June 4 2014
Picture: The Guardian/Fitzwilliam
Restorers at the Fitzwilliam museum have discovered a whale beneath 18th Century overpaint on Hendrick van Anthonissen's View of Scheveningen Sands. More here from Maeve Kennedy in The Guardian. Below is the 'before' picture.
The vicar's Van Dyck
May 30 2014
A head study by Van Dyck discovered on The Antiques Roadshow, and which was originally bought by a priest in an antiques shop in Nantwich for £400, will be sold this summer by Christie's. The estimate will be £400,000-£500,000.
The picture was first spotted by Fiona Bruce on the show, who was up on all things Van Dyck after making an episode of Fake or Fortune? about Van Dyck's lost portrait of Henrietta Maria. She recognised the picture's Van Dyck-ian hallmarks, and then arranged for Philip Mould and I to see Father Jamie MacLeod's picture in London. The picture had been almost entirely overpainted by a later restorer, and over the next few months the later paint was gradually removed. The newly revealed, unfinished portrait was painted by Van Dyck as a study for his now lost group portrait, the Magistrates of Brussels.
Gainsborough's cough medicine
May 29 2014
Picture: Royal Academy
The latest Burlington Magazine has an article by Gainsborough scholar Hugh Belsey on some previously unpublished documents by the artist. The article isn't online (curses) but The Art Newspaper reports that one of them relates to Gainsborough's home-made cough medicine:
“Take two calves’ feet, two quarts of spring water, two ounces of sugar candy, one ounce of hart’s horn shavings, and one quart of milk; put them into an earthen pan, and send them to the oven to be baked after the bread is taken out, and to remain all night in the oven.”
Yummy. The recipe was spotted by Chris Fletcher in the British Library.
'New Dali discovered'
May 23 2014
Picture: AFP via Telegraph
Here's a story which at first sight sounds convincing, but then is in danger of soon falling apart. Maybe it's just the way the story is written. The Telegraph reports:
An oil painting bought for a mere €150 (£120) from a dusty antiques shop in northeastern Spain 26 years ago has been discovered to be the earliest surrealist work by Salvador Dali, art experts confirmed on Thursday.
[Art historian] Tomeu L'Amo suspected it may have been an early work by Catalan artist Salvador Dali but the shopkeeper insisted that was impossible as it bore an inscription with the date 1896, eight years before Dali was born.
Nevertheless, Mr L'Amo purchased the artwork for 25,000 pesetas - around £120 in today's money - and spent the next quarter of a century trying to confirm his hunch. [...]
A team of experts used a series of technological methods to help determine the painting's authenticity. Infrared photography of the canvas revealed lines made by the artist that were consistent with a style he used in later works.
Analysis of the paint used on the canvas proved it could not have been created before 1909 and comparison of the lettering of the inscription with hundreds of other known Dali works by a well-respected handwriting expert showed it was consistent with Dali's own hand.
José Pedro Venzal, the handwriting expert who regularly carries out analysis for Interpol, revealed that the inscription contained a corrected spelling mistake, one that Dali oft repeated in later life.
The ten word dedication in the lower righthand corner of the painting written in Catalan translates as "To My Dear Teacher on the day of his birth", with the date 27-IX-96.
Mr L'Amo believes Dali, who had a reputation for making outrageous claims and carrying out media stunts, used a numerology code to come up with date.
"Dali must be laughing in his grave at the thought that he managed to fool everyone for so many years," he said.
So the evidence at first seems to be pretty thin - and it might even be case of over-enthusiastic scientific interpretation. We have a few 'lines' in infra-red, and some handwriting analysis. On the former, it always strikes me as odd that we're still reluctant to trust old-fashioned connoisseurship, but if it's a question of analysing indeterminate brush strokes beneath the paint layers, via infra- red or x-ray, then it's alright. Especially if the verdict comes from someone wearing a white coat.
