Category: Exhibitions

Matisse - the movie

April 23 2014

Video: Tate

Goodness, isn't everyone getting excited about these Matisse scissor-y things. The critics have been eulogising Tate's new show as never before. My favourite so far is this film by the BBC, in which the rapper Goldie goes entertainingly bereserk over the whole thing.

If you can't get to the new blockbuster show, then fear not, for on Tuesday 3rd June a 'live' film of the exhibition will be shown in cinemas across the UK. More here.

In the meantime, here's the Great Brian urging us to enjoy Matisse's jottings, but to keep our feet on the ground:

Enjoy the gaiety of colour. Be moved by the myth of the old genius, victim of a botched stomach operation, discovering new inspiration when told that death was on his doorstep. Be astonished by this sensualist turned saint, finding God in his own work, lying a-bed and drawing on the wall with a six-foot pole, cluttering every surface with the worst drawings this worst of draughtsmen ever did. Delight in the jaunty amusements of the infants’ school,  but do not discard your critical faculties. Is what you see in this Matisse really a match for Michelangelo’s Adam, his nude youths, his prophets and sybils, his Last Judgement? What nonsense.

Enjoy these seductive trivialities for what they are — insubstantial, deceitful, fraudulent and, we must hope, transient, rather than some spiritual and mystical essence of art. Having no doubt that the number of visitors between now and September  will break the record for Tate Modern (and so, perhaps, it should), I hope only that, unlike the early critics, they will cling to reason.

Hanging 'Veronese'

April 22 2014

Video: National Gallery

Loving the movie music in this National Gallery behind-the-scenes for 'Veronese'.

Brian asks 'Who was William Kent?'

March 28 2014

Image of Brian asks 'Who was William Kent?'

Picture: Standard, interior of Chiswick House, designed by Kent

Brian Sewell, on good form as ever, reviews the V&A's new exhibition on William Kent, architect and artist, and is not overly impressed. Concluding paragraph:

In this exhibition we see proof of Hogarth’s judgment that Kent was a “contemptible dauber”, and his draughtsmanship too is exposed as that of a hapless amateur; but to be fair to him, Kent should be judged only in his houses and palaces, not in the mean circumstances of a meagre exhibition in the V&A. Five minutes in one room of Houghton proves him to have been capable of the most accomplished “fusions of architectural convention, decoration and embellishment”.

The Grumpy Art Historian has been too, and is even less impressed:

[...] the exhibition is overall a failure. Partly that's because it's hard to curate an exhibition about architecture, and partly it's because the curation is just bad. 

Handel is played in the background, the ultimate cliché of Georgian England. It might be merely thoughtless and unimaginative, but I suspect it's trying to engage an audience with something familiar. That's even worse, because it shies away from anything challenging in favour of a tedious Merchant Ivory country house ethos. I hate music in exhibitions because it imposes a mood, forcing us to experience it exactly as the curatorial apparatchiks want to make us experience it. It imposes emotion and closes down meaning.

Cheap looking backdrops hang behind the exhibits, and looped films of country house interiors play alongside original works of art. Lest you're tempted to dally, some of the more intricate drawings are hung behind four foot deep stands. The wall text is minimalist and you have to snake along a narrow corridor, making it difficult to linger or to go back for a second look. It's more like watching television rather than reading a book. A book might make an argument, but you can choose how you engage with it, reading at your own pace and pausing to consider. A documentary imposes a pace. It is totalising; sound and vision are used to tell a story, which we must passively consume.

Brian on Veronese

March 21 2014

Image of Brian on Veronese

Picture: Standard

The Great Brian is on excellent form in his review of the Veronese exhibition, which is well worth a read. Like me, he seems most impressed with Veronese's early works, such as the 1548 Conversion of Mary Magdalene, above. Of course, Brian can't help but question a few of the attributions, as he is wont to do. But you'd be hard pressed to find a better short essay on where Veronese fits into the canon. 

Blockbusters - are they worth it?

March 18 2014

Image of Blockbusters - are they worth it?

