Curiousness in Reading

July 11 2014

Video: BBC, via YouTube. Pictures from getreading.co.uk and bbc.co.uk

I think this ranks amongst the most optimistic attribution 'heists' I've yet seen: a man from Reading claiming to own a Van Gogh 'unveiled' the picture in a local cafe, and got the local news in to film the event. Cue headlines, 'Van Gogh painting worth millions hung in Reading cafe'. The picture's owner, one Markus Lawrence (below), claimed (according to the BBC) that the picture had been in his family's possession since being bought for 300 francs in Paris in the 1920s:

Mr Lawrence, from Reading, inherited the work and the collection, started by his family 200 years ago, when he turned 18.

His grandfather Vivian Wetten, an architect, died in 1980, and left them to his daughter's eldest son who turned out to be Mr Lawrence.

Other artists in his family collection, which is in storage, include Rembrandt, Picasso, Degas, Cezanne, Henry Moore and Dali.

As you can see on the video above, it appears bodyguards were posted outside the door to protect the painting, and as the BBC's reporter, Dave Gilyeat, said:

There's a great buzz with people laughing at how outrageous it is that a painting worth millions is adorning the wall.

Then, one by one, each punter breathlessly approaches it to take in its glory up close.

Some customers actually need it pointing out to them. One man responds with a "Crikey!" before remarking that it's a risky venture putting such a prized artwork in such a vulnerable position.

On the local news site, getreading.co.uk, we were given more information:

The collection was left to Mr Lawrence, 27, in his grandfather's will, with the condition that he would not sell any of the work, or take finance out against it.

It has been kept in high-security storage but he is now hoping to share it with Reading by creating a community gallery.

Mr Lawrence, who works as a professional art collector and is also a charity trustee for Support U, says: "My grandfather was a big art collector but the first members of my family who collected art were back in 1763.

Mr Lawrence has a website for his collection, which he calls the RG, or the 'Reading Gallery - Bringing art to Reading'. The collection claimed to own works by the ikes of Picasso and Rembrandt, and even a possible 5th version of Munch's Scream. Because Mr Lawrence said he wanted to share his collection with the people of Reading, but didn't have the funds to do this himself, he started a Kickstarter page seeking £50,000 in donations from members of the public to help him create a public art gallery in Reading. Mr Lawrence was nominated for a 'Pride of Reading' award, and the scheme even got the backing of Reading Borough Council:

Councillor Sarah Hacker, who is chair of the Reading Arts Forum, said: "I think it is amazing to bring art like this to Reading.

"Reading has an excellent arts culture, there's so much going on, but can you imagine if we had a Van Gogh in the town? Can you imagine how many people would be inspired to take on a bit of art?".

But alas, as you can see from the high-res photos on the getreading site here (and below), the pictures are duds. The Van Gogh is just a copy (as Van Gogh specialist David Brooks pointed out to the BBC). And of course you can't build much of a museum these days for £50,000.

So inevitably the wheels started to fall off Mr Lawrence's very curious claims and ambitions. The old black and white photos on his RG website of what were claimed to be earlier generations of his family turned out to be stock images lifted from the web, according to getreading's follow up piece, and have since been taken off the RG site. The Kickstarter page has also been deleted (see the cached page here), though not before some folk had already pledged £6,960. And as the BBC investigated further, it transpired that the 'Van Gogh' had actually been bought by Mr Lawrence (whose name has changed in the interim to simply 'Mark Lawrence) himself for £1,500 'about two years ago'. 

Getreading spoke to Mr Lawrence after the whole affair was exposed:

He told getreading: “I very stupidly didn’t correct the [initial] statement after it had been published.

“I didn’t have much confidence in myself in finding pieces and anyone taking it seriously. I made a mistake.

“And I didn’t want the [BBC] person who recorded it to get into trouble.”

He added: “I wanted to be honest about the mistake and they’ve turned that against me. In my belief it’s by him [van Gogh].” [...]