The "forensic" analysis of the handwriting reminds me of the similar story with the 'Rice' portrait of Jane Austen. There, another police-endorsed 'expert' was convinced they could see 'Jane Austen' written in the paint, when it was just an optimistic interpretation of craquelure. Such cases make me feel anxious about the level of forensic expertise submitted in our courts...
The Telegraph story ends thus:
The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, which runs a museum in the artist's birthplace of Figueres, has yet to recognise the work as a Dali original.
Update - a reader writes:
Nicholas Descharnes is standing next to the painting in the photograph - Robert & Nicholas are two of the most respected Dali experts, so as crazy as it might seem, it would suggest it has strong connoisseurial backing.
Update II - another reader writes:
You are dead right to be wary of so-called forensic experts. Some years ago when I was a trainee solicitor in England I was in court when a defendant pleaded guilty to charges of fraud involving forgery of cheques. However this was only after another completely innocent person some months before had been convicted of these offences based on finger print and handwriting evidence which in the event was wrong. The judge's passing remark in the later case "It makes you think, doesn't it" was to me the understatement of the century.
The label 'expert' is too easily acquired these days.
Art Detective (ctd.)
May 22 2014
Picture: National Museum of the Royal Navy
Some impressive sleuthing has already emerged from Art Detective, the new website designed to help solve various picture mysteries in the UK's national collection. The above unattributed picture was submitted to the site by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, who were keen to know the artist. User Toby Bettridge soon recognised that the picture was a study for a larger work, in the Imperial War Museum, by Arthur David McCormick (below), for a picture called 'Valve Testing: The Signal School, RN Barracks, Portsmouth'. Excellent!
Where are the women in art? (ctd.)
May 21 2014
Picture: Philip Mould
Following my post yesterday on the question of women artists, I wonder if (plug alert) you would allow me to mention a recent, home-grown discovery of the above work by Mary Beale. It turned up in some rural sale recently, as 'English School'. Beale can be said to be Britain's first commercially successful female artist, and secured a quite a wide circle of patronage. She was encouraged by Sir Peter Lely, among others.
The above picture, a Penitent Magdalene, was mentioned by Beale's husband, Charles Beale, in a list of her paintings 'done from the life', and was painted in the early 1670s. The art historian George Vertue (praised be him) noted that the sitter was 'Moll Trioche - a yong woman'. Moll was doubtless related to Kate Trioche, who was one of Beale's models and assistants, and who is thought to appear in this painting at Tate Britain.
The picture relates to two intriguing drawings at the British Museum, which are today attributed to Mary's son, Charles Jr. (also an artist), though previously the drawings were thought to be by Mary (personally, I think some of them still might be). One of the drawings seems to suggest that when sitting for this picture, Moll Trioche must have fallen asleep, for a little urchin is seen sticking something up her nose.
More details on the picture can be found here on the Philip Mould website.
PS - I see from the provenance of the Tate picture that was discovered by Philip in 1991.
Update - Richard Stephens, creator and editor of pioneering site The Art World in Britain 1660-1735, sends this interesting information:
In the 17th & 18th century Britain there were plenty of women in the art trade, just not always as painters. Jacob Simon wrote a blog entry about female frame makers and gilders, which is here:
And you could make much the same points about picture dealing. In the early modern period it was not at all uncommon to find widows carrying on their late husbands' trade as picture sellers - their families still needed money to eat, after all. Working was hardly ever a matter of personal fulfilment like it is so often nowadays. Indeed, so far as the evidence allows for such a generalisation, I'd say it was even normal for women to sell pictures after theri husbands died and doubtless they played their part in the business while their husbands were still living. Some women dealers whose names spring to mind are Elizabeth Turner (d.1732/3), wife of Captain Henry Turner who was based at the Palace of Westminster in the early 18th century; Elizabeth Davis (died 1714), wife of engraver and dealer Edward Davis; Margaret Hay, wife of painter/dealer Andrew Hay; and the widow of copyist and picture seller Henry Peart (died 1700), who ended up selling her stock to the 1st Earl of Bristol in return for an annual pension. The Pearts were neighbours of the Beales in Pall Mall as you know.