Picture: Telegraph

There's a very interesting piece in The Telegraph by Alistair Sooke on blockbuster exhibitions. He talked to both the current and previous directors of the National Gallery to get their views. First, Nicholas Penny:

“At the moment, there are far too many loan exhibitions in the world,” he says. “I would like there to be fewer for sure.” Why? “Because I think they have disrupted the balance between enjoying works of art on a repeated basis, [i.e.] enjoying the sense of a permanent collection, and the special exhibition where you understand a particular artist in depth. It’s a very difficult balance to keep. There’s always an excitement about a loan exhibition, but the exhibition mentality pushes art towards theatre.”

Today we take so-called “blockbuster” exhibitions for granted – yet, as Penny is keen to point out, it is only relatively recently that the National Gallery began to stage them with regularity, following the construction of the Sainsbury Wing, which opened in 1991. Moreover, he says, “the majority of our visitors actually come to see the permanent collection – so it would be crazy of us to compromise its character by turning it into a kind of loan bank whereby we could just get more and more great pictures [for temporary exhibitions] from other institutions by lending our own. But if you don’t lend, you don’t borrow – that’s now quite clear.”

Has he taken any steps to remedy the situation? “Yes,” Penny replies, his eyes shining. “When I became Director in 2008, we stopped having three big loan exhibitions per annum and went down to two. They were putting a tremendous strain on the institution.”

Then its the turn of former director Charles Saumarez Smith:

“There is an argument that big exhibitions consume a great deal of time, energy and resource, and that they take away from the presentation of a permanent collection,” he tells me. “But I like exhibitions. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of the argument that curators would be producing big catalogue raisonnés if only they weren’t concentrating on ephemeral exhibitions, because I think a great deal of scholarship and research goes into exhibitions.”

Of course, you could say that the man running the Royal Academy would argue this, since the institution has a much smaller permanent collection than the National Gallery, as well as an abundance of exhibition space, which it needs to fill. “In some ways,” Saumarez Smith says, “the Royal Academy is the home of the blockbuster exhibition. When we did The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters [in 2010], it got more than 410,000 visitors. It was a blockbuster. But it also had a deeply serious purpose. I believe you get a different order of understanding of an artist by seeing their works together. I’m sure there are people who can go from place to place making comparisons by virtue of training and visual memory – but I prefer to see two works next door to one another.”

Both directors then disagree over the hazards of transporting works of art:

 “We do send works of art by air freight,” says Penny, “but apart from the risks of aeroplanes crashing, which we all know about, with air travel, because of the security arrangements at airports, it is becoming more and more difficult to have exact control over what happens within cargo sheds and when works of art are put on the plane.”

Saumarez Smith disagrees. “Works of art can be travelled extremely safely,” he says. “There are people who are anxious about the risk, and it is always said that it only requires one aeroplane to go down with a large number of Poussins and the whole ecology of the blockbuster exhibition will change – but so far that hasn’t happened.”

While I'm probably with Penny on wishing to reduce the number of mega exhibitions, because of the disruption they have on permanent collections and displays, I'm firmly on Saumarez Smith's side when it comes to being handling works of art. There are risks, yes, but damage happens so rarely that shipping concerns shouldn't be a reason not to have good blockbuster shows. 

Veronese

March 18 2014

Image of Veronese

Picture: BG

I went briefly to a preview of the Veronese show at the National Gallery this afternoon. It's an epic exhibition, so do go. The more august art writers must have gone yesterday or last week, for the main reviews are already published. Richard Dorment has a thoughtful and well-considered take in The Telegraph:

Precisely because of Veronese’s tendency to reuse and repeat figures, this show has its ups and downs. Although his later religious pictures may be very beautiful, they feel like conventional products of the Counter Reformation. As we know from Veronese’s famous encounter with the Inquisition, he was an artist who needed to give his imagination free rein. If, in a subject like the Adoration of the Magi or the Resurrection, such invention was out of the question, some ineffable connection between the artist and his subject isn’t there. It’s not that he paints on autopilot, like so many Roman painters at this time, but that the creative spark is missing.

