Previous Posts: July 2012

Come to London!

July 31 2012

Image of Come to London!

Picture: BG

Something strange is happening. London is empty. It's the quietest I've ever known it (and I've been lucky enough to live here all my life). On my commute this morning the roads were so empty it felt like a scene from 28 Days Later. Normally, the Cromwell Road and Knightsbridge are filled with rush-hour traffic. But today, not a sausage. Christmas Day is busier.

I guess everyone has decided to stay away for the duration of the Games. So if you want to see some of the finest museums and galleries in the world without the crowds, then now is the time to come to London. There's a new secutiry system at some museums during the Olympics (like the National Gallery above) but it generally takes no time to get through. 

Crypt paintings discovered in Prague

July 31 2012

Image of Crypt paintings discovered in Prague

Picture: Codart

Fascinating story over at Tribune de l'Art about the discovery of a crypt with 17th Century frescoes in Prague. One of them is a copy of a Rembrandt engraving, The Raising of Lazarus. Further details here on the CODART site.

How did they do that?

July 31 2012

Video: ITN

At last, a bit of art history gets in on the Olympic act. On Nelson's Column, Edward Hodges Baily's statue of Nelson has been given a makeover, and an Olympic torch.

Nobody does it better, part 2

July 31 2012

Video: BBC

In terms of originality, the funniest thing ever?

Salvator Dallas?

July 30 2012

Image of Salvator Dallas?

Picture: Robert Simon/Tim Nighswander

Big news, potentially - Brian Boucher in Art in America has the scoop that the newly discovered Leonardo, Salvator Mundi, is being considered by the Dallas Museum of Art. The picture, with a rumoured price of $200m, is reported to be at Dallas now. The museum says 'We are actively exploring the possibility of acquiring it.'

And so they should, for in doing so they would double the number of Leonardos on public display in America. Being an American discovery, it seems to me right that the picture stays in America. The other US Leonardo is Ginevra de Benci in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington. Boucher notes that the Salvator Mundi would, if Dallas did buy it, become their 'destination picture'. But he also records some of the (sadly inevitable) doubts associated with buying a 'discovery' painting, which come from the New York-based dealer Richard Feigen:

For his part, Feigen, who saw Leonardo's Salvator Mundi in London, does not find it to be as commanding a work, and observes that it would be a lonely old master in a European paintings department in Dallas with strengths in the 18th through the 20th centuries.

"To me it is not a gripping masterpiece," he says. "For me Dallas would make a more serious splash by going after several lesser priced paintings in very fine condition. It would be cause for chatter in the museum world if Dallas bought eight or 10 really serious old master paintings, a field where they had not previously ventured."

Salvator Mundi has been "very considerably overpainted," according to the catalogue from the National Gallery's exhibition, and subsequently "aggressively over-cleaned," in addition to, at some point, suffering a split in the wood panel, resulting in some paint losses.

These condition issues, along with the high price, may be the reason the sellers have found no takers after offering the painting to other museums, which three sources who spoke to A.i.A. said it had been. The price and condition are also said to have led to considerable debate among those connected to the Dallas Museum.

"With an acquisition of that magnitude there's always some divided opinion," said a Dallas-based source with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Its price and condition have led to some doubts."

I'm slightly surprised to see a dealer as emminent as Feigen commenting on the suitability of a potential sale by a fellow dealer. 'Not done', as my grandmother used to say. And as I said when I first saw the picture, the condition really isn't that bad.  

New Soutine acquisition for London

July 30 2012

Image of New Soutine acquisition for London

Picture: Ben Uri Museum

A 1933 work by Chaim Soutine, La Soubrette, has been acquired by the London Jewish Museum of Art, Ben Uri. The HLF gave £193,000 towards the picture, and its website says:

La Soubrette (Waiting Maid), c. 1933, is of international importance and has been acquired by private treaty through Sotheby’s, thanks to a £193,000 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant and almost equal support from the Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund. In addition, many philanthropists from the UK, Europe and the USA have also contributed and share Ben Uri’s vision of ever strengthening its internationally renowned museum collection, and ensuring the painting is saved for London and the nation. The important acquisition – which has taken over 15 months to complete – follows on from Ben Uri’s discovery and acquisition in 2010 of the lost but now celebrated Jewish Crucifixion ‘Apocalypse en Lilas, Capriccio’, painted in response to the Holocaust by Marc Chagall in 1945.

