Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain
May 16 2013
I was pleased to see in The Independent that Tate Britain is emphasising the work of women artists in the new Walk Through British Art. As Chris Stephens, Tate's head of displays, says, 'it's an area where we have underachieved in recent years'. One could say the same of most UK museums, alas.
Two newly discovered works by Mary Beale (one shown above) have now gone on show at Tate. They were bought in 2010, having been found in a Paris antiques shop. Tate Curator Tabitha Barber says of Beale:
“I think she’s remarkably important and very underrated. People don’t tend to know her now. She was commercially very popular at the time.”
Anne Killigrew is another female artist of the period who has recently come back into the public arena. You can see her striking classical scene Venus Attired by the Graces by Anne Killigrew (discovered, ahem, by Philip Mould & Co.), at Falmouth Art Gallery, while another fine work by her can now be seen at the Queen's Gallery, where her Portrait of James II is part of the In Fine Style exhibition.
Update - apparently the frames are modern, but reconstruct the type described by Mary's husband, Charles, in his diary.
Update II - a reader writes:
We might talk of Kneller or Lely being "commercially very popular", but the Beales? They were constantly in debt, relying on handouts from well-wishers and that was even after Charles Beale's income from colourmaking was added to Mary's from portrait painting. They were economically vulnerable their whole lives, that was simply the reality of painters' lives back then. In 1671 Mary Beale's rate for a half length portrait was £10, whereas in the same year, Lely's was £20 for a head. In 1674 she painted fewer than 30 portraits: that is not the record of someone who was "very popular", commercially or otherwise.
Secondly, what does it say about our museums and art world now, that in order to "celebrate" a 17th century painter we must highlight their (spurious) commercial popularity? The truth - that she struggled to make ends meet her entire life but, even so, persevered as a painter in a society that little understood women artists - is surely more interesting?
A new Van Dyck discovery at the Royal Collection
May 15 2013
Pictures: Royal Collection, top, and below, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris
An exciting amendment to the Royal Collection's online catalogue - the above picture used to be called a copy of a Van Dyck, but has now been upgraded to Van Dyck in full. The text states:
This was until recently believed to be a contemporary copy after a lost Van Dyck portrait. It has however been convincingly suggested that this is the Van Dyck original: the handling certainly has the freshness and vigour of an original rather than a copy and the quality is sufficient to suggest Van Dyck's hand.
The sitter cannot be identified but the portrait belongs to the artist's second Flemish period (c.1630), when he painted a number of sitters in this particular format. Additions appear to have been made to the top and bottom of the canvas and it is possible that the fictive stone window was added alter.
I'm pleased to say that the first 'convincing suggestions' came from us here at Philip Mould & Company. The picture, which is probably first recorded in the Royal Collection in 1747, had been listed as a copy in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne (entry no. III.A31), with the late Sir Oliver Millar regarding it as 'probably a contemporary copy of a portrait painted c.1630'. However, I always thought it had a chance of being right from the illustrations available, and so asked the Royal Collection about two years ago if I could see it. They kindly showed it to Philip Mould and I in their store room at Hampton Court, where, under bright lights it was apparent that the face was of very high quality, and that the dress had in fact been finished off by a later hand. A different collar can be seen underneath part of the present one. Philip and I had no doubts at all that the head was by Van Dyck, with the described oval and parts of the costume being later additions. This seems to have been the common fate of a series of head studies Van Dyck painted in Antwerp in the early 1630s, some of which are thought to have been studies for his large group portrait The Magistrates of Brussels. Sadly, the original picture was destroyed in 1695 when the French army bombarded Brussels, but the composition is known in a grisaille sketch by Van Dyck now in the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
It is conceivable that the Royal Collection's newly accepted study relates to the figure on the far left of the grisaille. A similar (and fully accepted) head study, probably also with a later oval, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Possibly, the picture in the Muzeum Naradowe in Poznan which was also rejected as a copy of a lost original in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue, is also an original Van Dyck head with later additions.
Exclusive - Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' sold
May 13 2013
Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art/Tim Nighswander
I can't tell you for how much or to whom, but a deal has been done, and the greatest discovery of the age is 'no longer on the market'.
Getty buys Rembrandt discovery
May 10 2013
Video: Toledo Museum
Congratulations to the Getty, which has bought a newly discovered Rembrandt self-portrait. The small oil on copper picture, painted in about 1628, surfaced at a minor auction in Gloucestershire in 2007 as 'Follower of Rembrandt', where it made over £2m, selling to the London dealers Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox. The picture was then authenticated by Rembrandt scholar Ernest van de Wetering, who can be seen in the above video with the picture. It must be one of the biggest 'sleepers' of all time, so well done to all involved - that was some punt. The Getty has also announced the acquisition of a Venetian scene by Canaletto - more details in the LA Times here.