But when it’s there, what a painter he is. You see it in his huge altarpiece from the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona [above], which shows the patron saint of England in the moments before his martyrdom. The subject is rare in art, so there was no preordained way to show it. I wonder too whether a commission to depict the beheading of an English martyr may have fired the artist’s imagination at a time when Catholic Europe was all too aware that Elizabeth I was about to create new martyrs. Whatever the answer, his performance here is electrifying.

Dorment gives the show four stars out of five.

In The Guardian, however, Jonathan Jones gives the show a full five stars:

How can an art gallery do justice to a painter who specialised in decorating the walls and ceilings of palaces, and in painting epic banquets so big they dwarf the rooms they are in?

What it must do is what the National Gallery has done for its greatest exhibition since its Leonardo da Vinci blockbuster a few years ago. A whole suite of the gallery's most beautiful rooms, usually filled by its permanent collection, have been cleared so Paolo Veronese's palatial paintings can have the space and light they deserve. The result is an utter joy. Veronese is an artist of abundant, irrepressible life. He is as expansive and theatrical as Shakespeare, who was 24 when the artist died in 1588.

Meanwhile, Claudia Pritchard in The Independent has this fascinating take on Veronese's use of blue:

No one knew, for example, that another handy blue, smalt, a by-product of Venice’s glass industry, would leave a gloomy legacy. “Smalt is almost as intense as ultramarine,” explains Salomon. “What no one knew at the time is that after 50 or 100 years, smalt changes colour because it reacts with the linseed oil. When you see an overcast sky in a Veronese painting, you can be sure that it was meant to be blue. This was not known until 15 or 20 years ago. People were praising Veronese’s subtle, grey skies.”

To this chemical reaction add temptation, and the mix can become even muddier. “In some cases, Veronese used all three blues – smalt, azurite and ultramarine. I don’t want to cast any doubt on Veronese himself, but where a patron is paying for a certain amount of ultramarine, he is not to know whether all of that was used in his painting, or whether the artist was able to keep some back ….”

As we like to say here on AHN, the history of art is the history of what survives. 

I'll post some more personal thoughts on the show tomorrow, but I need to rush off now.

Update - the Grumpy Art Historian has been to see the show, and likes it (mainly).

Cezanne at the Ashmolean

March 17 2014

Video: Ashmolean Museum

This looks like it's worth a visit - an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford of works from the Pearlman Collection, including 24 works by Cezanne. Says the Ashmolean:

The exhibition includes twenty-four works by Cézanne: six oils; two drawings; and sixteen watercolours which constitute one of the finest and best-preserved groups of his watercolours in the world. The majority of these are Provençal landscapes, while others depict characteristic Cézanne motifs including a skull, female bathers, and his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire.

Cézanne and the Modern also explores the history of twentieth-century private collections of this type. Key to the Pearlman Collection is Henry Pearlman’s own tastes. He collected pictures and sculptures that he liked and his thrill at discovering unknown masterpieces is evident throughout. Star pictures include a colourful and unusual composition by Vincent Van Gogh, Tarascon Diligence (1888); Amedeo Modigliani’s celebrated portrait of Jean Cocteau (1916–17); and among the sculptures are three bronzes by Jacques Lipchitz and one by Wilhelm Lehmbruck; and an extraordinary painted relief, Te Fare Amu (1901-2) by Paul Gauguin.

Mr Colin Harrison, Senior Curator of European Art and exhibition curator, Ashmolean, says: “Cézanne and the Modern offers visitors the opportunity to see extraordinary masterpieces by some of the most famous artists of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements. Although individual works have occasionally been included in monographic exhibitions, this is the first time that this most individual collection has been exhibited in Europe. Apart from the amazing paintings and watercolours by Cézanne, it includes wonderful works by artists who are little known in England, notably Chaïm Soutine, who was a particular favourite of the Pearlmans.”

More infor here. Good video by the way.

