Turner on Climate Change?
March 25 2014
Crikey, the scientists have been playing with Old Masters again. A new article in Atmosphere, Chemistry and Physics claims that paintings can be used to assess climate changes, and in particular aerosol optical depths (AODs, caused by things like ash and sand in the atmosphere). They've analysed a series of landscapes, from 1500 to 2000, including Turner's watercolour sketch 'Red Sky and Crescent Moon', above, and deduced that the levels AODs in the atmosphere throughout history can be determined in art. You and I, however, might think it's something to do with artistic interpretation. But A for effort, scientists!
Update - a reader sees wisdom in the scientist's approach:
It appears that what the scholarly study says is that the aerosol optical dispersion of particulates and visible gases in renderings of sunsets by a range of artists and in many paintings made during the past five hundred years when compared at both high and low resolution are consistent within a narrow variation with scientific evidence regarding the visible effects of volcanic eruptions and Saharan dust storms on these substances in the atmosphere.
Of great interest to us is the fact that eighty four percent of the paintings in the Tate sample were by J M W Turner and that this narrow sample produced results statistically nearly identical to those from a diverse sample from The National Gallery covering the study's full temporal and artistic range.
This has three implications-
First it further confirms scientific data regarding AODs,
Second it suggests that paintings might contain additional atmospheric information perhaps regarding climatic variations,
Third and principally,, it implies that painters painted what they saw rather than what they were imagining.
More arts stuff on the BBC
March 25 2014
Good news today from the BBC - they're significantly increasing their arts output. This isn't just good news for your humble correspondent, who might if he's lucky get the odd presenting gig. A whole series of new programmes was announced, from a six-parter Simon Schama on British portraiture, in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, through to a segment on Holbein's Ambassadors on The One Show this evening. Top of the pile was a commitment to do a new 'Civilisation' (above), which, regular readers will know, is my favourite TV programme ever. It's not been decided who the presenter will be, but various high calibre names have been mentioned. My choice would be Neil MacGregor of the British Museum, an inspirational modern-day Kenneth Clark. His recent Radio 4 series 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' was excellent. More details of tony Hall's (the BBC Director General) speech here.
Update - here's former National Gallery director Charles Saumarez Smith's view on who should do it:
It’s a long time since I’ve been on the Today programme, two minutes of ephemeral fame, talking about Tony Hall’s proposal that the BBC should remake Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation ‘for the digital age’. Of course, the whole point of Civilisation is that it’s not about the digital age, because it’s about the message, not the medium. And nobody made the point that nowadays Kenneth Clark wouldn’t get the role: wrong voice, wrong class, wrong teeth, wrong views. My candidates, for what they’re worth, are Jessica Rawson, Lisa Jardine or Mary Beard.
Charles, now Chief Executive of the Royal Academy, has an excellent blog, which I've only just come across.
March 24 2014
Video: National Gallery
This is worth a click: National Gallery director Nicholas Penny discusses the changes brought about by cleaning Veronese's 'The Adoration of the Kings'.
At the Ashmolean...
March 24 2014
Picture: Ashmolean Museum
...they're restoring the original Grinling Gibbons frame for John Riley's portrait of Elias Ashmole (1617-1692). The frame was carved in 1681-2, but the gilding now being removed was only added in 1729-30. I was lucky enough to see this work in progress some months ago. It's going to take an age, but will certainly be worth it.
New Titian drawing discovered
March 24 2014
The National Gallery of Scotland has been buying sleepers. Competition for your humble correspondent. Yesterday, the Gallery unveiled a newly discovered drawing by Titian (above). It was spotted by a sharp-eyed curator, Aidan Weston-Lewis, who saw the work in a Sotheby's sale catalogue. There, it was described as 'attributed to Jacopo Bassano'. The Gallery bought the drawing for just £30,000. More details here in The Scotsman.
Strangely enough, I saw the drawing on Saturday as part of the Gallery's new exhibition 'Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Art', which is worth visiting if you fancy a trip to Edinburgh. But if you can't, then here's the app.
Update - the Grumpy Art Historian isn't convinced.
