Blog off

July 25 2016

Image of Blog off

Picture: Ishbel Grosvenor

It's holiday time folks, and the Deputy Editor and I are off to see some pictures. We'll be back in a week or so. In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful summer. And don't forget, 'Fake or Fortune?' continues for two more weeks, with August Rodin up next Sunday, BBC1 8pm.

The Mystery of Van Gogh's Ear (ctd.)

July 22 2016

Image of The Mystery of Van Gogh's Ear (ctd.)

Picture: BBC

Last week I reported on new research by Bernadette Murphy on how, when and why Van Gogh cut off his ear. Now, Martin Bailey (himself a Van Gogh scholar) has published in The Art Newspaper the name of the lucky recipient of the ear:

The young woman in the brothel who was given Van Gogh’s ear can be revealed for the first time by The Art Newspaper as Gabrielle Berlatier, a farmer’s daughter. This solves a mystery that has remained unsolved for nearly 130 years.

Although not named, the woman was referred to in Bernadette Murphy’s book, Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story, published by Chatto & Windus last week. Murphy wrote that she made a promise to Gabrielle’s descendants: “Until I am given permission by the family to reveal her surname, I will respect their wishes and keep it private.” Murphy kept to her word.

The Art Newspaper has followed up details given in her meticulously researched book by using an open archive. We tracked down the woman’s name in the records of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, where Gabrielle had been treated for rabies. Identifying her throws fresh light on the bizarre incident in which Van Gogh cut off nearly all his ear.

New Scottish National Gallery site

July 22 2016

Image of New Scottish National Gallery site

Picture: NGS

The National Galleries of Scotland have created an impressive new collections database, with (so far) approximately 30,000 works digitised. The zoom fuction is most impressive: below is a detail of Rembrandt's 1647 A Woman in Bed. Have a rummage for your self here.

Christie's Classic Week - the Movie

July 22 2016

Video: Christie's

Check out the stirring movie music. 

'Coming Soon at the National Gallery'

July 22 2016

Video: National Gallery

As I've said recently, the National Gallery's videos are getting better. Here's a little taster of exhibitions coming up in 2017. A full list is here.

'Leighton's Paintings'

July 22 2016

Video: National Gallery

Here's a nice video from the National Gallery, looking at Lord Leighton's paintings in relation to the NG's new exhibition 'Painter's Paintings'. The video takes us inside the newly renovated Leighton House.

I think they should have let the presenter, scholar Christopher Newall, look down the lens - to make the video more personal. It's always good let these expert's passion come across more directly in films like this. 

'Fake or Fortune?' does Delaroche

July 22 2016

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' does Delaroche

Picture: BBC

Paul Delaroche is the artist under investigation this Sunday (BBC1, 8pm). More here

Update - 4.54m viewers for this episode. Thanks for watching!

Update II - this was one of those films where sadly there was a lot of information we couldn't find time to include.

A number of viewers in particular have wondered why we didn't focus on the provenance very much. We were able to establish that the picture was sold twice in London in the 1980s, but each time no provenance was listed, and the artist was certainly not given as Delaroche. In 1980 on January 18th at Christie's in London it was sold as a work by the French artist Fleury Francois Richard, and described as 'A Queen and her Retinue at Worship' (with matching dimensions, lot 110). In 1989, again at Christie's (December 14th, lot 59) it was called simply 'German School 19th Century', 'The Offering at the Shrine' (again with matching dimensions).

In other words, the picture had comprehensively lost both its attribution and subject identity at some point between 1866, when it is last recorded in Marie Amelie's estate) and the 20th Century - and this can make it all but impossible to look for a painting in the sale records. Furthermore, client confidentiality meant we weren't able to establish who consigned the picture in 1980, though my hunch is it was someone in the trade.

Establishing the Christie's provenance was straightforward in one case, as we had the remains of a Christie's stencil on the back (though interestingly someone had tried to remove it). But for the other there was no stencil, which is unusual for Christie's, and we had only a chalk lot number to go on.

The other clue from the back of the picture which ended up on the cutting room floor was a carved inventory number in the frame. This we established led to John Davies framing in Mayfair, who had a record of making that very frame in the 1980s. But alas, there was no further ownership details to follow up.

We spent a great deal of time looking through all the relevant sales of Queen Marie Amelie's descendants - but alas could not find the painting anywhere! My best guess (or rather, hope) is that it was sold in a sale in 1950 of one of the French royal family's chateaus, Tourrande outside Geneva, in which not all the lots were specifically listed; there was a section in the catalogue marked 'Plusiers Tableaux'.  

Finally, the evidence for not linking the painting to the untraced copy recorded as being made by a pupil of Delaroche, Jean-Leon Gerome, was dealt with very briefly in the film. But I do think we can be confident that Gerome's copy was, like the other copies, on a larger scale than Delaroche's original. In the letter of 1846 in which Gerome discusses the commission to make the copy (for the Queen) he mentions another copy being made for the Royal Family at the same time, of a portrait of Henry II based on a small portrait by Clouet. It was designed to go on display in the Louvre (and still is). It is a large, full-length portrait. Furthermore, Gerome was given a studio in the Louvre to make these copies. So it seems prety certain that he was making large replicas for public display in French palaces - and this, tied in with all the other evidence in favour of Becky's painting (not least its overall quality) means we can be entirely confident that it was indeed Delaroche's lost original.