In the records of the Painter Stainers company at this time one finds women-only workshops too, although it's never clear what trade they were carrying on.
Exclusive - Sleeper alert!
May 18 2014
The above 'Nederlandischer Meister' picture, estimated at just EUR15,000-EUR18,000, sold yesterday in Germany for EUR1.3m. An explanation as to why probably lies in the fact that, as the catalogue noted, several faces in the background appear in the oeuvre of one Rembrandt. What the catalogue didn't point out is that one of these, top right, in fact shows Rembrandt himself. You can zoom in on the image here.
If it is by him (and I've no idea, as it's outside my rather limited field), it must be an early work. It used to be called Flinck. Needless to say, I didn't pay the picture any attention at all in the catalogue. Whoops...
Update - a reader writes:
What makes the Lempertz picture an odd candidate for being by RHL is that it is on canvas, while all history paintings by Rembrandt and Lievens from their Leiden period are on panel. The figure at the left derives from Rembrandt's painting in Lyon from 1625, which was discovered by Horst Gerson in 1962.
Update II - a reader corrects the above, and supplies us with further information:
Have to be pedanty with reader above - Lievens Raising of Lazarus is most def on canvas...
This Lempertz painting relates to some sketches in the British Museum attributed to Nicholas Maes which are also thought studies for the National Gallery's Christ blessing the Children by Maes (all of which were formerly attributed to Rembrandt).
There are some sketches attributed to Hoogstraten at the RKD and other sketches (read the British Museum curator notes) that relate more to the Lempertz picture.
Another sleuthing reader suggests an alternative attribution:
A very fine Claes Moeyaert, see comparison [below]... Moeyaert was also a partner of Uylenburgh, RHL's dealer and friend. Background figures show other familiar faces. A daring purchase...
Another discovery on 'Your Paintings'
May 8 2014
Picture: Your Paintings
French art historian Francois Marandet has identified the above Pool of Bethesda' belonging to the Wellcome Library, as a work by Louis Cheron. It's a study for a larger work, and had been called 'after Poussin'. More details here.
Royal baby discovered!
April 25 2014
Picture: Philip Mould and Co/Historic Royal Palaces
Forgive the plug, but here's an interesting discovery I'm rather pleased with. The above portrait shows Princess Augusta (1737-1813) when a baby. Augusta was the eldest daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales and Augusta, Princess of Wales, and also the elder sister of King George III. The picture came up for auction in the United States as 'a portrait of an unknown baby' by an unknown artist. Following research and conservation by is, it is now on display at Hampton Court Palace, as part of their new 'Glorious George's' exhibition (which is well worth seeing).
Despite being an unknown (and one must say, not especially cute) baby, the picture piqued my interest when it came up for sale because of the blue velvet and ermine cushion. Blue velvet and ermine usually denotes royal status, and as the armoured figure resembled Britannia, I reckoned the baby must be a British royal baby.
From the pre-cleaning photo, I thought the child might be James III, being heralded as the new heir of James II. But there was no proof of this, and for a while I was stumped. Then, cleaning revealed a picture painted in a later style, and also (excitingly) the signature of Charles Philips (1708-1747), which pushed the timeframe forward into the 18th Century. Now Philips was quite an obscure figure, but he was patronised by Frederick, Prince of Wales, and so for a while my favoured candidate was a baby George III.
But it was only when I saw a full length portrait of the Princess of Wales holding the same baby, but inverted, (below) by Philips at Warwick Castle that I finally got the right kid. In the background of the large picture we see Britannia with her shield, confirming the shield-less figure in the smaller painting to be Britannia too (as opposed to, say, Minerva). The newly discovered painting is evidently unfinished, and a number of pentimenti visible in the background show that it was probably an abandoned composition in favour of the larger full-length. Interestingly, it turns out that our newly discovered picture was engraved, with the strapline that the young princess was 'painted from ye life' by Philips.
