'5,000 Years of Faith'
August 19 2015
I'm full of admiration for the philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer's (above) plans to create a centre for religious art in the north of England. Centred on Auckland Castle, which Ruffer bought from the Church of England (along with that series of Zurburans) and gave to a charitable trust, the new exhibition spaces will be in the Castle itself, a new gallery in Bishop Auckland, and the Bowes Museum in nearby Castle Barnard. Ruffer revels in the fact that such art is 'deeply unfashionable', and will plunder the storage rooms of museums across the country, where many great pictures are banished. You can read more about Ruffer's plans in Apollo, here.
And next time you hear anyone complaining about the impossibility of raising money for the visual arts from philanthropists outside London, remember Ruffer.
Perronneau mystery solved
August 19 2015
Picture: Neil Jeffares
Neil Jeffares has solved an intriguing mystery in the life of the gifted french pastellist, Jean Baptiste Perronneau. There has always been a gap in Perronneau's biography, when, between 1773 and 1777, nobody knew where he was. But now Neil has established that he was in Madrid, thanks to finding the above pastel in Lisbon in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, which has a dated inscription on the reverse placing Perronneau in Madrid in 1776.
A full, if characteristically modest description, is on Neil's blog here.
Update - of course Neil should be duly appointed a Hero of Art History for his online Dictionary of Pastellists. Though I have already appointed him 'King of all Things Pastel', so I'm not sure which honour is better.
New Tate Britain director announced (ctd)
August 19 2015
Video: Nottingham Contemporary
A reader has alerted me to this video of the new Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson interviewing Sir Nick Serota back in 2013. I think we can see then, in Sir Nick's approving noises about Farquharson's success in mixing old and new art in exhibitions, just one reason Farquharson might have been high on Sir Nick's list to take over at Tate Britain.
Italian Museums (ctd.)
August 18 2015
I mentioned the other day that the Italian government is taking steps to shake things up (at last) in the Italian museum sector. Today they announced some new appointments as directors of Italy's most important museums. And for the first time there's a slew of foreign appointments.
Ermanno Rivetti in The Art Newspaper reports:
Out of the 20 posts—evenly split between men and women—seven have gone to non-Italian EU nationals (three Germans, two Austrians, one British and one French). The ministry made the selection from 1,200 Italian and 80 foreign applications with the help of a committee that included Paolo Baratta, the president of La Biennale di Venezia, and Nicholas Penny, the former director of London’s National Gallery. [...]
Italy's seven new foreign directors:
Eike Schmidt Uffizi Galleries (Florence)
Sylvain Bellenger Museo di Capodimonte (Naples)
James Bradburne Pinacoteca di Brera (Milan)
Cecilie Hollberg Galleria dell’Accademia (Florence)
Peter Aufreiter Galleria Nazionale delle Marche (Urbino)
Gabriel Zuchtriegel Paestum Archeological Park
Peter Assmann Palazzo Ducale (Mantova)
Other appointments include:
Paola Marini Gallerie dell’Accademia (Venice)
Anna Coliva Galleria Borghese (Rome)
Cristiana Collu Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (Rome)
Good news there's to be new leadership at the Uffizi. Step one, a decent website...
Many AHN congratulations to all those appointed.
Update - there's been a predictable backlash in Italy against some of the new, foreign appointments. Here's a choice line in The Independent:
Angelo Tartuferi, the head of the Gallery of the Florence Academy who was also replaced by a German – 48-year-old Cecilie Hollberg – hit out at [a] suggestion that the new managers had been hired “to make up for lost decades”. He said Italy had invented museum curation methods that German experts felt obliged to study.
Do the 'Italian curation methods' copied in Germany include useless websites, arbitrary gallery closures, lax security, and overly optimistic attributions? I doubt it.
Everybody Out! (ctd.)
August 18 2015
Picture: Via Twitter
It was a nice touch to see the new National Gallery director Dr Gabriele Finaldi talking to suspended and dismissed NG employee Candy Udwin today. Let's hope some meaningful dialogue can help end this strike. This week also sees a new chair of trustees take over, Hannah Rothschild. Today is the 64th day of strike action at the Gallery this year.
Udwin, who was suspended and later dismissed for allegedly passing on commercially sensitive documents to the PCS Union (though she has appealed against her dismissal), has become a cause celebre of this strike, with the Union claiming she has been 'victimised' by the Gallery.
Anyone interested in a quick Google of 'Comrade Udwin', as the 'Weekly Worker' calls her, will see that she has a long and proud history of being involved in strikes, has stood for election as a member of the London Socialist Alliance, and at one point was even expelled by her former union, Unison, which must take some doing.
My point is not that even the most committed communist shouldn't be entitled to a secure and well paid job at a place like the National Gallery. Instead, it seems clear from reading the comments of people like Udwin that the dispute at the Gallery has all along been about far more than the specific issues of over-time, pay, and conditions. The National Gallery has become a convenient stick with which unions and the hard left can beat the government.
Here, for example, are some remarks from Candy, as reported by the PCS:
Candy said she believed there should be more strikes. “Help us make this a victory, so we can help the movement wipe the smile of David Cameron’s face,” she said.
In other words, if the same policies were being introduced in a less high-profile museum (as happened at the Royal Armouries in Leeds in 2012 for example), we'd not have heard much from the PCS.
Udwin's remarks also show how the PCS Union has needlessly made the strike at the Gallery worse, and in turn strengthened the exasperation of management and trustees. Again, as reported by the PCS:
[Udwin] described how her members [at the NG] originally discussed two-hour strikes about the issue but have felt so supported by PCS that they have carried out many more hours of strike action than they planned.
I should note that at a preliminary hearing appealing against her dismissal, a judge ruled that it was 'likely' Udwin had been unfairly dismissed. A full hearing takes place in October. I do hope somes sort of resolution can be agreed before then.
Update - I hold no candle whatsoever for Securitas, but I thought I'd see how they've got on at other institutions, to see if they really are the private sector demons some would have us believe. I came across a report by the Collections Trust, which is a charity that acts as:
[...] the professional association for collections management. Established in 1977, it is a UK-based charity that works worldwide with museums, libraries, galleries and archives to improve the management and use of their collections. It does this by providing know-how, developing and promoting excellence, challenging existing practices, pioneering new ideas and bringing experts together.
