Instagram!

August 24 2016

Image of Instagram!

Picture: Instagram

I've decided to have a go at Instagram. Here's my so far dormant account, if you'd like to come along for the ride.

My first task is to get a new phone, with a camera that actually works.

Update - not so fast, Groves: of course, getting a phone upgrade (from O2) involves a world of pain and 'computer says no'.

New discoveries in the Sewell collection

August 24 2016

Image of New discoveries in the Sewell collection

Picture: ATG

Christie's, who are selling the collection of the late Brian Sewell, have made some important discoveries amongst his Old Master drawings. Reports the ATG:

One of the Sewell’s notable finds was a finely executed study on paper of a soldier carrying a ladder [above]. While the identity of the artist has long been a mystery, the drawing has now been attributed to the Florentine artist Agostino Ciampelli (1565-1630) by Dr. Julian Brooks – the recently appointed senior curator and head of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

The technique of using black chalk heightened with white on blue paper was found to be characteristic of Ciampelli in the late 16th century, while the subject of the two figures (one with a ladder and the other a torch) was deemed to relate to a Medici marriage in 1589.

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 23 2016

Image of Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

Picture: New York Times

**Breaking!**

3.15pm US central time, Judge Feinerman rules that Doig: 'absolutely did not paint the disputed work'. 

More later.

Update - various outlets report some of the judge's remarks and findings. Here's Artnet News:

“While most narratives have gaps,” Feinerman went on to say, “and certainly both narratives have gaps, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that despite some gaps, Peter Marryat Doig absolutely did not paint the disputed work.”

Feinerman then reviewed all the details of the case, painstakingly going through the evidence and repeatedly stating that Peter Doig and his mother Mary had “testified credibly” about Doig’s whereabouts, employment, education, where they were backed up by more than ample evidence.” Most importantly, the judge stated that Peter Doig “Could not have entered the Thunder Bay Correctional Institute in August and could not have been the author of the painting.”

As for the contradictions between the timeline Doig initially sent to his own gallery, stating that he didn’t go to high school in ’76/’77, Feinerman called this a “hiccup” in the narrative and underlined that this “understandable mistake that does not harm Mr. Doig’s credibility because it was 40 years ago,” citing his own imprecise memories of being a counselor at Camp Ojibwa decades ago. Feinerman took a similar position on Doig’s lack of tax records, pointing out that not many teens even file taxes for part-time employment, much less keep records for decades afterwards.

Saying that glitches in Doig’s statement would have had more significance if it wasn’t for the “unmistakable and unimpeachable evidence” that supported his final timeline, including a letter from the summer of 1977 from Mary Doig to her own mother in Great Britain saying that “Peter phoned from Edmonton.” Reading aloud that “Peter’s hair is long and messy and if you smell his hat, it smells of oil,” Feinerman emphasized how Mary would have had no conceivable motive to invent these details, which corroborated her son’s timeline about where he was when the painting was made.

Turning to the evidence that Peter Doige “almost certainly painted the work,” Judge Feinerman described the deceased man’s sister’s testimony as “the third cherry on top of the sundae.” [...]

The judge ruled against the plaintiffs on both counts, ruling that the painting wasn’t by Doig, and that this “unjustified interference” in the painting’s sale at auction was, in fact, justified. Underlining the fact that Doig’s representatives had threatened suit only if the painting was sold “as a work by Mr. Doig,” Feinerman stated that “An artist is well within his rights to ensure that works he did not create are not sold under his name.”

Doig's lawyer said:

“I have rarely seen such a flagrant example of unethical conduct in the US courts nor a case that inflicted such needless burdens on a defendant,” said Matthew S. Dontzin, the lawyer representing Doig and his gallery, Michael Werner, in an email to artnet News. “Artists should be grateful to Peter for having the ethical and financial fortitude to fight tirelessly to ensure that justice prevailed in today’s verdict.”

Doig said (in the New York Times):

Mr. Doig, who was not in court but called in to hear the ruling, said from Rome by telephone that he felt angry that he had been forced to prove he had not painted the work.

“I feel a living artist should be the one who gets to say yea or nay and not be taken to task and forced to go back 40 years in time. It was painstaking to piece this together,” he said.

