought it, direct from the artist’s studio, in Antwerp in 1611.

The owners had never publicised their precious possession, although they were well aware of its pedigree. Until the 1950s they even had among the family papers the original receipt, Van Haeften tells me, made out in Antwerp in 1611 for the purchase price of 200 florints. (If that mislaid piece of paper ever comes to light, it will in itself be a fascinating object for art historians.)

NPG buys Anne Clifford portrait

October 4 2013

Image of NPG buys Anne Clifford portrait

Picture: The Guardian

The National Portrait Gallery has acquired a newly identified portrait of Lady Anne Clifford by William Larkin. The portrait was found by the Weiss Gallery in London. More details here

First photo of Titian's(?) 'Concert'

October 4 2013

Image of First photo of Titian's(?) 'Concert'

Picture: NG3, Possibly by Titian, 'The Music Lesson', about 1535, Oil on canvas 100.4 x 126.1 cm, (C) National Gallery, London

The National Gallery have kindly sent me a photo of the newly cleaned 'Concert', or as it is now called 'The Music Lesson', which I posted about below, and which is featured in the latest issue of The Burlington Magazine. The Gallery catalogues the work as 'Possibly by Titian'. It's hard to judge the picture from this, not least because it has obviously suffered significant damage in the past. The best bit is the central figure below, which, in his jacket, is quite Titian-esque. 

Turner's Scottish Welsh Turner

October 4 2013

Image of Turner's Scottish Welsh Turner

Picture: Telegraph

The Telegraph reports that the above Turner in the Fitzwilliam Museum, which was formerly thought to show a scene in Wales, has now been identified as a scene in Scotland:

Inspired by the majestic Scottish landscapes during his first visit to the highlands in 1801, Joseph Turner created the watercolour painting, entitled The Traveller - Vide Ossian's War of Caros, the following year.

It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London during 1802, but was incorrectly catalogued as a Welsh Mountain Landscape in the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge University during the 1970s.

Now artistic detective work by Professor Murdo MacDonald, of Dundee University, and Eric Shanes, a former chairman of the Turner Society, has proved the painting is a depiction of the Loch Lomond area.

The pair used maps to scout the Scottish countryside to pinpoint the location as Rubha Mor, six miles to the south of Inveruglas.

I was driving along Loch Lomond earlier this week, and very beautiful it was too. I can see why Turner felt the place was worth painting. Full details of the discovery will appear in the next issue of Turner Society News, the journal of the Turner Society.

Move along folks, nothing to see here...

October 4 2013

Image of Move along folks, nothing to see here...

Picture: Die Welt

How do you get a story in practically every paper in the world, with little or no effort? Easy, mention the words 'Leonardo', 'discovery' and 'expert' in the same press release. Hey presto, global media attention. The writer Fiona McLaren got wide coverage last year for claiming that she owned Leonardo's 'last commission'. She doesn't, but she's still going great guns with the idea, as this lecture at the University of Dundee shows. 

Anyway, the latest claim is the above portrait, of Isabella D'Este, which relates to the known Leonardo drawing in the Louvre. I find it hard to believe that it is by the greatest painter that ever lived, judging by the photo. I know it's dangerous to speculate from images, but AHN-ers don't like it when I sit on the fence. The drapery is really feeble. And did the same artist who painted the sublime hand in The Lady with an Ermine really paint that limp and formless thing above? I doubt it. But Leonardo 'expert' Carlo Pedretti has said he did. From The Guardian:

"There are no doubts that the portrait is Leonardo's work," said Carlo Pedretti, an emeritus professor of art history at the University of California.

If acknowledged as genuine – and if experts concur it was painted before the Mona Lisa – the portrait could shake up academic studies of one of the world's most famous painting.

The 61cm by 46.5cm portrait, which uses the same pigment in the paint and the same primer used by Leonardo, is the completed version of a sketch he made of D'Este, which, like the Mona Lisa, hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

The unnamed family which owns the portrait, and asked for it to be analysed, has kept a collection of about 400 paintings in Turgi, Switzerland since the start of the 20th century, reported the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

It's painted with old paint, on old primer - so it must be by Leonardo, right? Or might there have been thousands of artists around at that time who happened to use contemporary paints and techniques?