“When it was on display I never said it was 100 per cent authentic, I hadn’t said it had been authenticated; we would be working with the Van Gogh Museum,” he said.

“They even said I wouldn’t comment on how much it was worth. They [BBC] just wanted the ‘£million van Gogh in the cafe’ story.

“They are destroying my character. I’ve dedicated hundreds of hours of my life to charity work and I’ve worked my a*** off to build this gallery and they’re turning everyone against me.”

Mr Lawrence says he didn't set out to deceive anyone. We're not told exactly what he had intended to do with his £50,000, had he raised it. 

Update - a reader alerts me to one of Mr Lawrence's previous acquisitions.

Update II - the Reading Gallery website has been taken down, and replaced with this message:

We are currently updating the website to represent only pieces which have been authenticated by art bodies and are currently cataloging the collection. We will relaunch the website with only pieces which have been authenticated by independent third party recognised bodies. We thank you for your patience.

Might be a while.

An art dealing fortnight in numbers

July 10 2014

Image of An art dealing fortnight in numbers

Picture: Lawrence Hendra

Thought you might like a numerical summary of the last couple of weeks here at Philip Mould & Co, as a little insight into what I've been getting up to during the Masterpiece fair and Master Paintings Week:

  • Pictures (and drawings) viewed: 867
  • Trips to the library: 2
  • 'Sleepers' identified: 4*
  • Bids placed: 5
  • Successful bids: 0 (drat)
  • Pictures sold: 16
  • Miniatures sold: 13
  • Sculptures sold: 1
  • Talks given (above): 2
  • Blogposts written: 22 (below average, apologies)
  • 18th Century clocks acquired: 1 (always wanted one)**
  • Autograph requests: 2 (most curious)
* A very slim ratio: excellent cataloguing everyone!
** and it's amazing how little such things cost these days. Can 'brown furniture' get any cheaper?

Turner's 'Bridgewater Sea Piece' to be sold?

July 9 2014

Image of Turner's 'Bridgewater Sea Piece' to be sold?

Picture: National Gallery

It's potentially ominous when a picture that's been on long-term loan at the National Gallery suddenly disappears from view. When Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows' was taken down it was because it had been put up for sale. Happily, Tate bought that picture with handsome support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. But should we be concerned that Turner's celebrated 1801 'Bridgewater Sea Piece' (commissioned by the Duke of Bridgewater as a pendant for a c.1672 picture by Willen van de Velde) is no longer on display at the NG, and has been taken off their website? The picture has been on loan there for at least 27 years. It was last sold, by the Duke's family, in 1976.

Tous photographes!

July 9 2014


Tous photographes! Charte de l'usage de la... by culture-gouv

Video: French Ministry of Culture

Regular readers will know that AHN is not only an advocate of allowing photography in museums, but also abolishing reproduction fees. So it's good news from France, where (as La Tribune de l'Art tells us) the French culture ministry has declared that photography is allowed in all museums, and you can use the images for whatever you like (within the law). The ministry has published a five point code of conduct (sensible things like no flash, and don't get in other people's way), and there's even a zippy video (above). The DCMS should do the same here in the UK.

Constable's 'Sea Beach, Brighton' fails to sell

July 9 2014

Video: Bonhams

It seems not be a good week for pictures that have been on the telly; at Bonhams today, John Constable's 'Sea Beach, Brighton', which was featured on 'Fake or Fortune?', failed to find a buyer. Still, worth watching the Bonhams video above, to see Constable expert Annie Lyles talk about the painting.

'Rembrandt - the Late Works'

July 9 2014

Image of 'Rembrandt - the Late Works'

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery have released details of their forthcoming Rembrandt show. It opens 15th October, and runs till 18th January 2015. there will be 40 paintings by the great man. More here and here.

It looks like their newly elevated 'Portrait of an Old Man in an Armchair' (at least, elevated by the Rembrandt Research Project) won't be in the show, however. Which is a little strange. Why not hang it in the show next to other late works (perhaps as 'attributed to'), and see how it fits in? I had a good look at it the other day, and couldn't find myself disagreeing with Ernst van der Wetering's new conclusion.