The Trust did a 'case study' on how Securitas were getting on at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Here are some quotes:
Securitas Officers work seamlessly alongside the museums’ in-house security team [...]
'The relationship works so well with Securitas as they are responsive to our needs, they are flexible, consistent and have a good understanding of the contract’ Adrian Payne (Facilities Officer) [...]
Securitas have recently been awarded an extension on this contract. The Royal Armouries in Leeds have been impressed with the difference the Securitas team have made.
'For us, as a customer facing business, it was important that Securitas provided the same excellent level of service as our in-house team. The Securitas guards have integrated very well and are always polite and approachable. This ensures the Security department continue to provide the standards expected of a National Museum.’ Margaret Eyre, Contracts Manager
Update II - the National Gallery apparently decided today not to reinstate Candy Udwin, as her supporters had hoped. Here is a statement from the 'No Privatisation at the National Gallery' Facebook page:
We heard today the result of Candy Udwin's appeal hearing, and unfortunately the Gallery has decided to uphold its original decision to sack Candy.
This shows a disgraceful disregard for justice, and we are now calling on the new Director Gabriele Finaldi to do the right thing: step in and Reinstate Candy.
Thank you for all the support you continue to show Candy. This makes your support for our strikes even more important so please keep the solidarity coming!
Join us on our Friday night picket 5-6.30pm to send a message to Dr Finaldi to do the right thing!
(followed by solidarity social afterwards in Silver Cross pub Whitehall)
This means that a full employment tribunal hearing will take place in October.
But it does seem from a preliminary hearing that Candy's claim to be reinstated might have some strength. I haven't been able to get a copy of the full report, but here from the PCS Union website is what appears to be a fairly strong initial judgement in her favour:
“it actually says no more than that the claimant did what any employee, but perhaps more particularly one in the trade union looking for relevant material, could have done. That is, she accessed the respondent’s internet legitimately and found a document that was marked private and confidential. Having found the document she used it to do a calculation. That cannot be wrong or improper.
"....the claimant could have shared this with any other employee entirely legitimately. Instead, she told Mr Bemrose, her trade union national negotiator. I consider it highly likely that it will be accepted, as the claimant urges, that an internal trade union representative (here, the claimant) is at liberty to consult a senior national (i.e. external) trade union negotiator freely and openly with relevant concerns......I do not consider it likely that the claimant informing Mr Bemrose will be found to be culpable of blameworthy conduct, let alone gross misconduct........
"I consider it is likely that it will be accepted at the employment tribunal that the claimant was engaged in trade union activities. I further consider it likely that to the extent that Dr Foister did believe that it was gross misconduct, as to which I express no conclusion, the tribunal will find that she was wrong and that she had categorised it manifestly excessively. I consider that the information available to Dr Foister will be thought not to found a reasonable belief that what the claimant actually did was gross misconduct. That is, it is likely to be found that the publication to Mr Bemrose was not misconduct which the claimant was attempting to cloak with trade union activities as a defence. It actually was permissible trade union activities is what I consider an employment tribunal is likely to find.”
Might an eventual, if rather political solution to the present crisis be to reinstate Candy - which seems to now be as much a demand from the strikers as stopping the outsourcing plans, and which would be a straightforward and positive thing for the National to do - but at the same time carry on with the Securitas deal? That way each side would have a victory of sorts.
Incidentally, I don't remember any protests when the National Gallery 'privatised' their cafés and restaurants (now run by Peyton Byrne).
Should museums charge?
August 18 2015
Here in the UK, museums funded by central government are obliged to offer free entry. So, for example, the National Gallery in London is free to enter, and you can just walk in without hindrance (if the staff aren't on strike, that is). In Paris, by contrast, you have to pay EUR15 to get into the Louvre, and often wait in line for an age to do so. That said, it's free to get into Notre Dame, but for Westminster Abbey there's a fee. Such are the idiosyncracies of state funding.
Free museum entry has become something of a political football in the UK. The Tories (boo) introduced charges in 1974, then Labour (yay) abolished them a year later. In the eighties, the Tories introduced them again, only for Labout to abolish them once more in 2001. Now, however, the Tories are in again, and the question of re-introducing charges has apparently arisen, not least because government grants are seen as not keeping up with any amount of revenue foregone in ticket sales. Which of course they never do, even under Labour governments.
In the Evening Standard, Simon Jenkins has written a good piece arguing not necessarily for the abolition of free entry wholesale, but for allowing those institutions who want to charge to do so.
I am against the Government itself reintroducing museum charges, which were ended for the big museums in 2001. But I am equally against the Government telling museums not to charge. If they wish to be free and can find someone to cover the cost, good luck to them. But nothing so enervates an institution as having its decisions curbed by politics. Museums should grow up. [...]
The effect of non-charging on London’s museums has been clear. Money talks. The National Gallery’s grant is where it was 10 years ago, and it shows. The major institutions have switched their energies to blockbuster charging exhibitions and money is raised for flashy buildings to accommodate them. Meanwhile, the quality of the permanent displays has atrophied (except at the V&A) and hordes of objects languish unseen in basements. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that what is free has been buried, to make way for what makes money.
Meanwhile, the British Museum and the National Gallery are near intolerable for the daily crush, dominated by parties of schoolchildren dumped by foreign tour operators (and teachers) who cannot believe their luck. The NG can at times be more of a teenage crèche than an art gallery. Free entry is a half-billion pound taxpayer subsidy to the tourist industry
There is something tempting in the idea that free entry should be free for UK residents (ie, taxpayers) but not for overseas visitors. These days, for institutions in London like the British Museum and the National Gallery, a majority of visitors are from outside the UK. By and large, we UK residents pay when we go to museums overseas - should we charge overseas visitors to see our museums?
Maybe. But the trouble is, how to do it? If we had ID cards in Britain, you could allow free entry to UK citizens, but not to anyone else. But we don't and anyway under EU law, it is illegal to charge members of one state for entry, but not another. I suppose we could make non-EU residents pay, but then how do we expect to sort out who comes from where? It wouldn't work. And we - that is, museums and the government - are so hooked on the headline numbers of visitors, that the belief is visitors can ultimately be made to pay their way (ie, in shops and cafés) if only we can get them into the museum in the first place. That's one reason so many museum extensions end up increasing toilet, restaurant and shop space, but not display space.