Regular readers will remember the most recent Pedretti blessing, for the so-called Isleworth Madonna, which just isn't, not in a million years, by Leonardo (as the highly respected Leonardo scholar  Prof. Martin Kemp has vainly tried to point out). Pedretti was also involved in that weird 'Leonardo sculpture' business I mentioned last year. You'd think by now that the press would be wary of people claiming to discover Leonardos without amassing a proper consensus among Leonardo scholars. But on it goes.

Update - The Telegraph has spoken to Martin Kemp:

Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at Trinity College, Oxford, and one of the world’s foremost experts on da Vinci, said if the find was authenticated it would be worth “tens of millions of pounds” because there are only 15 to 20 genuine da Vinci works in the world.

But he raised doubts about whether the painting was really the work of Leonardo. The portrait found in Switzerland is painted on canvas, whereas Leonardo favoured wooden boards.

“Canvas was not used by Leonardo or anyone in his production line,” Prof Kemp told The Daily Telegraph. “Although with Leonardo, the one thing I have learnt is never to be surprised.”

There are further doubts – Leonardo gave away his original sketch to the marquesa, so he would not have been able to refer to it later in order to paint a full oil version.

“You can’t rule out the possibility but it seems unlikely,” Prof Kemp said. It was more likely to have been produced by one of the many artists operating in northern Italy who copied Leonardo’s works.

Update II - Professor Kemp has further written on his blog:

Another promotion of a non-Leonardo, pushed by the Corriere della Serra, which has been a great newspaper. I was contacted by someone called Veronica Artioli - not, apparently, an accredited arts journalist. I declined to express a visual opinion on the basis of the poor reproductions I had seen but made it clear that any attribution to Leonardo was not consistent with the documentation. The result is that I am implicitly cited as a supporter of the attribution. I will be asking for a retraction.

Having looked further at this, it is clear that the painting cannot be by Leonardo, on the basis of the documented account of Leonardo's relations with Isabella d'Este and his evident failure to paint her portrait.

Update III - a reader writes:

These "Leonardo" discoveries are getting quite tedious as you rightly point out. What is even more annoying is the unreflective acceptance by people and organizations that really should know better. Today, I found it on the TEFAF [The European Fine Art Fair] facebook-page. They are not really helping critical thinking, are they?

I wonder what this tells us about Tefaf vetting.

Update IV - TEFAF gets in touch to tell us:

We believe it's always a good thing to be very critical regarding the authenticity of a piece of art. TEFAF Maastricht is unrivalled in its standards and the methods it applies to establish the authenticity, quality and condition of every painting and object on sale at the fair. Without any exception a TEFAF vetting committee consists of several experts rather than one. By sharing news about (proclaimed) discoveries on our facebook page we hope to enable the discussion amongst our friends. Feel free to participate, we value your thoughts. We are excited to have this discussion and remain curious what further examination will teach us.

The first Las Meninas?

October 3 2013

Image of The first Las Meninas?

Picture: National Trust

A Spanish art historian, Dr Matias Diaz Padron (Director of the Instituto Moll, the 'Centre for the Study of Flemish Pictures' in Spain) has claimed that a previously overlooked 56 x 48 inch replica of 'Las Meninas' belonging to the National Trust (above) is in fact Velasquez's preliminary study for the work. Says The Guardian:

Díaz Padrón argued that the painting was "believed to be, and documented as, a Velázquez original in the 17th and 18th centuries … by the professors of the Royal Academy, including Francisco de Goya". It was only in the 19th and 20th centuries that the painting's provenance was changed, he said, with historians coming to believe it to be a later copy by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, Velázquez's son-in-law and successor as painter to the royal court.

He argued that this was a mistake and that the painting was the first "boceto or modeletto" — a first draft or sketch – painted by Velázquez, which the king then asked him to reproduce on a larger scale, which now hangs in the Prado.

Díaz Padrón said: "Today, the moment has arrived to revise these judgments, and restore the painting's authorship to Velázquez." He said: "I don't see any differences between the boceto and the definitive work … the colours are typical of Velázquez in both pictures."

The debate is anything but settled, however, and the Prado museum denies that the painting in Kingston Lacy, bought by the English landowner and art collector William Bankes in the early 19th century, is an original.

I haven't got access to good images of the Kingston Lacy picture. There's one on the National Trust website here, and another on Your Paintings here. I'll try and get hold of a good photo. Compare with the original in the Prado here. In the meantime, it's interesting to note that if, as the Prado maintains, the Kingston Lacy picture is just a copy, then it isn't a particularly diligent copy. You can't, for example, see the all-important king and queen in the mirror (though it's possible I suppose that this is due to condition issues), and you'd have to wonder why a copyist would leave this out. Of course, if it is was a study by Velasquez, then it would make sense for him just to sketch in the mirror.