This trial must go down as one of the most ridiculous in art history. Frankly, the judge should be ashamed of himself for allowing it to go ahead. Nothing in his verdict can come remotely as a surprise to anyone who spent even half a day reading the details of the case. A week long trial was not necessary, and a waste of Doig's and the court's time. It was blindingly obvious that this painting was not by Doig, and that those who claimed it was had no evidence whatsoever that he had painted it. They presented merely supposition and conspiracy to the court. At best, the plaintiff's case was one of mistaken identity - this picture was surely painted by the late Peter Doige. But Judge Feinerman fell for it. Perhaps he enjoyed the publicity. The case will stand as a model for how attributions should not be decided in court.

It is also an uncomfortable example of how the US legal system permits legal harassment and bullying. Doig should never have had to go to the lengths he did to prove he did not paint this picture. Having to rely on dragging your mother to court, and the fortunate survival of letters from the 1970s (to prove he wasn't in jail) placed an unjustified burden of proof on Doig. What if those letters had not survived, or his mother had passed away? The court gave every indication that it was not enough for Doig to simply say he did not paint the painting - he had to prove he did not. But how do you prove a negative?

The conclusion in the press and amongst commentators is that this case gives comfort to artists, and allows them to say that they did or did not create works. In fact, it does not do that; as far as I can see, there is no precedent set in this case where the judge has said, 'an artist has the right to say they did or did not create a work'. On the contrary, Judge Feinerman has made a point of going through all the evidence about who was where when, specifically to see if Doig was correct in saying he did not paint the picture. In that sense, the case simply demonstrates that any old chancer with access to a lawyer and a US court can create distress and financial loss to an artist for having the temerity to give an opinion on a work of art.

Worse still, the case presents an even greater dilemma for experts in antique paintings. In Doig's case, we had an artist in the dock saying 'I didn't paint that' - and still that wasn't enough to persuade the judge. So what do we do for a Rembrandt, who is very dead?

Say you're an expert on Rembrandt in the US, and a dealer sends you a painting they say is by Rembrandt, and which might have been valued as such, for appraisal. If you think it is not by Rembrandt, are you now going to feel able to say so? Might you be worried about being sued for 'interfering in the sale' of the painting, and be harassed for damages? You'd be right to be worried, for the Doig case shows that even the most groundless claim on attribution can now be dragged through the courts at great expense over years. This daft case could yet have a worrying effect on art history.

Update II - the Art Market Monitor directs me towards this Art Law Blog, by Donn Zaretsky, who writes:

[...] I don't think artists should be especially heartened by the decision.  The case still stands as a warning that an artist who disclaims authorship of a work -- even on facts as ridiculous as these -- faces the possibility of thousands of hours of wasted working time and stress and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. 

Update III - Marion Maneker of the AMM tells me on Twitter that under the 1990 US Visual Artists Rights Act, an artist has the right to say a work they created is no longer their work. But in this case, because the painting was not by Doig, or might not be, the Act afforded Doig no protection. Which of course is baffling. Marion also tells us that Judge Feinerman said in his summary:

An artist is well within his rights to ensure that art he did not create is not sold under his name.

Which begs the question of why Judge Feinerman felt compelled to hear this case in the first place?

I hope Doig seeks and gets full costs from the plaintiffs.

Update IV - a reader writes:

In regards to Update III of your recent Doig post [...] the 1990 US Visual Artists Rights Act. 17 U.S. Code § 106A reads:

Subject to section 107 and independent of the exclusive rights provided in section 106, the author of a work of visual art— (1) shall have the right— . . . (B) to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of any work of visual art which he or she did not create;

In fact, I believe it would have been under this law that Doig would have been able to sue Fletcher and Bartlow if they had tried to go forward with the sale.

Clearly, in this case, Doig was not afforded the protection the act would appear to afford. Either that, or the judge did not pay sufficient heed to it.

Two new series of 'Fake or Fortune?'

August 23 2016

Image of Two new series of 'Fake or Fortune?'

Picture: BBC

I was wrong about a new series of 'Fake or Fortune?' being commissioned - in fact there will be two new series. 

