Raphael Conference at the Prado
May 28 2012
This looks like fun - a two day conference (26 & 27 June) on Raphael to coincide with the Prado's new 'Late Raphael' exhibition (opens 12 June). Speakers include Sir Timothy Clifford, Miguel Falomir, Charles Dempsey, David Franklin, Linda Wolk-Simon, Lorraine Karafel, and Carmen C. Bambach. Details here. If you can't make it, don't worry - Raphael blogger extraordinaire Three Pipe Problem will be covering the proceedings.
Update: here's 3PP's more detailed report on the conference.
What is Pinterest?
May 28 2012
I can't yet get my head around Pinterest, the online pinboarding site. But it seems to be growing into The Next Big Thing. Over at the National Trust's always-enjoyable Treasure Hunt blog, Emile de Bruijn looks at the benefits of Pinterest for museums and heritage bodies. He has noticed:
...images from this blog appearing on Pinterest. I find it fascinating to see which images (and, theferore, objects and places) are particularly popular – some get pinned and repinned numerous times.
There seems to be real mutual benefit in this: it helps museums and heritage institutions to understand what their audiences are interested in, and it helps individuals to find inspiring images and learn more about those objects and places.
Some museums have responded by creating their own Pinterest boards, for instance the Metropolitan Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the British Museum. The National Trust also has an official Pinterest presence, put together by our web team and including some ‘prosumer’ content. It illustrates our multi-focused identity as a membership organisation, a nature conservation body as well as a museum authority.
My colleague Alex Hunt, who monitors external trends that might affect the National Trust, sent me a link to this post by We Are Social which analyses the profile of the American users of Pinterest: the majority of them is female and has design/art-related occupations and interests.
The image above is a screen grab of a search for 'Van Dyck'. For what it's worth, quite a few of the results are obviously not by Sir Anthony. So for now, searchers for fine art may prefer to stick to Google Images or Wikipaintings.
John House Scholarship Fund
May 23 2012
The Courtauld Institute is fundraising for a scholarship in memory of the late Professor John House. John was a pre-eminent Impressionist scholar, and viewers of the first series of 'Fake or Fortune?' will remember him from the first programme on Monet. The Institute is seeking to raise £10,000, and has already passed the £5,000 mark. If you would like to contribute, please ask for Stacey Pulley at the Institute.
New miniature collection online
May 18 2012
Picture: Cleveland Museum of Art
If you like your portraits small (or 'in little' as they used to say in the 17thC), then you'll like the new online catalogue of the Cleveland Museum of Art's miniature collection. It's splendidly comprehensive, and one of the best online catalogues I've yet seen.
Son of Guffwatch - The Academic's Revenge
May 17 2012
Following on from my occasional series, Guffwatch (highlighting ludicrous descriptions of contemporary art), a reader has suggested a similar series devoted to art historical guff. There's lots it around. He writes:
For example, I was recently told about a conference with the title "Translation: Transformative Shifts in Process and Exchange."
The organisers helpfully suggest that subject-matter for talks should; "include, but are not limited to: In what ways have motifs, artists, and objects crossed boundaries, found meaning, and re-entered their original contexts? What different forms do these relationships take - for example, are they reciprocal, hegemonic, or syncretic in nature? How have "mistranslations," acting not as mistakes but as retakes, affected art production and meaning, and in what ways do these acts disrupt or inform them? How might we explore the place of the diasporic artist? How are art and artists locationally indexed and how are we to approach the importance or rejection of this spatial orientation? In what ways might translation be thought of temporally?"
My main thought after reading this is: who actually cares? Conferences like this are just God's way of telling you your faculty's got too much money.
Brilliant. If you know of any similar examples, please send them in. By the way, in case you're interested in the above, a quick Google reveals that the conference is at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in October 2012. Full details here.
Anne Boleyn's medal restored?
May 15 2012
Picture: Lucy Churchill / British Museum
This is interesting - a reworking of Anne Boleyn's 1534 portrait medal. There are few more debated iconographies in English history than Anne's, and it's long been thought that the one truly certain likeness of her* is the medal held by the British Museum. (The famous portrait type of her in black is a posthumous interpration, and not very reliable). The trouble is, the lead medal has been worn and flattened over time, so that it cannot be used a guide to Anne's true likeness.
Now, however, the stonecarver Lucy Churchill has made a commendable effort to recreate the medal as it might have been. I think her effort looks most impressive. Curiosuly enough, the nose looks rather like that seen in the 'Anna Bollein Queene' Holbein drawing, which I and others (such as Dr David Starkey) have said for time really is Anne, and which the Royal Collection now accepts as her. That said, I still think we must be very careful when using the medal as any guide to Anne's portraiture.