When you could win an Olympic gold for painting

July 30 2012

Image of When you could win an Olympic gold for painting

Picture: Olympic Museum Lausanne

Richard Conway in The Huffington Post looks at the history of the now defunct Olympic arts games:

Known collectively as the "Pentathlon of the Muses," they ran from 1912 to 1948 and saw such names as Finnish poet Aale Tynni, Dutch architect Jan Wils, and Irish painter Jack B. Yeats all compete in various years.

The pentathlon was the brainchild of Baron Pierre de Coubertin, widely recognized as the founder of the modern games. Born to an artist father and a musician mother, he felt that an internationally-focused revival of the ancient Olympics would provide an intellectual and moral compass to citizens of a rapidly industrializing world.

But this could not be achieved through sports alone. De Coubertin proposed that the complete human being needed to excel in both body and mind, in athletics and in arts. And so he shared a plan for renewed games with a committee he had put together in Paris in 1892.

[...] After a shaky start - the 1908 arts games were cancelled because of an International Olympic Committee planning delay - the first arts games went ahead in 1912.

Touted as representing the five forms of the creative intellect, these new games operated differently from the sports events. Unlike competitions where winners could be judged objectively - a swimmer who finishes first, finishes first - the arts outcomes were decided by a panel, one that needed to come to a majority decision. There were many disagreements between members, with some wondering if competitiveness and artistic endeavor were not mutually exclusive, and still others questioning if the entries needed to focus on sports themes. And yet they carried on awarding medals for poems, stadium designs, and paintings for over thirty years.

The picture above is Jean Jacoby's gold medal winning entry for the 1924 Olympics, 'Study of Sport'. More examples of Olympic art here

Christie's lose fakeski case

July 30 2012

Image of Christie's lose fakeski case

Picture: Christie's

A High Court judge in London has ruled that Christie's must reimburse a Russian collector £1.7m, after deciding that a painting signed 'Kustodiev' is a fake. From The Telegraph:

Following a 20-day hearing, Mr Justice Newey dismissed allegations that Christie’s was negligent or that it misrepresented the painting.

However, he ruled: “I do not think certainty on the point is possible but my task is to determine authenticity on the balance of probabilities and the likelihood, in my view, is that Odalisque is the work of someone other than Kustodiev. “It follows that Aurora is entitled to cancel its purchase and to recover the money paid for it.”

Christie’s said they were “surprised and disappointed” by the ruling. A spokesman said: “We welcome the judge’s findings that Christie’s was not negligent. We are surprised and disappointed by his view of the painting’s attribution. We maintain our belief in the attribution to Kustodiev and are considering our options.”

Christie's must also pay £1m in costs. Much of the case came down to a pigment used to paint the signature, an aluminium based paint. The owner said it was only invented after Kustodiev's death. Christie's said that it was available at the time, just not widely used. I'm no Kustodiev expert so couldn't begin to say whether the painting is legitimate or not. But, as I said before, the case is a curious one given that the picture sold as a legitimate Kustodiev in 1989 for just £19,000, long before the market for Russian fakes (which is enormous) really got going. It's also worth noting that in Russia the 'expertise' for deciding what is fake and what is genuine can be hopelessly corrupt. 

One thing is probably certain, however. The huge problem of forgeries and the fall in the market for 20th C Russian art means that the owner of the 'Kustodiev' made a better investment by buying a fake - and winning the case - than if he had bought a genuine work.

Nobody does it better

July 30 2012

Image of Nobody does it better

Picture: BBC

No references to Britain's artistic heritage in the dazzling opening ceremony; but it was at least nice to see Gainsborough creeping onto the screen during the glorious Bond sequence, thanks to the above full-length of Anne, Duchess of Cumberland hanging in the Queen's private rooms. On the right is Canaletto's View of Piazza S.Marco towards S.Geminiano in Venice.

The gallery that disappeared

July 25 2012

Image of The gallery that disappeared

Picture: BG

Boo. Room A at the National Gallery - the publicly accessible basement store room full of treasures, and the odd dud - will be closed for a year for renovations. 