Here's a list of the artists we've investigated so far, in order, along with a score of whether the pictures were deemed to be genuine or not.

  1. Monet - No (scandalously, in my opinion)
  2. Winslow Homer - Yes
  3. Van Meegeren - Yes 
  4. Rembrandt - No (Isaac de Joudreville instead)
  5. Degas - Yes 
  6. Turner - Yes 
  7. Van Dyck - Yes (the portrait of Henrietta Maria)
  8. Vuillard - Yes
  9. Constable - Yes & maybe (though subsequently upgraded to yes).
  10. Chagall - No (a modern fake alas)
  11. Gainsborough - Yes
  12. Lowry - Yes
  13. Renoir - No (scandalously)
  14. 'A Mystery Old Master' - attributed to Francesco Montemezzano
  15. Munnings and Churchill - Yes and No (wrongly, in my opinion)
  16. Freud - Yes 
  17. Delaroche - Yes
  18. Rodin - No
  19. 'Three Portraits' - De Kooning (Yes), Mercier (Yes), Menzel (No)

More information on all the episodes here.

'Dutch Flowers: In conversation'

August 23 2016

Video: National Gallery

Nice discussion here between a curator (Betsy Wieseman) and collector (Brian Capstick) of Dutch flower paintings.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

August 23 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: AHN reader

The French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine is a satirical weekly publication, something akin to the UK's Private Eye. So I report the above article, kindly sent by a reader, with caution. But it alleges that the panel of experts asked by a French judge to look into the authenticity of the painting bought by the Prince of Liechtenstein as a 1531 work by Cranach the Elder for €7m from a London dealer in 2013 has concluded that it is 'un faux'. For more background to the story so far, see here and here.

Quite how 'faux' the painting has been deemed to be is unclear at this stage - the article cites no direct sources. It appears to quote from a report of some description, but whether this is the actual report commissioned by the judge, we are not told. The paper claims that the panel on which the picture was painted has been dated to the 18th Century, that signs of artificial ageing have been detected on the paint surface, and that pigments 'not in accord' with the period of Cranach have been detected.

However, one source of my own tells me that the pigments used in the creation of the panel have not, as the article claims, been proved to be later, but that any traces of later pigments have been put down to restorations. This is entirely possible - Old Master pictures are often re-painted and fixed or improved throughout their lives, and the detection of later pigments is far from proof that the whole picture is 'not right'. Any strong claim that this Cranach is fake will have to assert that the faker was so clever they not only used old pigments to  make it, but deliberately created some damages and then used modern re-touching media for the repair. Possible? Of course. Likely? Not easy to say.

The Canard story also reports that the panel has been determined, by dendrochronology, to be 18th Century. Now, dendrochronology is not, in my experience, the perfect science most people assume it to be. The Canard report states that the Prince of Liechtenstein has been assured by another expert in wooden panels that his panel is indeed consistent with one made in the 16th Century. If the later dendrochronology is deemed correct, then the possibility must remain that the painting is not a modern fake, but a very good old copy (or rather, something created in the 18th Century that was intended to decieve, and has been decieving people for centuries ever since).

Nevertheless, if it is the case that the picture is determined to be a modern fake, then Le Canard Enchaine is right to suggest that this will now create 'une belle panique' in the Old Master market. Everybody will be drawn into the scandal - auction houses, dealers, museums, advisers, curators, and scholars.

And though I hesitate to get off the fence at this stage, I feel I ought to report my own opinions sooner rather than later. I have not seen the Cranach in the flesh, so cannot in truth give an opinion on the picture. From the high-res photos I have wondered about the nature of the craquelure. But I must admit that until the whole possibility of fakery was raised, I did not think look at the picure and immediately think; 'that's a wrong 'un'. The same goes for another picture that has been mentioned in connection with this case. However, for what it is worth, I have seen one of the paintings mentioned in this case in person, and I am pretty convinced it is indeed a fake. I may well be wrong. 

Museum buys back Durer print

August 23 2016

Image of Museum buys back Durer print

Picture: Art Daily

Art Daily reports that the Kunsthalle Museum in Bremen has acquired a 1501 engraving by Durer, 'Saint Eustace' (above) - over a century after it sold the work. When it was founded, the Kunsthalle had two versions of Durer's print, but sold one in 1905 to raise money to buy new works. Sadly, the retained print was destroyed in World War Two - so now the gap has been filled.