April 30 2013
Here's an interesting picture that came up for auction last week in Switzerland, catalogued as 'Follower of Titian - Portrait of Gabriel Solitus', with an old inscription 'Titianus' at top right. The estimate was CHF 4-6,000, but it sold for CHF 460,000 hammer - gently helped on its way by us here at Philip Mould & Co. With premium it would have been well over the CHF 500,000 mark, or not far off £400,000, all of which is clearly not a Follower of Titian price. So what was it?
I wouldn't be surprised if we see it surface again one day as a Titian, probably of the late 1540s/early 1550s. Titian portraits don't often come on the market, and Titian 'sleepers' are even rarer, so this picture represented quite an opportunity for picture hunters like us. We went out to see it, buoyed by some pre-sale research which made the attribution to Titian very plausible. In the flesh, however, the picture was so covered in dirt, overpaint and thick varnish that it was very hard to get a grip on the overall quality, while large areas of abrasion made one wonder what original paint was left. There were flashes of brilliance, such as the book. But much of the picture was impenetrable, hence it looking like a copy at first glance, and from the photographs. The picture therefore represented a significant risk, and as a result (and despite our very encouraging research) we didn't feel confident to take the bid any further. I'm sad we missed out on it though. My hunch is it's right.
The Raising of the Van Dyck?
April 25 2013
Video: De Standaard
The above video is in Dutch, but the jist of it is that a recently restored Raising of the Cross (in a church in Tienen, Belgium), has been suggested to be a work from the studio of Van Dyck. It was previously thought to be a later copy. It's impossible to say much from the video, but it does look like it has a chance of being a studio replica of the undoubted original in the Church of our Lady, Kortrijk. The original is exceptionally well documeted. The Canon who commissioned the Kortrijk picture was so pleased with it that he sent Van Dyck 12 waffles in gratitude. Yum.
Met buys Ritz Le Brun
April 19 2013
The Metropolitan Museum in New York has emerged as the buyer of Charles Le Brun's Sacrifice of Polyxena, which was sold at Christie's this week for EUR1.4m. It will be the Met's first work by Le Brun. The picture had been discovered in the Coco Chanel suite at the Ritz in Paris.
One might have expected the French authorities to pre-empt the picture, though I suppose there's no shortage of Le Brun's in France.
Update - more details here on Joseph Friedman's website. Joseph first discovered the picture.
Taking loonery seriously
April 16 2013
Picture: Mona Lisa Foundation
I was recently asked to take part in a documentary on the Isleworthless Mona Lisa, which is to be shown on Channel 4. The programme would, I was told, be:
[...] a balanced programme. We'll carry out more tests and give equal attention to the painting's supporters and its detractors.
Equal attention? Why? This is not some political issue requiring partiality. It's a documentary about a not very good copy of the Mona Lisa, which some people are, fantastically, trying to say is by Leonardo. A documentary should be about facts and a search for the truth. In this case, the facts - that is, facts recognised by art historians, not 'sacred geometry', whatever that is - only point in one direction; that it's a copy. To give the picture's supporters 'equal attention' would be to seriously mislead the viewer as to the value and significance of the case for the picture.
The story is more evidence of what I shall call Grosvenor's Law of Art Discoveries: the louder they shout, the less likely it is to be right.
In the Prado gift shop...
March 29 2013
...a possible clue as to why the museum was so keen to over-hype their curious copy of the Mona Lisa.
More on Mahon's £10m 'Caravaggio'
March 29 2013
The Art Newspaper has an interesting update on Sir Denis Mahon's 2006 'Caravaggio' discovery. Regular readers will remember that Sir Denis bought it at Sotheby's, where it was called 'after Caravaggio', and Sotheby's are now being sued by the then vendor. I'm reliably informed that the picture isn't in fact by Caravaggio, but a competent copy.
However, TAN reports that the picture was jointly owned by Sir Denis and Orietta Adam, his close friend, and valued for insurance and export licence purposes at £10m. Which makes one wonder what sort of inheritance tax liability was levied on Sir Denis' half-share, whoever he left it to. 40% of £5m is quite a hit, especially if the picture is indeed a copy worth not much more than the £50,000 he paid for it.
Rembrandt self-portrait proclaimed (ctd.)
March 19 2013
Picture: National Trust
You can see a high-res photo of the National Trust's newly attributed Rembrandt self-portrait here. The head looks very good.
