Previous Posts: September 2017

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' returns

September 20 2017

Image of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' returns

Picture: BBC

I'm very pleased to tell you that the new series of Britain's Lost Masterpieces begins on Wednesday 27th September, at 9pm on BBC4. In this series I'm joined by social historian Emma Dabiri, and the first episode looks at the art collections in Glasgow. 

Viewing is compulsory for all AHNers, as well as their friends, family and pets. Standby for more plugs over the coming days.

'Drawn in Colour' Degas from the Burrell

September 20 2017

Image of 'Drawn in Colour' Degas from the Burrell

Picture: NG

A new exhibition centered on Sir William Burrell's collection of Degas pastels has opened at the National Gallery in London. The Burrell collection in Glasgow is currently closed for refurbishment, so a selection of the items are currently being loaned to various institutions, both in the UK and abroad. The new show at the National Gallery has drawn rave reviews so far; five stars from both The Guardian and the Evening Standard. But for the most authoritative overview of the exhibition, and why Degas excelled in pastel, then look no further than Neil Jeffares' blog, here

New Caravaggio database

September 20 2017

Image of New Caravaggio database

Picture: Studio Seibert

The Galleria Borghese is to set up a new online Caravaggio database, part funded by the fashion house Fendi. Reports Tom Kington in The Times:

Flush with €1.3 million in funding from Fendi, the Galleria Borghese will create a digitalised database detailing every aspect of the life and work of the artist, who mastered the chiaroscuro technique of contrasting light and shade and whose popularity has rocketed during the past century.

“We want to collect every document there is to allow scholars to deepen their understanding of Caravaggio and scrutinise new attributions,” says Anna Coliva, the director of the museum.

The institute, to be based in Rome, will strike deals to access Caravaggio studies kept by universities and collect X-ray, infra-red and ultraviolet images of known works.

In the article, Anna Coliva casts doubt on the picture of Judith Beheading Holofernes (above) discovered in a Toulouse attic last year. More here

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

September 20 2017

Video: Euronews

In the FT, Gareth Harris alerts us to some sweeping changes to the vetting system at the Biennale Paris, in response to a scandal of fake antique furniture, some of which was bought by the French state for many millions of Euros (see above). The vetting changes include:

Since the scandal, the SNA [the antique dealers association which runs the fair] has taken a belt-and-braces approach, setting up an overarching vetting committee overseen by two independent professional bodies, the Compagnie Nationale des Experts (CNE) and the Syndicat Français des Experts Professionnels en Oeuvres d’Art et Objets de Collection (SFEP).

Divesting the SNA of vetting duties at Biennale Paris is a canny move. The system by which its exhibitors, who all belong to the SNA, had sat across various sub-vetting committees at the Biennale had come in for some criticism. The French online publication Le Quotidien de l’Art reported, for instance, on an abuse of power at the heart of the previous vetting body.

Under the new system, 100 experts are split into groups of three to five according to specialty. “Under the new rules, exhibitors will not sit on the committees, thereby avoiding any conflicts of interest,” says Michel Maket, president of the SFEP.

Quite a few art fairs still operate vetting systems run, either largely or entirely, by fellow dealers. On one level this makes sense, for whether we like it or not it is within the trade that we find the most expertise in some fields. But of course, then you get into the question of commercial rivalry and intra-dealer politics. One hears stories of pictures being approved by vetting committees when they appear on certain dealers stands, but rejected when they appear on others. The situation becomes especially difficult when you have pictures that are owned by multiple dealers, all with a part share. So on balance I think it's probably better that vetting is, as the Biennale Paris are doing, placed entirely in the hands of academics and museum staff.

£3.5m Wright of Derby sale at Sotheby's

September 18 2017

Image of £3.5m Wright of Derby sale at Sotheby's

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's are to sell a prize work by Wright of Derby in London in December. An Academy by Lamplight is estimated at £2.5m - £3.5m, and is being sold by Lord Somerleyton, of Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk, to fund improvements on his 5,000 acre estate. More here in The Telegraph, and here is the Notification of Intention to sell page on the Arts Council website, which means that the painting has been conditionally exempt from death duties. On the Arts Council site, the 'guide price' is set at £3.5m. Another version of the painting is in the Yale Center for British Art. 