Trump - the gargoyle

August 23 2016

Image of Trump - the gargoyle

Picture: Samira Ahmed/Twitter

This photo (of a 700 year old Gargoyle on Southwell Minster) surfaced on Twitter this morning. It seems the fates have been trying to warn us about Trump for centuries. 

Christie's at 250 years

August 23 2016

Video: Christie's

Nice montage of auctioneering life in the film above.

How to be a collector

August 23 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Marvel at the Paris mansion featured in Sotheby's above video (the collection of Robert de Balkany); not a spare inch of space in the whole place.

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 22 2016

Image of Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

Picture: NYT

We're expecting Judge Gary Feinerman's verdict in the Peter Doig case tomorrow afternoon, according to an anonymous courtroom visitor who has been posting details of the case on Instagram (here). Sadly, it appears the verdict will be an oral verdict, so there will be no written record of the judgement. More pertinently, we won't be able to properly scrutinise why Judge Feinerman permitted this ridiculous case to go to trial, and so cause pointless pain and expense for Doig and his family. Perhaps he wanted to be remembered for presiding over the most fantastical court case in art history.

You can get an idea of the futile and aggressive nature of the plaintiff's case in the anonymous Instagrammer's full summary here. Here's just a taste from day 5:

Marilyn Bovard, Peter Doige's sister [recap - the painting was made by the late Peter Doige], testified. [...]

Doige made art since childhood. She remembers seeing many of his paintings and drawings. His 1976 Lakehead University ID was in his wallet when he died in 2012. Bovard began to cry when she viewed the disputed painting. She firmly believes it is her brother's work. She recognized the signature as her brother's. She showed a photo of a similar work of a desert by her brother.

On cross-examination Zieske aggressively tried to impeach her veracity, implying she had committed perjury and was subject to penalties. It was a bullying attack. He suggested she wanted her brother's life to have meaning by claiming he had done this painting which was really done by the famous Doig. She said she didn't really like Doig's work, that the painting was meaningful to her because her brother painted it. After her testimony, she was crying in the hallway. Zieske approached her with feigned solicitude. Doig's attorney yelled at his younger associate to get her away from Zieske. Tomorrow I will summarize the afternoon events. This lawsuit is unbelievable and so abusive.

Who do these $24m Cranachs belong to?

August 22 2016

Image of Who do these $24m Cranachs belong to?

Picture: Norton Simon Museum

A long-running legal despute over a pair of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder appears to have been settled. Cranach's 'Adam and Eve' (above) were bought by the Norton Simon Museum in California in 1971 for $800,000. But Marie von Saher, the heir of the Jewish Dutch art dealer Jaques Goudstikker, whose collection was looted by the Nazis in 1940, has been suing the Norton Simon for a decade in her battle to get the pictures restituted. In her battle to reclaim Goudstikker's collection, Ms von Saher has so far successfully sought the return of over 200 other pictures from collections and museums worldwide. But the Norton Simon museum has resisted her claim from the outset - and now looks to have won, after a US judge ruled in their favour last week.

In this case, Goudstikker's ownership of the paintings was never doubted. The Norton Simon museum acknowledged that he had owned the pictures between 1931 and their forced sale (to Goering) in 1940. But the museum relied on the fact that in Holland, the Goudstikker family failed to lodge a claim for the Cranachs before a Dutch government imposed deadline to do so for looted property in 1951. Because of that, Goudstikker's art collection became the property of the Dutch government, and was distributed to various Dutch museums. Therefore, as US District Court judge John Walter ruled:

“This Court is required to apply a ‘strictly legal’ approach, as opposed to one based on policy or moral principles [...] That ‘strictly legal approach’ compels the conclusion that the Dutch State acquired ownership of the Cranachs, which necessarily resolves this action as matter of law in favor of Norton Simon.”

