Previous Posts: March 2016

Optimism

March 31 2016

Image of Optimism

Picture: Liveauctioneers.com/Miami Auction Gallery

I wonder who would consider paying $100,000-$200,000 for this portrait, attributed to Andreas Riehl the Younger (but not by him, or anyone close). Caveat Emptor...

New Frick expansion plans

March 31 2016

Image of New Frick expansion plans

Picture: Frick

The Frick collection has announced new expansion plans. The current Van Dyck show (which is wonderful, but organsied over two floors in thre seperate areas) demonstrates how much the Frick needs new spaces. The Frick's most recent plans created a hoo-ha after it was announced that a small garden would be built over. The latest plans can be seen here, and will allow visitors to go upstairs for the first time. One of the new dedicated exhibition rooms can be seen above, and happily it seems not to feature the high skirting panels that currently dictate hanging pictures too high. You can read more about the plans here.

£15.4m Veronese drawing

March 31 2016

Image of £15.4m Veronese drawing

Picture: TAN

An amazing drawing by Veronese, a study for a ceiling in the Doge's Palace in Venice, has been sold by the Earl of Harewood to an overseas buyer for £15.4m. The drawing has had a temporary export bar placed on it by the UK government, though it seems unlikely any UK institution will want to step in and save the work. 

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper has more details.

 

Allan Ramsay's 'Bonnie Prince' acquired by SNPG

March 30 2016

Image of Allan Ramsay's 'Bonnie Prince' acquired by SNPG

Picture: SNPG

I'm delighted to report that the Scottish National Portrait Gallery has acquired Allan Ramsay's portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Painted in Edinburgh in 1745, it is the only known portrait of Charles painted from life in Britain. It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, and has settled tax worth over £1.12m for the Earl of Wemyss.

On the SNPG website, 18th Century curator Lucinda Lax has written a blog entry about the picture, which you can read here.

The SNPG press release says:

A hugely significant portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie by the greatest Scottish portrait painter of the eighteenth century has been acquired by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery thanks to the AIL (Acceptance in Lieu of Tax) Scheme. 

Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), later known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was the Jacobite hero who sought to re-capture the British throne for the House of Stuart during the ill-fated Rising of 1745. He landed in Scotland on the 23rd of July, and marched to Edinburgh, defeating a government army at the Battle of Prestonpans. Charles then travelled south as far as Derbyshire, before returning to Scotland; his army was eventually crushed at the Battle of Culloden on the 16th of April 1746. The Jacobite cause was lost and he fled to exile. 

This portrait is thought to have been created at Holyrood in Edinburgh during Bonnie Prince Charlie’s short time in the city at the height of the Rising, by the most accomplished Scottish portrait painter of the period, Allan Ramsay (1713-1784). Ramsay was born in Edinburgh, the son of a poet of the same name, and studied in London, Rome and Naples, before returning to Scotland in 1738. He worked for the grandest patrons both north and south of the border, creating a reputation for displaying great sensitivity to the characters of his sitters and masterly renderings of their clothes and poses in his paintings. 

His portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie is an accomplished early work, created when the sitter was 25 and the artist 32. Charles is depicted in half-length format, turning to confront the viewer directly. He wears a powdered wig, has a velvet robe fringed with ermine, and the blue riband and star of the Order of the Garter. The portrait was used as a prototype for painted and engraved versions, which were employed to promote the Jacobite cause. 

Then there's a paragraph about how the picture came to light:

Since the eighteenth century the painting has formed part of a collection outside Edinburgh; it has come from the Wemyss Heirlooms Trust and was last exhibited in the city in 1946. Recently attention was drawn to its status by a BBC 2 Culture Show Special, presented by Dr. Bendor Grosvenor (22 February 2014). The painting will be displayed in Gallery 4 of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery as a centrepiece to the Gallery’s outstanding collection of Jacobite art which is one of the great strengths of the collection.

'...attention was drawn to its status' actually means 'discovered by', but never mind. It was good of them to mention me this time.

I'm ashamed to say that I never got around to publishing an article on the painting. So here, in case anyone wants to know more about it, is the text of a note I sent to the Arts Council while the picture was under consideration for the AIL scheme:

You asked me to set out some background information for the Allan Ramsay portrait on offer through the AIL scheme from the Earl of Wemyss. I should perhaps first state that I have not been asked to help with the acceptance of the picture by Lord Wemyss, and nor has the Scottish National Portrait Gallery ever asked me anything about the painting. These, therefore, are my own thoughts, and I make no comment on value.

The Gosford portrait of Charles Edward Stuart by Ramsay is the only known portrait of Charles to be painted in Britain. It shows the Prince at perhaps the most critical moment of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. Until recently, the picture’s attribution and status were uncertain, not least because the iconography of Charles had become somewhat muddled: a portrait of Charles’ brother Henry, painted by Maurice Quentin de La Tour in Paris in 1747, had been mis-identified and used as the standard image of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ on everything from book covers to biscuit tins. If the Gosford portrait was remarked upon in any documents it was as a copy after a 1740s engraving by Robert Strange. Furthermore, a misunderstanding of both the primary sources and Ramsay’s political instincts had led scholars to believe that Ramsay would never have painted Charles in any case. 

Now, however, the acquisition of the Gosford portrait for the nation would allow, for the first time, the public to see the undoubted face of Charles at this vital moment in British history. Although the picture’s significance has been slow to emerge since its discovery was highlighted by me on BBC2 in early 2014, I believe it has the potential to become one of the most important in Scotland’s public collections. (For example, I gather the picture will soon appear on the front cover of a new biography of Charles).