So keep an open mind folks. It looks to be a freely painted thing, of some quality. Mind you, if it was, as previously suggested, by Velasquez's talented son-in-law, Del Mazo, then it would also be a work of quality. Anyway, if the Kingston Lacy picture is 'right', then they'll have found a Rembrandt and a Velasquez in one year - amazing.

Update - a reader writes:

Díaz Padrón says that Lay Kingston painting, is a preliminary study of Las Meninas, but this is unlikely. In the X-ray test performed to Las Meninas, will appreciate, numerous changes, introduced during the process of composition. These changes are only in the original canvas and not in the copy. This is a copy of the basic composition of the canvas of the Prado, once finished. If this was a modeletto, would reflect occult version of the Prado painting, not the final version.

Diaz Padron insists on ignoring the evidence, physical and chemical. According to him: "An artist is not a pigment, not a glue, not a color" but a painting, it is.

Update II - another reader writes:

Confusion over the works of Velasquez and del Mazo has been around for centuries. 

Aside from the Kingston Lacy painting, the National Gallery paid £10,000 in 1890 for what it thought was a famous original portrait by Velasquez of Admiral Pareja.  For some years now that work has been “downgraded” and is generally thought to be by del Mazo.

What’s always intrigued me is that the Gallery has a fully authenticated del Mazo which, while it bears some similarities to the Admiral Pareja portrait, is much less impressive.  If the Admiral Pareja portrait is a copy by del Mazo, he clearly had some facility in imitating Velasquez’s technique – see also the rather splendid work in York.

Update III - the Grumpy Art Historian has found that the picture was 'discovered' before, about 15 years ago.


September 13 2013

Image of Apologies...

Image, detail, courtesy of His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, KBE

...for the bad service lately - I'm thick in the editing of Samuel Cooper catalogue. Above is our design for the exhibition flyer, which is a detail of Cooper's c.1653 portrait of Oliver Cromwell. The Protector famously instructed Cooper to paint him 'warts and all', and you can see the best painted wart in the whole of art history above Cromwell's eyebrow.

For your diaries, everyone, the exhibition opens 13th November till 7th December, Monday-Friday 10-5, Saturdays 12-4. We're going to have a lot of new things to say about Cooper and portraiture in England in the mid 17th Century...

Update - a reader writes:

I spotted in a recent update you attributed the Cromwell 'Warts an All' quote to a work by Samuel Cooper. I always understood this to be an instruction he'd given to Peter Lely - and in fact have set this as a question in a recent quiz I wrote...

Do you believe it to have been Cooper instead? Or was it just a mistype?

Good question! It is commonly believed to have been said to Lely, as shown in this Horrible Histories clip, but, as we shall show in our exhibition and catalogue, must in fact have been said to Cooper.

Still more Van Gogh news

September 10 2013

Image of Still more Van Gogh news

Picture: TAN

We've probably learnt more new things about Van Gogh in the last week than in a whole decade. Amazing. Following on from his Sunflower revelations, and the epic unveiling yesterday in Amsterdam of an entirely unknown painting by the artist, Martin Bailey reports in The Art Newspaper on a previously unknown drawing by Van Gogh (above).

Even more Van Gogh news - a new Van Gogh unveiled

September 9 2013

Image of Even more Van Gogh news - a new Van Gogh unveiled

Picture: New York Times

It's all go for Van Gogh at the moment. The Van Gogh museum has unveiled a previously unknown painting by Van Gogh. The New York Times reports:

The painting has been in the private collection of a family for several years, but the museum would not release any more information about the owners because of privacy concerns, Mr. Rüger said. Two years ago, they brought it to the Van Gogh Museum to seek authentication, and researchers from the museum have been examining it ever since, said Mr. Rüger. The museum recently concluded that the work was a van Gogh because the painting’s pigments correspond with those of van Gogh’s palette from Arles.

It was also painted on the same type of canvas, with the same type of underpainting he used for at least one other painting, “The Rocks” (owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston) of the same area at the same time. The work was also listed as part of Theo van Gogh’s collection in 1890, and was sold in 1901.

“Sunset at Montmajour” is comparable in size to van Gogh’s “Sunflower” painting of the same year. The owners brought it to the museum once before in 1991, said Mr. Rüger, but at the time no one recognized it as a van Gogh. “This time, we have topographical information plus a number of other factors that have helped us to establish authenticity. Research is so much more advanced now, so we could come to a very different conclusion.”