You might well think that such a narrow ruling ignores the wider moral question. However, there is a twist in this tale. The Cranachs turned out to have been looted twice; they had in fact been bought by Goudstikker from the Soviet government, in a 1931 auction of the Russian aristocratic Stroganoff collection. This meant that in 1966 the Dutch government returned the pictures to the Stroganoff heir, George Stroganoff, who had launched his own restitution claim. He in turn sold them to the Norton Simon in 1971.

The case therefore raises a number of interesting questions. First, how far back do we go on the restitution question? To World War Two? To the Russian revolution? To World War One? To the Napoleonic era? There is no easy answer, and all four periods have recently seen pictures seized or restituted (here's an example of the oddest case, from all the way back in 1818!).* 

Following on from that first question, which wronged owner do we feel the need to give recompense to most in this case? The Russian aristocrats or the Dutch Jew? It's certainly a difficult choice - both parties and their families were victims. But in this case, does the successful Stroganoff claim mean that Goudstikker's ownership of the Cranachs was effectively unlawful, in the sense that Jacques Goudstikker didn't have proper title to the pictures when he bought them in 1931?

Here, however, the answer is clouded by two factors. First, Ms von Saher's claim is that although the Cranachs were sold in 'the Stroganoff sale', they were in fact not part of their collection, but were taken from a church in Kiev, the Church of the Holy Trinity. Second, it comes down I supposed to what we define as 'lawful'.

On the first point, the evidence is not certain that the pictures were taken from the Kiev church. The pictures were claimed as Stroganoff pictures at the time of the sale, but there is also no concete evidence of that before the 1931 sale (which is not unusual, of course, and proves little). Neverthelss, even if the pictures were taken from a church and not the Stroganoff family, they are still surely 'looted' in some sense - and doubtless the Ukrainian government of today would say so too.

Secondly, on the legal point, by the standards of the day Goudstikker thought he was buying his pictures perfectly legally. The notion of restitution, and of someone subsequently challenging his ownership, evidently did not matter to Goudstikker even though he knew the circumstances of their sale. And in turn, Goudstikker's forced sale of the works was itself 'legal' under Nazi laws passed at the time. These laws were of course immoral and illegitimate in a thousand ways - which is why we have the European Human Rights Act -  but the point is that today's restitution cases are governed by today's moral standards as much as today's laws. As a result, the Dutch government has already handed back to Ms von Saher some 202 pictures, even though under Dutch law the fact that Goudstikker's family missed the 1951 deadline meant that the pictures became property of the Dutch state. Rightly, the Dutch government decided to change its policy on restitution in the 1990s.

In that sense, I can share the concern of some restitution campaigners that a US court has based its ruling on a law from another state which is no longer recognised by that state as being morally valid. For quite rightly, we today view arbitrary claim deadlines such as the 1951 date used by the Dutch government as irrelevant.** So I find the judge's ruling in this case somewhat unsettling.

And yet, it seems to me that the question is not so clear cut. Ultimately, Ms von Saher was seeking the restitution of two Cranachs which could only morally have been hers in the first place if she ignored the fact that they had in turn been seized from their previous owners - whoever that may be - by the Soviet government. It's a difficult case. But I can see why the Norton Simon museum felt obliged to challenge the claim to pictures they bought in good faith. What do readers think?

* My own view is that some form of generational time limit should be imposed on restitutions. For example, should the children and grandchildren of looting victims be given recompense? Of course. Great-grandchildren? Probably. Great, great grandchildren, or other relatives four generations on? Not so sure.

** The State of California passed a law in 2006 limiting Holocaust era claims to 2010. 

'Fake or Fortune?' - plug!

August 21 2016

Video: BBC

The final episode of this series of 'Fake or Fortune?' goes out today, Sunday, at 9pm on BBC1. It's on immediately after the Olympics finishes, so it'll be interesting to see how the audience numbers do. 

A sixth series has been commissioned, though I'm not sure when filming starts.

In the meantime, 'ForF?' fans may be interested to know that I'll be in a new series on BBC4 this September called 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces'. More on this soon...

Update - we got 3.83m viewers, which was pretty good considering the scheduling was quite a gear change from heavyweight Olympic boxing.