Sewell on the NPG's new 'War Portraits' show

March 10 2014

Image of Sewell on the NPG's new 'War Portraits' show

Picture: NPG

The Great Brian is on excellent form in his review of the National Portrait Gallery's new exhibition of Great War portraits. The whole piece is exhibition reviewing at its best. Here are the strangely moving final paragraphs:

Though it is far too cramped and small, playing second fiddle to a once fashionable photographer — David Bailey in this case, but my objection applies to every other who might have been so honoured, so foolish is this misjudgment of priority. I am grateful to the NPG for this exhibition. It falls between too many stools and concentrates on only one campaign, the long-drawn Western Front, but it is to some degree a reminder of the horrors inflicted by war. My diminishing generation needs no such reminder; in my childhood before the Second World War, on every street in London I could see the living wreckage of the Great War, men limbless, eyeless, dreadfully damaged, selling matches and bootlaces for a penny, or, in hope of a penny, singing (often rather well), playing the accordion, the saw (outside St Mary Abbots, Kensington) — yes, the saw — and a harp outside Tattersalls in Knightsbridge. The fortunate legless might have a wicker chair on wheels, the unfortunate a simple wooden chassis paddled along with the hands. A curious child, I wonder how such damaged beings emptied their bowels and bladders, where they slept, how they could eat. Now I see them only in my memory and in the dreary northern paintings of Laurence Lowry. The Great War did not create a world fit for heroes — it threw them on to the street.

It did, however, establish lasting loyalties and affections. Only once did my stepfather speak of that war, though he fought throughout it — in France, the Balkans, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia and the Holy Land — and that was when I unwisely developed an interest in Lawrence of Arabia (who is among the many not included in this exhibition) whom, I learned, my father had good reason to think “a boastful little shit”. But his loyalty to those with whom he fought was quite extraordinary and to be found in no other of his interests; he joined his soldier peers once a month for dinner, even in the blackouts, the Blitzes and the Buzzbomb Summer of the Second World War, until his death in 1962. I experienced something of that loyalty as a National Serviceman with not an enemy in sight — but had there been an enemy, that loyalty would have been much more intense and lasted longer.

But these are the maunderings of an old man in melancholy mood inspired by the pathos of the young so early dead. As the experience of war in any form, in the armed forces or as a civilian, is now the privilege of very few in Britain, I doubt if many will share my powerfully empathic response to this exhibition but I beg them to try. Having done so, having watched the film clips (cramped and uncomfortable) and perhaps having gleaned something of the inglorious sufferings of the soldier, cross the road towards Pret A Manger and, glancing to the left, spare a moment for Edith Cavell, nurse, executed by the Germans in October 1915, for there is her monument, “Patriotism is not enough”, the inscription — her last words, we are told. And it is not, but how now are we to interpret this Delphic utterance when young Gavrilo Princip’s patriotism proved to be so much too much?

The exhibition is on until 15th June.

Update - the Grumpy Art Historian didn't like some of the labels:

The weakness is a jarring curatorial voice that makes bombastic claims that are quite unnecessary; the pictures tell their own story. But the wall text offers questionable generalities like this: "The appalling consequences of [new] weapons suggested that human nature itself had changed, compassion snuffed out by unbridled cruelty and hatred. Such altered perceptions raised profound questions for artists". Was it really new weapons? Was it really worse than, say, the thirty years' war? And even if it was, why should other horrific conflicts not have caused such questioning? Were changed perceptions really caused by war? Virginia Woolf thought human nature changed in December 1910; why do the curators think it was later? These questions are better left for visitors to ponder. Less would have been more in this otherwise fine show.

Update II - I went to see the exhibition, and agree with Brian. It's fascinating, but way too small. What a shame. The show is cramped into two semi-rooms, one of which is part of a room reduced to make way for the tiresome and too, too large exhibition (it takes up almost the entire ground floor) of photographs by David Bailey. I went to see the Bailey show to contrast the offer with the WW1 exhibition. In the former, people drifted swiftly from room to endless room, each more boringly and densely hung than the last. In the latter, they dwelt for far longer on both image and wall text, evidently learning and thinking about a subject currently high up in our national consciousness.