For sale - 'the earliest Vermeer' (ctd.)

July 9 2014

Image of For sale - 'the earliest Vermeer' (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

The 'earliest Vermeer' I reported on last month sold last night at Christie's for £6.2m (incl. premium). Congrats to them, and the new owner. A fuller update on the sales follows when the week is over. 

The vicar's Van Dyck (ctd.)

July 8 2014

Image of The vicar's Van Dyck (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

The Van Dyck found on the Antiques Roadshow will be up for sale tonight at Christie's. What will it make? Send me your best guess. The estimate is £300,000-£500,000. I reckon it'll make between £400k-£450k hammer. I have no inside information.

Update - a reader writes:

I think it will top £500,000 since this is a rare opportunity to buy a Van Dyck at what many will view as a great discount over the normal offerings. Besides it’s a wonderful piece of art with a  great story.

Update II - another reader punts:

I think the head will sell for £350-385,000,beautifully painted,but due to it's state,it's appeal to buyers will be limited...

Update III - it didn't sell! I'm surprised. Maybe an after sale offer will be made. 

It's London Art Week!

July 4 2014

Image of It's London Art Week!

Picture: LAW

Today we start London Art Week, where all the major auctioneers and galleries open up for you to sample our delights. There are sales to view at Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams, and dozens of galleries in the St James' and Mayfair areas specialising on Old Master paintings, drawings and sculpture are putting on exhibitions with extended opening hours. More information here. Hope to see you around. 

Update - quite busy at the moment; two talks yesterday (Sunday) and viewings galore to follow this week. So there may be slow service on her for a couple of days - apologies!

Society of Antiquaries exhibition

July 3 2014

Image of Society of Antiquaries exhibition

Picture: SoA

The Society of Antiquaries of London has a little-known but excellent collection of portraits. This month, they're having a free exhibition in their plush Burlington House premises. Well worth a visit (Monday-Friday 10am-4pm). More information here, and there's also a programme of lectures, here.

Guffwatch - live

July 3 2014

Artbollocks Theatre (Sitcom Version) from Alistair Gentry on Vimeo.

Video: Alastair Gentry

A reader alerts me to Alastair Gentry's 'Artbollocks Theatre', where he gives:

Dramatic readings of the worst artist statements, gallery press releases and art criticism. Their writing is a tragedy, so I repeat them as comedy. All real, all bad, all by supposedly professional artists, gallerists and curators. (Series 2 compilation, with laugh track!)

More here

Poussin rescue plan fails to fly

July 3 2014

Image of Poussin rescue plan fails to fly

Picture: ACE

Sad news that a last-minute attempt by 'a consortium of regional museums' (according to the Arts Council) has failed to raise the £14m required to keep Poussin's 'Moses trampling the Pharoah's Crown' in the UK. The picture had been sold by the Duke of Beford to an overseas buyer, and now the export will go ahead. The good news is that the UK is still flush when it comes to great Poussins. And with three more of the Duke of Rutland's remaining Sacraments potentially available (he's sold two in the last two years), there will still be plenty of opportunities for UK museums to acquire more Poussins.

Emin's bed

July 2 2014

Image of Emin's bed

Picture: Guardian

Tracey Emin's unmade bed sold for £2.5m last night at Christie's. To Jay Jopling, her dealer (funny, that). More in The Guardian here. Catalogue note (with added YBA guff) here. Here's a snippet:

A profound exploration of the condition of the female artist, My Bed forms part of Emin’s continued dialogue championing the relevance of art and its ability to addressing questions of gender, sexuality, malady, fertility, loss, and inequality. ‘To map the movement of My Bed is to interrogate its débordement, its potential for meanings to overspill into the disjunctive yet overlapping contexts of sexual politics, homelessness and displacement at the end of the twentieth century. With their cartographies of diaspora and address the unresolved longings of identity, the installations of My Bed touch on and point to some of the key concerns of a contemporary moment’ (D. Cherry, ‘On the Move: My Bed, 1998 to 1999’, in M. Merck & C. Townsend (eds.), The Art of Tracey Emin, London 2002, p. 135).