I doubt very much that the present government, even though it's a Tory one, will allow the re-introduction of entry charges. Free entry has become a political Rubicon which cannot be crossed. When a previous Tory culture Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, said that free entry would be maintained 'no ifs or buts', he said it with the support of David Cameron and George Osborne, who are of course still the PM and Chancellor. Indeed, Cameron once sacked a previous Tory culture spokesman after he suggested exactly the policy that Jenkins advocates; allowing museums to charge - if the trustees felt they wanted to.
So, if museum grants are going to go down, but visitors numbers are going to continue to go up, even in such a way as to cost institutions money (visitors must, for example, go to the toilet and put bags somewhere etc), then what to do? It seems to me that free entry is taken too literally by institutions, who allow people to wander in without any reminder at all that each visit must be paid for somehow. The most one sees are small, easily ignored perspex boxes saying meekly 'please donate'. Few people do. We must somehow develop the idea among visitors that our museums must be supported not only through the taxpayer, but additionally through individual support by those who are able to afford to do so (which, let's face it, is most of us).
How? I'd be in favour of something closer to the model they have at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where you can certainly get in for free if you want to, or really need to, but they give you the full guilt trip if you do so without paying at least something. What do you think? Any ideas?
Incidentally, the National Gallery is one place we can be sure will never introduce entry charges, thanks to the tortuous terms of the Mahon bequest. Under the terms of Sir Denis Mahon's will, the numerous paintings he left to the National Gallery and other institutions such as the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam and the National Gallery of Scotland can be withdrawn if those insitutions introduce charging. Personally, I thought that was a rather odd, even selfish thing to do. If you want to give an institution a painting, that's great. But don't turn it into a means to exercise power beyond the grave.
Update - a US reader writes:
I like the Met Museum scheme. Those (the majority) who can should pay the full entry fee to visit and subsidize those who can only pay less. If you got there by bus or cab you can pay something to the museum. That is what private schools and universities do with their high full fees partially funding scholarships
The hotel and tourist industry should also subsidize “attractions” that bring some of their business.
School groups should be free as a matter of public policy and building a future audience.
A UK reader writes:
At the Wallace the plastic boxes made a reasonable contribution....as they are beginning to do at Derby Museums, though of course on a very different scale.
Did you check with any big London Museums what % of their non grant income comes from the boxes?
I did not! But I have sent enquiries today, and will let you know the answers.
Sotheby's profits down - 'rather bumpy'
August 17 2015
Sotheby's share price has dropped a little - to $37 - on news that its profits were down by 16% to $125m, on auction sales of $1.86bn. New CEO Tad Smith described the results as 'rather bumpy'. In their defence Sotheby's pointed to a calendar change, and in particular the fact that one or two guaranteed lots in recent contemporary sales didn't quite work out as expected. This maybe so - but it only goes to highlight how risky such high value guarantees are to the auction houses. A wrong punt on a 'record breaking' contemporary work can prove extremely costly to the year's overall figures. It was such speculation that nearly sank the auction houses back in the last crash (when Sotheby's share price was about $6 at one point). And you'd think they might have learnt by now. But if anything, Christie's massive foray into guarantees in a bold bid to seize the initiative in the contemporary market will only increase pressure on Sotheby's to follow suit. 'Rather bumpy' indeed.
Still, it was heartening for all purveyors of things artistic to see that what Sotheby's classed as 'Asian buying' was up 35% overall, with 'greater Asian bidding in more than 20 sales categories including Old Master Paintings, British Pictures and 20th Century design'.
For a full analysis of the figures, see Alex Capon's report in The Antiques Trade Gazette.
Everybody out! (ctd.)
August 17 2015
Today is Dr Gabriele Finaldi's first day as the new National Gallery director. And what a day to start on - according to the NG, hardly any rooms are open, due to the strike action by PCS Union members:
Rooms open: Lower Gallery E, Central Hall, Annenberg Court (Take One Picture), 9–12, 51, 57–65, and 66 (Art in Dialogue: Duccio | Caro). NB: Room 1 (Sansovino Frames) will be open from 1pm.
The strike is 'indefinite', so who knows how long this will last.
For Apollo Magazine, Maurice Davies (formerly of the Museums Association) writes that Finaldi has inherited an organisation 'in crisis', and must urgently restore its political reputation. I'm not sure an institution that is a) better off than it has ever been and b) with more people visiting it than ever before, can be described as 'in crisis'. Maurice also writes that he thinks the PCS Union has:
[...] played the game well, mounting a dignified, sometimes witty campaign. It’s made full use of the gallery’s visibility at the heart of London, on the conveniently pedestrianised Trafalgar Square, an established place of political protest.
Since the recent Securitas deal represents complete defeat for the PCS Union, it seems to me that it has run a terrible campaign, and has let its members at the Gallery down badly. At the start of this dispute, there was very little appetite to go down the full 'privatisation' route among NG trustees and leadership. But the PCS' continuous grandstanding, for its own reasons, has left the Gallery with no option.
New Tate Britain director announced
August 17 2015
Congratulations to Alex Farquharson, who has been appointed Tate Britain's new director. He is the founder of Nottingham Contemporary and before that was, according to the Nottingham Contemporary site:
[...] an independent curator, writer and university lecturer, based in London. Exhibitions he curated in those years include British Art Show 6 (with Andrea Schlieker) and If Everybody Had an Ocean at Tate St Ives and CAPC Bordeaux. He was also a Tutor and Research Fellow on the Curating Contemporary Art MA at Royal College of Art in London, and wrote extensively on art and curating in international art magazines and other publications. He was Curator then Exhibitions Director at Spacex in Exeter, 1994-1999 and Exhibitions Director at the former Centre for Visual Arts in Cardiff, 1999-2000. He currently serves on the Arts Council Collection Acquisitions Committee and is a Trustee of Raven Row, London.
I'd have thought that someone with Alex's background might have been a natural fit at Tate Modern, which is also looking for a new director. But there we are - to Tate Britain he goes, where 500 years of decidedly un-contemporary art awaits someone with vision, passion and energy. Certainly, starting a new museum from scratch, and turning into a success suggests that Alex has what it takes. AHN wishes him the best of luck, in what has become something of a poisoned chalice.
The $37 Picasso (ctd.)