Rembrandt self-portrait proclaimed
March 18 2013
Picture: National Trust
The head of the Rembrandt Research Project, Ernst van der Wetering, has proclaimed that a 1635 portrait of Rembrandt belonging to the National Trust is in fact an autograph self-portrait. The depiction, which shows an unusually rotund Rembrandt, and with a rather awkward representation of his right shoulder, was only recently bequeathed to the Trust by Lady Samuel of Wych Cross, the wife of a property developer. More details in The Guardian here, and a slightly larger photo of the picture on the National Trust database here (where it remains catalogued as 'Studio of Rembrandt').
Why connoisseurship matters (ctd.)
March 14 2013
Pictures: The Bowes Museum/BG/Your Paintings
Thanks for all your emails and comments about The Culture Show programme. It was fun to make, and I'm always glad to have a chance to evangelise about two of my favourite subjects; Van Dyck and connoisseurship. I promised a more detailed note about the picture, so here goes. I’m afraid it’ll be a little rushed, so don’t expect a Burlington type write-up.
I'll start with condition. At first sight, the picture looked a bit of a mess, and it was easy to see why it had been passed over as a copy for many years. One of the most disfiguring aspects of the portrait was the sitter's left eye, which did not seem to point in the right direction. With a portrait, small damages in a face can make the viewer question the whole image. We tend to look at portraits almost as human faces - and if the eyes are wonky, we assume that the whole portrait must be, in effect, also wonky.
However, as is often the case with condition issues, things looked worse than they in fact were. The wonky eye in question, which at first I thought had been over-painted, was merely missing a dark glaze over the pupil, and a tiny white highlight. Both of these had been cleaned off in a previous campaign of over-zealous restoration. Delicate glazes and pigments like those in an eye on a portrait can be easy to accidentally remove. Possibly, this was done centuries ago, for cleaning pictures used to be the job of the house keeper. Sliced potatoes, stale urine, and worse were used to wipe down paintings, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Wipe too vigorously, off comes a highlight, and suddenly an eye loses its direction.
Elsewhere in the picture, it was the usual story of old layers of dirt and varnish making the paint strokes and colours unreadable. There were also a few holes and some areas of abrasion. Although the picture had been over-cleaned it had not (and this is most unusual) been 'restored'. That is, there were no layers of old over-paint covering the losses and holes. Often, areas of old over-paint can be very hard to remove, especially if applied in oil. Even more fortunately, the picture was unlined, which meant that the original surface of the canvas was actually in excellent condition. I don't recall dealing with an un-lined Van Dyck before. Consequently, the paint layers had not been pressed or flattened in an old lining process (they used to use hot irons to bond the two canvases together, therefore melting and flattening the paint), and all the impasto was just as the artist had intended it. The picture had a fine texture, especially in the drapery. So despite appearances, the painting was in relatively good condition.
There was, however, one area where it had been dramatically altered by a later intervention, and this was in the curious grey, oval additions at the top and bottom. I've not seen these on a Van Dyck before, and again they must have been another reason to doubt the painting in the past. It was fairly easy to see that the edges were additions, especially at the bottom of the picture, as the remains of the sitter's sleeves were visible beneath the later paint. Our paint analysis also confirmed that, at the top, the grey background extended underneath the oval, and so we could safely rule out any question of the oval being original to the picture. In the past, it was not uncommon for owners to add ovals like this if a portrait was intended to be hung as part of a decorative set, perhaps in an architectural feature. When we cleaned the picture, it was decided to leave the oval additions on. It might have been possible to remove them, but they formed part of the picture's history. Below you can see a not very good effort by me at removing them on Photoshop, to give you an idea of how the portrait would originally have looked.
Cleaning the picture was a delicate but enjoyable experience. I was lucky that the Bowes Museum entrusted the picture to our care, and we were able, with Simon Gillespie's help, to use all our experience of conserving Van Dycks (over 20 so far, and many more studio works) to full advantage. Unless you really know what you're dealing with, cleaning Van Dycks can be a fraught business, given the extremely complex and delicate glazes he used. It is very easy to get things wrong, especially in areas with darker pigments like the hair. (If I may say so, the case demonstrates how sometimes the art trade and commercial restorers can have a greater understanding of how to conserve a painting than the museum world. Because we're portrait specialists here at Philip Mould & Company, with a particular expertise in Van Dyck, we have dealt with, researched and restored more Van Dycks in the last few years than a museum conservator might do in a lifetime.) Simon and I decided that the best approach would be to intervene minimally, and so where possible we have left on a layer of the oldest, possibly original, varnish over the whole picture. After the cleaning, there was some re-touching required, for example in areas of abrasion in the drapery, and most notably in the sitter's left eye, where a highlight was replaced. Fortunately, we had a useful guide for any re-touching with a good quality studio copy of the picture at Lamport Hall (below).