National Trust acquires £5.2m miniature

August 17 2016

Image of National Trust acquires £5.2m miniature

Picture: TAN/NT

The National Trust has bought the above miniature by Isaac Oliver, of Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert. Reports The Art Newspaper:

Valued at £5.2m, it has been acquired for £2.1m, because of tax concessions on a sale to a public collection. Even at the lower figure, it is probably a record price for a British miniature. [...]

Depicting Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, the miniature (around 1610-14) will remain on display at the National Trust-owned Powis Castle, near Welshpool in Wales. The sitter was a poet, philosopher and statesman. He is shown as a fashionable and melancholic young lover with his head resting on his hand, as he lies stretched out on the banks of a stream in a shady forest. His shield includes a bleeding heart.

The acquisition was supported with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£1.5m) and the Art Fund (£300,000), along with the remainder raised by the National Trust. The sale was arranged by the London-based agent Omnia Art.

In terms of pounds per inch, is this the most expensive British work of art ever sold?

Thomas Hardy's lost altarpiece

August 17 2016

Image of Thomas Hardy's lost altarpiece

Picture: Guardian

There's 'lost art', and then there's art that you think - how on earth did we ever lose it? In the last category, The Guardian reports on that an enormous marble altarpiece designed by the novelist Thomas Hardy has been discovered behind panelling in a church in Windsor. Churchgoer Stuart Tunstall happened to be peering through a gap in the panelling with an iPhone torch, and found it. The original design - which was itself only discovered in the 1970s tucked away behind the organ - can be seen above. The vicar, who has been there for 18 years, had no idea it existed.

The panelling is itself architecturally important, and must be removed with care. The church is seeking to raise £9,000 to do this. 

Kudos to The Guardian sub-editor who came up with the caption, 'Rood the obscure'...

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 17 2016

Image of Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

Picture: NYT

Dushko Petrovich of Artnet news has done the world a great service by reporting on the courtroom arguments in the Peter Doig trial. To recap (here and here) Peter Doig, the valuable contemporary artist, is being sued by Robert Bartlow and Peter Fletcher, who say that he falsely denied painting a picture they were attempting to sell for many millions of dollars. The painting in question (above) is signed 'Peter Doige', and there is compelling evidence that someone called Peter Doige (now dead) really did paint the picture. (The whole business seems to be one of mistaken identity, albeit blended with a degree of viciousness).

Here are the main points from the last day of testimony:

Bartlow and Fletcher's lawyer highlighted the fact that there is no evidence to prove Peter Doig was not in Thunder Bay in Canada in 1976, where the painting was made and sold to Fletcher in $100. There's also no evidence to show I was not in Timbuktu last Friday. 

Bartlow and Fletcher have asked the judge for an award of $7.9m if he says it is by Doig, and $100,000 if it is not. The latter claim is that even if the painting is not by Peter Doig, he 'interfered' with its sale (even though all he did was say he didn't paint it!). The $100,000 figure is on the basis that Fletcher and Bartlow's own 'appraiser' said the painting as a Doige was worth between $50,000-$100,000 - even though there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Doige's work has ever made that sort of money. It's probably worth barely thousands of dollars, and its chief interest is as a souvenir of this idiotic court case.

And here's the most alarming part of Petrovich's report (which is well worth reading in full): Judge Feinerman wants more time to make his mind up:

Earlier in the day, Judge Feinerman had said that he might issue a verdict at the end of the day, but as the two sides finished their remarks, the Judge demurred. Despite a request from Doig’s lawyers for Feinerman to render the decision immediately, and issue the rationale later, the Judge insisted that he needed more time.

His verdict will be given orally at an as-yet-undetermined point in the coming weeks.

Feinerman’s final request was to examine the artwork further, so an arrangement was made to keep the painting in his chambers during the day, and the US District Court for Nothern Illinois’s safe at night.

'The true face of Lord Darnley'

August 16 2016

Image of 'The true face of Lord Darnley'

Picture: Heraldscotland.com

I've always been slightly suspicious of facial recreations of historical figures from their skulls. A recent case saw a recreation Richard III's head from his newly discovered skull. But I couldn't help wondering how much of the 'likeness' derived from early portraits of the king, especially for things like eye and hair colour, which of course one cannot derive from skulls. The recreation wasn't done 'blind'. Some even claimed that the results 'proved' that the 16th Century portraits of Richard were accurate - even though they're all posthumous, and we have no evidence of a life portrait ever having been made. 