Update - read more on the Van Gogh museum website here. the full analysis will be in October's The Burlington Magazine

'The Sunflowers are Mine'

September 5 2013

Image of 'The Sunflowers are Mine'

Pictures: Aurum Publishing, and TAN

You might think that of perhaps the two most famous images in art history, Leonardo's Mona Lisa and Van Gogh's Sunflowers series, we know all there is to know. For the Mona Lisa that is, I would say, true, though that doesn't stop the fantasists coming up with new theories on who she is and what she's doing. It seems, however, that we knew comparatively little about Van Gogh's series of sunflower paintings, given how much extraordinary new information has been uncovered by Martin Bailey in his new book, The Sunflowers are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh's Masterpiece.

Perhaps the most eye catching revelation is the discovery that Van Gogh designed his own frame for at least one sunflower painting, which was destroyed in World War 2 (above):

A rare early colour image of Vincent van Gogh’s Six Sunflowers has been tracked down in Japan. It reveals that Van Gogh designed a bold orange frame for his still life. The framed painting, once in a private Japanese collection, was destroyed in an American bombing raid during the Second World War.

This newly discovered image is from a very scarce portfolio produced in Tokyo in 1921, which has escaped the attention of art historians. It is reproduced in The Sunflowers are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece, by Martin Bailey, to be published by Frances Lincoln on 5 September.

Van Gogh’s narrow wooden frame was painted in orange, producing a dramatic effect when set against the blue background of the still life. This reflects Van Gogh’s love of complementary colours (such as orange and blue), which have a vibrant effect when placed next to each other. Van Gogh has also varied the orange, so that it is a deep orange where it is next to the blue background and a lighter orange next to the lilac table.

We can now see how Van Gogh wanted to present his Six Sunflowers: the yellow-ochre sunflowers were set against a rich royal blue background and then framed in orange. This framing would have been revolutionary in 1888, when pictures were traditionally hung in gilt frames or, for very modern works, in white frames.

Astonishingly, Martin also managed to find new information about one of the most celebrated stories not only in Van Gogh's life, but in the whole of art history - the artist's mutilation of his ear. Writing in The Art Newspaper, Martin says:

While researching my book on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers I was astonished to find that the artist’s self-mutilation had been reported soon after it happened in a Parisian newspaper. It appeared in Le Petit Journal on 26 December 1888, three days after Van Gogh slashed off the lower part of his left ear, following a row with Gauguin. Until recently, only one short newspaper report of the mutilation was known, which was published a few days later in an Arles weekly, Le Forum Républicain.

The newly discovered article in a Parisian daily records important details. Le Petit Journal reported that Van Gogh used a razor. He then went to a “house of ill repute”, where he “gave his ear in a folded piece of paper” to the doorkeeper. Van Gogh told the recipient: “Take it, it will be useful”. These baffling words suggest that Van Gogh must have been suffering from an acute mental problem throughout the night, and did not just slice off part of his ear in a passing moment of madness.

The Parisian report is also important in another sense. Van Gogh’s self-mutilation was the first item of provincial news in Le Petit Journal, so the article must have attracted considerable attention in the capital. It would have been seen by many of his friends and much discussed in the Paris bars that Van Gogh frequented. This must have only added to the distress of his brother Theo, who was a respectable figure running an art gallery.

It seems astonishing that a virtually unknown individual living over 600km away who mutilated himself would have warranted this attention in a four-page Parisian newspaper (taking a quarter of the space devoted to provincial news that day). But even then, there was something sensationalist about the ear incident which grabbed public attention.

Other discoveries include news that:

  • Van Gogh completed his original four paintings of Sunflowers in less than a week, twice as fast as has been assumed. He chose to depict sunflowers because the weather was bad and his models failed to show up. 
  • There is also a second “unknown” Sunflowers painting which has always been hidden away in private collections. This is Van Gogh’s Three Sunflowers, with a bright turquoise background. It has never been exhibited in living memory and its whereabouts have been a mystery. Bailey reveals that Three Sunflowers was acquired by the Swiss-based Greek shipping tycoon George Embiricos, who sold it in the late 1990s. It was then bought by the present owner, a very discreet collector with a taste for Van Gogh.

Martin has written other books on Van Gogh; Van Gogh and Britain: Pioneer Collectors, Van Gogh and Sir Richard Wallace's Pictures, and Letters from Provence (the Illustrated Letters).

