Previous Posts: February 2011

Tyntesfield Unwrapped

February 28 2011


The National Trust have released this splendid time-lapse video of Tyntesfield House being 'unwrapped', following a multi-million pound restoration. 

I was lucky enough to visit Tyntesfield shortly before it was acquired by the Trust. The present Lord Wraxall gave me lunch and a guided tour soon after he inherited from his brother. The place was chaotic, but inestimably charming. Lord Wraxall's reclusive brother had locked the doors to the 20th Century, and under his long ownership the house acquired a uniquely ancient patina. The effect of stepping back in time was spoiled only by the tiny Christie's tags that hung from every moveable object.

Thanks to the Trust, and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the dreaded tags were removed. I can't wait to see it again.

Gainsborough goes to China

February 28 2011

Image of Gainsborough goes to China

Is this a first? Gainsborough's 'The Marsham Children' will go on display in Beijing as part of 'Art of the Enlightenment' from 2nd April 2011 to 31st March 2012. The exhibition will be in the National Museum of China, and is made up of loans from a trio of German museums. Exhibition website here

All Hail Maryan Ainsworth

February 26 2011

Image of All Hail Maryan Ainsworth

Of the many positive reviews of the excellent ‘Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance’ at the National Gallery (Guardian, Telegraph, Independent), none mention the driving force behind the show, Met Museum curator Maryan Ainsworth. I am in awe of what she has achieved. [More below]

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Looted Strozzi Refused Export Licence

February 25 2011

Image of Looted Strozzi Refused Export Licence

Picture: Philippa Calnan. 'Saint Catherine of Alexandria' by Bernardo Strozzi.

Title to a fine Strozzi seized in 1942 under Mussolini's anti-Jewish laws has been returned to its original owner's American heirs. But the picture itself cannot leave Italy after it was refused an export licence. It has been valued at $700,000. More here

Epic Guardi to be sold at Sotheby's - Aristo sell-off continues

February 24 2011

Image of Epic Guardi to be sold at Sotheby's - Aristo sell-off continues

Picture: New York Times

Sotheby’s have announced a highlight of their next Old Master sale in London in July; Francesco Guardi’s ‘Venice, a View of the Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon’. The nearly 4ft by 6ft 'about $30m' canvas belongs to the family of the 1st Earl of Iveagh.

The sale demonstrates what I have suspected for a while – that we are witnessing the last hurrah of aristocratic art disposals. The following families have recently put a number of masterpieces up for sale; the Earls of Clarendon (Van Dyck), Jersey (Van Dyck), Rosebery (Turner), Wemyss (Poussin), Spencer (Rubens), and the Dukes of Portland (Van Dyck), Rutland (Poussin) and Sutherland (Titian). Even the Duke of Westminster is selling (Claude), though why is a mystery - he hardly needs the cash… [more below]

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In Minneapolis...

February 24 2011

Image of In Minneapolis...

...they censor Titian.

A poster for 'Titian and the Golden Age of Painting' at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has been covered up with graffiti. Apparently, some locals 'weren't comfortable seeing nudity outside of the museum.'

Rembrandt Research Project to close

February 24 2011

Image of Rembrandt Research Project to close

Picture: Otto Naumann Ltd. Detail from Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, 1658.

The Rembrandt Research Project, which has been cataloguing the works of the great master since 1968, is to be closed down. This means that the final planned volume will be published in a reduced format. 

When the project started it set about drastically reducing the number of accepted works. The tally went down to less than 250, but has now gone back up to around 320 under the famous connoisseurship of Ernst Van de Wetering. Pictures once excluded but now back in favour include the Frick Collection's Polish Rider, and the Royal Collection's Self-Portrait in a Flat Cap.

This story was in the Art Newspaper print edition last month, but has just been put online today. 

The portraits always go first...

February 24 2011


Footage apparently from Fashloum, in Tripoli.

Going, going... Gone.

February 23 2011

Image of Going, going... Gone.

Picture: Sotheby's

Excitement is building in LA, as the Getty prepares for the arrival on 7th March of J M W Turner's masterpiece, 'Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino'.

The picture is a great loss. It belonged to the family of the Earls of Rosebery, and was sold at Sotheby's last year for £29.7m. No UK museum could hope to match the price, and none tried.

Isn't it time to look again at the whole question of acquisitions and export rules?

How those Titians came onto the market

February 23 2011

Image of How those Titians came onto the market

NPR (National Public Radio, in the US) has a good five minute story on how the Duke of Sutherland's two Titians came to be in Scotland, and why they were put up for sale.

It includes an interview with John Leighton, the Director-General of the National Galleries of Scotland. He recalls how the Sutherland collection came to be on loan in his gallery in the first place;

"There's a very nice letter in our archives where the Duke of Sutherland writes to the gallery saying that he finds himself in the embarrassing position of not having enough room," says Leighton. "Would we be prepared to take some pictures by Rembrandt, Poussin, Titian, Raphael on loan?" the duke had asked.

Leighton goes on to say that at £50m apiece the pictures are 'a bargain', and probably half price. He's right. In many ways, the present Duke of Sutherland's handling of the sale is one of the great acts of modern arts philanthropy.  

'Now, for the Rubens estimated at £4-6m... do I hear £1m?'