Portraiture was always an important element in the Jacobite cause: the Stuarts understood the power of visual imagery in keeping their cause alive in the hearts and minds of their supporters. An apparently unpublished letter in the Cumberland papers, [1] addressed to ‘Allan Ramsay, Painter’, shows that even at one of the most intense periods of the ’45 Charles was aware of the need to have an up-to-date likeness ready for circulation, doubtless in the form of an engraving. 

Charles had taken Edinburgh without a fight on 17th September, and a few days later on 21st September had defeated a government army at the Battle of Prestonpans. His thoughts thus turned to England, and on 30th October his advisers voted to move south. But it seems Charles wanted to take with him not only an army, but a painting.

He therefore summoned the best artist in town, Allan Ramsay, who had been in Edinburgh since September. The letter from John Stuart (most likely the John Stuart or Stewart who was Charles’ valet, and no relation) was an urgent summons to Ramsay to see Charles at Holyrood:

“Sir, you are desired to come to the Palace of Holyroodhouse as soon as possible in order to take his Royal Highness’ picture. So I expect you’ll wait no further call. 

I am, your most humble servant, John Stuart, 

Holyrood House 26th of October 1745.”

Ramsay was always known to have been in Edinburgh at some point during the 1745 rebellion. But how long he stayed and for what purpose was a matter of debate. Horace Walpole, writing in 1775, averred that, notwithstanding his later professions of loyalty to the Hanoverians, Ramsay was in fact a Jacobite:

“Ramsay the King’s Painter, who had been a Jacobite and who had set out to join the rebels, though he arrived too late…” [2]

The art historian George Vertue, writing in the 1740s, instead suggests that:

“Mr Allan Ramsay painter went lately to Scotland just about the breaking out of the Highlanders rebellion - and when they came to Edenboro and intended to batter the Castle they found a little house on the side of the Castle Hill which did belong to Ramsay. on that the begunt to place a battery - but at the Castle soon observing their intention they fired upon it. & soon demolish it - Ramsay is returned to London […] Xbr” [3]

The house mentioned is the ‘Goose-pie Hoose’, lived in by Ramsay’s father, the poet Allan Ramsay senior (and so-called because it resembled a goose pie). We shall probably never know the extent to which, if at all, Ramsay had intended to support politically Charles’ cause. But his inclinations were far from those he later professed as a fervent Hanoverian, and loyal german-speaking court painter to King George III. In fact, Ramsay had been presented to Charles and the Jacobite court in Rome in 1737. He had also joined a Jacobite masonic lodge there. Probably, like so many Scots at the time, he was prepared to hedge his bets - and of course was happy to take portrait commissions from whomever would pay. Surviving portraits painted by Ramsay in Edinburgh during the ’45 show both government and rebel sitters (the latter including Lord and Lady Ogilvy [Private Collection].)

We can be more certain, however, that Ramsay was in Edinburgh for long enough to both receive Charles’ summons, and to act on it. George Vertue’s remark that Ramsay was back in London in ‘Xbr’ has previously been interpreted by the leading Ramsay scholar Alastair Smart as meaning October; the ‘X’ referring to the roman numeral ten for the tenth month.[4] However, a more lengthy analysis of the manner in which Vertue wrote his dates reveals that ‘Xbr’ in fact means ‘December’, the ‘X’ denoting the Latin word for ten, ‘decem’, hence ‘decem-br’.

Nonetheless, Ramsay cannot have had much time to complete the commission, for Charles’ army entered England on 8th November. The hurried circumstances perhaps explain the picture’s small size, which is unusual for Ramsay. But the size of the canvas and Charles’ presentation within it also provide further clues as to the picture’s intended purpose. Here, Charles is wearing only the sash and star of the order of the Garter, the pre-eminent English royal order of chivalry, and not the Scottish equivalent, the Thistle. Normally, in accordance with a decree issued by his father James III, Charles would have been depicted wearing both. Nor is Charles wearing any tartan, which, we are told, he wore in Scotland during the ’45. In other words, Charles is consciously presenting himself as English, perhaps to assuage his intended new subjects that he was not leading a Scottish invasion, despite the presence of thousands of Highlanders in his army. 

The small canvas, 12 x 10 inches, was perhaps also intended to increase the picture’s portability. Among Charles’ invading army was the talented engraver and committed Jacobite, Robert Strange. There is no firm evidence that allows us to date Strange’s two portrait prints of Charles (one a mezzotint and the other an engraving made in Paris soon after the rebellion). It is unlikely that he would have had the time or the means to engrave Ramsay’s portrait whilst in England, but it seems logical to me at least that that was the portrait’s intended purpose. 

It was probably through the link with Strange that the portrait came to enter the collection of the Earls of Wemyss. After spending some years in exile, Strange returned to Scotland, where on March 3rd 1751 a purchase is recorded in the cash books at Gosford for a payment to ‘Robert Strange ingraver' [sic] of £27 10s 6d. (for items unspecified). It is also worth noting that the Wemyss/Charteris family were longstanding patrons of Ramsay after 1745, and there are still a number of portraits by Ramsay at Gosford. There are also a number of entries in the Gosford cash books for payments to Richard Cooper, Strange’s master in Edinburgh for six years. An undated inventory of the pictures at Gosford, probably compiled in the early 19th Century, lists a portrait of Charles by ‘Ramsey [sic]’ of the same dimensions. It seems to have been at Gosford ever since.

Technically, the picture fits well with Ramsay’s other portraits from the mid-1740s, most notably with the ground layer (somewhat rough, with little granules showing through on the surface), and the use of pure red pigment in areas of detail. Stylistically, the picture is in my view unmistakably by Ramsay (and I’m glad to say that Dr Duncan Thomson, a former director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, agreed the moment he saw the painting). Aside from a small, well-repaired tear, the picture is in excellent condition.