The presence of Britannia makes the picture an interesting piece of royal propoganda. Since the young Augusta was the first Hanoverian heiress to be born in Britain, she was proudly heralded by her parents as an emphatically 'British' royal baby. Frederick, Prince of Wales was estranged politically from his father, George II, and actively tried to present himself as a British prince, in opposition to his German-speaking dad. 'Rule Britannia', for example, was first sung in Frederick's presence. Indeed, such was the tension between Prince of Wales and his father that when his wife went into labour, Frederick insisted they flee Hampton Court, so that the baby could be born in London, as a Londoner, away from the King and Queen. Poor mother and baby were raced over rough roads, and just got to St James' Palace in time for a healthy birth.
Now, the newly discovered portrait of the Princess hangs just opposite the very stairs that her pregnant mother raced down, as she and Frederick prepared to leave Hampton Court. I'm dead chuffed, and, if you'll further indulge my boasting, I'm also pleased to have balanced my recent Jacobite portrait discovery (of Bonnie Prince Charlie) with this Hanoverian one.
A new Raphael discovery!?
April 22 2014
Picture: Cordoba University
Well, actually no... The Art Newspaper alerts us to claims by the University of Cordoba that it has discovered another version of Raphael's Madonna of Foligno [Vatican Museums]. The newly found work belongs to a private collector in Spain. Says TAN:
The Italian High Renaissance painter Raphael did not, it is generally believed, make copies of his own works. However, the University of Granada, in Southern Spain, says it has found an authentic copy of Raphael’s Madonna of Foligno (around 1511), which is displayed in the Vatican Museums (Room VIII). Luis Rodrigo Rodríguez Simón, a conservator and lecturer at the university, says that the rediscovered work has come to light in a private collection in Cordoba.
Known as The Madonna of Foligno, Small, the work was painted on a wooden panel and later transferred to canvas at the end of the 19th century: pages of a book printed in 1872 were pasted on to the reverse of the canvas. Simón says that the transfer was made in France.
So far so good. But here on the University's own website are more details, and some decent quality images.* And oh dear. Raphael it ain't. It looks like a later, not especially good copy. But no matter, we still have breathless 'scientific' evidence that it's not just another version of the Vatican picture, but the first version:
A researcher at the University of Granada has successfully attributed to the great Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, Raphael the famous Renaissance painter, a work belonging to a private collector in Cordoba, Spain. The painting, entitled the ‘Small Madonna of Foligno’, depicts a scene identical to that of the ‘Madonna of Foligno’ and was probably a preliminary version of Raphael’s painting, which is exhibited in the Vatican Pinacoteca.
Luis Rodrigo Rodríguez-Simón, lecturer in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Granada, has identified and reliably attributed the work, hitherto by an unknown artist, following a minutely detailed study lasting several years.
He has conducted a technical, scientific study applying a series of advanced instrumental techniques and analytical methods: X-ray, infrared photography, infrared reflectography, fluorescence under ultraviolet light, analysis of paint layers, scanning electronic microscope linked to an Energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis system, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and micro Raman spectroscopy.
I see this a lot nowadays - paintings presented with a long description detailing all the various tests a painting has been subjected to, as if the mere mention of these convoluted procedures is somehow evidence itself. But sadly it's usually just proof of the old saying, 'bullsh*t baffles brains'. We're clearly dealing here with over-enthusiastic interpretation of scientific 'tests', many of which have limited use. If only the boffins at Cordoba had asked a collection of Raphael experts to look at the picture first, they'd have saved themselves much time, and money.
*click 'save image' to download high-res versions.
New Veronese drawing discovered?
April 22 2014
I've come to this a bit late, but it's worth noting, given the current Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery in London, that there was a potential Veronese sleeper in the shires recently. The above drawing came up in a house clearance sale in Oxfordshire as attributed to Veronese, and made £15,500. In the same sale, and presumably from the same clearance, were some handsome pieces of jade, which made over half a million quid. Quite a house clearance!