However, a new recreation has examined two skulls that claimed to be that of Lord Darnley, husband to Mary Queen of Scots,* and I must say the results appear to be rather impressive. One of the skulls recreated by Emma Price of Dundee University does indeed look like known life portraits of Darnley (e.g. here). The Daily Herald takes up the story:

Darnley was buried in the Royal Vault, Abbey Church, Holyrood but the vault was raided between 1776 and 1778.

As a result two skulls purporting to be Darnley’s – one held in the University of Edinburgh’s collection and the other owned by the Royal College of Surgeons in London – exist.

The University of Edinburgh engaged the services of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID). Ms Price then took on the project as part of her Masters, which is jointly offered by CAHID and Duncan of Jordanstone.

Ms Price has concluded the Edinburgh skull is not Lord Darnley's.

She said: "The University of Edinburgh had a skull in their collection inscribed ‘The skull of Lord Darnley, found in Kirk o’ Field’ and for years that was believed to be the case but there was another one said to be his at the Royal College of Surgeons. "Then, in 1928, a mathematician and scientist called Dr Karl Pearson analysed the RCS skull and pronounced it to be Darnley’s.

"He was an early pioneer of craniofacial superimposition and he used a technique that had only just been invented but the science has obviously moved on massively since then.

"In order to clear up the mystery, Edinburgh asked me to look at both skulls and find which was the most likely match.

"This wasn’t easy as the RCS skull had been destroyed in the blitz so we had to rebuild it using images and Pearson’s very precise measurements. Craniofacial superimposition is a method of analysis in which an unidentified skull is compared to images of a missing person, or in the case of Lord Darnley, contemporary portraits. Upon completion, one of the skulls was identified as fitting remarkably well.

The features on the portrait such as the very arched eyebrows and distinct sloping forehead led me to conclude that the Edinburgh skull didn’t stand up to scrutiny whereas the RCS one was a good match.  From the analysis I did we can say the Edinburgh skull is definitely not Darnley’s while I produced a craniofacial reconstruction of the other skull presenting a 3D sculpture of what Lord Darnley would have looked like before his untimely death."

Using 3-D software, Emma produced a model of Darnley’s skull and created the reconstruction using wax and silicone.

Update - an artist writes:

A long time ago, I had a studio open to the public in a fairly busy location. This provided me with a wonderful opportunity to use the public as Guinea pigs and subject them to various art related experiments.  One such concerned the accuracy of pre-photographic era portraits.

I would collect together high resolution images of people whose portrait had been painted many times by several different artists - David Garrick for example - print their faces onto A4 sheets of paper and tack them to the studio wall using a proprietary sticky gum.

I would then select one of the printouts at random and set it apart from the rest.  At opportune moments, I would point to the single image and say to my studio visitors - this is a portrait of the 18th century actor David Garrick, can you spot the other portrait of him from among the remaining group of printouts?

After varying lengths of deliberation, one other portrait was usually selected.  In six months, only one person ever said 'all of them', and she revealed herself to be professionally informed.  By contrast, several thought it was a trick and said 'none of them'.

This experiment strengthened my conviction that each artist had developed their own fashionable way of drawing and painting people; that the best artists were at best 90% accurate and that portraitists, within that 10% margin of error, juggled and combined assumptions about (i) how the sitter perceived themself (typically not accurately!), (ii) how they thought the sitter would wish to be remembered and (iii) how things actually were. 

* and one of AHN's great grandpas.

Musée D'Orsay puts conservation on show

August 16 2016

Image of Musée D'Orsay puts conservation on show

Picture: NYT

The New York Times reports on the Musée D'Orsay's decision to let visitors see the cleaning of works such as Auguste-Barthélemy Glaize's 'Women of Gaul'. I'm always in favour of this sort of thing - it not only encourages visitors to look more closely at pictures, but can also help demystify the science of conservation.