Mr & Mrs Dobson re-united

September 18 2017

Image of Mr & Mrs Dobson re-united

Picture: Tate

Tate Britain has hung William Dobson's early self-portrait alongside that of his wife, for the first time since 1948. The portrait of Dobson's wife was bought by the Tate in 1992. The self-portrait was bought by a private collector at Bonhams last year, and then lent to the National Portrait Gallery. The two pictures will be on display now until 2020. More here

For more films and info on Dobson, here's the Great Waldemar's Dobson website. 

Art Newspaper podcast

September 18 2017

Sound: TAN

The Art Newspaper has launched a new podcast. In this edition, there's a discussion about a conference on Nazi looted art, and a new Rachel Whiteread exhibition. More here

Job Opportunity!

September 18 2017

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: V&A

The V&A Museum in London is looking for a new Director of Collections. Says the blurb:

We are seeking to appoint a Director of Collections, who will play a significant role in the delivery of the V&A strategy to ensure our collections and knowledge are at the very centre of our work. You will be leading all aspects of curatorial and research activities across the Museum, developing a clear vision for the division from day-to-day operations and decision-making, to helping to define and build on the key areas of strength and expertise that can contribute to extending access to the widest possible audience.

Over the next 5 years we are planning a major expansion of our physical and digital*, using the lens of design to make our collections increasingly accessible and relevant. We have significant plans to expand and deliver our education vision, building on our existing successful programmes to become a force in design education. We plan to extend the geographical reach of the V&A and play a leadership and opinion-forming role in the fields of formal education and museum and gallery interpretation.

Salary is £100k. Deadline 8th October. Good luck!

* 'physical and digital' what? Is this a typo? Or is it modern museum-speak? 'I'm going to expand my physical' sounds like a line from Carry On Matron.

Lost Lancret discovered by Sotheby's

September 14 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's in New York will sell a re-discovered painting by Nicolas Lancret early next year. The painting, Winter, has been lost since 1889, and known only through an engraving. Says the Sotheby's press release:

The painting is part of a cycle of Four Seasons commissioned directly From Lancret by the French diplomat Jean-François Lériget de la Faye at a momentous point in the young artist’s career. While these works still exhibit the influence of his mentor, Antoine Watteau, their magnificent quality undoubtedly helped to establish Lancret’s name as an independent master. Voluminous, sweeping fabrics fall softly on his figures’ bodies and capture light in a way that exudes movement and gesture. With a transparency achieved through the application of refined glazes, Lancret conveys the nonchalant, voluptuous elegance of a winter’s afternoon where time stands still.

What an excellent video Sotheby's has made for this. 

The painting will be sold in the Sotheby's winter Old Master sale in New York, which takes place on 1st February. So Sotheby's are so far sticking to their early date in the calendar, and not following Christie's New York's move to April. 

Rembrandt in China! (ctd.)

September 14 2017

Image of Rembrandt in China! (ctd.)

Picture: The Leiden Collection

The Leiden Collection of Dutch Golden Age paintings continues its well-received tour in China - having recently been shown at the National Museum of China, it will soon open in Shanghai, at the Long Museum. More here

Isn't it amazing that it took the energies of a private collector to show a Vermeer in China, for the first time ever? Western museums have missed a trick here.

'Monochrome - Painting in Black and White'

September 14 2017

Video: National Gallery

On 30th October (till 18th February) a new exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in London will look at black and white paintings. Says the NG's site:

Painting using predominantly black-and-white pigments has long held a fascination for artists, yet there has never been a major exhibition on the subject.

‘Monochrome’ presents a series of case studies that investigate where and when grisaille painting was used and to what effect: from early religious works to paintings that emulate sculpture or respond to other media such as printmaking, photography, and film.

Comprising works on glass, vellum, ceramic, silk, wood, and canvas by artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, and Gerhard Richter (1932–), ‘Monochrome’ encourages visitors to trace the fascinating but little-studied history of black-and-white painting.