Notes:

[1] The letter was helpfully transcribed sometime after the War by the Hon. Clare Stuart Wortley in her typescript survey of references to Jacobite portraits in the Royal Archives. This typescript is now in the Heinz Archive.

[2] Alastair Smart, ‘Allan Ramsay, Painter Essayist and Man of the Enlightenment’, Yale 1992, p.290.

[3] ‘Vertue Notebooks III’, in The Walpole Society, Volume XXII, p.128.

[4] Smart, 1992 p.290.

I'm going to go and see the picture tomorrow. Stand by for a Bonnie Prince Charlie selfie.

Update - by a happy coincidence, the picture appears on the front cover of a new book on the 1745 rebellion out this week. It's by Jacqueline Riding, and can be ordered here

Update II - just worked out that Charles and I are second cousins nine times removed. How about that?

Update III - the picture has even earnt its own White Glove Shot (on the front page of The Scotsman, though this time a pair of blue gloves has crept in, to form the colours of the saltire. Of course, I entirely approve.

Update IV - by happy coincidence I'll be giving a talk about the picture in Edinburgh next Monday. You need to be a 'Friend' of the Scottish National Gallery to come along, and there's only a handful of seats left. Apparently nearly 200 people are coming! Details here

Update V - here's the selfie, with Ishbel and Gabriella, both of whom are only in my life because of Ramsay's portrait. The God of art history moves in mysterious ways.

Update VI - thanks for all your kind emails on this.

Update VII - Neil Jeffares, the king of all things pastel, has some more information about the copies of La Tour's lost pastel of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Apologies...

March 29 2016

...for the lack of action over Easter, am away, and back tomorrow (Weds).

Who was André Borie?

March 24 2016

Video: You Tube

From Vincent Noce in The Art Newspaper we have some important clarifications and new evidence on the ongoing allegations of fakery in the Old Master world. The main news is that all of the paintings under discussion are alleged to have come from the collection of the same individual, André Borie. Borie was a French civil engineer who died in 1971. he built part of the Mont Blanc tunnel, and is seen in the video above (at the end).

Here are the key TAN points:

  • The Cranach is the subject of a court case that has been going on since 2014.
  • The case is being brought by an unnamed French dealer against those who sold the Cranach to Colnaghi. Those who sold the Cranach say they bought it for €510,000.* A French dealer says he consigned the painting to these 'middlemen' as a 'work by an anonymous artist', and is now suing them for breach of trust.
  • The French dealer's lawyer, Philippe Scarzella, says that the French police investigation which resulted in the seizure of the Cranach also includes 6 other works, including a Gentileschi of David with the Head of Goliath, a Hals Portrait of a Man, and a Velasquez Portrait of Cardinal Borgia. I have never seen or heard of the Velasquez until now. The Hals and the Gentileschi were sold, it is claimed, to the London dealer Mark Weiss.** 
  • The French dealer says he was the source of all of these pictures, including the Cranach, from the collection of a 'French businessman, André Borie'.
  • Scarzella says that the French criminal investigation, and the claims of fakery, are smears directed at his client.
  • Finally, we learn that the seized Cranach has been sent to the National French Museum's laboratory for further tests. This is the same lab, reports TAN, that has already declared the Hals to be authentic.

Here are some immediate AHN thoughts and conclusions from all of the above.

  • First, we might assume that the National French Museum's laboratory is unlikely to declare the Cranach a fake. If the Hals has already passed muster, then you might say that bodes well for a Cranach from the same source.
  • Second, the apparent 'Belgian' provenance that has been attached to the Cranach is presumably incorrect. I don't know why that should have been made up, when the collection of a French businessman is just as good. Someone has a case to answer here.
  • Third, €510,000 is an unusually large amount of money for a painting by "an unknown artist". I don't understand why a dealer would sell a painting which looks like a Cranach, and is signed, as a work by an unknown artist. Surely they'd want to find out if it was indeed 'right', and worth more?
  • Fourth, we still don't know where these allegations of fakery come from. The 'dealer' denies they are from him. The financier who allegedly sold the painting to Colnaghi has denied any connection with the French police investigation. Why would the alleged 'middlemen', who are being sued by 'the dealer' claim the Cranach is a fake, since by doing so they would presumably have to hand back the substantial profit they made on the deal or deals?
  • Fifth, why would 'the dealer', having successfully sold a number of works from the Borie collection (including the Hals and the Gentileschi) then apparently try and dispose of the Cranach via unnamed middlemen for a non-Cranach price?
  • Finally, it would be odd for anyone who knowingly handled fakes to bring a lawsuit about the paintings - one would imagine they would want to lie low, and be happy with what they'd made so far. So it must be unlikely that 'the dealer' had any concerns about fakery.

All of which, on balance, would suggest that we still have very little strong evidence to allow us to say that these pictures are fake.

It seems to me that the key to this whole affair is to find out more about André Borie. Who was this mystery collector with the cache of previously unknown, small-scale masterpieces by some of the biggest names in art history? Josephine Bindé's article in Telerama tells us that this is the André Borie who helped construct the Mont Blanc tunnel. Borie was a senior French civil engineer and worked on a number of grand projets for the French government. He was awarded the Legion d'Honeur. According to the Telerama article, the 'dealer' inherited the Cranach from Borie's daughter in 1973. The Gentileschi, on the other hand, was apparently bought in 1995, but had previously (confusingly) been in the Borie collection before that.