Rembrandt sleeper blocked for export

July 17 2013

Image of Rembrandt sleeper blocked for export

Picture: DCMS

The recently discovered Rembrandt self-portrait, sold last year to the Getty, has been temporarily barred for export. If a UK museum wishes to buy it, it must raise £16.5m by the 15th October. Unlikely, you'd have to say, but best of luck to anyone trying.

Connoisseurship alive and well in Texas

July 16 2013

Video: Rice University*

Congratulations to Melisa Palermo, a PhD student at Rice University at Texas, who has identified a manuscript illumination by Pedro de Palma in the University's collection. From the Rice website:

Using an art historian’s keen eye and analytical skills (art historians call it “connoisseurship”), Palermo was able to identify the previously unattributed manuscript and its image of an Old Testament prophet as the work of 15th-century Spanish painter Pedro de Palma. Hand-drawn on a large vellum sheet and beautifully illustrated, the manuscript had been donated to Rice in 1949 by New York City bookseller and antiquarian Paul Gottschalk and is housed in the library’s Woodson Research Center as part of the Illuminated Sacred Music Manuscript Collection.

*via the Association of Art Historians

Prado goes LED, and unveils a new Ribera

July 9 2013

Image of Prado goes LED, and unveils a new Ribera

Picture: Museo Prado

The Prado Museum has announced that it is to convert its galleries to LED lighting. These give a much more natural sense of light, and as I've noted here before, it's probably as close to daylight as you can get. Mind you, there was that slightly alarming study into how LED lights cause some yellow pigments to go brown...

Still, basking happily for now in the Prado's new LEDs is a recently cleaned and newly attributed work by Jose de Ribera, Saint Jerome Writing. The picture was long thought to be by Esteban March, but recent restoration by the Prado has prompted a rethink. From the Prado's press release:

Formerly in the collection of Isabella Farnese, this work has been on deposit since 1940 at the Casa-Museo Colón in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. That loan agreement was cancelled last year in order for the work to be studied and restored.

Saint Jerome writing was in the Casa-Museo Colón in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with an attribution to the Valencian painter Esteban March. The expert on Caravaggism, Gianni Papi, has, however, recently identified and published it as an early work by José de Ribera, basing his attribution on the work’s close stylistic and compositional similarities with various works painted by Ribera around 1615, including some of the paintings in his series on “The Senses”. The present painting shares their descriptive preciseness and markedly tenebrist use of light, the origins of which lie in Ribera’s highly personal interpretation of Caravaggio’s models. In the light of the painting’s importance, it has been brought to the Prado for restoration and display in the galleries devoted to naturalism and Ribera. To replace the painting, the Casa-Museo Colón has received the long-term deposit of Saint Andrew, also by Ribera. From the viewpoint of the Prado’s collections, this is an important addition, given that together with his painting of The Raising of Lazarus, it will allow the public to gain an idea of the originality and high quality of Ribera’s work during his early years, which is a unique period in his career and one not represented in the Prado’s collection until around twelve years ago.

The painting arrived at the Museum with problems around its edges due to damp and an old attack of woodworm. The pictorial surface was generally well preserved but had an abnormal appearance due to the oxidization of the varnishes, surface irregularities caused by an old lining and an earlier selective cleaning that had concentrated on some zones to the detriment of others. During the restoration process the edges have been consolidated and straightened, dirt and oxidized varnishes have been removed, some small losses have been replaced and the painting has been cleaned. The result is the recovery of numerous spatial planes and as a consequence, a sense of volume in the saint’s figure.

'Manner of Romney' (ctd.)

July 6 2013

Image of 'Manner of Romney' (ctd.)

Picture: Tate

I mentioned a few weeks ago a picture I'd come across on the Tate's website, called 'Manner of Romney'. I wrote that I felt it was by Romney, and the Tate's curatorial department kindly asked me to their store rooms to see it. I'm happy to report that it is certainly by Romney, and that the compiler of the forthcoming Romney catalogue Raisonne, Alex Kidson, agrees with the attribution. 

'Finding Van Dyck'

June 19 2013

Image of 'Finding Van Dyck'

Picture: Philip Mould & Co.

If you want to know all about how to tell the difference between a real Van Dyck and a copy, or indeed a studio work, then the catalogue for our 2011 Van Dyck exhibition is now online

Update - a reader writes:

I like your blog and your wit

I have nothing against an internet catalogue, but why publish an e-catalogue for your new exhibition "Rediscovering Van Dyck" if nearly half of the photographs when you browse it online are missing due to copyright problems?