August 17 2015
Earlier this year, a Picasso stolen over a decade ago from a French museum was intercepted in the mail in the US. The package was described as a piece of 'art craft' worth just $37. Now, the picture has been returned to the French authorities, in a glitzy ceremony, above. Alas, the picture - a cubist work called 'La Coiffeusse' - was displayed upside down on the easel.
And, worse, the picture seems (to judge from a photo taken before it was stolen, below) to have suffered somewhat, and was perhaps rolled or scrunched up during or after the theft. The picture will now return to the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris. Hopefully they will take better care of it this time - they weren't even sure when the picture had been stolen.
The Huguenots at 'Britain's Versailles'
August 11 2015
Picture: Buccleuch Estates
Boughton House in Northamptonshire is one of the greatest and most bejewelled stately homes in Britain. It belongs to the Duke of Buccleuch, and has been in his family since it was built by his ancestor Ralph Montagu, 1st Duke of Montagu. Apart from a few days in April, the house is only open in August.
I would strongly encourage you to go if you can. This year, the Duke (with curator Paul Boucher) has put on an exhibition all about the Huguenot origins of the house; it's one of the best stately home shows I've ever seen. The Duke's approach is a world away from the current National Trust fad of 'too much stuff', and shows how a fine house can and should be made accessible to visitors. Happily, you'll find no beanbags at Boughton. The house is a reminder of why these places are best looked after by people who live in them and care about them. And, in my experience, few stately home owners are as enthusiastic about their collections - and how to best share them with the public - than the current Duke of Buccleuch.
The story of the Huguenot influence on British taste is one I hadn't really appreciated before. (Huguenots by the way were a much persecuted group of Protestants in France). After Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685, large numbers of Huguenots escaped persecution by coming to Britain, then a staunchly anti-Catholic country (so much so that soon afterwards, in 1688, we got rid of our Catholic king, James II).
The man who proved most welcoming to these Huguenot exiles in Britain was Ralph, 1st Duke of Montagu, sometime British ambassador to French. An enthusiastic Francophile, he created at Montagu House in London (now the site of the British Museum) and at Boughton in Northamptonshire not only a large houses in the latest French style, but also mini French Huguenot courts, where French was spoken and scores of French craftsmen produced paintings and furniture that still survive to this day. It was largely thanks to Montagu's support that so much French artistic taste began to enter the English aesthetic in the late 17th Century. (It's also thanks to the Huguenots, by the way, that we have oxtail soup in Britain; at the time, Huguenots in London were so poor they could only afford to make soup from butchers' discarded tails. Somehow, the taste caught on).
The extraordinary thing at Boughton is how intact the house and collections have remained. You can walk around more or less as you would have done at the turn of the 18th Century. There are, for example, over 50 flower paintings by the Huguenot painter Jean-Bapstiste Monnoyer, and the complete accounts survive to tell us who made what, and how much they charged. Other treasures on display include the first piece of music printed in Britain, and the first A-Z of London - both printed by Huguenots. The show is also a reminder of how, culturally as well as economically, immigration can be far more beneficial than many think.
So, hurrah for the 1st Duke of Montagu. You can find more info on how to visit Boughton here. And here below is the press release that accompanies the exhibition. If you go, do drop into the church at Warkton nearby, which has a series of exquisite marbles by Roubiliac (who of course was a Huguenot).
A significant collection of Huguenot artwork and craftsmanship will go on display in Northamptonshire on the 300th anniversary of the death of the group’s persecutor, Louis XIV of France.
Boughton House, known as the English Versailles, will host a summer exhibition of works by Huguenot migrants to Britain, three centuries on from the death of the French monarch who denied their religious and political rights by revoking the Edict of Nantes, leading to their exodus from the nation.
Highlights of the exhibition include the first piece of music ever printed in this country (a set of French Chansons by Lassus), a selection of Isaac Oliver’s celebrated jewel-sized portraits and the first A-Z of London, by Jean Rocque.
Paul Boucher, the exhibition’s curator, said: “This significant new exhibition celebrates how the historic influx of skilled Huguenot migrants to Britain transformed the cultural life of our nation. Beginning in the House’s dramatic unfinished wing, the story will then continue through to the exhibition in the Steward’s Hall.”
Boughton, the Northamptonshire home of the Duke of Buccleuch, is also home to a stunning array of Huguenot paintings, furniture, maps, armoury, porcelain, music and silver, which form part of the celebrated Buccleuch Art Collection, and many of which were commissioned by Ralph, the 1st Duke of Montagu in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Tours of the House will run every day during the exhibition and will highlight Boughton’s many examples of Huguenot craftsmanship on permanent display.
Paul added: “Other than its sheer scale and diversity, what’s remarkable about this collection is that many of the items are still housed within the surroundings for which they were purchased, making for a truly immersive experience.”
The Buccleuch Art Collection, much of which resides at Boughton House and within the Duke of Buccleuch’s Scottish residences, Bowhill House and Drumlanrig Castle, encompasses more than 50,000 objects, including a vast library and archive.
The special Huguenot Summer exhibition will run from August 1st - 31st at Boughton House during the Estate’s summer opening season. House and/or gardens ticket holders will gain free entry into the exhibition, which will also be open to arranged group visits throughout July and September, by appointment.
In nearby Warkton, visitors will be able to see the newly restored Montagu monuments at St Edmund's Church. These include the sculptures in Carrara marble by the Huguenot Louis François Roubiliac, one of the greatest sculptors ever to work in England. Among his other notable memorials are those to Shakespeare, Garrick, Isaac Newton and Handel in Westminster Abbey. The church will be open Monday - Saturday from 10am - 2pm throughout August.
Picasso yacht seizure
August 10 2015
Here's a curious story - a picture by Picasso apparently valued at EUR25m has been seized on a yacht in French waters. The picture is subject to a Spanish export ban, on account of its cultural importance in Spain. But it was seized by French customs officers, who found with it a document from the Spanish government refusing its export. Oops.
That said, regular readers will remember that sometimes these 'illegal export' stories aren't always what they seem.
The Picasso in question belongs to Jaime Botin, part of the Santander banking dynasty. He bought the picture in 1977 outside Spain - and says it was never a part of Spain's artistic heritage. All of which is moot, for in Spain any picture that has been there for even a short period, and worth even one Euro, must apply for an export licence - which can be denied on any grounds.