Raphael database

July 22 2016

Image of Raphael database

Picture: National Gallery

If you haven't already seen it, check out the National Gallery's amazing, extraordinary, class-leading Raphael Research Resource. It has all sorts of documentary and technical information not just on the NG's own Raphaels, but also those of other museums. Feast your eyes on high-resolution photographs of Infra-red, paint samples, panels - the lot. 

Art history bling

July 22 2016

Image of Art history bling

Picture: Paul Mitchell Ltd

Here's the National Gallery's head of framing Peter Schade with a fantastically blingy bit of gilding. I wonder if he's doing a job for Trump.

Tate acquires Topolski

July 20 2016

Image of Tate acquires Topolski

Picture: Tate/Sim Fine Art

I've always thought the Polish artist Feliks Topolski was underrated. Even today his work doesn't fetch a great deal at auction. But he could really paint, and many years ago when I used to work at Buckingham Palace I would spend hours looking at his massive depiction of the coronation of Elizabeth II, which I thought was a masterpiece.

So I'm glad to see that the Tate has just bought the above Germany Defeated, which depicts Berlin in 1945 during the last days of the Nazi regime. It has been sold to Tate by the noted dealer in war art, Andrew Sim. More here.

Royal Collection acquires Van Dyck grisaille

July 20 2016

Image of Royal Collection acquires Van Dyck grisaille

Pictures: Royal Collection

The Royal Collection has acquired a recently discovered grisaille by Anthony Van Dyck. Van Dyck often used to do these small oil sketches in monochrome when sketching out group portraits, and in fact seems (later in his career) to have preferred them to drawings. Very few survive today. This sketch shows Van Dyck's first thoughts for his famous 'Great Peece', his first major portrait of Charles I and Henrietta Maria. Note, for example, how the young Charles II has been moved from the centre of the composition over to the left. 

The grisaille surfaced at a minor European auction back in (I think) 2011, and was spotted by Agnews. It was first covered here on AHN in 2012. The picture has now been sold by Agnews to the Royal Collection. You can zoom in on a high-res photo and read the new catalogue note here.

New German art export laws (ctd.)

July 18 2016

Image of New German art export laws (ctd.)

Picture: artnet

The German government has finally passed legislation to compel vendors of 'cultural goods' to provide documentary proof of provenance for over 20 years, and an export licence for anything worth over €2,500. The law was intended to address public concerns over looted antiquities from the Middle East. But unsurprisingly, this dramatic extension of costly bureacracy has already led to two major German auction houses (including Lempertz in Cologne) taking the dramatic decision to move a number of sales to locations outside Germany. More here in The Antiques Trade Gazette.

Job cuts at the Met

July 18 2016

Image of Job cuts at the Met

Picture: The Met

The Metropolitan Museum in New York has a defecit of $10m apparently, and up to 100 staff are going to have to go. More here.

How to make a 17thC still-life

July 18 2016

Image of How to make a 17thC still-life

Picture: Hamilton Kerr Institute

Here's a fascinating piece of art detective-ry - a conservator at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge, Sven Van Dorst, has discovered on the back of a 17th Century still-life by Daniel Seghers a rare, partly begun example of a flower painting. In fact, it's thought to be the only example of a painting of this type left in its so-called 'dead-colouring' stage. The painting (above) is in the Fitzwilliam Museum. 

In order to discover more about how these pictures were painted, Sven (who is also an artist) set about completing the still-life, using a recreation of the dead-colouring stage as his starting point:

Seghers only needed a single paintlayer on top of the dead-colouring to model his flowers. The large flowers were painted on top of the bright underlayer, while the small flowers were painted directly on top of the dark background. The bright underlayer plays a key role in the final result. The vibrant colour of the red rose, for example, was achieved by applying a semi-transparant red lake on top of the red dead-colouring. The egg shape underneath the tulip is still visible in the final result, it is placed on the lighter side of the flower, whilst the shadow side was painted on top of the dark background. This way it was possible to create astonishing pictorial effects in a limited amount of time. Because the painting was executed in only one layer, on top of the dead-colouring, the brushwork and paint handling had to be executed with great care. The brushstrokes follow the shape of the flowers, giving a feeling of three dimensions. This aspect of the painting was especially difficult to imitate during the reconstruction because the consistency of the paint had to be adjusted to improve the paint handling.

Guffwatch - the Movie

July 18 2016

Video: BBC

There was an interesting film on BBC4 called 'The Banker's Guide to Art'. It shone a rather unedifying light on the modern and contemporary art market, with most of the main players not realising quite how silly they were being made to look. 

Did Rembrandt cheat?

July 18 2016

Image of Did Rembrandt cheat?

Picture: NYT

The suggestion that Rembrandt used a series of lenses in order to paint his self-portraits, and thus effectively 'trace' the drawing of his face, has gained a lot of coverage in the news. The theory, put forward by artist Francis O'Neill in the Journal of Optics, echoes that of David Hockney some years ago with his book 'Secret Knowledge', in which he claimed that artists from Van Eyck to Ingres used a camera obscura, or a camera lucida, to help compose their compositions.