It should be possible to establish with certainty whether Borie was indeed a collector. I can find no evidence so far to show that he was - nothing in any French museum database for example. Normally, enthusiastic collectors leave a trail of some kind in the museum world, with loans to exhibitions for example, or footnotes in catalogues. For M. Borie, rien. (He is not to be confused with the US collector, Adolph Borie.) Not that this means anything. Perhaps he inherited them himself, and they were just chattels. Or my French Googling isn't up to much, which is quite possible. Under French law, as far as I understand it, there is something called a 'proces verbal' which lists someone's possessions after their death, and this is usually publicly available. If these pictures turn up on M. Borie's records, then it's case closed, and we can all move on. I feel sure that something like this will yet settle the matter.

My searches have revealed one new fact, at least, and that is that André Borie is listed in the provenance of another newly discovered work, this time a Head of Christ by Correggio. This picture, from the limited photos I have seen online, looks to be really quite convincing, and relates to another Correggio Head of Christ at the Getty Museum in LA. As with other works from the Borie collection, we have no firmly established provenance for the Correggio from before his ownership. After his death, the picture was passed by inheritance to an heir who apparently sold the picture at Christie's in Geneva. The picture has been exhibited as a Correggio in the Galleria Nazionale in Parma in 2008, declared authentic by a host of experts, and has been published in an article in The Burlington Magazine (April 2009, p.261), who are usually extremely hard to please. It is painted in oil on panel and measures 40 x 34 cm. This information has been taken from an exhibtion catalogue of the 'Maison d'Art' in Monaco, which was held in association with Clovis Whitfield. No date is given for the Christie's Geneva sale, and indeed it may not have been sold as a Correggio. 

The addition of the Borie Correggio must make it less likely that we're dealing with a cache of fakes here. Isn't it still hard to believe that someone could make such convincing fakes in the style of so many artists, and over so many periods? However, I ought to note that the Correggio has already been the subject of its own 'fake' controversy, back in 2008, before anything of the other Borie pictures was known about. At the time of the Parma exhibition, an Italian art historian and politician (now there's a career path to aspire to) called Vittorio Sgarbi declared that the painting was fake, and loudly so. His view made it into several newspapers. He also named some likely culprits behind the painting, including an Italian artist called Lino Frongia, whom he has described on this website as 'the greatest "Old Master" painter alive'. All of which is most intriguing, but doesn't get us very far. From what I can gather in the Italian press, further technical analysis of the panel on which the Correggio is painted showed that it was from the right period.

Finally, in an article published today by L'Express, it is claimed that the Cranach is mentioned in a novel published last year all about an art forger of genius. The writer of that book, Jules-Francois Ferrillon, says that the inclusion of an image of the Liechtenstein Cranach in this 2015 video trailer for his book was no accident. Fact or fiction? When someone has a book to sell, you can never be sure.

Update - a reader writes:

An interesting link for you, ref Andre Borie (Owner of a significant public works enterprise)...

If the link doesn't work, you're looking for page 436 of Dominique Bardot's publication "L'industrie Francaise de Travaux Publics (1940-45).

To sum up, Borie - born in the Allier (departmental capital - Vichy) - as president of a national syndicate of public works entrepreneurs was, in 1939, appointed national coordinator of public works activities by the Vichy government minister.

As such, he almost certainly served on a committee formed by the Vichy government, which effectively federated civil engineering businesses like Borie's. 

Bardot explains that the Vichy government organised major works contracts for the Nazi occupiers, such as the co-construction of the Atlantic wall, armaments and munition factories etc.

You mentioned a previously unknown collection of minor European masterpieces.  When considering Monsieur Borie's wartime connections, difficult not to speculate don't you think?

Quite so, and any suggestion that the pictures were acquired at around the time of WW2 might be a good reason for M. Borie and his heirs to keep quiet about them. Also, the Borie Vichy link and doubts about the picture's provenance would be grounds for the 'middlemen' mentioned in TAN's reports to begin to challenge 'the dealer'. That said, nothing related to the pictures in question can be found on any of the online Nazi loot databases.

Update II - someone who knows their way around a Velasquez (I'll identify them no more than that) tells me they were asked to see a newly discovered Velasquez of 'Cardinal Borgia' some time ago. From the digital photos it looked quite convincing, but on first hand inspection it was deemed to be a 'recent fake'. I have no idea if it was same painting mentioned above. 

Update III - another piece by Vincent Noce in Le Journal des Arts tells us more about why the Cranach was doubted by Christie's: the panel apparently looked as if it had been heat treated; titanium white (a 20th Century pigment) was found in the necklace; abnormal levels of lead salts; and above all a curious discrepancy between the condition of the panel and the paint surface. 

We are also told that Christie's had rejected not only the Cranach but also the Hals and the Gentileschi [Update: I am told on good authority that this claim is incorrect - indeed the Hals was first handled through Christie's Paris, and Christie's in London were never offered the Gentileschi]. The Louvre apparently tried to buy the Hals. 

Update IV - here's the then Director of the Louvre waxing lyrical about the Hals when they tried to buy it.

*My first version of this sentence stated that 'the dealer' had sold the picture for €510,000, which was incorrect. The 'middlemen' in fact say that is what they paid 'the dealer' for it. Presumably it should be easy to prove the fact either way.

**A previous version of the TAN article suggested that the Velasquez had been sold to the Weiss gallery, but this was incorrect.

Apologies...

March 24 2016

...for the lack of action yesterday - 'Fake or Fortune?' called in London.

Zoom in on Bruegel

March 22 2016

Image of Zoom in on Bruegel

Picture: Google

The Google Cultural Institute has put together an online exhibition of the works of Brueghel the Elder, with 'gigapixel' images. The magnification is extraordinary. Well worth a click.