Presumably, the disparity in space is a reflection of the NPG's enforced priorities in these days of funding cuts, for shows like the Bailey bring in the cash. Let's hope that somewhere like the Imperial War Museum (from where many of the NPG exhibits come) can soon mount a larger and more penetrating exhibition of this fascinating artistic aspect of the Great War.

Pictures re-united at Osterley Park

March 4 2014

Video: National Trust

I'm looking forward to this greatly - a Osterley Park the National Trust have re-united the house with some of the great pictures in the Jersey Collection (kindly lent by the Earl of Jersey). In the above video, the NT's new curator of pictures, David Taylor, has an amusing take on the difference between Van Dyck and Dobson. The former artist, alas, is not returning to Osterley - at least not yet. The Van Dyck self-portrait which the NPG is trying to buy at the moment was sold by the Earl of Jersey in 2009.

More here in the Guardian.

'The craze for Pastel', new exhibition at Tate Britain

February 18 2014

Image of 'The craze for Pastel', new exhibition at Tate Britain

Picture: Tate, via Jan Marsh

Here's an interesting new exhibition coming up later this year at Tate Britain, 'The Craze for Pastel'. Says the Tate website:

Celebrating the recent acquisition of Ozias Humphrey’s pastel portrait Baron Nagell’s Running Footman c.1795, this display will explore the emergence of pastel in the 18th century and its phenomenal, if relatively short-lived, success as a fashionable alternative to oil paint. Tracing its evolution from natural chalk – long used for figure and landscape sketches – into a full colour medium, this display will include many rarely exhibited works from the Tate collection. Featuring experimental pastel drawings by Thomas Gainsborough alongside finished portraits by leading pastellists such as John Russell and Daniel Gardner, it aims to demonstrate the central importance of the medium to the increasingly competitive 18th-century British art world.

I had missed Tate's acquisition of the Humphry pastel (above), which looks like a splendid painting.

Readers wanting to know more about why pastels had such an intense but brief moment in the art historical sun should head towards the blog of pastel king Neil Jeffares, here, and also his recent piece for The Burlington website here.

The show runs from 7th April to 5th October.

Update - this is weird; a reader alerts me to the fact that the above story has been copied, unacknowledged, by this website, but seems to have been auto-translated into a foreign language, and then back into English. So the last paragraph reads like this:

Readers wanting to know some-more about because pastels had such an heated though brief impulse in a art chronological object should conduct towards a blog of pastel aristocrat Neil Jeffares, here, and also his new square for The Burlington website here.

'Strange Beauty' at the National Gallery (ctd.)

February 18 2014

Image of 'Strange Beauty' at the National Gallery (ctd.)

Picture: Telegraph

I reported earlier on the National Gallery's new exhibition of German 16th Century art, which hasn't gone down terrifically with some critics. But in the Guardian, Mark Brown relates a fascinating snippet about the National's rushed sale of similar works in the 19th century, when they were considered quite, quite ghastly:

One of the most extraordinary and excruciating episodes in the National Gallery's history is laid bare in an exhibition opening to the public on Wednesday: the state-sanctioned sale of paintings because they were German.

Susan Foister, co-curator of the show, Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance, described the disposal of 37 works in 1856 as a "surprising" and little-known story. "It was the first and only time that the gallery had an act of parliament passed in order to rid itself of excessive German paintings," she said.

The main issue was that for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, German art was considered ugly and certainly hugely inferior to anything produced in Italy. Sir Charles Eastlake, director of the National Gallery from 1855-65, once said he found the work of Matthias Grünewald "repulsive".

In 1854, William Gladstone, then chancellor of the exchequer, bought 64 German Renaissance paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries for the gallery. It was considered a scandal. One newspaper called them "frightful" and a parliamentarian said the purchase was the "worst ever" – what was the National Gallery thinking of?

Foister said that "there was an idea of what should be collected and what should be admired". And German paintings did not fit the idea.