* Before people write in mentioning the 'Anne Boleyn ring', I'm afraid I don't entirely believe it. The image is, in my view, more likely to be a representation of the young Elizabeth.
Get ready for 'The Getty Research Portal'
May 14 2012
Coming soon from those enlightened people at the Getty, a new online art historical research facility, with scans of oodles of invaluable books and journals. From the Getty press release:
On Thursday, May 31, 2012 the Getty Research Institute (GRI) will launch the Getty Research Portal, an unprecedented resource that will provide universal access to digitized texts in the field of art and architectural history.
The Getty Research Portal is a free online search gateway that aggregates descriptive metadata of digitized art history texts, with links to fully digitized copies that are free to download. Art historians, curators, students, or anyone who is culturally curious can unearth these valuable sources of research without traveling from place to place to browse the stacks of the world’s art libraries. There will be no restrictions to use the Getty Research Portal; all anyone needs is access to the internet. [...]
Because the Getty Research Portal only aggregates the metadata of the digitized texts and links to them, instead of keeping the texts on a server, there are no technical limitations to how much material can be collected. However, given current restrictions on the digital dissemination of copyright materials, all of the content on the Portal will be limited to works published before 1923 which are considered part of the public domain.
Can anti-terrorist technology help identify lost sitters?
May 8 2012
Probably not, as I conclude in today's Independent:
Software developed to recognise terrorist faces is being adapted to solve the mystery of portraits of unidentified people.
In certain cases, cutting-edge "face recognition" technology could identify faces from digital images, detecting similarities in facial constructs. The data will come from scans of known features of individuals, such as in a death mask or identified sculpture.
A feasibility study is being conducted by two art historians and an electronic engineer at the University of California. They describe FACES (Faces, Art and Computerised Evaluation Systems) as a "new tool for art historians". The project has received a $25,000 government grant.
Conrad Rudolph, professor of art history at the university, said: "Before the advent of photography, portraits were, almost by definition, depictions of people who were important in their own worlds. But, as a walk through almost any major museum will show, a large number of these unidentified portraits from before the 19th century have lost the identities of their subjects."
Frans Hals' The Laughing Cavalier, the 1624 masterpiece in the Wallace Collection, London, is among famous portraits whose sitters remain unknown. The picture's title was coined in the 19th century. Jeremy Warren, the Wallace's director of collections, said: "With the Laughing Cavalier, everyone accepts that name, but actually he's not laughing and he's not a cavalier ... I'd love to know who he is. If this technology can help us do it, we'd be absolutely delighted."
Bendor Grosvenor, a specialist in portraits at the Philip Mould Gallery, London, would particularly like to identify a "rather beautiful portrait" by an anonymous 17th-century hand – currently on show at the National Portrait Gallery.
He said: "It was traditionally called The Duke of Monmouth on his Deathbed, but it isn't him as the dates don't work. Deathbed portraits are relatively rare, so who was important enough, or loved enough, to have been painted in such a moving portrayal by a good artist? I would love to know."
But he added: "Most unknown sitters are unknown because they were only painted once, and there is no other likeness with which to compare them. So the new programme will most likely only help with portraits of people for whom we already have other portraits."
Professor Rudolph accepts that "difficulties are inherent" through variations in expressions, age, angle of pose and lighting. But initial tests – on identified 15th-century portraits of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Florentine ruler – have shown how faces can be reduced to labelled graphs and matched up.
This idea has been floating around for a while now. The late Labour MP and former sports minister Tony Banks (for whom I used to work, and who was a great collector of historical portraits), suggested using hooligan-spotting cameras to look for lost portraits as far back as the '90s.
I suspect that such technology has a long way to go before it can be really useful to art history. Portrait painters invariably had their own way of drawing faces, which can make comparing likenesses in works by other artists incredibly difficult. Sir Peter Lely is a well known example - as Pepys said of his portraits, 'good, but not like'. So the same sitter in a Lely can look quite different when painted by Kneller. Probably, this new computer programme will never be as useful as a well-studied art historian with a good memory for faces.
One day, computers may well be able to not only identify sitters, but artists too. Then I'll be out of a job. But I reckon we picture hunters and art historians have a few years left in us yet.