February 23 2011

Image of 'Now, for the Rubens estimated at £4-6m... do I hear £1m?'

Picture: Sotheby's

Martin Bailey of the Art Newspaper has flagged up some astonishing developments in the case of the Rubens/notRubens portrait that was stopped for export in January.

I discussed earlier the difficulties the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art must have had when deciding whether to stop the painting being exported, given the uncertainty over the attribution. Now, however, the story has taken a bizarre twist. It reveals the immense power of the single acknowledged expert, and the potential pitfalls of submitting a painting to the Reviewing Committee.

The basic facts are; [more below]

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LACMA launches App

February 22 2011

Image of LACMA launches App

LACMA has launched its first App, which is free and impressive. It joins, amongst others, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Louvre

$150m Jackson Pollock will not be sold

February 22 2011

The Iowa legislature has withdrawn a bill that would have forced the University of Iowa to sell its prized painting by Jackson Pollock.

Representative Scott Raecker (a Republican) wanted to sell 'Mural' to fund scholarships. 

Have you seen this woman?

February 22 2011

Image of Have you seen this woman?

The new edition of the British Art Journal is out (Vol. XI, No.2), and it contains an appeal for information on the above painting. Yasmin Arshad is writing an article for a forthcoming BAJ on the possible identity of the portrait, and she is heading in the direction of Lady Anne Clifford. 

Also in the BAJ is;

  • A splendidly thorough article by David Wilson on Michael Rysbrack's bust of the Earl of Orkney (which is now on loan at the V&A).
  • An article by Stephanie Roberts and Robert Tittle on the elusive Stuart provincial portraitist 'T.Leigh'. This contains a checklist of up to 20 possible Leigh portraits, a commendable task in these days of unfashionable connoisseurship. 
  • A reconstruction of William and Catherine Blake's residence in South Molton Street, by Angus Whitehead.
  • An overview of the British paintings in the Doha Orientalist Museum, by Howard J M Hanley.

Well worth a read; you can order one here.

The Return of the Double Hang

February 21 2011

Image of The Return of the Double Hang

As an art dealer I'm always extolling the virtues of a double hang - more space to fill.

But I'm delighted to see that the National Gallery is increasingly double hanging in some of their larger rooms. The pictures on the top row are not of the first rank, but the overall effect is so much more exciting than the sparsely hung rooms of old. More please, and congratulations to whoever decided on the new approach. 

Lost Sickert to be Sold

February 21 2011

Image of Lost Sickert to be Sold

A previously unknown work by Walter Sickert will be auctioned in London on 9th March. Blind Beggar was found in Scotland. Bonham's estimate is £40-60,000. 

More on Caravaggio

February 21 2011


Here's a short video of the new Caravaggio exhibition, in which you can see the freshly restored portrait of Pope Paul V.

Some of the new facts on Caravaggio are:

  • He was born 29th September 1571 in Milan (not the nearby town of Caravaggio).
  • He arrived in Rome at the age of 25 (not 20, as previously thought).
  • The fight in which Caravaggio famously killed a man seems to have been planed in advance, and was probably over a gambling debt.
  • He died in a hospital at Porto Ercole in July 1610 (not on a beach).

You can download the full documentation at the bottom of this page (in Italian).

The Mona Lisa 'was not a man with implants'

February 21 2011

Germaine Greer has written a pacey article on the identity of the Mona Lisa in The Guardian

Mona Lisa has been securely identified by Vasari as Lisa Gherardini, wife of the Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo, and the portrait as the one in the possession of François I now in the Louvre. It was assumed that the picture was painted in Florence after Leonardo returned from his travels with Cesare Borgia in 1503 and before he went back to Milan in 1506. The assumption was verified in 2005 when a librarian at the University of Heidelberg, preparing a copy of the 1477 edition of Cicero's Epistoles ad Familiares for an exhibition, came upon a marginal note by Agostino Vespucci comparing Leonardo with Apelles, in which he notes that Leonardo was then working on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo. The note is dated 1503.

There is therefore no call for further speculation about who the original of the Mona Lisa might be, and yet it goes on...

"Watercolour" at Tate

February 19 2011

Image of "Watercolour" at Tate

Picture: Barber Institute (detail of A Coastal Landscape by Van Dyck)

I loved this exhibition. Any show that begins with a watercolour by Van Dyck is a Good Thing. It's well worth a visit. Congratulations to Alison Smith and her colleagues.

I can't think why Richard Dorment disliked it so much. He said it was 'close' to being a 'disaster', and gave it two stars. He didn't like the inclusion of many of the artists or the subjects (such as the series of war scenes), and especially disliked the end rooms, which feature modern art's take on watercolour.

[More below]

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The most valuable work of art ever?

February 18 2011

Image of The most valuable work of art ever?

Ai Wei Wei's 10kg pile of Sunflower Seeds sold at auction this week for £349,250. Sotheby's say that works out at about £3.50 per seed. 

Now, Wei Wei's epically delightful installation at Tate Modern was said to be made up of 100 million seeds. Is it therefore worth £350 million? No wonder they stopped people walking on it.

The Sotheby's seeds "can be installed either in a corner, as a carpet or as a mound".

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