'Reflections' at the National Gallery

September 14 2017

Video: National Gallery

Here's a trailer for the National Gallery's forthcoming exhibition, 'Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites': Says the gallery's blurb:

Acquired by the National Gallery in 1842, the Arnolfini Portrait informed the Pre-Raphaelites’ belief in empirical observation, their ideas about draughtsmanship, colour and technique, and the ways in which objects in a picture could carry symbolic meaning. 

The exhibition will bring together for the first time the 'Arnolfini Portrait' with paintings from the Tate collection and loans from other museums, to explore the ways in which Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), Sir John Everett Millais (1829–1896) and William Holman Hunt (1827–1910), among others, were influenced by the painting in their work.

The show runs from 2nd October - 2nd April.

Is this by Rembrandt? (ctd.)

September 13 2017

Image of Is this by Rembrandt? (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

Back in 2014 I reported that the leading Rembrandt scholar Ernst van der Wetering had upgraded a painting in the National Gallery to 'Rembrandt', long after it had been downgraded to 'Follower of Rembrandt'. 'Old Man in an Armchair' had been allocated to the National Gallery in 1957, as a Rembrandt, through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. But it was downgraded in 1969 by the Rembrandt scholar Horst Gerson, a decision followed by the Rembrandt Research Project in its earlier incarnation.

Prof. van der Wetering is now chairman of the Project, and has decided that in his opinion the picture is indeed by Rembrandt. When he announced his decision, the National Gallery held fast to its description as 'Follower of Rembrandt'. Now, however, the Gallery will re-label the picture as 'Probably by Rembrandt', and it is currently on display in the newly re-hung Dutch and Flemish rooms.

For what it's worth, I think this is the right call. 'Probably by' is a much underused term in the attribution game, and we should see it deployed more often. The term began to be used at the National Gallery during the directorship of Sir Nick Penny, replacing the sometimes baffling 'attributed to'.

Incidentally, I learnt this information through Twitter, when the National Gallery's new Dutch and Flemish 1600-1800 curator was taking part in #AskaCurator. Excellent all round.

Waldemar on the NPG's 'Encounter'

September 13 2017

Image of Waldemar on the NPG's 'Encounter'

Picture: BG

If you haven't read it, the Great Waldemar's succinct review of the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition, The Encounter, spares no punches:

Not for the first time in my life, as I left the new show at the National Portrait Gallery, I was moved to mutter: “Thank heavens for the Queen.” Once again, Her Majesty had saved the day. Were it not for her loan of a wall full of commanding Holbein drawings from the Royal Collection to the exhibition entitled The Encounter: Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, that exhibition would be a poor event. Short on quality. Short on direction.

It is the fate of the National Portrait Gallery to be searching continuously for angles. Portraiture is, after all, a straightforward affair. Over here you have the artist. Over there you have the sitter. One records the other. And that’s it. Finding inventive ways to present this exchange is, therefore, a museum challenge that encourages much smoking of mirrors.

The problem with the angle attempted by The Encounter is that it isn’t an angle. Every portrait ever produced is the result of an encounter — it’s all a portrait can be. Putting a definite article in front is not enough to give this effort any true purpose or meaning. As for the subtitle, Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt, it’s a tease. Neither Leonardo nor Rembrandt is represented here in a significant fashion. If you ignore these directional problems, you are left with a drawing show in which various Old Masters of various levels of talent have been arranged in a string of sections that are supposed to frame telling aspects of Old Master portraiture. But don’t.

Cleaning Gainsborough's 'Blue Boy'

September 13 2017


Thomas Gainsborough's celebrated 'Blue Boy' has been taken off display at the Huntington art gallery in California ahead of a two year restoration project. Emily Sharpe in The Art Newspaper reports:

Part of the conservation will take place in one of the museum’s public galleries in a special exhibition called Project Blue Boy, due to open in autumn 2018.