Within just two years the gallery's trustees felt they had to get rid of them. That resulted in an act of parliament permitting their deaccession and 37 were sold, including most of an altarpiece from the Benedictine abbey of Liesborn in Germany.

The story is a reminder how fashion can change, even for Old Masters. Think of this next time a 17th Century religious picture appears in an Old Master sale near you, with a derisory estimate. Like the giant and well-painted Luca Giordano Crucifixion of St Peter sold at Sotheby's New York in January for just $25,000 - bargain!

Also, on a related theme, can 'brown furniture' get any cheaper? The Antiques Trade Gazette reports that its value is still declining, even though you can now furnish your house with good 18th Century antiques for less than a trip to Ikea.

Update - a reader tells us that two of the pictures have ended up at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, see here and here.

'Strange Beauty' at the NG

February 17 2014

Image of 'Strange Beauty' at the NG

Picture: Telegraph

The National Gallery has another of their predominantly own-collection exhibitions on, as upstairs rooms are cleared to make way for the forthcoming Veronese show. Entry, £7. Alistair Sooke in the Telegraph is not that impressed, calling it 'threadbare':

I happily passed an hour or two in this exhibition reacquainting myself with old favourites from the National Gallery’s collection, as well as considering works that perhaps previously I had overlooked. But charging seven pounds for a full-price ticket feels inappropriate to me: while it does contain more than 30 loans from other British collections, including Holbein’s spellbinding miniature of Anne of Cleves from the V&A, Strange Beauty is predominantly a reshuffle of the permanent collection – and usually it is possible to admire, say, Holbein’s The Ambassadors for free.

Moreover, it is only a couple of years since a major show about the Northern Renaissance at the Queen’s Gallery in 2012, while there have been recent exhibitions in London devoted to Dürer (at the British Museum in 2002), Holbein (Tate Britain, 2006), and Cranach (the Royal Academy, 2008).

In addition, there isn’t much of a narrative to Strange Beauty, aside from the idea that the popularity of particular schools of art can wax and wane from era to era. Though this is interesting – I was fascinated to read, for instance, that 19th-century viewers of the famous (Netherlandish, not German) Arnolfini Portrait, on display in the first gallery, were amused by the stiffness of the figures as well as the bizarre appearance of their clothes – it is hardly sensational or groundbreaking.

The threadbare concept behind the exhibition is writ large in its final room, which does not contain any artworks at all. Instead, visitors encounter toe-curling questions emblazoned on the walls such as “Is ugliness more authentic than beauty?” and “Can art be both inventive and true to nature?” These heavy-handed if well-meaning questions brought me out in a cold sweat, as though I were about to sit an exam – which is not a feeling that ordinarily I would like to pay to experience.

Amsterdam's giant group portraits to go on display

February 13 2014

Image of Amsterdam's giant group portraits to go on display

Picture: DutchNews.nl

A series of 30 giant 17th Century group portraits is to go on display in Amsterdam at the end of this year. From DutchNews.nl:

The Hermitage museum in Amsterdam is to host a permanent exhibition of some 30 enormous paintings by Rembrandt and his contemporaries which have never been seen together before.

The exhibition, with the working title Gallery of the Golden Age, focuses on Dutch citizenship during in the 17th and 18th centuries when Amsterdam was at the height of its international powers. 

The works - group portraits of wealthy Amsterdammers - are held by the Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Museum but are so big they are rarely on show.

Rembrandt's Night Watch at the Rijksmuseum is the most famous picture of the genre and will remain in its present setting but his Anatomy Lesson of Dr Deijman will be part of the new exhibition.

'We have many more paintings than we can display. This is a great opportunity to go big on these massive group portraits,' said Amsterdam Museum director Paul Spies.

The exhibition will open in November.

How did they do that?

February 11 2014

Image of How did they do that?