Although the picture was of an unidentified sitter when John Bowes bought it in 1866, curators at the Bowes museum had more recently suggested Olivia Porter (d.1663) as an identification, by comparing it to other portraits of her by Van Dyck. And they were right. The copy at Lamport Hall had originally been acquired in the late 17th Century as an unknown sitter, but was subsequently identified as Dorothy, Countess of Leicester. However, some further research, including a trip to the Heinz Archive at the National Portrait Gallery and some help from Olivia Porter's descendants, allowed us to prove conclusively that the Leicester identification was wrong, and that the sitter was indeed Olivia (or Olive, as she called herself). Olive was the wife of Van Dyck's closest friend in England, Endymion Porter, one of Charles I's key courtiers. Porter was the only person whom Van Dyck painted himself with [below, Museo Prado]. Olive was a lady-in-waiting to Henrietta Maria, and later, in 1637, converted to Catholicism with such zeal that she was eventually ordered to leave the country by Parliament.
The Bowes picture was of such high quality that I think we can safely say it was done from life. The portrait was not only exceptionally well painted (as Professor Christopher Brown said, ‘this is Van Dyck at his best’), but carried real authority in terms of characterisation and overall human presence. It's dangeours to be subjective about these things, but it feels as if it was someone Van Dyck knew intimately, and liked. The sketchy and unfinished nature of the drapery further suggests that the picture was conceived as a portrait from life, probably done with the intention of being able to use the likeness in the other portraits of Olive that Van Dyck was to paint. The same head, with a slightly different direction of gaze, was used again by Van Dyck in a larger three quarter length portrait now at Syon House (below, Duke of Northumberland collection), a picture which has been in the Northumberland collection since at least 1652.
The late Sir Oliver Millar, author of the section of the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne devoted to the artist's English works, dated the Syon House picture to c.1637, which I would agree with, and which also seems a most likely date for the Bowes Museum picture. Given Van Dyck's own strong Catholic faith, it is interesting to speculate whether the portraits of Olive done at this time were in any way linked to her conversion. Van Dyck also painted a group portrait of her with her husband and child [Private Collection - a copy (perhaps that recorded as being made by Mary Beale in 1672) is at Dunham Massey], but this is more difficult to date. A less securely identified portrait of Olive by Van Dyck was formerly at Shrubland Park. Two smaller copies of the Bowes picture exist, on panel. One was formerly at Balnagowan Castle, and was later sold at Christie’s as a portrait of Henrietta Maria, and the other remains in the private collection of Olive's descendants.
After filming was over, I was subsequently alerted (again by Olive's descendant) of another important likeness of her at Lacock Abbey. This portrait, above, is an early copy probably by Theodore Roussel (1614-1689) after the head of Olive in Van Dyck's group portrait of her with her family. The Lacock Abbey copy is important because Van Dyck’s original group portrait is in bad condition (even George Vertue in 1751 records this fact), and consequently the likenesses are not reliable as the picture has been substantially over-painted*. So the Lacock Abbey copy, done soon after the original was completed, is another useful guide to what Olive looked like. For more information on Olive's life and the history of some of her portraits, the best source is Gervas Huxley's ‘Endymion Porter: the Life of a Courtier’ (London, 1959).
John Bowes bought the portrait of Olive in Paris in 1866, from one of his regular dealers, Madame Lapautre. A receipt records that he bought it with another portrait then attributed to Van Dyck, of Henrietta Maria. The Henrietta Maria picture is also still at the Bowes Museum, but has sadly been very heavily over-cleaned, and badly restored (many years ago). It is hard to tell the quality due to the paint loss, but I would say that it was probably painted in Van Dyck’s studio. The earlier history of Olive’s portrait was unknown, but I found the remains of a wax collector’s seal (below) on the back of the un-lined canvas.
It's hard to make out from the photo, but what you can see is a coronet, the top of a shield with 'mascles' or lozenges, and part of the chain of the order of the Holy Spirit, France's highest order of chivalry (as denoted by the tiny ‘H’ in the chain). All of these combined meant that I was looking for a titled (the Coronet) member of the Rohan family (a coat of arms with nine mascles, since the shield was undivided) who was a member of the order of the St Esprit. With help from Dr. Clive Cheeseman, Richmond Herald at the College of Arms, and Hervé, Baron Pinoteau of the Académie Internationale d'Héraldique, we were able to establish that the arms belonged to either Henri, 2nd Duc de Montbazon (d.1654) (below, with his arms in the engraving), or his son Louis (d.1667).