I would have paid to see the Christie's art handlers (poor souls) pack and unpack this from the auction view. Did they wear white gloves? Did they measure every fold of the sheets and the placement of every tampon, to replicate exactly the artist's original intention? Did they do a condition report before and after the sale? Or did they just gather it all up and shove it in a box? 

Update - a reader alerts me to this article in The Guardian, which sets out just how the bed has to be handled:

When My Bed went on loan to Edinburgh's Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2008, senior curator Patrick Elliott was the man in charge. He and his team of conservators and art handlers received the work in boxes, with every item carefully stowed inside. Putting the piece together took about two days. "It was forensic," he says. "Every object was wrapped in tissue paper inside a freezer bag. As we took each item out, we sat round a table, noting its condition. We do that for every artwork, from a Rembrandt to a piece like this. So there we were, looking at a Durex, noting whether it had any marks that shouldn't have been there. It was quite bizarre."

Emin herself was on hand to make sure the installation looked right. "I remember her saying," Elliott adds, "that the sheets weren't nearly as stained and smelly as she remembered them." And when it came to packing the installation away, there were some surprises in store: a number of extraneous objects had found their way onto the bed. "We found a good few extra things," he says, "from a pair of slippers to a note to Tracey telling her how much this person had been moved by the work."

Update II - a reader asks:

Re the white gloves: Don't you think rubber gloves would be more appropriate in the context? 

Deffo.

Another reader wonders:

I have a feeling that if Emin was a man that bed would not be sold. 

Guffwatch - pop special

July 2 2014

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's have tried a new tack for promoting contemporary art - music videos. The above is for Peter Doig's Country-rock (wing-mirror), which shows a tunnel by the side of a Canadian motorway, and sold this week for £8.5m (inc. premium). Here's a snippet of catalogue guff:

Country-rock (wing-mirror) is a prime example of the mood which Doig has forged in his painting: an ethereal but tense otherworldliness that suffuses his subjects with a muted numbness. In the planar composition, in the thin texture of the paintwork, and in the suggestion that their scenes may continue beyond the limitations of the canvas, Doig’s works are overtly dreamlike. They are surreal, if not in the semiotic psychoanalytical sense, then in that sense of a blanketed half-remembered detail. So often, when we experience a sense of misplaced familiarity, we attribute it to a dream. With this mundane and universally recognised highway setting, Doig imparts that same sense of familiarity into his work, and from it we make the same attribution: that this is not a work of memory, but rather a dream transposed.

We have all the usual thesaurus-raiding guff tricks here; impenetrable pyscho-babble built around sentences with needlessly contradictory sub-clauses ('black, but at the same time white'). For a reminder in how they do it, see here

Re-founding the Foundling Museum

July 2 2014

Image of Re-founding the Foundling Museum

Picture: Foundling Museum

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey has a detailed report of the latest developments at London's Foundling Museum, which has an impressive collection of English 18th Century pictures, including Hogarth's portrait of Thomas Coram, above. Here's the story in a nutshell.

Coram was the founder of the Foundling hospital orphanage, and the charity which is now the successor to the hospital, 'Coram' (re-branded from 'The Thomas Coram Foundation') attempted last year to wrestle control of the museum and its contents by sacking both the director and its board. There were fears that the charity wanted to gain control of the assets, and potentially sell them. After intervention by the Attorney General and the Charity Commission, 'Coram' has now had to back down, and the original trustees have been re-appointed. However, this still leaves the Museum with a formidably difficult task, for they have only until 2027 to buy all the pictures from 'Coram'. The collection is thought to value up to £30m, and so far the only major picture the trustees have managed to acquire is Hogarth's March of The Guards to Finchley for £4m. 