Update - a reader writes:
Regarding that deathbed portrait, whoever the man was there does seem something slightly ominous about his hidden neck. Was he, perhaps, someone who had his head cut off and later sewn back on again? Is that why it was thought to have been the Duke of Monmouth? [...] it seems to me that after death one wouldn't need to be wrapped up against the cold anymore, at any rate.
Update II - another reader writes:
Thinking about your excellent comment on the quondam Duke of Monmouth NPG, I looked up beheaded persons, of whom they are happily very few. I wondered about Sir Henry Vane the Younger and Colonel Penruddock, who both seem vaguely similar in face and age and date of death. The tight lips drawn up lips of the NPG sitter intrigued me, so I began to google 'postmortem effects of decapitation' but then I remembered that's the sort of thing loonies look up.
New Poussin Connoisseurship Project
May 2 2012
This is really exciting - Dr David Packwood's new Poussin Connoisseurship Project is up and running. He writes:
Why do this? Well, the internet revolution is making visual art available to the public in an unprecedented way, and scholars like me are excited by the opportunities this holds for the promotion of our subject. Not only that, but the web is starting to affect the way connoisseurship is practiced. The Poussin Connoisseurship Project positions itself within that new paradigm of digital connoisseurship; it aims to bring the traditional catalogue raisonné into the realms of hyperlinks, digital databases and the expanding universe of art history on the web. We’ll start modestly at first- but who knows? This has the potential to be something bigger.
To list the paintings on the Public Catalogue Foundation: BBC Your Paintings website (and others) that are not by Poussin’s hand, though linked with him by the curators of these resources. This includes paintings designated as “After”, “Style of”, “School” etc.
To use my own expertise and experience as a Poussin scholar to add to the knowledge data base of the PCF, as well as offer an independent resource for anybody interested in the subject.
To raise awareness about scholarly issues in Poussin connoisseurship for the general public.
To use this resource as a foundation for larger, more ambitious projects, like cataloguing the paintings on the PCF by Poussin's followers; or even working through Poussin’s oeuvre in a web format.
Collaborative, accessible sites like these are the future of art history, don't you think?
English art history and public libraries
May 2 2012
Sigh. I see this all the time. This is the definitive book on Nelson's iconography, published by Richard Walker in 1998. It should be a valuable part of any pdecent public library. But instead it's already been sold off. It's one small example of how public libraries are becoming book-free internet cafes - and why nobody uses them anymore.
Update: a reader in Canada writes to defend her public library, which has a thriving art history section. I am happy to make it clear that I was referring to public libraries in England, which for some years have been in general decline.
May 1 2012
Picture: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremburg
To coincide with an exciting new exhibition on Albrecht Durer, in Nuremberg from 24th May to 2nd September, new research has revealed previously unknown aspects of Durer's technique. In his 1493 Self-portrait (x-rayed above), researchers discovered that on occasions he painted with his thumb and the ball of his hand. Full details in Der Speigel here.
Connoisseurship - the future's online
April 30 2012
Exciting news from Poussin scholar Dr David Packwood over on Art History Today:
I also plan to create another blog for a Poussin connoisseurship project that looks at problematic pictures in the Public Catalogue Foundation database and other on-line resources. It looks like on-line connoisseurship is coming into its own. Frank DeStefano has just started a series looking at the cataloguing of Giorgione by two noted scholars, Pignatti and Pedrocco; and Bendor Grosvenor is successfully using crowdsourcing to identify individuals in portraits on the PCF/BBC Your Paintings site.
And just wait till I unleash my Van Dyck Project website on the world...
This is not Katherine Parr
April 16 2012
Picture: PCF/Lambeth Palace
I was pelased to see on a trawl through the Public Catalogue Foundation's website, Your Paintings, that the above portrait has been properly re-identified as Katherine of Aragon. For decades, the picture has wrongly been called Katherine Parr, and continues to crop up in the literature as her.
'Some like it Hot', c.1792
April 16 2012
Picture: Philip Mould
As featured in The Sunday Times yesterday, here's a homegrown discovery for you: the only oil portrait of the Chevalier D'Eon, one of the most famous transvestites in history. He was also a spy, diplomat, soldier and author. This portrait was sold in a minor auction in the USA, where it was catalogued as 'Portrait of a Woman with a Feather in Her Hat'. The giveaway is the medal of the Order of St Louis, which was awarded to D'Eon by Louis XV for his services as a spy in the Secret de Roi. the picture was long thought to be by Gilbert Stuart, but is in fact by the English artist Thomas Stewart.
You can read more about the picture and its history by clicking 'Read on'.
Update: story covered by The Daily Telegraph here.