O'Neill's theory is set out here in the New York Times:

At age 18, Francis O’Neill, an aspiring young painter, went on a train trip around Europe and was struck by the Rembrandt masterpieces he saw in galleries. Like many before him, he was astounded by Rembrandt’s technical accuracy.

“I thought, ‘What sort of magic has this guy imbued in himself?’ ” said Mr. O’Neill, who today produces art and teaches from his studio in Oxford, England.

Now, Mr. O’Neill thinks he’s found an answer to that question — and he says it has more to do with optics than magic.

In a paper published Wednesday in the Journal of Optics, Mr. O’Neill lays out a theory that Rembrandt set up flat and concave mirrors to project his subjects — including himself — onto surfaces before painting or etching them.

Personally, I don't believe it. And I think it's interesting that those who today suggest that artists like Rembrandt relied on elaborate optical constructions to do basic things like drawing - based on no contemporary evidence at all - tend to be artists themselves. For these artists, who may be very good artists like Hockney, tend not to be great painters, in the way that Rembrandt was. And because they cannot themselves do what Rembrandt did effortlessly, the temptation is to conclude that somehow these great Old Masters cheated. 

Update - by the way, it's Rembrandt's birthday.

Update II - a reader writes:

I read Hockney's book and even he doesn't see much benefit from the use of optics for Rembrandt's aesthetic goals. Rembrandt was a businessman. Had optics been useful to studio production, I think he would have employed them without hesitation but, In his case, they may have slowed production.

Early Freud revealed on 'Fake of Fortune?'

July 18 2016

Image of Early Freud revealed on 'Fake of Fortune?'

Picture: BBC

Well I know I'm biased, but I thought last night's episode of 'Fake or Fortune?' was one of our best yet. The story involved an early work by Lucian Freud, which the artist painted when he was about 16, but which he later denied having created (mainly, we suspect, because he dislliked its owner). However, we managed to find a note of a conversation Freud had with his solicitor, in which he conceded that he had painted at least the substantial part of it. More here.

Update - the viewing figures were 4.3m.

Update II - Toby Treves has set out his reasons as to why he has not accepted that the picture is entirely by Freud, and thus won't be included in the catalogue raisonneé of Freud's work. He will include it in an appendix of the book, instead. His argument seems to be based on doubts by Freud that he painted the whole painting, even though Treves concedes that the figure - that is, the key feature of the painting - was painted all at once, by Freud. It seems to be doubts over who painted the landscape that means Treves cannot accept the work as 'a Freud'.

To be honest, I find this slightly puzzling, for it would be perfectly possible to list the painting in the  main body of the catalogue raisonné, but with all the caveats fully set out. To exclude a painting Freud admitted to making, even in part, from the catalogue of the artist's work seems a little harsh, as well as defining a 'catalogue raisonné' in unusually prescriptive terms. After all, many is the artist who relied on studio assistance over time, but we don't say those works are not (for example) by Rubens.

Update III - a reader writes:

To be honest, I find this slightly puzzling, for it would be perfectly possible to list the painting in the  main body of the catalogue raisonné, but with all the caveats fully set out. To exclude a painting Freud admitted to making, even in part, from the catalogue of the artist's work seems a little harsh, as well as defining a 'catalogue raisonné' in unusually prescriptive terms

It might be instructive to look at Martin Harrison’s approach - in respect of Denis Wirth Miller, funnily enough - on page 19 of his recent and monumental Bacon cat. rais:

‘His friend Denis Wirth Miller helped him with at least two paintings (52-03 and 52-04)  [Dog, 1952 and  Landscape, 1952] and reputedly contributed to House in Barbados, 1952 (52-02) and one of the Van Gogh series in 1957. It is unknown whether the two artists painted side-by-side, or which parts of the paintings Wirth Miller was responsible.’

All are included in the main body of the cat. rais.

The Chinese are coming

July 13 2016

Image of The Chinese are coming

Picture: Christie's

There were three Chinese bidders on the £45m Rubens at Christie's last week. And I'm told that the number of Chinese bidders in Old Masters is sharply up across the board. Are the rules of the market about to change? Are the OMP optimists closer to being proved right?

Cleaning test fun (ctd.)

July 13 2016

Image of Cleaning test fun (ctd.)

Picture: BG

More cleaning test fun this afternoon in London. Different picture - potentially very exciting. On the swabs you see overpaint from the 19th Century. There's a new technique available for removing overpaint these days, using special gels rather than traditional solvents. These allow you to go down layer by layer, much more safely than we could do in the past.

The Mystery of Van Gogh's ear

July 13 2016

Image of The Mystery of Van Gogh's ear

Picture: BBC

Fascinating research by Bernadette Murphy has shown how and why Van Gogh cut off his ear. She found a drawing of the cut and the extent of the mutilation, above. You can hear an interview with her on Radio 4 here. And later in the summer there will be a 1 hour documentary on BBC2 with Jeremy Paxman.

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