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has found £15.6m to buy its 'first US artwork', a painting by George Bellows. The picture also becomes the first Bellows to enter a UK public collection. The money came principally from the acquisition fund established by the late Sir Paul Getty, and other anonymous donors. In other words, no public funding body, such as the HLF, was involved. That's testament to the National Gallery's impressive fundraising operation. More details on the purchase in the NG's press release here

Given that the picture was painted in 1912, and so lies outside the 1900 cut off date that has traditionally been followed by the National Gallery, some have wondered how this affects both the National's and Tate's future acquisition policy. The BBC's arts editor, Will Gompertz, writes, on the BBC website:

Tate and the National Gallery have an agreement that is renewed every decade that sets the parameters of each institution's collection strategy to avoid overlap and competition. The line has hitherto been drawn around 1900, the point at which the National Gallery hands the story of Western art over to Tate Modern.

The acquisition of the Bellows blurs that line as it was produced in the second decade of the 20th Century, which has always been very much Tate territory. It raises the prospect of the two national galleries competing for certain paintings in the future, which either could argue fits within their historical art narrative.

The picture was de-accessioned by the Maier Museum, part of Randolph College in Virginia, in the US. This has created a bit of to-do, because the institution in question, Randolph College, is using the money to fund general operating costs, not for its art collection. The CAA has its say here.

The acquisition is a rare, and pleasingly welcome, case of a UK institution buying a US de-accession. The boot is usually on the other foot...

Update - a reader points out that there are of course many other 'American' paintings in the NG:

A couple of things about the reporting on this: much has been made that this is only the second American work in the NG’s collection, after the Inness landscape.  Which, by the way was cleaned recently and has been displayed on the main floor of the Gallery.  More important, and somewhat overlooked, is the fact that while the Bellows is the second work by an American artist in the collection OF an American subject, there have been, and are, other works BY American artists in the collection.  The Sargent of Lord Ribblesdale still forms part of the collection and Whistlers like this one have also been displayed there relatively recently.  The press releases for the acquisition of the Bellows make something of its relationship to artists like Manet but, of course, both the Whistler and the Sargent are more closely connected so are they now going to form part of the main display?

One further thing: the division of the spoils date-wise between the NG and Tate has never been absolute or logical.  Tate has hung on to one of the loveliest of Degas pastels  - the drawings and sculptures by Degas can’t be transferred – and Tate clearly wasn’t interested in taking the Nationals latest complete work.

Another reader wonders where all these new pictures will go:

The Bellows is a wonderful addition to the National Galleries collection, but makes the pressure on wall space, if the break off period is now 1910, for the NG/Tate divide, critical. I wonder when the National Gallery will bite the bullet, and start to built a brand new extension on the Radisson Blu Hotel it owns to the east in Whitcomb St.

Another reader asks, why did they do that?

Congratulations to the National Gallery for acquiring its first significant American painting.  However, one is left to wonder about the true cost of the £15.6m George Bellows canvas, 'Men of the Docks.'

Last year an important painting ('Richmond Hill') by renowned American artist, Jasper Cropsey, was subject to a temporary export ban by Ed Vaizey to provide a last chance for a British museum or gallery to save it for the nation.  The National Gallery declined to step in to meet the £5m asking price and the painting, in the UK since it was originally painted 150 years ago, was lost overseas.

The importance of the Cropsey painting (an artist not represented anywhere in the national collection) was recognised by the National Gallery itself in 2000 when it was also at risk of going abroad and the then Director, Neil MacGregor, campaigned for it to be saved.   So why the change of mind?

In the past twelve months, export stopped paintings by Domenico Puligo and Niccolo Gerini have also been lost despite their importance and exceptional works by Benjamin West (born in America) and Alonso Coello are currently at risk.  None of these artists are represented in the permanent collection of the National Gallery and all four would cost less than two thirds of the price of the Bellows painting.

Bold acquisitions from overseas are to be encouraged but is it right that this should be at the expense of equally as important works more closely associated with this island's history which continue to leave these shores with depressing regularity?

A rarely seen Monet

February 6 2014

Image of A rarely seen Monet

Picture: The Times

The Times reports that a previously unseen Monet, Sur Les Planches de Trouville, will be exhibited at the Musee Marmottan's forthcoming exhibition of Impressionist works in private collections. Sur Les Planches de Trouville apparently belongs to the Freud family. 