March 24 2014
Picture: MA/Yorkshire Scultpure Park
Good news from those venerable fellows at the Public Catalogue Foundation. After photographing every publicly owned oil painting in the UK and putting it online with 'Your Paintings', they've decided that their next challenge should be 'Your Sculpture'. More here.
Obama's trip to the Rijksmuseum
March 24 2014
President Obama admired Rembrandt's Nightwatch today on a visit to the Rijksmuseum. Should make up for his annoying American art historians the other day.
Brian on Veronese
March 21 2014
The Great Brian is on excellent form in his review of the Veronese exhibition, which is well worth a read. Like me, he seems most impressed with Veronese's early works, such as the 1548 Conversion of Mary Magdalene, above. Of course, Brian can't help but question a few of the attributions, as he is wont to do. But you'd be hard pressed to find a better short essay on where Veronese fits into the canon.
"Stolen Rembrandt discovered"
March 20 2014
At least, that's the headling, but the photo of the 'Rembrandt' discovered by police in Nice (via Liberation, above) doesn't look entirely convincing for a Rembrandt. In fact, at all convincing. The painting was stolen from a French museum in Draguignan in 1999. Details here at AFP, and more when I get it.
Update - Didier Rykner of Tribune de l'Art has been investigating, and also says, having spoken to someone at the Louvre, that it is absolument not a Rembrandt.
Art history ads (ctd.)
March 20 2014
Picture: Beretta, via GWG Club
Following my report earlier this week of an Italian minister complaining about the use of Michelangelo's David for a US gun advert, a reader sends me the above, and writes:
But it’s OK when an Italian gun maker does it…
Send more examples!
Hurrah for the Telegraph*
March 19 2014
Here's a lovely story - a scrap metal dealer who bought the above jewelled egg for just £8,000 discovered it was a highly important lost Faberge egg after finding a Telegraph article online. It is in fact worth $20m! More here.
* And Google, presumably.
March 19 2014
Picture: Northumbria University
Here's one to make your brain ache. It's a PhD application at Northumbria University combining science and contemporary art, and comes via Alan Davies on Twitter. Brace yourself:
PhD Research Project: Abstract Geology - Critically Engaged Fine Art Practices of the post human within a new geologic era
This practice led Fine Art studentship is offered in the context of trans disciplinary engagement with the Anthropocene (or proposition that the impact of humanity upon the Earth’s ecosystems has triggered a new terrestrial epoch) and the ‘geological turn’ within contemporary thought that this has prompted.
A preoccupation with surface might be said to have characterised 19th century geographies of expansion and colonialism and the aerial - visual technologies of surveillance etc. – to form the vector of the 20th. The Anthropocene demands engagement with depth – mining, extraction, fracking, undersea prospecting, fossil fuel economies and the collapse of visual distance and propulsion towards new tactile imaginaries to which this gives rise.
This studentship will explore appropriate strategies and vocabularies for formulating new critically engaged fine art practices of the Earth and addressing the material legacy of the human in geologic terms. It will compliment and gain from investigations being conducted by Fine Art staff affiliated to the new ‘Cultural Negotiation of Science’ research group, along with the extensive external networks with which they are affiliated, as well as cross faculty enquiry into different constructions and representations of landscape.
Additional benefits include attachment to the innovative BxNU Institute of Contemporary Art (in partnership with the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art) and by negotiation access to Geographic /Architectural expertise, as related to the Built and Natural Environment, within the Faculty of Engineering and Environment.
Potential areas of investigation include but are not limited to:
• Post Human/Post Nature - political / physical geographies
• Nature as event / activations of geologic materiality
• Socio/physical morphologies
• Dynamic earth processes and political formations.
• Landscapes of the Anthropocene
• The legacies of Land Art
Sign up here if you fancy three years of that.
Update - a reader writes:
I have just finished a three year teaching job in a university and if my experience is anything to go by this torturing of the English language appears to be standard practice. Heaven knows what students are supposed to make of it. Whilst I am in principle against the death penalty I would be prepared to make an exception for trafficking in this sort of drivel.