Letting the public see the cleaning, however, is not to every conservator's taste:

For the conservators — a profession dominated by women — the attention to such a solitary métier is gratifying. But they were trained to use swabs and tools to thin and swipe away old varnish. Many found it difficult to cope with waves of noise, abrupt public announcements and, sometimes, rapping against the protective glass cube. Not to mention the limits on their use of chemical solvents because of their proximity to the public.

Laurence Didier, who leads the independent team of 13 conservators restoring “The Women of Gaul,” had never worked in public before. She said that it took time to become accustomed to an audience, even though conservators faced the canvas with their backs to visitors.

“Everyone is different and has their own style,” she said. “I need absolute calm, and so I have my headphones playing Baroque music or Vivaldi.”

Cécile Bringuier, who leads the second team on the Courbet restoration, also said she is not a fan of conservators on display. “Would you like to be watched while you work?”

Incidentally, that is an interesting remark that conservators are mostly women: it's true, but I've never stopped to think why, or when that became so. Anyone have any thoughts?

Update - a reader writes:

Patience!

Update II - another reader writes:

Regarding why more women work in conservation than men: more women study Art History, and therefore there are more women to go into conservation - you usually need an Art History degree before you can do post-graduate studies in conservation. What I found interesting when I studied (which was over a decade ago) was the ratio of men to women - more women were studying art history than men, more women were teaching than men, but more men in the institution were Professors and also more men ran major art institutions and galleries. I don't know if these stats still stand, or are international, but they were the reality when I was a student. The only area wholly dominated by women was Conservation. I know the TV is now spattered with female historians and curators etc. but I don't know how that stacks up in the Art History world, having been out of it for so long. There seem to be limited male art historians on TV (presenting whole series) and they don't seem to be of a Phd level or higher - but journalists, while the women on TV seem to be curators or university tutors/ fellows etc. 

These are just my observations as a (now) armchair Art Historian. 

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 15 2016

Image of Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

Picture: NYT

ArtNet news reports on the latest in the Peter Doig trial, including more of the bizarre evidence put forward by the dealer suing the artist, Peter Bartlow:

“To Peter Doig, this painting is kryptonite,” Chicago art dealer Peter Bartlow testified [...]

Expert witnesses took the stand on Thursday, as judge Gary Feinerman presided over a restless courtroom on the third day of the trial. The morning began with Tibor L. Nagy’s cross-examination of Bartlow, and focused on the techniques he used to authenticate the painting as Doig’s. “The Bartlow Method,” as Doig’s attorney sarcastically dubbed it, relied heavily on identifying small elements in the disputed painting that can be found in Doig’s verified work, such as the line of a skier’s right arm in a 1994 oil on canvas, Chopper, which Bartlow says is nearly identical to the ridge of a rock formation in the disputed painting.

The defense then called Richard Shiff, an art historian who calls himself “a connoisseur of [Doig’s] works.” He characterized Bartlow’s methods as “entirely unreliable,” adding: “If you go looking for coincidences, you’ll find them.” He also questioned Bartlow’s relationship with Fletcher, noting that the Chicago dealer stands to gain a 25 percent commission of the painting’s sale. “An authenticator should have no stake,” Shiff said.

What a waste of time and money this is - Judge Feinerman should wrap this thing up without further delay.

Facebook live tour of the National Gallery

August 15 2016

Image of Facebook live tour of the National Gallery

Picture: Facebook/National Gallery

Here's an interesting thing - the National Gallery hosted a 'live' tour of their current Painters Paintings exhibition on Facebook last week, and very good it was too: you can watch it here. The picture featured above is the Van Dyck self-portrait I discovered some years ago (which I might have mentioned just a few times already, sorry).

The tour was a fairly simple production, with a low-res, unlit camera following 'Curatorial Assistant Allison' (actually Allison Goudie) around the exhibition. But I was amazed and impressed to see that it has been seen so far by over 21,000 people. This is far more people than would normally click to see a National Gallery video on You Tube (which are more slickly produced).

Is Facebook the future for museum videos and digital marketing like this? I'm afraid I'm not on Facebook, so I don't know enough to suggest an answer (and it's abore that Facebook is so controlling about content - I can't for example embed the National Gallery's footage onto this site, like I can with You Tube videos). But just think what the National Gallery could achieve if they did more online tours like this, but actually used some proper equipment (like a light).

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