Durer & Holbein on show at the Royal Collection

July 25 2012

Image of Durer & Holbein on show at the Royal Collection

Picture: Royal Collection

Further details of forthcoming Royal Collection exhibitions have been announced - a highlight will be 'The Northern Renaissance' at the Queen's Gallery in London, from 2nd November - 14th April 2013. Says the Collection:

This exhibition celebrates the Renaissance in northern Europe, the counterpart to the revolution in art and scholarship that took place in Italy during the 15th and 16th centuries. The period was marked by dramatic change – monarchs vied for territorial power, reformers questioned the central tenets of Christian faith and scholars sought greater understanding of their world. Against this backdrop, artists produced works of ingenuity, beauty and superb technical skill. More than 100 works are brought together including paintings, drawings, prints, manuscripts, miniatures, sculpture, tapestries and armour. Among the highlights are prints and drawings by Albrecht Dürer, mythological paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, and preparatory drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger displayed alongside the finished oil portraits.

Splendid - free access to JSTOR...

July 25 2012

Image of Splendid - free access to JSTOR...

Picture: JSTOR

...or more importantly, to back issues of The Burlington Magazine - with JSTOR's new 'Register & Read' service for 'individual scholars and researchers'. To find out if you qualify, read more here

Restoring Canada's only Titian

July 25 2012

Image of Restoring Canada's only Titian

Picture: Ottawa Citizen

Here's a fascinating tale - restoration has revealed that a downgraded Titian at the National Gallery of Canada really is by Titian. Previously, it was thought to be a copy of a version in the Prado, due to its deletorious condition. But work by the Gallery's restorer Stephen Gritt has led to its reattribution. From the Ottawa Citizen

[The picture] was a mess — dirty, water-damaged (not irreparably), and the victim of earlier, regrettably bad restoration. It looked, Gritt says, like “it was dragged through the hedge backwards.” Its sorry state, and the royal pedigree of the Madrid Titian, contributed to a drift in scholarly opinion, and by the 1980s the Ottawa Titian was considered a copy of the other. Then came a side-by-side comparison in Washington, D.C. in 1991.

“The general consensus of everyone in the room was that the Prado was probably the real one by Titian and the Ottawa painting was a copy of it,” Gritt says. “So pretty much that was the lid on the coffin being tightened.”

The Ottawa Titian, now not a Titian at all, sat in its grimy, faded glory in storage. Curators at another gallery asked to borrow it, but backed out when they saw its condition. Oh, the indignity. Then, one morning, a glimmer of redemption arrived in the daily mail.

In 2003 a Toronto man wrote to the gallery’s then deputy-director, David Franklin, to ask why the only Titian in Canada was not on display. The reply — that scholarly opinion no longer considered it to be a Titian, and that it was too dirty to hang in public — could have been the end of it. Enter Stephen Gritt.

Gritt, who is from London, England and joined the gallery that same year, kept thinking about the tenuous Titian as he restored other important paintings, such as Tom Thomson’s iconic Jack Pine and, in 2007, Veronese’s Petrobelli Altarpiece. (Veronese also painted a portrait of Barbaro.)

In 2009, Gritt formally put up the Titian and began hundreds of hours of work to undo four centuries of degradation. Gradually, the vibrancy of the original portrait emerged – the nobleman’s perhaps pensive expression, with a sliver of crimson red neckpiece showing beneath his dark cloak. This, Gritt believed, was no workshop copy.

The team turned to X-rays, which see beneath the surface of a painting, and they showed evidence of changes made by the artist during production. For example, Gritt says, “you can see him wrestling over how to paint the nose, because Daniele has a peculiar nose.” Such changes made no sense if the Ottawa Titian was a copy, as a copy would directly echo an original.

Gritt brought the X-rays to Madrid and, with a Prado specialist, compared them in light of these new revelations. “Those really subtle shifts, things that were adjusted by millimetres, the Prado painting doesn’t have them,” he says. “It’s really rather direct.” The conclusion was clear. The Madrid Titian is a copy, and the Ottawa portrait is re-established as Titian’s original Barbaro.

You can see a video of Stephen Gritt talking about the restoration process here. Rather unhelpfully, there is no image of the painting on the National Gallery of Canada's website, so we can make no examination of the attribution ourselves. But if the Canada picture really is by Titian, then it would appear that this is another example of scholars not understanding condition. In my experience, a picture's condition is the number one reason attributions get wrongly downgraded. 

Undertsanding condition should be the first skill any serious art historian aspires to learn (at least those studying Old Masters). If I were teaching the art historians of the future, I would make it compulsory for every student to spend a term in a conservation studio. You cannot judge any painting until you are sure you are looking at the artist's original intentions - and it is fact that most Old Masters have at some point suffered from either a degree of damage, or worse, the attentions of later ham-fisted restorers. It's interesting to note that in this case, Harold Wethey catalogued the Canada picture as Titian in full in his 1971 Titian catalogue raisonne.