Google Art Project and Connoisseurship
April 13 2012
Picture: Capitoline Museum
Over at Art History Today, David Packwood has a must-read post on some of the art historical issues thrown up by the laudable Google Art Project. Money quote:
Maybe all this highlights the need for professional art historians and specialists to consult with the GAP on issues of attribution and connoisseurship, though overall it’s thumbs up for a very useful resource.
As a Poussin scholar, David (rightly) rejects the above picture (Camillus and the Schoolmaster of Falerii), which is attributed to Poussin in full by the Capitoline Museum in Rome. David says:
I’ve never seen this version before- and now unfortunately I have. I have no idea why the Capitoline have labelled this picture - here seen in situ - a Poussin. Like many of his paintings of the late 1630s, Poussin creates a firm, relief-like picture that usually unfolds from left to right. The colours, the poses, especially the foppish gait of Camillus have absolutely nothing to do with Poussin, or indeed the 1630s. Instead of thrashing the disgraced schoolmaster out of the village, the children seem to be leading him out to a picnic. Compare this with one of Poussin’s stern versions shown here.
I should advise the Capitoline to look for their painter in early 18th century France, a rococo painter with classical pretensions - but no means of putting them into practice. Let us not look but pass on.
I find the possibilities opened up by projects such as GAP and the Public Catalogue Foundation incredibly exciting. Are we not far off the day when the world's art historians (amateur and professional alike) can collectively have access to, and make judgements on, the planet's entire publicly-owned collection of art? Imagine; A Catalogue Raisonne of the World! (And in this world, there is no such thing as copyright.)
Update - a reader writes:
Having spent an incredibly frustrating day searching in vain for the location of Italian paintings (Roman galleries are so far topping my list of appalling/non existent online catalogues) the following sounds ideal:
"Are we not far off the day when the world's art historians (amateur and professional alike) can collectively have access to, and make judgements on, the planet's entire publicly-owned collection of art? Imagine; A Catalogue Raisonne of the World!"
Possibly the worst thing for art historians is knowing an image is in a collection and yet not being able to find it - or any information about it! Next step - make it compulsory for all works in private collections to be photographed and catalogued online so that scholars can learn from them? Definitely dreaming...
Hear hear to that. While of course nobody can compel private owners to put their paintings online, it is quite likely that images exist of most of them somewhere. For example, more and more auction catalogues are going online, and then there are image libraries such as the Witt, which may one day be online. The equivalent in Holland, the RKD, is increasingly being put online. And of course, almost all the pictures that we have handled here at Philip Mould are online for anyone to see over at our archive site, Historical Portraits.
Another reader writes:
Over at 3PP (which I discovered many thanks to your blog) there is a piece on the Google project (GAP) and Canal Educatif a la Demand (CED) that further endorses the Google / decent image access revolution taking place (three cheers). On checking just one favourite site and artist, Yale Center / Girtin) I must warn you that what is on the Google site might not be exactly what appears on the collection's own site: a work labelled 'Thomas Girtin' on the site Google is, when checking the collections own site details (link on GAP details page fortunately), given as 'imitator of...' and another (also 'Thomas Girtin' on Google) as 'follower of...' So it would be just as well to double-check information, however good the image.
The price of reproductions
April 12 2012
Picture: British Museum
Here at Philip Mould, we're putting together our new catalogue. One of the pictures we'll include is a late Titian portrait of an admiral, which was admired by Van Dyck in Italy. He did a little drawing of it, above (bottom right hand corner), which is now in the British Museum. To reproduce this image at no more than a 1/4 page, the BM will charge us £330 plus vat. Now I know we're in the trade, and that we should certainly pay for reproductions. But in a world where many museums are liberalising their copyright policies, and even allowing free reproductions, isn't £330 plus vat a bit steep?
Update - a lively debate on this. A reader writes:
Re: The cost of reproductions, I can't help but think that it's a case of 'the biter bit' - it seems a lot of money to me, not being 'in the business', but no doubt this cost will be added in to the unimaginable asking price of your Titian - which your gallery website is far too coy to reveal, as far as I can see. This is usual 'market practice' I suppose but you are often concerned about knowing costs and if a public gallery were to purchase the picture no doubt you would insist on us knowing how much it (we) paid (?).
As you admit commercial dealers cannot complain being charged market rates, ie. what the market will pay. However, for museums to charge other museums or students and similar, such fees is nigh well criminal.