Happy Birthday Antoon

March 22 2016

Image of Happy Birthday Antoon

Picture: British Museum

Sir Anthony Van Dyck was born on this day in 1599 in Antwerp in Belgium (then Flanders). Regular readers will know that AHN is more than a little obsessed with Van Dyck, or as we call him in these parts, Antoon. So, happy birthday Antoon; people are still enthusing about your work 417 years after you were born.

I was in Antwerp just last week, and paid my usual homage to his birthplace on the Grote Markt, and of course the wonderful Rubenshuis museum where he worked. Today, however, is one of great sadness in Belgium. AHN likes to take the long view of things, so, trite as it may be, I wonder what Van Dyck and his contemporaries would have made of the terrorist attack in Brussels. Van Dyck's age was hardly a time of harmonius peace, and Antwerp was a city on the front line of the battle for control of the Spanish Netherlands. Nor would he have been particularly surprised by the idea of a war based on religion. But the savage unpredictability of our own era's violent menace, the delight in murdering innocent bystanders, and the crazed convictions (Jihadism) from which it comes must surely have struck him as fantastical and incomprehensible.

We too find still find them incomprehensible (I would like to see someone blame Belgium's foreign policy for today's attacks) but we have grown used to them. Their randomness has become almost something to be expected. We greet news of their arrival with the pronoun 'another' - 'there's been another attack' - as if we're resigned to them. This is in itself a worrying victory for the terrorists. In the same way, I didn't pay much attention to the heavily armed soldiers when I went through Brussels airport last week - one expects that these days.

But the dark green army trucks dotted around Antwerp last week gave the city an air of unwated oppression; perhaps even an inadvertent glimpse into European times past. And as I drove with ease through the Belgian/Dutch border, and relished the extraordinary cultural changes one finds in that corner of Europe (French in one town, Flemish in the next, then German with a French accent, then Dutch - all so unusual for an island-bound Brit), I again struggled to understand why so many of my fellow countrymen think so ill of 'Europe'. Why do we wish to weaken a project which, while of course beset with flaws and weaknesses, has peacefully smoothed away the barriers and disparities of centuries' worth of enmity? And why, when our neighbours and friends are under attack, do we think it's even close to appropriate or sensible to say (as some have this morning*) that Europe is somehow dangerous to us, and that we are better off out of it? The best way to defeat terrorism is surely to confront it together, not to turn our backs and say, 'that's your problem, mate'. I despair of the Little Englander mentality dominating UK politics at the moment. 

Anyway, that's enough politics. Now I have to do my quarterly Vat return, and then normal art history blogging will return later today.

*It took Ukip just 22 minutes to issue a statement blaming hte attacks, in part, on the EU.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

March 21 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: br.de

This year, the talk of Maastricht was fakery. The news that a newly discovered Cranach was seized by French police for further investigation was broken by Vincent Noce in The Art Newspaper on 4th March shortly before preview day, cueing raised eyebrows throughout the fair.

Normally, police forces don’t get involved in matters of art historical attribution, especially if both the vendor and buyer are in agreement about the attribution, and we can only wonder at what other evidence the police are acting on. It was suggested at the time that they had been sent an anonymous letter, but even that on its own seems slight grounds to act so dramatically. I’m surprised the French police didn’t try and get in touch with the Liechtenstein collection first. There might have been a more discrete way to investigate the case.

Still, it was a serioius development, and as I wrote at the time the news tied in with rumours that had been circulating for more than a year within the trade that someone was touting a series of extraordinarily convincing fakes. Regular readers will know that while AHN freely indulges in speculation, and shoots from the hip as any blog must do, I don’t do rumours, not least because they permeate the art market with the intensity of cheap perfume. On this occasion, however, the matter was so potentially important that I broke the rule

Since then, more news has since been reported, and what follows is an overview of what we know so far. I should begin by saying again that I have not seen the Prince of Liechtenstein’s Cranach, and I therefore cannot say with any fair conviction whether it’s by Cranach, a contemporary follower, or a modern fake. Nor, of course, am I a Cranach scholar. I have seen a reasonably decent photo of the picture, and while it is always difficult to judge paintings from photos, there was little in the picture to make me think ‘fake’. The Art Newspaper says Colnaghi bought the painting from ‘the manager of an American investment fund’. The claim that titanium white (a 20th Century pigment) has been found in the painting is concerning.

After Vincent Noce’s article came out, a French publication called ‘Le Quotidien de L’Art’ reported that a newly discovered picture by Orazio Gentileschi, David with the Head of Goliath, was being linked to the Cranach, but without setting out why. This picture, reported the ‘Quotidien de L’Art’, had been offered to a number of museums and collectors by a ‘Russian agent’. I have not heard of this mystery Russian agent, but the picture was sold to a private collector in 2012 by the London dealer, Mark Weiss, and you can see his catalogue note here. The picture is painted in oil on Lapis Lazuli, a precious stone not previously known to have been used by Gentileschi, but which was used by contemporary artists as a support. The subject was painted a number of times by Gentileschi, both in large and small formats. In the Weiss Gallery picture the head of David is in a different position than seen in the other versions, and looks to be as well painted as the rest of the picture.

The Gentileschi had until days previously been on display at the National Gallery in London, where I saw it a number of times. The picture is now not even mentioned on the National Gallery’s website. The Gallery subsequently said, in a statement also reported by Georgina Adam in the FT that the Gentileschi “was part of a small display by the artist that came to an end last week and has now been returned to the owner, a ‘private lender’”. I don’t know, but I doubt the ending of the display last week, at the time this story began to gain traction, was a coincidence. 