Hopefully, further research in any Montbazon archives might yield further clues, but it was decided not to do this in the programme. What the wax seal does tell us, however, is that the picture was in France by the middle of the 17th Century. It is likely, therefore, that the Porters took the painting with them when they fled England into exile after Charles I lost the Civil War, and probably sold it soon afterwards. We know that the Porters were in dire financial straits when in exile. The supposition is that the picture remained in France until John Bowes bought it in Paris in 1866.
You can see a larger image of the cleaned painting here on the Your Paintings website. In addition to Professor Christopher Brown, the attribution to Van Dyck is also supported by the Rev. Dr. Susan Barnes, a renowned Van Dyck scholar who was one of the original authors of 'Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings' (New Haven and London, 2004)
* Incidentally, if you own the group picture, and would like some advice on possibly restoring it...
Test your connoisseurship
March 8 2013
Picture: Bowes Museum
The picture above belongs to the Bowes Museum, and will be the subject of a Culture Show Special presented by Alistair Sooke tomorrow, Saturday, on BBC2 at 6.30pm. Long called a copy 'after Van Dyck', is it in fact by him? Watch tomorrow to find out...
But in the meantime, I invite you to hazard a guess on the attribution. Let me know if you would stake your reputation on the above pre-conservation photo, and say whether it is or is not by Van Dyck (as I, er, have). Or is it attributable to the range of options we have with an artist like Van Dyck; 'studio of Van Dyck', or 'Van Dyck and Studio'? Or is it even an out of period, 18th Century copy? In which case, have I made the biggest blunder of my career?
PS - As loyal readers of AHN, it is your duty to spread the word about the programme!
Update - a reader writes:
I assume that it is not a later copy.
IMO not by Van Dyck, studio of Van Dyck or Van Dyck and studio. Surely if it had been anywhere near Van Dyck’s studio it would have a more interesting background. It looks English. The fictive oval frame invites the idea of Cornelius Johnson, but the style doesn’t match him.
You don’t say what the support is – presumably canvas rather than panel.
The neckline is low, and there is little sign of lace. Could the costume be second half of the 17th century? The uninteresting background makes me rule out Lely and its probably not Wright either.
Ellis Waterhouse’s Painting in Britain has some small black and white illustrations of work by a painter by the name of John Scougall. I know nothing about him, but that’s my guess.
It is on canvas.
Update II - another reader writes:
Update III - a reader goes for half and half:
The head on the 'Van Dyck' looks to be better than the very poorly painted lower body and costume,I'd plump off a unfinished portrait by Van Dyck? but finished by an inferior hand.
All no's so far. Another:
The angle of the shoulders looks too sharp for the proportion of the face and the rest of the body. The mis-balance suggests overpainting.
Update IV - at last, a reader takes the plunge:
I'd venture to say it does indeed have a very good chance!
It's still not Shakespeare (ctd.)
March 7 2013
This portrait of Sir Thomas Overbury still keeps popping up as Shakespeare in the press, this time in the Sunday Times.
The Met buys a sleeper
March 5 2013
Paul Jeromack in The Art Newspaper reports that the Metropolitan Museum has pulled off a bit of a coup, with the purchase of the above drawing by Jacques Louis David for just $840. It came up for sale in a minor auction in New York, called 'French School, early 19th Century'. It relates to David's painting The Death of Scorates, which belongs to the Met.
The auction, at Swann Galleries, took place on 29th January during New York's Old Master week. In other words, the Met bought a sleeper in the same week that they might well have sold one.
March 4 2013
Very kind of the The Sunday Times to make our Culture Show programme (Saturday 9th March, BBC2, 6.30pm) their 'Pick of the Day'.
Turner discovered in India
March 2 2013
Picture: Bid & Hammer Auction
A missing Turner watercolour showing part of the fortifications at Seringapatam has been found in India. It is to be sold at auction soon, with an estimate of 2-3 million Rupees (approx. $370,000-$555,000). More details here.
A painting's eye view
February 28 2013
Here's a screen grab from the forthcoming BBC2 Culture Show programme I'm in, presented by Alistair Sooke. On the left is the director of the Bowes Museum, Adrian Jenkins. We're examining what might, or might not, be a major discovery... Tune in at 6pm on Saturday March 9th to find out...