Anyway, the moral of the story surely is - don't keep a Picasso on your yacht.
Update - ABC News reports that:
Mr Botin, 79, had been trying since 2012 to obtain authorisation to export the painting, but the culture ministry refused because there was "no similar work on Spanish territory" from the same period in Picasso's life.
In other words, the Spanish authorities decided to keep the picture in Spain simply because they liked it, and thought that there should be a picture from that period of Picasso's life retained in Spain. It has effectively been nationalised.
Rimini panel acquired by the National Gallery (eventually)
August 10 2015
Picture: National Gallery
The National Gallery in London has announced an innovative way to acquire the above picture by Giovanni da Rimini, which was painted in 1292-1336. Recently sold by the Duke of Northumberland at Sotheby's for £5.7m, the panel had been at risk of being exported from the UK permanently. But the Gallery has struck a deal with the US collector Ronald S. Lauder which goes like this:
American businessman, philanthropist, and art collector, Ronald S Lauder, has now stepped in to provide the funding to enable the painting to be bought by the National Gallery. The 52.5 x 34.3 cm panel will be loaned to him for his lifetime. It has, however, been agreed that 'Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints' will return regularly to Trafalgar Square during this period – this will initially be in 2017 – and then up to once every three years after that. At the end of the loan the painting will return to the National Gallery permanently.
While few could doubt the picture's importance or value, it was always likely that a public appeal for the Rimini would have proved a hard task. So it seems to me that this deal is an excellent way of acquiring the picture in a time of limited funds. Well done to all involved.
August 10 2015
You know you're getting old when you get an email like this from Vogue magazine:
Dear Bendor, I’m working on a list of Art’s New Guard for our November issue. Jade from Art Detective suggested I get in touch with you as we’d like to feature a young, up and coming Art Detective on the list. I wondered whether you would be able to suggest any young, budding detectives?
Acting Commissioning Editor, Vogue
The joy - in Vogue at last! - and then the despair.
But to prove I'm still young and with it, I've wasted a full three minutes on Photoshop. The mobility scooter look suits me well, don't you think?
Everybody Out! (ctd.)
August 10 2015
The self-serving PCS union is yet again upping the ante at the National Gallery in London. This time, after months of endless, pointless strikes, there is to be an 'all-out strike' later this month. This means the strikes will be more disruptive than the previous planned strikes that happened on scheduled days.
The new strike is in reaction to the National Gallery's signing a contract with Securitas to handle security at the Gallery. The contract is worth £40m over five years. Be in no doubt that this step of widening the outsourcing of the security at the National Gallery is a reflection of the PCS union repeatedly calling pointless but high-profile strikes at the National as part of their own agenda.
A sticking point between the union and the Gallery has been the wages and 'terms and conditions' that might be enjoyed by Gallery staff transferred to a private company. The law dictates that anyone moving from a public sector job to a new private contractor like Secruritas must retain the same benefits, and the Gallery has repeatedly said that:
No members of staff will be made redundant in this process and all affected staff will continue to be paid the London Living Wage. All those staff affected will have the option to move to Securitas with the same terms and conditions and remain a valued part of the National Gallery family.
In response, the Union says:
“They may be the same on day one, but it doesn’t mean they’ll stay the same. If profit margins [for Securitas] are slim the only way for them to increase is to erode staff costs,”
In other words, the Union seeks perpetual terms and conditions forever, which is something no employer can guarantee - not even the state. The union says that if 'profit margins are slim' staff costs must come down, but the same might be said for the Gallery itself - if funding is tight, costs might have to come down. In any case, there are of course other ways to create a more efficient operation than just cutting wages.
And if you believe that security can only be guaranteed by a publicly run company, then have a look at Aerflot's safety record. As the National points out:
Securitas has a proven track record in security and visitor engagement roles within the arts and culture sector. They currently work with the Royal Armouries (Leeds), National Gallery of Denmark, National Gallery – Prague, DDR Museum – Berlin, Art Institute of Chicago, The Jewish Museum – Berlin, Natural History Museum – Berlin, Museum of Modern Art – Lille, and Alhambra Museum – Granada.
Jonathan Jones at the Guardian - no Tory he - has come out in favour of the Gallery. He writes:
[...] the National Gallery dispute looks to me like it just might be a cynical act of muscle flexing by a union that is at least as ideological as it accuses the museum’s trustees of being.
The case for supporting the National Gallery staff has been made powerfully elsewhere in the Guardian. But I have some questions.
First, how is the union’s avowed desire to “defend the functions of a national institution”, in Serwotka’s words, served by closing many of its galleries to visitors for 52 days so far, with worse disruption to come? It’s nonsense to claim the staff are putting the art first if they stop people from seeing it. The visitors being affected are kids in the summer holidays, as well as visitors who come from all over Britain and the world – a lot of ordinary people being denied the chance to see great art.
Perhaps the management of the National Gallery really are savage neoliberal ideologues, but when I meet them they mostly seem to be learned people who love art. It’s hard to believe their greatest ambition is to grind down the workers.
Could it possibly be that the real ideologue here is not Nicholas Penny, the retiring National Gallery director who writes books about Raphael, but Mark Serwotka, the avowedly politicised union leader who speaks alongside Corbyn?
Let’s face it, the National Gallery is a soft target. Its rooms full of old oil paintings strike many on the left as the stuff of posh upper-class art – even though it has a long tradition of being free to everyone. The crass philistinism that sees Renaissance art as toffs’ culture is inclined to side unthinkingly with closing down rooms and rooms of great paintings. If it were Tate Modern, many on the left might look harder at this dispute.
Is the National Gallery really the worst employer, the most extreme provocation, among all the public service contexts in which PCS members work? I can’t help suspecting it is much easier to pick a fight with this gentle temple of the arts than it would be with government departments and the civil services.
I don’t think this is just a struggle for rights. I think it is a chance for Serwotka’s union to throw its weight about. I didn’t think that before the election, but I seriously suspect it now that anti-austerity ideologues in the trade union movement are about to put the Labour party out of power for much of my lifetime and all of my daughter’s youth.
Update - Polly Toynbee, in The Guardian, takes aim at both the National Gallery and the government in defence of the strikers. She says the strike is entirely justified, despite the fact that this new unlimited strike means most of the Gallery will be shut indefinitely. In other words, all hail the 1970s. She also berates the trustees for having nobody on the board with 'staff management' skills - though I suspect most charities would prefer it if staff management was left to the executive, not the trustees.