Is the Gentileschi genuine? I suspect it is, but again I’m not Gentileschi expert, and nor am I much good with late 17th Century Italian art anyway. My conviction about the painting, such as it is, must be led in part by the fact that greater minds and eyes than mine (not least at the National Gallery) have declared the picture not only period, but genuine. I don’t doubt for a second that anyone involved in its sale, display and publication has ever been entirely sure that it’s a late 17th Century painting. And yet, once told that something is potentially questionable, someone like me can’t help looking at a picture with a more than usual scepticism. Unfounded doubts can soon start to enter your mind. I must confess to at least… shall we say, wondering about the picture. 

On 15th March, another online publication, Telerama, gave further details about the Cranach case, and it claimed that the Gentileschi and the Cranach certainly came from the same source. The vendor, whose name is not known and which Telerama calls ‘X’, was being represented by a French lawyer called Philippe Scarzella. The Cranach was, Telerama reported, inherited by ‘X’ in 1973 from the daughter of André Borie, a French construction magnate. The Gentileschi was (as far as I can make out with my poor translating skills) bought by ‘X’ but even then was in turn originally from the same Borie collection. It was this ‘X’ who sold the Gentileschi to the Weiss Gallery in 2012. 

However, Telerama reports that in November 2012 this ‘X’ offered the Cranach to an intermediary in Paris for evaluation. ‘X’ did not say the picture was by Cranach. This intermediary was previously involved in the sale of the Gentileschi, and also a newly discovered picture by Frans Hals. (This Hals was the first of this ‘X’s’ pictures to have been sold, and which was also sold by the Weiss Gallery. I don’t know if this Hals is the same Hals as that listed on the Weiss Gallery website - and which I have not seen in person - but if it is then I wouldn’t have thought for a moment that this picture too is a fake.) 

Back to the Cranach. This alleged intermediary (whose name we are not told) apparently worked in partnership with a ‘Mr. Tordjman’, who, it is claimed, was the person who sold the painting to Colnaghi (for a reported €3.2m), adding that it had been in his family in Belgium for 150 years. Quite how this tallies up with the information stated in The Art Newspaper about the painting being sold by the ‘manager of a US investment fund’ I’m not sure. But the main point here is that ‘X’ was not happy with the sale, which he apparently did not know about till he read in the newspapers that it was now in the Liechtenstein collection, with the figure of €7m attached to it. We may conjecture that ‘X’ may or may not have got all or some of the proceeds. 'X' began a legal case against those he/she claimed diddled him/her, including this ‘Tordjman’. Telerama says there was ‘a trial’ (in the original French ‘procés’)  in 2014, though we are not told where or what happened.

All of which could begin to make some sense of this mysterious case. Are we in fact dealing with a case of rancour and grievance borne out of someone somewhere feeling they’ve been hard done by? What better way to get back at those who this ‘X’ feels have duped them than to say ‘aha, these pictures are all fakes!’ At this moment, if the Telerama reporting is accurate, and if there was really a ‘trial’ in 2014 in which all this was already aired, then one must be inclined to believe that that’s what we’re dealing with here. If so, one also has to feel particularly sorry for those who, further down the line, have been innocently caught up in the ordure.

Still, the best way to resolve this affair is for everyone to be thorough and forensic in their analysis of it, and to do so publicly. In the art world, if genuine pictures are claimed to be fake or ‘not right’ then one has to work doubly hard to disprove the doubters, otherwise there’s a tendency for a picture to be wrongly tarnished for years. It would help, for example, if the results of any technical analysis of these pictures were made public. 

Some questions remain, of course. First, it is perhaps odd for someone who has a collection of previously unknown masterpieces, which includes works by Hals, Gentileschi and Cranach, to feel the need to sell these works piecemeal through intermediaries. Why not go directly to a dealer or, say, Sotheby’s or Christie’s? And why, when you’ve already sold a Hals and a Gentileschi would you continue to act in such an unusual way with picture number three, your Cranach? In my experience, if I’m contacted by someone claiming to represent the anonymous owner of a masterpiece, there’s usually something curious going on. Art owners tend to know what they have, or what they think they might have, and to be wary and scrupulous about getting fair value. This ‘Mr.X’ might be one of the least savvy vendors of masterpieces the art market has ever known. 

Second, the technical doubts about the Cranach still need to be explored. I can report that another leading auction house also had serious doubts about the painting. The concerns listed in The Art Newspaper report (apparently the result of a technical analysis conducted by Christie’s) are extensive; it’s not just a question of someone looking at it and saying ‘I’m not sure about this’. Johann Kraftner, the Liechtenstein Collection’s chief curator, says that the presence of titanium white can be explained by later restoration. That may be so, but oil retouching is, we must concede, not exactly standard procedure in 20th century conservation (retouching medium is more like watercolour, and easily removed). It should be possible to establish conclusively that the titanium white is only found in small areas, over much earlier damage. 

Dendrochronological analysis of the panel (as reported here on 19th March by the Austrian newspaper Der Standard) has apparently confirmed an early date for the painting, and this is especially convincing [though see Update V on this point]. It should be possible to prove without doubt that the painting is as old as the panel, and that it has always been attached to it. Der Standard also reported that Michael Hofbauer, of the Cranach Research Institute in Heidelberg, has decided the picture is not only a fake, but the work of Christian Goller (above), the German restorer currently under investigation by German police for making fakes. Goller has 'previous' (as a British policeman would say) when it comes to making fake early 16th century German panel paintings. However, from the little I’ve seen of Goller’s acknowledged fakes I’d be pretty sure it’s not by him - he’s not that good. You can read more about Hofbauer’s view here on his blog.