Our insurers don't like us putting prices on our website, or in our window, for fairly obvious reasons. Obviously, if the picture was sold to a public institution, one would expect that institution to state what they paid for it.
Another reader writes:
You wrote on 12th April about the BM charging for the reproduction of an image of a work in their collection which was out of copyright. It is understandable that institutions should try to raise more money at a time when public grants are under pressure. However, the BM and similar institutions are publically funded and have been supported by donations and bequests from people who expected their gifts to be freely available to everyone.
You and your readers may recall the case of Derrick Coetzee, a Wikipedia contributor, who was threatened with legal action by the National Portrait Gallery for uploading images to Wikipedia.
Personally, I think that if a picture is in a public collection, then its image right is too. Non-commercial use should therefore be free. There should be a charge for commercial use; the question is, how high should it be?
Update II - a reader writes:
It seems to me you and your readers are being unfair to the British Museum in this matter, not perhaps in questioning the sum of 330 pounds plus VAT, but in implying that the BM charges scholars and students. It does not. For reproduction in a scholarly publication, of an image that already exists (i.e. no new photography is required) the British Museum provides images within 48 hours, by email, free of charge. As a publicly funded institution they do indeed make their gifts freely available to those furthering research and knowledge, as one of your readers demands.
Those making money from the use of their images - whether publishers of art books or dealers - should of course pay a fair rate. It is not for me to say what that fair rate is. But I do feel that those of us, like myself, who have benefited in the past and who continue to benefit from the British Museum's extremely benign permissions to reproduce in a scholarly context should make clear that they are a model to be imitated. Attacking the innocent is not the way to improve the situation. Rather we should support them and praise them.
For the record, I certainly wasn't attacking the BM, nor suggesting they shouldn't charge dealers like me, merely discussing the specific cost of a reproduction. Regular readers will know that I am bursting with praise for any institution that offers free images for scholarly use. I should also add that for scholarly publications, we here at Philip Mould are happy to provide images free of use from our own image archive.
There is obviously some confusion about the BM's pricing policy, for when we reproduced the same Van Dyck drawing for a loan exhibition catalogue, we were charged, albeit a reduced rate. And another reader writes:
I have a book chapter... coming out soon which cost me about £400 for three images, only half-size. I refused to get one image from the BM as they obviously were charging way over the top. By contrast I have another essay with two NG pics in press- but they considerately waived the fee.
Here is the BM's image use policy.
The state of art history today
April 11 2012
A learned reader hits the nail on the head:
Although the 1980s literary studies revolution in the history of art has unlocked lots of excellent new approaches to the study of British painting, I often think also about the detrimental effects. So much core archival research has been left undone in the decades since then, as it was unfashionable and unlikely to attract funding. So many generations of students have grown up not caring much about sources. I think it is interesting to contrast British art studies with, say, the history of the early modern state, where scholars are deeply rooted in their materials. Even fashionable ones, such as Steve Pincus. We art historians don't have even the most basic of research tools, such as biographical dictionaries and catalogue raisonnes, to work with. I think it is quite embarrassing, actually, that the field of study takes itself so seriously, yet much of it is essentially floundering around in the dark.
Searching the Google Art Project
April 10 2012
While we all love the Google Art Project's high-resolution images, there's no doubting the site could do with the input of a few art historians. A reader writes:
What is disconcerting about GoogleArtProject is that they list artists alphabetically under their first name. So if one cannot immediately recall Le Brun's first name as he is not listed under L or B but under C for Charles, one is left guessing and sorely searching...
While it is indeed odd that artists are listed under their first name in the main index, 3PP points out that the search box works fine:
The one that got away
April 4 2012
Remember this? Last year, it was in a minor sale as 'follower of Saenredam' with an estimate of £3-5,000. At the last minute the picture was withdrawn. Then, Saenredam scholar Gary Schwartz saw the picture on this blog, and published a fascinating analysis showing how the picture was not only by Saenredam, but showed his house in Assendelft. And now it is to appear at Christie's in the summer, fully catalogued, and with an estimate of £400,000-£600,000. I wonder if AHN will get a credit!
Google Art Project expands
April 3 2012
Picture: Gemaldegalerie Berlin
When Google first launched its Art Project, I expressed the hope that other UK galleries would quickly join up. Today, ten have done just that, including Dulwich, the Royal Collection, the V&A, and the National Galleries of Scotland. Splendid. More here.
Connoisseurs will note that the attributions are a little off in some cases. It seems that there is no room for riders such as 'Circle of' or 'After', and so everything gets a full attribution. Like this 'Van Dyck'.