While Toynbee concedes that the staff now have a pay rise, and are guaranteed the same terms and conditions, she echoes the PCS union's point that Securitas could send members of the Gallery staff elsewhere; ie, to a car park:
Many of them have worked at the gallery for decades, some are artists themselves. But once outsourced to Securitas, they can legally be moved on to anywhere else in the company, as long they get the same conditions. Securitas has contracts guarding ports and aviation, shops and offices, so someone who has for years guarded Van Goghs and guided visitors to rooms filled with Renaissance wonders could now be sent to protect an airport.
Sir Nicholas Penny has tried to reassure staff that this will not happen. And surely it would not be cost effective for Securitas to send well-trained and loyal Gallery staff to a car park; not only would new staff have to be trained in their place, but a former Van Gogh guard is unlikely to have the same skills as a car park attendant. And besides, when have you ever seen a security guard at a car park.
But the Gallery staff are now on indefinite strike because the possibility of being sent to guard a car park might happen, one day. In other words, the entire Gallery will be shut at the height of summer because some staff want to be absolutely sure that they can keep their jobs, under the same pay and conditions, forever. In a modern economy, this is both selfish and unrealistic. And it reinforces the view held by the likes of Jonathan Jones (also of The Guardian) that the dispute at the Gallery is little more than grandstanding by the PCS Union, and their hard core supporters within the Gallery.
A Picasso in a suitcase (ctd.)
August 10 2015
The saga of the fake Picasso 'discovery' I rumbled last month goes on - but seemingly without the bountiful ending once hoped for. After conceding that the picture was indeed a fake, made by himself, the Scottish artist Dominic Currie decided to sell the picture on Ebay. The Ebay account used was his wife's - the same one through which we'd been able to trace all that Soviet memorabilia used to create the legend that the picture came from Mr Currie's 'dad', a Soviet soldier.
Anyway, it appears that the bidding never got above 99p. Which is a shame, as at that price I might have been interested.
The picture was offered as a 'Genuine Fake Picasso', which is taking art historical terminology to a whole new level. Here was the rest of the blurb:
Genuine Fake Picasso
Up for bids on eBay – The painting that caused a worldwide stir when the story first broke a few weeks ago.
The performance painting reputedly by Pablo Picasso was claimed to have been found in an attic and as part of a gift from a Soviet soldier to his girlfriend in the mid 1950s.
It was a piece of Performance Art and an experiment in media relations towards artistic iconoclasm at the expense of new up and coming artists who never get much (if any) media attention.
The painting, which is original, is in the style and manner of Picasso’s cubist work from 1910 of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (also on canvas).
It bears a remarkable likeness to Picasso’s original and is probably the closest anyone outside of the Chicago Institute will ever be to possessing the real thing.
This work has the look, feel and smell of a painting that is over one hundred years old. It is technically perfect in every detail and has the same monotones and brushstrokes as the original Picasso in Chicago.
It was declared to be a piece of Performance art to highlight the lack of media attention to up-and-coming artists, just a few days before it was due to be authenticated at Christie’s auction house in London.
The painting by the artist Dominic Currie follows Picasso’s style and determination to treat Cubism as an art dealing primarily with forms. Its means of representation are relative and not absolute.
The original ‘portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’ which Picasso painted on returning to Paris from Cadaque’s is a turning point in modern art history. The painting introduces what are known ‘keys’ which establish the sitter’s identity: that is, personal and attributive details which are rendered more naturalistically than the rest of the painting.
Kahnweiler’s nose, hands, and sculptures behind him demonstrate that at the beginning of high analytical Cubism Picasso still felt it necessary to show a decent concern with the facts of the world.
On the whole the subject matter of Cubism becomes more substantive as the movement developed.
The basic intention of Picasso in creating Cubism was not merely to present as much essential information as possible about figures and objects but to recreate visual reality as completely as possible in a self-sufficing non-imitative art form.
The Chicago version was produced in 1910 at a time when a distinct advance was made by Picasso in another important technical aspect of his art.
The technical nature and quality of Dominic’s application and the way that the paint is actually put on to the canvas is a direct reference to Picasso and his handling of the brushwork which was more subtle and varied than he had previously achieved.
The atmospheric connotations in the brush-work at this time, combined with the use of non-atmospheric colours, give an impression of airlessness that underlies the use of the term Cubism.
A substantial donation from the sale of this work will go towards the local artists and their struggle for materials and recognition.
Update - a reader writes:
As far as I remember the painting reached 300 GBP and then the sale was cancelled. I emailed the seller asking if the painting was still for sale and she replied "Not for the time being!"
July 20 2015
That's it for a couple of weeks folks - time for AHN to take a break. I hope you have a good summer, wherever you are. And thanks very much for reading.
Update - sorry, the break turned out to be a little longer than planned. And for some of this week I'll be away looking at various pictures. But I'll post as regularly as I can.
Is the Old Master market dead?
July 17 2015
The London summer sales are traditionally seen as the most important week of the Old Master world, and an important indicator of the health of the market. This year, the overall sales total was down on previous years. Sotheby’s evening sale made £39.3m, which could only be described as ‘above estimate’ thanks to the inclusion of buyer’s premium in the final totals (catalogue estimates do not include premium). Christie’s sale was pretty disastrous. Already hit by the loss of the Beit collection pictures, their total was a sad £18.9m.
In some quarters such patchy results have produced anxiety, and even gloom. Is the Old Master market dying, people ask? A leading art market journalist told me after the sales that, because hardly anyone wants to own old art these days, we are witnessing the ‘end of the market. End of story’.
The latest publication of Artnews ‘Top 200 Collectors List’ stated another apparent decline in Old Master collecting - of the 200 collectors featured, only 10% were buying Old Masters, whereas in 1990 it was 15%. This theme was picked up in the wider press, as evidence of a ‘growing decline’ in the Old Master market.
Finally, in a piece for the New York Times, Scott Reyburn cited the decline of independent dealers as further evidence of a wider collapse of the Old Master market, and quoted the dealer Edmondo di Robilant (who deals in both old and modern art, though the latter only more recently) “People don’t go to galleries any more, and they don’t buy old masters,” he said. “They’re not part of the overall mood of today’s taste.”