Update - it may not be by Veronese... A sharp-eyed reader spotted the drawing when it came up for sale, and writes:
Just a thought, but I think the drawing that was sold as Attributed to Veronese in the regional sale in Oxford, was actually by Jan van der Straet [or Stradanus] (1523-1605). The British Museum hold a reverse engraving after the drawing [below], the print making up part of the series 'The Course of Human Life'.
I had a punt at buying it, but lack of funds meant I had to drop out...
The Met buys a sleeper
April 22 2014
Picture: Metropolitan Museum
Above is an interesting new acquisition for the Met in New York, a Salvator Mundi they say is by the Spanish painter Fernando Yanez de la Almedina, and painted in c.1505. In case you're thinking the picture looks a bit Leonardo-esque to be by a Spaniard, then the Met explains in its informative note:
Yáñez clearly spent time in Italy prior to his highly successful career in Spain and he rather than Llanos is usually identified with the "Ferrando Spagnuolo" who in April and August of 1505 collected money for work with Leonardo da Vinci on a mural depicting the battle of Anghiari in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence ("Ferrando Spagnolo, dipintore, per dipinguere con Lionardo da Vinci nella sala del consiglio florine 5 larghi e a Thomaso di Giovane Merini, su garzone per macinare e colori, florini 1 in oro"; see Benito et al., Los Hernandos, pintores hispanos del entorno de Leonardo, Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia, 1998, p. 18). Besides Florence, he must also have spent time in northern Italy, where perhaps not coincidentally Leonardo was active prior to his return in Florence in February 1503. This remains highly speculative, however, and is based purely on the stylistic features of Yáñez’s documented work in Spain. The most thorough as well as convincing reconstruction of his early activity in Italy is that of Ibáñez Martínez (1999, pp. 221–40), who rejects earlier conjectures and attributions and considers the Metropolitan’s picture one of two done in Italy by the artist under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci.
The picture was recently offered by Christie's in New York as a work by Jacopo Barbari (1450-1515), where it bought in against an estimate of $400,000-$600,000. I don't know enough about either painter to make even a guess on the attribution, but I remember thinking it was of exceptional quality when I saw it, and was surprised it failed to sell.
Hurrah for the Telegraph*
March 19 2014
Here's a lovely story - a scrap metal dealer who bought the above jewelled egg for just £8,000 discovered it was a highly important lost Faberge egg after finding a Telegraph article online. It is in fact worth $20m! More here.
* And Google, presumably.
Overpaint and boats
March 16 2014
The Daily Mail has picked up on a story first run by Classic Boat magazine, saying that a painting by Constable featured on 'Fake or Fortune?' was a fake because 'the boats were wrong'. Alas, these maritime experts don't know how to interpret either a Constable sketch or over-paint. Still, I'm sure it made for many long discussions down The Sailor's Arms.
Salvator Mundi 'sold' - official
March 4 2014
Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art/Tim Nighswander
The New York Times reveals that the newly discovered Salvator Mundi by Leonard has been sold for in excess of $75m:
A Leonardo da Vinci painting discovered by a dealer at an American estate sale was sold last year in a private transaction for more than $75 million.
The painting, Leonardo’s oil-on-panel “Salvator Mundi,” showing Christ half-length with a crystal orb in his left hand, had been owned by a consortium that included the New York art traders Alexander Parish and Robert Simon.
The heavily restored painting, dating from about 1500, was bought by an unidentified collector for between $75 million and $80 million in May 2013, in a private sale brokered by Sotheby’s. The details of the purchase have remained locked in confidentiality clauses until they were revealed this week by trade insiders, such as the London dealer Anthony Crichton-Stuart.
Regular AHN readers will of course have known this news since I revealed it exclusively in May last year.
Update - more reflection on the sale, and also that of the Van Dyck self-portrait, in the New York Times here.
February 24 2014
...for all your kind emails and Tweets following my BBC Culture Show programme on the weekend. It seems to have gone down quite well. In Scotland at least.
I will soon post a much more detailed note on the picture, as there was lots of information we sadly had to leave out of the film.
There may not be much more from me here today though, as I've got quite a lot to catch up on.
Update - still catching up on things today, Tuesday, apologies...