March 18 2014
I went briefly to a preview of the Veronese show at the National Gallery this afternoon. It's an epic exhibition, so do go. The more august art writers must have gone yesterday or last week, for the main reviews are already published. Richard Dorment has a thoughtful and well-considered take in The Telegraph:
Precisely because of Veronese’s tendency to reuse and repeat figures, this show has its ups and downs. Although his later religious pictures may be very beautiful, they feel like conventional products of the Counter Reformation. As we know from Veronese’s famous encounter with the Inquisition, he was an artist who needed to give his imagination free rein. If, in a subject like the Adoration of the Magi or the Resurrection, such invention was out of the question, some ineffable connection between the artist and his subject isn’t there. It’s not that he paints on autopilot, like so many Roman painters at this time, but that the creative spark is missing.
But when it’s there, what a painter he is. You see it in his huge altarpiece from the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona [above], which shows the patron saint of England in the moments before his martyrdom. The subject is rare in art, so there was no preordained way to show it. I wonder too whether a commission to depict the beheading of an English martyr may have fired the artist’s imagination at a time when Catholic Europe was all too aware that Elizabeth I was about to create new martyrs. Whatever the answer, his performance here is electrifying.
Dorment gives the show four stars out of five.
In The Guardian, however, Jonathan Jones gives the show a full five stars:
How can an art gallery do justice to a painter who specialised in decorating the walls and ceilings of palaces, and in painting epic banquets so big they dwarf the rooms they are in?
What it must do is what the National Gallery has done for its greatest exhibition since its Leonardo da Vinci blockbuster a few years ago. A whole suite of the gallery's most beautiful rooms, usually filled by its permanent collection, have been cleared so Paolo Veronese's palatial paintings can have the space and light they deserve. The result is an utter joy. Veronese is an artist of abundant, irrepressible life. He is as expansive and theatrical as Shakespeare, who was 24 when the artist died in 1588.
Meanwhile, Claudia Pritchard in The Independent has this fascinating take on Veronese's use of blue:
No one knew, for example, that another handy blue, smalt, a by-product of Venice’s glass industry, would leave a gloomy legacy. “Smalt is almost as intense as ultramarine,” explains Salomon. “What no one knew at the time is that after 50 or 100 years, smalt changes colour because it reacts with the linseed oil. When you see an overcast sky in a Veronese painting, you can be sure that it was meant to be blue. This was not known until 15 or 20 years ago. People were praising Veronese’s subtle, grey skies.”
To this chemical reaction add temptation, and the mix can become even muddier. “In some cases, Veronese used all three blues – smalt, azurite and ultramarine. I don’t want to cast any doubt on Veronese himself, but where a patron is paying for a certain amount of ultramarine, he is not to know whether all of that was used in his painting, or whether the artist was able to keep some back ….”
As we like to say here on AHN, the history of art is the history of what survives.
I'll post some more personal thoughts on the show tomorrow, but I need to rush off now.
Update - the Grumpy Art Historian has been to see the show, and likes it (mainly).
Blockbusters - are they worth it?
March 18 2014
There's a very interesting piece in The Telegraph by Alistair Sooke on blockbuster exhibitions. He talked to both the current and previous directors of the National Gallery to get their views. First, Nicholas Penny:
“At the moment, there are far too many loan exhibitions in the world,” he says. “I would like there to be fewer for sure.” Why? “Because I think they have disrupted the balance between enjoying works of art on a repeated basis, [i.e.] enjoying the sense of a permanent collection, and the special exhibition where you understand a particular artist in depth. It’s a very difficult balance to keep. There’s always an excitement about a loan exhibition, but the exhibition mentality pushes art towards theatre.”
Today we take so-called “blockbuster” exhibitions for granted – yet, as Penny is keen to point out, it is only relatively recently that the National Gallery began to stage them with regularity, following the construction of the Sainsbury Wing, which opened in 1991. Moreover, he says, “the majority of our visitors actually come to see the permanent collection – so it would be crazy of us to compromise its character by turning it into a kind of loan bank whereby we could just get more and more great pictures [for temporary exhibitions] from other institutions by lending our own. But if you don’t lend, you don’t borrow – that’s now quite clear.”