Hopefully more facts will soon emerge to help us settle this one way or the other. Obviously, if the pictures are proven to be fakes (a very big if at this stage), then the story will have seismic repercussions through both the art market and the museum world. The Old Master market is already (and always has been) beset by risk over attribution. Normally that’s confined to whether something is, say, by Rubens or his studio, or a copyist. But if we now have to wonder whether a ‘Rubens’ was made last week, and ask whether even national galleries can tell the difference or not, then things become much more serious. My best guess at this stage, working mainly from photos, is that these pictures are not all fakes. Apart from anything else, what are the chances that some genius faker of unparalleled brilliance is as adept at early 16th Century German subject paintings as they are at mid-17th Century Dutch portraits? It is still more likely that something else has sparked this particular story.

But I am aware of other (less good) fakes that have been doing the rounds. One was at Maastricht last year, and vetted off. It definitely seems that there are people out there who can now reach a very high standard of fakery. Regular readers may remember that I used to say, in response to tales of fakery in modern art, 'you can't fake an Old Master'. I don't say it anymore.

Update - for example, this is the sort of picture I feel increasingly suspicious of; a newly discovered Gentileschi on alabaster. It was offered at auction in Switzerland this month, and made CHF650,000. I was puzzled by the damage, which in parts seems to be divertingly obvious (e.g. in the crack top left) despite the fact that the picture looks like it has been recently restored. But as I say, it's easy to start being paranoid about these things.

Update II - a reader writes, in response to Update I:

Re Alabaster panel. We can now all get doubts! Looking at this again, the angels top right look a bit “wooden” but the point I would like to make, following on from the doubts on this and the Cranach; both works come with “expertise” so isn’t the problem two-fold, the authenticity of the paintings in question (and others-e.g. your discovery of “recent manufacture “at Maastricht) and also,if you like, the authenticity of the “experts”. [...]

To summarise-just WHO is right and whose views have merit? I have often seen in the catalogues of the London rooms, where they have published the opinion of outside “experts” [that] if the opinion is favourable this is fine. When it hasn’t been, they still catalogue the work in full. It is rather pointless for any of us to ask a question only to ignore the response.

All of which are good points. If fakes can somehow get through the 'expert' net, then what does that tell us about the experts? There are no easy answers to this. Regular readers will know that I have written before and at length that these days too many people who are not expert can easily qualify as 'expert' just because (for example) they have a book deal. I would prefer it if we could rely instead more on those who have, through their track record, established themselves as having a 'reliable' eye. In the present case, doubts have arisen largely because people who really do know one end of a painting from another looked at certain works and thought... 'hmmm', even though this judgement went against the view of more 'academic' experts. In other words, there's still no easy way around the whole connoisseurship issue. But over time, even with cases like this, the truth does eventually emerge. And if (if) any of the pictures mentioned above do turn out to be fake, then the track record of those who were fooled by them must be marked accordingly.

Update III - I am told that Mr Tordjman was indeed the person from whom Colnaghi bought the painting (allegedly). 

Update IV - The prestigious and widely respected Lucascranach.org website changed the designation of the Venus to 'Imitator of Cranach' earlier this month, but has now removed the entry for the picutre entirely.

Update V - Cranach the Elder seems to have most regularly used lime.

New portrait of Rousseau discovered

March 21 2016

Image of New portrait of Rousseau discovered

Picture: Nicholas Bagshawe Fine Art

Philosophy usually makes my brain ache - but when I was at university I did enjoy a course on Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the great thinkers of the French Englightenment. So when a rather engaging 'French School' portrait of Rousseau came up for sale at Bonhams last year I had a good look to see if I could think who the picture was by. I had no idea at all.

I'm pleased to report, though, that my fellow dealer and good friend Nicholas Bagshawe has pulled off a sleuthing masterstroke. He had a hunch that this picture was by the French painter Francois Guerin, and in what he calls 'a moment of glorious confirmation' that artist's signature was discovered during cleaning. You might think that there are many Rousseau portraits done from life, but actually there's very few; mainly La Tour's and Ramsay's. So this is a significant addition to Rousseau's iconography.

Maastricht 2016

March 18 2016

Image of Maastricht 2016

Picture: BG

I had an enjoyable time at Maastricht, which was looking better than ever (they've changed the layout). The vibe was good too, with many dealers reporting strong sales. Sometimes dealers tell you they've had a great fair, when you can tell by the gritted teeth they've sold nothing. But this year there has genuinely been some strong traction, which is a marked improvement on last year. I am glad for the fair and exhibitors, because recent performance was beginning to look like the beginnings of a decline.That said, the Old Master section felt a little smaller than previous years.

I saw many fine and beautiful things; highlights included for me a Houdon marble of Diana (above, at Daniel Katz's stand); the newly discovered Jordaens study of two men I mentioned below (at Talabardon & Gautier); a Van de Velde the Younger marine picture in sublime condition at Rafael Valls'; a delightful oil study by Mary Beale of her son, (one the best pictures by her I've seen), at Rob Smeets'; and a giant Ribera of Hercules at Fergus Hall's. The stand I most enjoyed was Lowell Libson's, who always has an array of fascinating works in excellent condition - an important discovery this year was a marble bust by Vincenzo Pacetti, The Hope Roma.

Apologies for the lack of photos, but as you can tell by the rubbish one above, the camera on my phone is bust. I also saw a questionable little picture which looked like it was 'of recent manufacture'. But that's for another day. Oh, and some of the mark ups for recently bought auction pictures were beyond silly.

 

'Should we care about attribution'?

March 18 2016

Image of 'Should we care about attribution'?