According to Christina O’Connell, the senior paintings conservator at the Huntington, recent treatments have focused on adding layers of varnish so the picture could remain on display. This has obscured some details and caused the colours to “appear hazy and dull”.

The Huntington will have a special site dedicated to the project here. THe Blue Boy is now thought by some scholars to show Gainsborough's nephew, Gainsborough Dupont. When the painting was sold to Henry Huntington in 1921 for $728,000 it was the world's most expensive painting. These days, 18th Century British portraiture is not nearly so valuable, relatively. But who knows how long that will last. Fashion and value in the art market are fickle things.

Incidentally, to give you an idea of just how expensive the painting was in real terms in 1921, the seller was the 2nd Duke of Westminster, a man who, as the richest man in Britain, hardly needed the money. But then that side of my family (to whom, incidentally, I am related only genetically, not financially) has always been very canny with money.

Update - a reader writes:

The Blue Boy was not the world’s most expensive painting at the time of its sale. That record was still held by Leonardo’s Benois Madonna, which Nicholas II acquired – in competition with Duveen and American magnates – for $1.5M (£310,000) in 1914. By comparison, The Blue Boy fetched a mere £148,000 in 1921.

The Westminsters must have been short of cash at the time as they also off-loaded – to Huntingdon as well – Gainsborough’s Cottage Door and Reynolds Sarah Siddons as The Tragic Muse, both for around £70,000.

I don't think it was a shortage of cash, rather a certain family Philistinism.

Flemish portraits 1400-1700

September 13 2017

Image of Flemish portraits 1400-1700

Picture: via Mauritshuis

The Mauritshuis in The Hague has a new exhibition of Flemish portraits on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, the KMSKA. Says the Mauritshuis website:

The exhibition includes major works by Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling, Pieter Pourbus, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Remarkably, almost all the sitters can be identified. This is why the exhibition will not only highlight what makes Flemish portraits so special, but also who appears in the pictures and how they wanted to be viewed.

The KMSKA is currently closed for refurbishment, and is planned to reopen in 2019. It has been closed since 2011 - and is further proof that museums should never entirely close for refurbishment, as it's a recipe for delays and a loss of momentum. That said, the KMSKA has been quite good at putting works from its collection on loan elsewhere. 

Van Dyck exhibition in Munich

September 13 2017

Image of Van Dyck exhibition in Munich

Picture: Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Exciting news - a major new Van Dyck exhibition is to be held at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich in late 2019. Says the museum's website:

The exhibition, which will also include loans from international museums, creates a multidimensional portrait of Van Dyck, who carved out his own style in his younger years precisely through his confrontation with the almost overpowering artistic persona of Peter Paul Rubens.

It will run from 1.10.19 to 1.2.20, and AHN has already booked tickets.

New museums in Bishop Auckland

September 11 2017

Image of New museums in Bishop Auckland

Picture: Guardian

In The Guardian, Maev Kennedy reports on a new museum in Bishop Auckland devoted to paintings of and by miners:

A unique collection of paintings by Durham miners, many made by men who spent their working lives underground and their nights painting on kitchen tables, in attics or garden sheds, will go on display in the first museum in the UK dedicated to such art.

The museum is being created in a former bank building on the marketplace in Bishop Auckland. It includes works by Norman Cornish, the most famous of the group, who left the pits at the urging of his wife to become a full-time artist and spent the rest of his life recording the small streets, shops and people of Spennymoor, where his studio is preserved in an exhibition at the town hall.

More here. This news comes on top of the exciting plans for another museum in Bishop Auckland backed by the financier Jonathan Ruffer.

Fire at the Hermitage!

September 11 2017

Video: Euronews

A fire broke out in the Hermitage last week. It was in the basement, and there were fears that some of the museum's famous cats had been killed. But according to The Art Newspaper, the cats only sustainted injuries. More here

New Old Masters

September 11 2017

Image of New Old Masters

Picture: Freddy Fabris

I'm late to the appreciation of these photographic re-interpretations of Old Masters by US photographer Freddy Fabris. He posed a group of car mechanics as works by Rembrandt (as above), Leonardo, and Michelangelo. More here

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