Category: Research

Want to find a Raphael?

June 20 2012

Image of Want to find a Raphael?

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has a new micro-site to show you how.

New Kenneth Clark biography

June 18 2012

Image of New Kenneth Clark biography

Picture: Sotheby's 

Delighted to read in The Art Newspaper that a new biography of Kenneth Clark is being written. Clark, most famous for his epic television series, Civilisation, is one of my heroes (despite the fact that it contains not one mention of my other hero, Van Dyck). The biography, by Sotheby's UK Chairman James Stourton, will be Clark's first. More details here.

Update - a reader writes:

Surprised to see YOU make a mistake in your blog today.  

The Sotheby's/publisher bumph may be claiming the biography of Lord Clark is the first, but actually Meryle Secrest published 'Kenneth Clark: A Biography' in September 1983 in hardback.

Another reader writes:

An example of how Clark remains under appreciated: last week I attended the Warburg Institute's very important conference on Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin, which was a great success, but where Clark's name was not mentioned once in spite of the fact that he was one of the first English art historians to popularize Warburg's methods in this country (notably in the book on the nude).

Imagining Jane Austen

June 11 2012

Image of Imagining Jane Austen

Picture: Mail

There was a flurry of news about the Rice portrait of 'Jane Austen' this weekend. The portrait has long been claimed as Jane Austen thanks to its apparent provenance. But more recently the identity has been questioned, most notably by the National Portrait Gallery in London, and not least on grounds of date. It is thought to have been painted too late to show Jane as a girl. Jane was bown in 1775, but the portrait, stylistically and in the fashion represented, seems to date from the early 19th Century.

The family who own the picture have been on a long quest to prove that it does indeed show Jane. Their latest evidence that it is her, which hit the headlines this weekend, is based on a series of inscriptions found on old photographs of the painting. These prove, say the owners, that the portrait was by Ozias Humphry - an attribution which is important since it would push the date back to when Jane was a girl. The story goes that these highly important inscriptions have since been removed by over-zealous restorers. See more details in The Guardian here, and the background on the dedicated Rice portrait site here.

The Daily Mail concluded their report on the new evidence:

If the portrait is confirmed as being Austen, it may be an embarrassment to the National Portrait Gallery, which granted the picture a licence for sale abroad on the basis that it could not be the writer.

The gallery chose not to comment.

The NPG need not fear embarrassment, however. I applaud the owner's attempts to prove their painting is Jane. But I'm afraid these apparent inscriptions in old photos of the painting, which I have been shown, are (to me at least) not compelling. Nor is this the first time apparently conclusive 'writing' on the painting, seen in questionably interpreted and magnified old photographs, has been claimed. For the best critique of the painting's identity, read former NPG chief curator Jacob Simon's brief note here. In particular, he deals with the question of the apparent inscriptions written on the painting:

The [Rice Portrait] website claims that the portrait is signed several times in monogram, inscribed JANE and dated 1788 but, from my lengthy experience of examining British portraits, these apppear to be purely incidental and meaningless markings. They were not noted by Thomas Harding Newman, owner of the portrait in 1880, who attributed it to Zoffany. They do not appear in photographs taken by Emery Walker in about 1910, despite claims to the contrary on the website. They were not apparent to the professional painting conservator who examined the portrait with others at Henry Rice's request before cleaning it in 1985. They were not apparent to Christie's experienced cataloguing staff in 2007 when the portrait was put up for sale in New York, despite an earlier report of initials on the portrait.

New data online at 'The Art World in Britain 1660-1735'

May 31 2012

Image of New data online at 'The Art World in Britain 1660-1735'

Picture: University of York

A range of new sources has been added to the inestimably valuable online art history project run by the University of York's art history department. The Art World in Britain 1660-1735 (edited by Dr Richard Stephens) has now reached 1.5m words of data, with the addition of the following:

Indexes of 'People' and 'Places': 2,600 names have been added to the index of people, comprising apprenticeship records of the Painter Stainers Company, based on the work of Cliff Webb. Several hundred other names have been added, of artists, house painters and others across Britain, using information from their wills. 100 addresses of colourmen and others have been added to the 'places' index, using data from Sun Insurance records. Miscellaneous other names and locations have also been added, of people and places mentioned in full-text sources published today.

Diaries, Memoir and Travel : Extracts from the diary of Dudley Ryder, 1715-16, including his long and revealing account of meeting with Sir James Thornhill as he worked on the St Paul's cupola. Extracts from the diaries of Viscount Percival, 1st Earl of Egmont, 1729-46.

Trade Organisations, Employment, Training : Records of the Virtuosi of St Luke, 1697-circa 1743

Wills: Lists of 700 wills of painters and related trades. Abstracts of 30 wills of painters and art dealers, including: Peter Roestraten, Remigius van Leemputt, Leonard Knyff, Thomas Highmore, Edward Davis, Parry Walton, Frederick Sonnius and Thomas Streeter.

Sale Catalogues: 6 sale catalogues from March 1691, generously contributed by Peter Moore, a PhD candidate of the University of York, who is attached to the 'Court, Country, City' project

Bills, Accounts and Receipts: Extracts from the Chirk Castle accounts, 1675-1721. Bill and receipt for frames made for Jacob Tonson by Gerrard Howard, 1733-4. Receipt from John Michael Wright to Sir Walter Bagot, 9 December 1675. Bill for pictures painted for Sir Walter Bagot by John Michael Wright, c.1676. Bill and receipt from Christopher Cock for the Duchess of Marlborough's purchases at the Kneller sale, 28 April 1726.

Inventories and Lists: A list of recipients of mourning rings at the funeral of Sir Godfrey Kneller. Probate inventory of Edward Cooper, London's leading printseller of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. 'A Note of Pictures' belonging to Viscount Fauconberg, 1684-93.

Correspondence: Petition of Jean Rambourt, circa 1670-85.

I like the idea of art dealers calling themselves 'The Virtuosi of St Luke' - something we ought to resurrect.

New Director at the Paul Mellon Centre

May 31 2012

Image of New Director at the Paul Mellon Centre


Congratulations to Professor Mark Hallett, who has been appointed Director of the Paul Mellon Centre in London. The Centre is the pre-eminent supporter of academic art historical publications in Britain. Prof. Hallett takes over from Prof. Brian Allen. More details here

Raphael Conference at the Prado

May 28 2012

Image of Raphael Conference at the Prado

Picture: Louvre

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

Image of What is Pinterest?

Picture: Pinterest/BG

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

Image of John House Scholarship Fund

Picture: Courtauld

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

Image of New miniature collection online

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

Image of Anne Boleyn's medal restored?

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

Image of Get ready for 'The Getty Research Portal'


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

Image of Can anti-terrorist technology help identify lost sitters?

Picture: NPG

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.

English art history and public libraries

May 2 2012

Image of English art history and public libraries

Picture: BG

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. 

New Poussin Connoisseurship Project

May 2 2012

Image of New Poussin Connoisseurship Project

Picture: Louvre

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?

Analysing Durer

May 1 2012

Image of Analysing Durer

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

Image of Connoisseurship - the future's online

Picture: Louvre

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...

'Some like it Hot', c.1792

April 16 2012

Image of 'Some like it Hot', c.1792

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.

Read More

This is not Katherine Parr

April 16 2012

Image of This is not Katherine Parr

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. 

Google Art Project and Connoisseurship

April 13 2012

Image of Google Art Project and Connoisseurship

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.

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