Update II - I give up. Have had so much to do, and so much kind feedback, that the blog will now have to wait till tomorrow I fear. Sorry!
Update III - a reader Tweets:
please upload a new blog post, I'm getting withdrawal symptoms, thanks
It seems to have become a week off. Oops...
Update IV - nice review of the programme in The Spectator here.
Looted picture returned to Poland
February 11 2014
Picture: Allen Xie
From the Epoch Times:
Polish officials accepted a painting at the Polish consulate in New York that had been stolen from the National Museum of the City of Warsaw in 1944 on Thursday.
“National heritage is a crucial element of every national identity and as such, stolen pieces of history should be returned to their rightful place,” said Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, Consul General of the Republic of Poland at the repatriation ceremony. The painting “St. Philip Baptizing a Servant of Queen Kandaki” by German painter Johann Conrad Seekatz, was looted during the Second World War.
Even before the war, the painting was misidentified as “St. Philip Baptizes the Ethiopian Eunuch” by Dutch artist J.C. Saft, and in 2006 it was sold for $24,000 as “Manner of Theobald Michau St. Philip Baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch.” Doyle New York, an auction and appraisal company, sold it to Rafael Valls Ltd. gallery in London in October 2006.
The Poland government recognized the piece as one of its lost articles and worked with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to recover it. In 2012 it was verified as a stolen piece of Polish art and Rafael Valls, the current owner, agreed to forfeit it.
Such happenings are an all too familiar risk for dealers these days. But it's nice when there's a happy ending.
Two new Gainsboroughs!
February 11 2014
Pictures: BBC/ Your Paintings
Thanks to those of you who wrote in about the latest episode of 'Fake or Fortune?' If you want to see it (if you live in the UK), the episode is still on iPlayer here. It was a rewarding programme to work on, and to have ended up with two new works by Gainsborough was a nice way to end the series. For those who didn't see it, we looked into two paintings found on the BBC Your Paintings website which had no firm attribution.
The first was an 'imaginary landscape' (above) described as by an imitator of Gainsborough, and the second was a portrait of Joseph Gape (top), which was catalogued simply as 'English School'. The landscape is in the Courtauld collection, while the portrait was in storage at the St Albans museum, but turned out to be on loan from the sitters' descendants. Both pictures were subsequently accepted by the compiler of the forthcoming catalogue raisonne of Gainsborough's portraits, Hugh Belsey. The Courtauld picture turned out to be a drawing, partly worked up in colour by Gainsborough, but which had been finished off by another hand, most noticeably in areas such as the central part of the sky.
We didn't have time in the programme to fully explore the fascinating x-ray we took of the Gape portrait, so I've posted images of it below. The first one, as I mentioned in the show, demonstrates that originally the picture was a described oval, but had been cut down into an oval shape, and the arm extended by a later restorer. The second is a close up of the head, which reveals just how much overpaint remains on the face, especially around the eyes; they're much more expressive, to the extent that it's almost a different person. Also visible in x-ray is more of Gainsborough's signature technique, and it was gratifying to see this after my initial hunch that the much over-painted picture was indeed by Gainsborough. And interestingly, the x-ray revealed a different wig. The wig seen in the x-ray is of a slightly older fashion, and has been altered, probably just a few years after the portrait was painted, to show the latest type.
If you'll allow me to boast for a moment, 'Fake or Fortune?' has so far discovered (and had accepted by the relevant experts) works by Degas, Van Dyck, Turner (3), Vuillard, Constable (2), and now Gainsborough (2). We're now looking for stories for a fourth series, so if you have a secret Leonardo, please let me know. To read more about how we go about finding pictures like these, and how you can do it too, here's a new article on the BBC website.
Nuclear testing for fakes
February 11 2014
Picture: Guggenheim Collection
Here's an interesting story; a questionable painting in the Guggenheim collection by Fernand Leger has been proved to be a fake by testing for faint signs of cold-war era nuclear bombs. These apparently proved that the painting must have been made after Leger's death. More here.