Computer says 'no'

July 2 2014

Image of Computer says 'no'

Picture: Telegraph

On the basis that this-is-my-blog-and-I'll-rant-if-I-want-to, pray allow me to give you some random consumer advice: never, ever, ever, ever, ever fly British Airways. 

Here's why. Last Friday I got to the security gate at Heathrow's Terminal 5 for a flight to Edinburgh (where I now live) one minute the wrong side of their 35 minute cut-off time. Despite the fact that every member of BA staff I pleaded with admitted that I would easily make the flight (the domestic gates are just the other side of security, and in any case, they never leave on time) a 'computer says no' attitude meant that I was automatically removed from the boarding list, and was prohibited from going through security. Instead, I had to endure smug lectures about how it was my responsibility to get to the airport in time, all delievered beneath an information display which signalled that the flight wasn't even boarding yet.

Then I was told that I could change my ticket or get a refund at the ticket desk. But there again it was 'computer says no'; because I had booked my ticket online (on the BA app) it wasn't possible for the human ticket person to help me. And because I had 'missed the flight' (because, remember, BA wouldn't physically let me on it) I was not allowed to make any changes, and could only 'apply' for a refund. This morning I got the happy news that I had been refunded £26.30 from a £188.80 ticket. The news was delivered after listening to an automated voice saying that it was BA's intention with all customer services to 'ensure you look forward to flying with us again'. Oddly enough, it said nothing about them being thieving b**stards.

My final piece of consumer advice is that Easyjet is the best way to fly from London to Edinburgh (a journey I do at least twice a week).

Update - a reader writes:

It happened to me (with my wife and then two-year old) when BA sent us to the wrong terminal at Gatwick and then wouldn't do anything to help when we realised we were in the wrong place.  When we did get to the departure gate they said we were too late, in spite of the fact that it was clearly going to take longer for them to locate and unload our luggage (which they had to do) than it was for us to board the plane.  I assumed the flight was overbooked, so they were presumably delighted to have an excuse to get passengers off it.  But they did give us vouchers against future flights, which we forgot to use...

Another BA wary reader writes:

Much prefer Easyjet and at least flying Ryanair there is no pretence that they are doing anything other than trying to extract as much cash as possible.

Restoring Monet

July 2 2014

Image of Restoring Monet

Picture: Independent.ie

A picture by Monet that was punched by a visitor to the National Gallery of Ireland (above) has been restored, and is now back on display. More on the conservation work here.

How long can the Boom last?

June 29 2014

Image of How long can the Boom last?

Picture: Sotheby's

Georgina Adam has been covering the art market for publications such as the Financial Times and The Art Newspaper for decades. So her new book on the extraordinary heights of the modern and contemporary art market, and how it relates to previous art market booms is well worth a read. You can order a copy of Big Bucks – The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Centuryhere. Here in the FT she summarizes her conclusions:

Everyone wants to know whether this market is a bubble and, if so, when it will burst? This seems unlikely to happen any time soon: the sheer amount of global wealth; the massive museum-building programmes; the positioning of art as an element of the celebrity and fashion worlds, and the seductive lifestyle the art world offers are all very attractive to the super-rich.

But I like to keep in mind what the Chinese say: “Trees can’t grow as high as the sky.” All markets are cyclical; the art market has had booms and busts before, for example, during the armed conflicts of the 20th century, in the 1970s and in 1990: each time mirroring the global economy.

There are parallels between this situation and the art market in England between 1860 and 1914, “the golden age of the living painter”, according to art historian Gerald Reitlinger. It was a time of rapid economic growth thanks to the technological revolution, and new patrons of art came from these manufacturing and trading fortunes.

The sometimes scandalous lives of Pre-Raphaelite artists and their circle were well publicised; advances in printing meant that 600,000 impressions were sold of Millais’ winsome child, “Cherry Ripe”. Contemporary artists were stars: Edwin Long’s florid “The Babylonian Marriage Market” (1875) sold in 1882 for £6,615 (almost £700,000 today) – then a record for a living English painter. It was bought by Thomas Holloway, a multimillionaire from sales of ointment and medicines. The art establishment was outraged, and in Holloway’s obituary the Art Journal sniffed: “Those whose productions he acquired may possibly have to regret the inflated prices which . . . their works assumed.”