Well, bulls**t. Yes, the recent sale totals were not stellar, but that’s no reason to panic. There’s no reason to believe that Old Masters are falling through the floor. You might say I’m biased, and, being an Old Master dealer myself for over a decade, merely trying desperately to inflate the market. All I can say is, either I’m writing this because I’ve managed to make a fairly decent living out of selling Old Masters for the last ten years (and mostly to the ‘middle market’ everybody says doesn’t exist), or I’m a delusional fantasist. You decide.
Let’s look then at the various portents of doom. First, that Artnews ‘Top 200 Collectors list’. I’d like to know how reliable and scientific is the data. Who compiles it, who decides who is a top collector, and on whose figures? We are not told. I suspect the list is dominated by modern and contemporary buyers because they’re more likely to be public about the art they buy. For many collectors of contemporary art, it’s about the brand, the glitz, the big names, and buying the art is a way of buying into it by association. It’s conspicuous consumption.
In my experience, those who buy Old Masters (and who may be just as rich as their contemporary-collecting peers) are rather discrete and introverted. You might say, well the point is it’s not seen as ‘cool’ to buy Old Masters - and you’d be right. But that’s not news - Old Masters haven’t been cool for decades, even centuries - so we can’t use that fact as evidence of a sudden decline on Old Master interest. And in any case, aren’t Impressionists still ‘cool’ - or rather ‘hot’? Not according to Artnews, who say there has been an even bigger decline in people buying impressionism and post-impressionism. In 1990 that sector accounted for 18% of sales; now it’s just 9% - less than Old Masters. This hardly tallies with the explosion in prices for works by Monet et al. In short, I think the Artnews collector’s list has more to do with marketing than data.
Then let’s look at the numbers for the recent London Old Master sales. Sotheby’s average evening sale total for the last 9 years is £41.05m, so they hardly disgraced themselves this time around with £39.3m. Add in the totals for Old Master drawings and sculptures (and why not, it’s an indicator of demand for ‘old art’), then the total Sotheby’s haul for the week was £52.03m - or, to put it in context, just over a third of Sotheby’s recent combined total for their summer contemporary and art evening and days sales. Is that really a sign of a dying market?
Christie’s 9 year evening sale average is slightly less than Sotheby’s - £39.6m - and there’s no denying that this year’s sale for them was bad news, at £18.99m. (Their total for ‘old art’ sales in the week was £26.59m). I suspect the Beit pictures might have added some way over the combined lower estimate of £5.3m. But if we’re honest, the disappointing Christie’s sale total might have something more to do with the fact that Sotheby’s - in both London and New York - has ‘the big mo’ when it comes to securing big pictures.*
Anyway, even if we concede that the overall auction totals last week were disappointing, this to me reflects no alarming decline in Old Master demand. Rather, it reflects the more obvious fact that the sales themselves were disappointing. There were no star lots by Titian, Rembrandt, or Rubens this time around. There was only one fully catalogued Van Dyck (in Christie’s day sale). There was no major Canaletto, and no Turner or Constable landscape.
Instead, the stellar lots were a Bellotto of Dresden (at Christie’s, estimated at £6m-£8m), and a Cranach ‘Mouth of Truth’ (above, at Sotheby’s, estimated at £6m-£8m). The former, a nice enough picture, failed to sell, probably because it carried an estimate we might expect to see for a Venetian scene. The latter was certainly an important work, but could hardly be called a masterpiece - and yet it sold for £9.3m. That’s an astonishing price for Cranach, and a new record. And from what we’re told it sold to a Chinese buyer.
A Chinese collector of Old Masters, buying Cranachs for a record sum? That seems to me a sign of a market in rude health. Indeed, we’re also told that a Chinese collector bought a portrait by Ferdinand Bol for £5.2m. Think about that - a portrait by Bol (hardly an artist to set the world on fire) for £5m, going to China? For me, that more than makes up for the apparent lack of Russians (doubtless hit by various sanctions) buying second-rate Brueghels - which arguably has been an inflated market for some time now.
So, forgive me for being optimistic, but I still see signs that the Old Master market is actually in good health. And nor should one below par sale make us forget some of the other extraordinary prices that have been achieved in recent years - prices which, not so long ago, had commentators saying Old Masters were the new thing; a George Stubbs making over £20m, a small drawing by Raphael making $47.9m, a Turner making £30m, and so on. The number of Old Master artists who make big prices is far more diverse than the 20 or so who seem to dominate the modern and contemporary market.
And what are we to make of those other Old Master voices who are happy to feed the media narrative that the Old Master market is dying? Regular readers will know that I take a dim view of dealers who say things like ‘nobody buys Old Masters anymore’. Often, they’re just looking for excuses for failure. It’s much easier to blame a change in taste for the fact that you can’t sell pictures any more.
Here, the wider story is the fact that the Old Master market is (and has been for the best part of a decade) undergoing a profound change in the way it operates. Those dealers who moan about a lack of good pictures to buy or clients to sell to tend, in my experience, to be those who have been around a bit - those who used to be good at the traditional retail model of art dealing. In the old days, you could get away with buying fully catalogued pictures at auction, and then asking a hefty margin in either your swanky London gallery, or at a fair like Maastricht. You needed a bit of flair, the right accent, and a nice showroom.
But now it’s almost impossible to do that anymore. First, the transformation of London property prices, with international fashion brands prepared to pay through the nose for loss-leading premises in central London, has forced dealers either to vacate the traditional areas like St James’ altogether, or to move out of ground floor premises into 1st or 2nd floor offices. Such moves come with a corresponding lack of accessibility.
Most important, however, has been the change brought about by the internet. These days, a client can see a picture in your gallery, and, if you’ve bought it at auction fully catalogued (ie, it’s not a discovery or privately sourced painting), can find out on their phone within a minute what you paid for it. Not surprisingly, clients who know you’ve bought a picture for £50,000 are reluctant to give you £100,000 for it. Nobody should be surprised by this; the internet has empowered consumers as never before.