Has he taken any steps to remedy the situation? “Yes,” Penny replies, his eyes shining. “When I became Director in 2008, we stopped having three big loan exhibitions per annum and went down to two. They were putting a tremendous strain on the institution.”
Then its the turn of former director Charles Saumarez Smith:
“There is an argument that big exhibitions consume a great deal of time, energy and resource, and that they take away from the presentation of a permanent collection,” he tells me. “But I like exhibitions. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of the argument that curators would be producing big catalogue raisonnés if only they weren’t concentrating on ephemeral exhibitions, because I think a great deal of scholarship and research goes into exhibitions.”
Of course, you could say that the man running the Royal Academy would argue this, since the institution has a much smaller permanent collection than the National Gallery, as well as an abundance of exhibition space, which it needs to fill. “In some ways,” Saumarez Smith says, “the Royal Academy is the home of the blockbuster exhibition. When we did The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters [in 2010], it got more than 410,000 visitors. It was a blockbuster. But it also had a deeply serious purpose. I believe you get a different order of understanding of an artist by seeing their works together. I’m sure there are people who can go from place to place making comparisons by virtue of training and visual memory – but I prefer to see two works next door to one another.”
Both directors then disagree over the hazards of transporting works of art:
“We do send works of art by air freight,” says Penny, “but apart from the risks of aeroplanes crashing, which we all know about, with air travel, because of the security arrangements at airports, it is becoming more and more difficult to have exact control over what happens within cargo sheds and when works of art are put on the plane.”
Saumarez Smith disagrees. “Works of art can be travelled extremely safely,” he says. “There are people who are anxious about the risk, and it is always said that it only requires one aeroplane to go down with a large number of Poussins and the whole ecology of the blockbuster exhibition will change – but so far that hasn’t happened.”
While I'm probably with Penny on wishing to reduce the number of mega exhibitions, because of the disruption they have on permanent collections and displays, I'm firmly on Saumarez Smith's side when it comes to being handling works of art. There are risks, yes, but damage happens so rarely that shipping concerns shouldn't be a reason not to have good blockbuster shows.
Stolen Klimt case re-opened
March 17 2014
DNA testing of the frame around a Klimt stolen in 1997 may yield clues over its disappearance, reports The Guardian:
More than 17 years since it was stolen from a gallery in northern Italy, Gustav Klimt's Portrait of a Woman [detail, above] is reportedly once again the subject of a police investigation after technological advances allowed for the case to be reopened.
The oil painting, believed to date from 1916-1917, was stolen from the Ricci-Oddi gallery in Piacenza in February 1997 and disappeared without a trace.
Now, thanks to more sophisticated testing of the frame, investigators are hoping that new test results will provide a DNA match with one or more suspects, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.
Gurlitt - is he in the clear?
March 17 2014
Picture: Paris Match
Yes, says one of the court-appointed art historians tasked with looking into his collection (writes David Charter):
One of the few independent experts to have seen the entire collection has now decided to speak out in Gurlitt’s defence. “Cornelius Gurlitt has not done anything wrong,” says Dr Sibylle Ehringhaus, an expert in 19th-century art and a provenance investigator based in Berlin. She reflects a German view that the sins of the father should not be visited on the son. “The pictures belong to him — the entire collection must be returned to him as soon as possible. The State has made a big mistake and it must admit it — and make up for it.”
Ehringhaus was one of three experts who received a telephone call in March 2012 from the authorities in Bavaria asking them to participate in a top-secret mission. A private collection of artworks had been discovered in the Schwabing district of northern Munich by tax inspectors investigating a routine VAT case. Would she come and take a look? Ehringhaus, who rarely gets the chance to see private collections as a whole, jumped at the chance.