Picture: RA

The RA website has an interesting piece on whether we should care about who painted what, in light of the new Giorgione exhibition in which attribution is hotly debated. Arguing 'yes' is the eminently sound art historian and noted connoisseur, Prof. David Ekserdjian, while arguing no is contemporary artist Doug Fishbone (who should presumably have written anonymously).

You can read the cases for yourself here, and there's a poll at the end of the article in which you can vote. Pleasingly, it's running at 80% in favour of Prof. Ekserdjian's case at the moment. Which just goes to show that no matter how often we're told that 'attribution doesn't matter' in art history, it certainly matters to the public.

Bosch at the Prado

March 18 2016

Video: Museo El Prado

By all accounts the city of 's-Hertogenbosch has never seen anything like the crowds flocking to the new Bosch show in the Nordbrabants museum. Hotels, everything, all sold out. But if you can't get there, fear not, for here's a trailer for the Prado Museum's own Bosch exhibition, which runs from 31st May till 11th September.

UK export laws - "no substantive change"

March 18 2016

Image of UK export laws - "no substantive change"

Picture: Sotheby's

Earlier this year Stephan Deuchar, the director of the Art Fund, said he would support no more campaigns to 'save' artworks at risk of export until changes were made to the export system. He called for 'radical' changes. A reader has, however, drawn my attention to an unreported parliamentary question in the House of Lords (in February) from Lord Smith of Finsbury, who is chairman of the Art Fund:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving, and on what timescale, to the drawing up of proposals for substantial change to the current arrangements for export licensing for nationally important works of art.

And here was the answer from DCMS minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe:

The Government is open to considering practicable improvements to the export licensing system for cultural goods, but has no immediate plans to make any substantive change to the current arrangements.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has written to the noble Lord in relation to his recently proposed changes to the system and is grateful for his correspondence on this matter.

So that would appear to be that. There are a few minor changes that can be made which will help the Art Fund's particular grievance (or at least one of them). I've got a longer piece on the whole question in the latest issue of Apollo Magazine (print edition).

Quite where this leaves the Art Fund's widely discussed threat I'm not sure. Without substantive changes, will the Art Fund now quietly go back to helping save important works, which it does so well? I do hope so. The whole business is, though, a reminder of one of the cardinal rules of politics and diplomacy; don't make threats you're not prepared to carry out. 

By the way, a reader alerts me to the fact that a £5m portrait by Ferdinand Bol (above), which was subject to a temporary export bar in January this year, is no longer on the Arts Counci's list of pictures threatened with export. Has a museum stepped into buy the picture? Or has the export licence been withdrawn? Or possibly a combination of the two?

Update - a reader writes:

I had also notice the missing Bol on the Export Committee’s website although it is worth bearing in mind that the website is almost always out of date.  For example, the website has still not updated the entry for the Niagara Falls watercolour by Davies where the deadline for offers expired in February.  Three weeks on and we have no idea whether the painting has been bought by a museum or has gone abroad.  One would ordinarily consult the Art Fund website to see if they have supported a grant but in recent months this website has become next to useless for those members interested in where their money is spent.  The vast majority of the news items advertise exhibitions and successful acquisitions are now relegated to a few pages at the back of the quarterly magazine. The Art Fund's searchable art database on its database is also woeful; it is now not possible to search by year of acquisition for example. 

Major art theft in Italy (ctd.)

March 18 2016

Image of Major art theft in Italy (ctd.)

Picture: Museo di Castelvecchio

Last November there was a major, armed, robbery of works from the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona. Italian police have now made a number of arrests - including the security guard on the night - but so far no pictures have been recovered. More here.

From this Antwerp street...

March 15 2016

Image of From this Antwerp street...

Picture: BG

This is Hoogstraat in Antwerp. In the house on the right with the red brick upper floors, Jacob Jordaens was born in 1593. In the house at the end of the street, facing down Hoogstraat, Anthony Van Dyck was born in 1599.

So much artistic genius from one street. There must have been something in the water...

Update - a reader writes:

There's even more 17th century art history connected to this street. The Hoogstraat leads on one side directly into a small medieval alley called the Vlaeykesgang where there was once a famous inn called 'De Roode Schild' (The Red Shield)', run by the greatgrandparents of Nikolaas Rockox, the great art patron and personal friend of... Peter Paul Rubens ! So maybe there must have been something in the beer rather than in the water....

To Maastricht, loudly.

March 15 2016

Image of To Maastricht, loudly.

Picture: BG

Greetings from Antwerp, where I am en route to Maastricht and the 29th annual Tefaf Old Master fair. This morning, those kind people at Hertz upgraded my Vauxhall Astra to... a Jaguar F-Type.

I can report that it's quite a car. Strangely, there's a button to change the exhaust noise. I have it switched to 'loud'.

Update - Looking at my map yesterday morning, I saw that Maastricht wasn't far from Spa, Belgium's grand prix track in the Ardennes. When I say 'not far' I mean about an hour in the opposite direction. But AHNers, I couldn't resist. Ooph...

"Van Dyck" at the Frick (ctd.)

March 12 2016

Image of "Van Dyck" at the Frick (ctd.)

Picture: Frick

The curators of the Frick's wondrous new Van Dyck exhibition, Adam Eaker (above left) and Stijn Alsteens (right, who here looks as if he could well be in a Van Dyck) can be heard discussing their new show in some depth in this interview on New York's WNYC radion station.

Sleeper alert! (ctd.)

March 12 2016

Image of Sleeper alert! (ctd.)

Picture: @lizss via Twitter

Further to my post below about the French dealers Talabardon & Gautier of Paris shrewdly discovering a Rembrandt in the US, I learn via Twitter that they also spotted the above study by Jordaens, which back in July last year made €260,000 in Paris against an estimate of €600-€800. Excellent sleuthing! 

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