The blockbuster effect

February 4 2014

Image of The blockbuster effect

Picture: The New Yorker

Interesting piece in the New Yorker on how the Frick coped with the crowds for their recent Mauritshuis exhibition.

Van Gogh sunflowers re-united

January 29 2014

Video: BBC

I've come to this a little late, but if you're in London it's well worth going down to the National Gallery to see two of Van Gogh's sunflower paintings hanging together for the first time since 1947. In the clip above, Martin Bailey, who has just written the definitive book on Van Gogh's sunflower paintings, 'The Sunflowers are Mine', explains the history of the two pictures.

Both sunflowers are at the National till 27th April. You can read more about the display here

Update - a reader writes:

I joined the queues at the weekend and enjoyed the opportunity to see them side by side – I hope it’s not too partisan of me to say so, but it’s actually a reminder of how good the London original is!

The much-vaunted display of ‘new research’ is a bit bizarre – the information panel about the x-rays they have done reveals absolutely nothing that can’t be seen by the naked eye from a few feet away.

And one more minor grumble – I was disappointed to read that that there had been no discussion of the possibility of showing these paintings (where the impasto application of paint is especially important to the effect) without a glaze, given that they could have had an attentive security guard each for this sort of special occasion. My eyes may have been playing tricks on me, but it seemed like the glass was more reflective and disruptive on the Amsterdam version.

Plymouth bids for Reynolds' first self-portrait

January 28 2014

Image of Plymouth bids for Reynolds' first self-portrait

Picture: Plymouth Art Gallery

Here's a noble cause, Plymouth Art Gallery are raising funds to buy Sir Joshua Reynolds' first self-portrait in oils (above), painted in c.1746. I'm not sure what the total asking price is, but bodies such as the Art Fund are helping out with a generous £63,000, and to help unlock funds from the HLF, the Friends of the museum have pledged to raise £10,000. They have already raised £6,500 so, need just £4,500 more by March. More details here.

I've done my bit. If you can, please do yours!

Guffwatch - the Random Exhibition Title Generator

January 23 2014

Image of Guffwatch - the Random Exhibition Title Generator

Picture: Rebecca Uchill

Stuck for a contemporary art exhibition title? Then try out Rebecca Uchill's excellent Random Exhibition Title Generator. 

Rembrandt and Guardi on display at the Ashmolean

January 22 2014

Image of Rembrandt and Guardi on display at the Ashmolean

Picture: BBC News/Ashmolean

The Ashmolean museum in Oxford has acquired the above landscape byFrancesco Guardi, through the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. Says director Christopher Brown:

The picture is an enchanting early view painting which shows the Fondamenta Nuove busy with small boats and gondolas, the island of San Michele and beyond the snow-capped Dolomites. It was painted for a British Grand Tourist in 1758, and is now on display in the Britain and Italy Gallery. This Guardi work is marvellously fresh and instinctually responsive to the beauty of his native city.

The Guardi was worth more than the tax amount liable against the donating estate, so the acquisition had to be topped up by the Art Fund. So well done them.

Brown also, in his column for the Oxford Times, adds that the museum will be borrowing Rembrandt's Portrait of Catrina Hoogshaet (below):

[The] picture has been lent to the Ashmolean from a private collection and it is a particularly exciting event for me as a historian of Dutch and Flemish art. The Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet by Rembrandt van Rijn ranks amongst the finest Old Master paintings in this country. It has just been hung in the Mallet Gallery at the heart of our outstanding collection of great European paintings. Painted in 1657, it shows the 50-year-old Catrina Hooghsaet, who lived in Amsterdam. She was a member of a Mennonite — a radical Protestant community — and dressed in the restrained style they favoured. She was, however, a very wealthy woman and wears a rich silk dress with a lace collar and holds a tasselled lace handkerchief. She looks towards her pet parakeet, of which she was evidently very fond. The painting is one of the finest portraits ever made by Rembrandt. It is an enormous privilege to be able to show it at the Ashmolean where it can be seen by millions of visitors over the next few years.

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