Another one, already?

July 25 2012

Image of Another one, already?

Picture: NPG

Ouch! New figures show that the UK's GDP shrank by 0.7% in the last quarter. That's the third consecutive quarterly fall. We are well and truly double-dipping. So, for the benefit of my readers in government, it's time for yet another portrait of John Maynard Keynes (he of sound economic sense). This one shows him with his wife, the Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, and was painted in 1932 by William Roberts

Please, don't try this at home

July 24 2012


Yikes - lurking on the internet is this video, which tells you to clean your painting with a baguette. Yes, a baguette. Over four thousand people have watched it. Which means that someone, somewhere has wrecked their favourite Old Master with a piece of bread. 

Update - a reader writes:


Pavement art plunges to new depths

July 24 2012

Image of Pavement art plunges to new depths

Picture: by Kurt Wenner at the National Geographic Visitor Center

Very cool - can we have one in London please.

Free money to look at portraits!

July 24 2012

The Understanding British Portraits Subject Specialist Network is offering four £500 bursaries for people wanting to study portraiture. You can apply here on their website. But before you get too excited, here's the inevitable bureaucratic stuff you have to get your head round first:

Applications should take the form of a concise outline (max. 500 words) of the proposed project, including:

  • A description of the project and clear objectives
  • Proposed activities involved in the project
  • Specific partners expected to be involved in the research (e.g. local libraries, private collections, auction houses, museums, etc.)
  • If the proposed bursary project is one element of a larger project, please demonstrate how it will relate to and contribute to the defined outcomes of the latter project. 
  • Desired outcomes of the proposed project
  • Target audience
  • CPD benefits
  • Timescale of research (all projects must be completed by 22 March 2013)
  • Estimated use of funds
  • How the outcomes of the bursary will be disseminated among professional colleagues within the applicant’s organisation or region.
  • Applications must be accompanied by a brief nomination from line managers.

I wonder if the costs of administering this laudable scheme are greater than the money given out? The site states that all applications will be read by the Understanding British Portraits Steering Group. This is comprised of The National Portrait Gallery, the National Trust, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. That's a lot of people.

Banksy does the Olympics

July 23 2012

Image of Banksy does the Olympics


No sooner did I post the lament below on the art historical dearth at the Olympics than up pops Banksy with this fine take on the Games. More here

The Olympics - an art history special

July 23 2012

Image of The Olympics - an art history special

Picture: V&A

I can't think of anything art historical amongst the London Olympics. Those vaguely terrifying one-eyed mascots popping up around London can hardly be considered sculptures of future renown. And the less said about the ArcelorMittal Orbit the better. If you see anything vaguely old and artistic associated with the Games, let me know. It all seems to be relentlessly modern and forward-looking. 

I like a bit of nostalgia, so was interested to see a copy of the 1948 Olympic poster on offer at the Christie's 'London Sale' I mentioned earlier. It was designed by Walter Herz, and he evidently liked his art history for not only do we get a backdrop of Charles Barry's Houses of Parliament, but also an image of Discobolus. The sculpture in question must be the Towneley Discobolus now in the British Museum. Herz's genius in the 1948 poster was to use two images that instantly spoke of London and the Olympic ideal. Nothing in the marketing of the current games achieves this. Isn't that rather sad?

Update: a reader alerts me to the British Museum's tasteful bag with a reproduction of the 1948 poster on it, yours for £15.99. And if you don't fancy bidding over £1,000 for the original 1948 poster, you can buy a reproduction here at the National Gallery for £20. Judging by the reams of unsold 2012 merchandise I see in the shops, I'll wager that the retro Olympic stuff is outselling the modern. 

Axe falls on the Institut Neerlandais

July 23 2012

Video: TEFAF

The Dutch government has decided to stop funding the Institut Neerlandais in Paris. The IN, which promotes Dutch culture abroad, is closely involved with the Fondation Custodia in Paris, one of the best known art historical research centres in the world and home to the Frits Lugt collection. Fortunately, La Tribune de l'Art tells us that the Fondation will not be too badly affected by the cuts.

The above video is a brief overview of the Fondation Custodia from its director Ger Luijten. If your French is good enough, you can find details of the petition to stop the threat to the Institut here.

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