The exhibition was in 2011. All the photos were of course published in the original printed catalogue. This sold out promptly, and we felt that it might be useful to put the catalogue online. However, although we had paid handsomely for the right to reproduce photos in the printed catalogue, many institutions wanted an eye-waterginly high additional fee for publishing online, even in low resolution. Some refused altogether. So there are some gaps. Quick Googling will take you to the images in question (which shows how daft much of this rights and permission businesss is.)

Sleeper alert

June 13 2013

Image of Sleeper alert


Dr Luuk Pijl writes from Holland:

The small copper enclosed is by Johan König (1586-1642). It was knocked down for 120.000 euro an hour ago at a sale in Toulouse against an estimate of 700/1000 euro, catalogued as Flemish school.

Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain (ctd.)

June 12 2013

Image of Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain (ctd.)

Picture: Telegraph

I mentioned earlier the exciting discovery of two oil sketches by Mary Beale, which have gone on display at Tate Britain. The sleuth who found them (in a Paris antiques shop) is art historian and connoisseur extraordinaire James Mulraine, and he has sent AHN some further insights on the pictures:

Bendor has very kindly invited me, as the guy who discovered them, to say something about Mary Beale’s two sketches of the painter’s son Bartholomew c.1660, unveiled in Tate Britain’s BP Walk Through British Art. I am honoured, tho Tabitha Barber’s brilliant online catalogue entry could not be bettered.

They hang with Tate Britain’s other Beale, Young woman in profile, perhaps the studio assistant Keaty Trioche c.1681. These pieces that Beale painted for herself and her family have in Bendor’s words a ‘casual familiarity not often seen in seventeenth century English portraiture.’ Tate Britain visitors described them to me as ‘everyday,’ ‘real’ and ‘modern’. 

How influential were they though? They were largely unknown outside the Beales’ circle and dispersed after their deaths. In the next gallery William Hogarth’s Heads of Six of the Artist’s Servants c.1750 – 55 has the same unpretentious humanity. Hogarth would have seen a set of Beale’s private work. His friend and patron Bishop Benjamin Hoadly married Mary Beale’s star pupil, Hogarth’s friend, the portraitist Sarah Curtis. Sarah brought nine Beales with her including a self-portrait, a portrait of Charles Beale Sr and ‘Two Children in a Landscape’, perhaps Bartholomew and Charles Jr.

Did Beale make an impression on Hogarth? If more of his work c.1740 was like the Stuart-retro Portrait of the Actor James Quin 1739 (Tate Britain) you’d say yes, quite probably. It’s not that simple. But there is an affinity of mood. The ‘sobriety, energy, directness and sincerity’ that Mark Hallet sees in Hogarth’s mature portraits describes Mary Beale’s as well. Perhaps his visits to the Hoadlys nourished him when he was trying to create a distinctly ‘English’ portraiture. Their godly good cheer must have had a flavour of Charles and Mary Beale’s household, and Sarah Hoadly would have preserved Beale’s memory as well as her painting.

Sleeper Alert

June 10 2013

Image of Sleeper Alert


We were sad to underbid, at CHF125,000 (hammer price), this interesting portrait by Sir Peter Lely at the weekend, which came up in Switzerland as 'English School'. The sitter is currently unknown. The pose is repeated by Lely a number of times with different heads, so one must watch for the dread hand of studio. 

Rubens drawing discovery

May 28 2013

Image of Rubens drawing discovery


The Reading Post reports:

A 17th century drawing by artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens has been discovered at the University of Reading.

Just 10.8cm x 8.9cm in size, the drawing is valued at £75,000 and shows a profile view of the head of Marie de Médicis, Queen of France as the second wife of King Henry IV of France.

The sketch was probably made in preparation for some life size paintings in the collection of the Louvre.

The drawing was acquired by an Oxford collector Henry Wellesly, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Wellington, who bought drawings for the Ashmolean. The university acquired the sketch for teaching purposes in the 1950s for no more than £50.

Update - a reader asks:

Am intrigued. 

Was it acquired in the 1950’s as an anonymous drawing and has now been correctly attributed ? 

£50.00 for a drawing in the 1950’s would have not been insignificant.


Have they now just worked out where it’s been all this time (like stuck to the back of a David Shepherd watercolour of an elephant) ?

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