Long’s prices did collapse, along with those of many Victorian artists. The first world war and the Great Depression would end that boom.

How will today’s art stars fare in the future? Major political upheavals or financial problems inevitably have an impact on investment and the art market cannot be immune. Almost all the huge prices are, however, being made as a growing pool of ultra-rich buyers battles for a small number of brand-name works. There is a vast hinterland of good art by creators whose names will never be widely known and whose works will never achieve such heights. The overall trend of the market is upwards, historically, but not for everyone, and not always.

A new Holbein in Pittsburgh?

June 29 2014

Image of A new Holbein in Pittsburgh?

Picture: CMOA

They've broken out the acetone at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh for a new exhibition, Faked, Forgotten, Found. A previously 'tarted up' portrait of Isabella de Cosimo de Medici (below) has been making the headlines (e.g., in the Daily Mail here), but more interesting I think is the above portrait of Lord Bergavenny (1469-1535). Long thought to be a fake 'Holbein', due to rancid-looking later overpaint in the background, new analysis has revealed under-drawing and a much earlier background (left hand top corner) perhaps painted with smalt. I'm going to ask the CMOA for an image of this under-drawing (often crucial in Holbein attributions, as we're looking for signs of originality), and will report back if I get one. In the meantime, you can see a high-res image of the partially cleaned picture here. No panel painting by Holbein of Bergavenny is known. There is a drawing of the same sitter by Holbein at Wilton house, image here, and a miniature is also known.

Update - the CMOA have very kindly sent me this IR photo. 

Update II - a painter writes:

The partially cleaned ' School of Holbein' portrait of Lord Bergavenny is definitely based on the Wilton drawing or an exact copy of it, because it reproduces a slight error of draughtsmanship in the original drawing. There is also a miniature based on the same drawing, claimed to be by Holbein.

One of the characteristics of Holbein's (alleged) use of a form of Camera lucida (like Ingres) is the occasional misplacement of  one of the eyes, usually the one furthest from the picture plane. This can be caused by the sitter slightly changing the angle of his/her head, during the creation of the drawing.

This phenomenom can seen very clearly in the painting of Jane Seymour where her right eye (further from the picture plane) appears larger than the nearer, left eye. Surprisingly this has been transferred, apparently unnoticed by Holbein, from drawing to painting.

In the case of Bergavenny, the sitter's left eye in the Wilton drawing is very slightly too high up, in relation to the nearer eye, which Holbein will have drawn first and this has been reproduced in the painting, now being cleaned.. 

In other drawings, the sitter has turned slightly towards Holbein so one sees more of the eye than the strict rules of perspective  allow-( I believe this is what happened with Jane Seymour). 

The drawing looks immensely more powerful than the painting in its present state and I much look forward to seeing if it improves with cleaning.

I don't buy the camera lucida theory myself.

7,564

June 29 2014

Image of 7,564

Picture: TNA

That's the number of oil paintings in the Royal Collection, which we only now know for the first time, reports Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper:

Britain’s Royal Collection is to undergo the most ambitious condition survey ever carried out on a major group of paintings. On the eve of the conservation project, The Art Newspaper can give the precise number of paintings for which the collection is responsible: 7,564 works in oil. This is the first time that the number has been confirmed in the past 500 years. The works will all be condition-checked and properly photographed, and images of most of the paintings will be published online, revealing for the first time the extent of the world’s greatest private collection.

The Painting Condition Survey is due to begin this summer with the “lesser” palaces—Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Sandringham in Norfolk and Balmoral in Scotland. A team of four conservators and frame technicians will move systematically through each of the royal residences, room by room. Desmond Shawe-Taylor, the surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, says that the paintings will be taken off the wall, one by one, and removed from their frames. This will be a complex logistical exercise, since the pictures hang in 13 royal residences throughout the UK.

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