The trio of experts was given just 48 hours to look though the entire treasure trove. “It was very well kept,” Dr Ehringhaus says. “Usually we know the museum collections and they are used, they are not as fresh, but here the quality is brilliant and fresh because it was in this private collection for 60 years. The heart certainly beat a little faster.” This contradicts the image presented by Focus, the German news magazine that broke the story in November of a collection rescued from a run-down apartment where it was stashed in folders and boxes on the same shelves as tins of food.
Cezanne at the Ashmolean
March 17 2014
Video: Ashmolean Museum
This looks like it's worth a visit - an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford of works from the Pearlman Collection, including 24 works by Cezanne. Says the Ashmolean:
The exhibition includes twenty-four works by Cézanne: six oils; two drawings; and sixteen watercolours which constitute one of the finest and best-preserved groups of his watercolours in the world. The majority of these are Provençal landscapes, while others depict characteristic Cézanne motifs including a skull, female bathers, and his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire.
Cézanne and the Modern also explores the history of twentieth-century private collections of this type. Key to the Pearlman Collection is Henry Pearlman’s own tastes. He collected pictures and sculptures that he liked and his thrill at discovering unknown masterpieces is evident throughout. Star pictures include a colourful and unusual composition by Vincent Van Gogh, Tarascon Diligence (1888); Amedeo Modigliani’s celebrated portrait of Jean Cocteau (1916–17); and among the sculptures are three bronzes by Jacques Lipchitz and one by Wilhelm Lehmbruck; and an extraordinary painted relief, Te Fare Amu (1901-2) by Paul Gauguin.
Mr Colin Harrison, Senior Curator of European Art and exhibition curator, Ashmolean, says: “Cézanne and the Modern offers visitors the opportunity to see extraordinary masterpieces by some of the most famous artists of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements. Although individual works have occasionally been included in monographic exhibitions, this is the first time that this most individual collection has been exhibited in Europe. Apart from the amazing paintings and watercolours by Cézanne, it includes wonderful works by artists who are little known in England, notably Chaïm Soutine, who was a particular favourite of the Pearlmans.”
More infor here. Good video by the way.
Overpaint and boats
March 16 2014
The Daily Mail has picked up on a story first run by Classic Boat magazine, saying that a painting by Constable featured on 'Fake or Fortune?' was a fake because 'the boats were wrong'. Alas, these maritime experts don't know how to interpret either a Constable sketch or over-paint. Still, I'm sure it made for many long discussions down The Sailor's Arms.
Meyer leaves Sotheby's (ctd.)
March 16 2014
Picture: New York Magazine/Sotheby's
There's some interesting info in New York Magazine on Tobias Meyer's recent departure from Sotheby's. The speculation about why he left comes in the context of a long piece by Andrew Price on why the activist investor Daniel Loeb is taking such an interest in Sotheby's:
For more than a decade, Tobias Meyer was Sotheby’s field general in the consignment war. A slight man with a square jaw and a magnificent head of hair, he was an outsize figure and the keeper of some of the house’s most important relationships. [...]
Meyer’s overnight disappearance offers another potential area of intrigue. The timing of his resignation led some to conclude that he and his salary were offered up as a sacrifice to Sotheby’s angry shareholders. Though his compensation was never disclosed, it is believed to have been enormous. “They certainly did invest very heavily in keeping him, and keeping him happy,” says David Nash. But Loeb has denied that Meyer was meant to be the target of his pressure. Though no great administrator, Meyer was an ambitious dealmaker in a company that Loeb says should be making bigger deals, and Loeb has told some that he views the departure as a sign Sotheby’s isn’t capable of retaining top talent.
A source familiar with Meyer’s thinking says he had become frustrated with the public company’s bureaucracy and was attempting to negotiate a more influential place in the hierarchy, something like a creative-director role. But Ruprecht wasn’t interested in giving Meyer the power he wanted. Since leaving, Meyer is said to have expressed a desire to become “invisible,” and he recently put his Manhattan condo on the market, for $17 million. His mental map of the world’s art treasures should serve him well as a private dealer. There are, however, those who think that if Loeb were calling the shots at Sotheby’s, Meyer might return in some sort of rainmaking role.
The rest of the piece is well worth a read.