But the art market is subject to this sort of technological pressure more than many other markets. When you buy a car from a dealer, or your milk from a supermarket, you can’t quickly go to Google to find out the original cost price of either the car or the milk. So it’s easier for the middle man to ask a profit. But in the art world the product is much easier to identify; we’re dealing with unique works that have identifiable titles, creators and images, all of which are easily searchable thanks to price databases like Artnet. Even Google’s reverse image searching now makes it possible to look up the source of ‘sleepers’. The contemporary art market, of course, is able to shrug off the same phenomenon, because prices are seen to be rising quickly. In a rising market, sometimes it’s helpful to be seen to be paying a record price for a work.
The flip side of this new internet-dominated market efficiency is that many dealers find it hard to compete with auction houses. It also means that dealers don’t bid at auctions as much as they used to, and this can lead to some strange volatility in auction totals, as we’ve seen this week. In most markets, auctions are an inefficient way to sell high value items; you’re exposing your goods to the market on just one day of the year, and are thus vulnerable to a whole range of uncertainties, be it a bad internet connection or phone line interrupting a bid, the fact that someone’s over-spent that week already, or may be ill, as well as wider phenomena like international sanctions directed towards a specific country. Traditionally, markets which revolve heavily around auctions depend on a network of secondary dealers to underpin prices, for those dealers are prepared to hold onto stock for inventory and to meet market requirements at other times of the year. These days, however, none of that applies to the Old Master auctions - it’s mostly private buyers bidding. And when you’ve got literally hundreds of works on offer in one week of the year, it doesn’t take much to soak up the pool of potential clients. Nor do auction houses guarantee their Old Master sales to the hilt, as they do in the contemporary sales.
Furthermore, one of the dealer’s traditional niche advantages, the art fair, is also undergoing changes. Maastricht is, it seems, in more or less permanent decline. Some dealers still do well there. But the writing is on the wall, mainly because it’s too far away, and has not responded quickly enough to the whims of the new rich. Clever dealers are already getting out. Frieze Masters, which for many (including me for a while) seemed like the great new hope - because it’s in London - is also not performing for Old Master dealers.**
There are, however, dealers who are succeeding in the new Old Master market - and more than you might imagine. I won’t embarrass them by naming them here. But I can tell you that they operate in a wholly different way to those dealers who regularly grumble about the declining market. And also that they’re feeling confident and bullish about the future. They tend to focus on one or two genres, and invest heavily in research - which is the only way to compete against the dominance of the auction houses. Dealers can never out-market or out-spend auction houses. But just occasionally they can out-think them.
While I maintain that the demand for Old Master pictures remains strong, I will concede two things. The first is that taste is changing within the sector. It should come as no surprise that overtly religious pictures, especially heavily Catholic ones of gory martyrdoms, are not likely to sell well in these increasingly secular days. The taste for traditional Dutch 17th Century pictures is also showing signs of fatigue. And yet there are other areas of the market that are gaining strength, such as English 16th Century portraiture - witness the close to £1m price for a workshop of Holbein portrait of Henry VIII at his most corpulent last week at Sotheby’s. Ten years ago that would have been a half million pound painting at the most. Indeed, so strong is that particular niche of the market that the picture was bought by a dealer; my former employer, Philip Mould.
Secondly, the Old Master market as a whole is pretty woeful when it comes to promoting both itself and its product. Having dealers whinging publicly about nobody buying Old Masters is bad enough. But how many dealers have good websites, with innovative content? How many make an effort to get out there and sell their wares in both the press and social media? Why am I the only Old Master dealer to have a blog? As ever, the auction houses are leading the way here, with good online videos, and creative marketing. They even make the effort to take Old Master paintings to new markets - both the Bol and the Cranach sold by Sotheby’s were exhibited in China before the sale.
So no, I don’t agree that the Old Master market is dying. For me to believe that, I’d have to believe that interest in Old Masters was declining in general. And yet we’ve just witnessed, in Late Rembrandt in both London and Amsterdam, one of the busiest Old Master exhibitions ever staged, with queues around the block. They’re still making films about Turner, while anything with Leonardo in it seems guaranteed to sell. And (I’m sorry if this sounds like boasting) in ‘Fake or Fortune?’ we regularly get audiences of up to 5m taking an interest in Constable or Van Dyck. In other words, the Old Masters, if presented in the right way, are arguably of more interest to the general public than they’ve ever been. It shouldn’t be that hard to sell them.
Update - an important collector writes:
Great read on the subject.
All I could think was to say: hear - hear!
It is up to the "younger" generation of OM dealers to educate & present their wares in a relevant way.
I myself use to buy/"collect" all the contemporary junk available from my 20's till my 40's....then sold the lot and embarked on a new fantastic journey.
I'm learning daily.
However, I have to be honest with you re dealers complaining and talking the OM market down...this is great for me (and surely for others with deeper pockets) in that prices do not explode as a result of this.
Update II - another reader writes:
The problem also coincides in a decades long declining interest in early-modern history amongst academics. I think there is a need to culturally address how the past can be more than just a fantasy for a middle class holiday, or a weekend pleasure diversion in a gallery. When the Old Masters were most prized was precisely when contemporary artists were inspired by them and fine art education rigorously taught the language of drawing and painting, rather than neo-Dadaist 'sophistry'.
Update III - a sleuthing dealer, responsbile for some of the greatest art discoveries of all time, writes:
Congrats on your article.
Personally, I'll say times are the best ever for OMP. Connoisseurship is receding at a general level...so there are more opportunities to make 'discoveries.
Prices for 'true' masterpieces are higher than ever.
Those are the golden years of OMP.
A young dealer & scholar from Europe writes:
I am a reader of your blog since you started it and today I am writing to you to say : Thank you!
Your latest article about the so-called "decline of the Old Masters" is great and you said what I have thought for a long time.
I myself am an Old Master Painting dealer and I might say a young one since I am running my gallery for four years now. And I have to fight exactly with the problems you mentioned: everyone saying OM are not cool, no one wants to buy them and the lack of new ideas for presentation as well as for the selections of paintings you sell. I can only confirm that there are (also young!) buyers for OM and they are absolutely fascinated by these. They mostly cannot believe that you can buy a brilliant painting which is about threehundred years old for a price that is not even comparable to a work of contemporary art (in quality and in price).
Research is another very important thing. And I offer my clients technical and arthistorical analysis as well as the ALR certificate. I also try to find new ways of presentation (at fairs and in the gallery) , including new media/ certain things you wouldn't expect to find with old masters. As my gallery is quite young I have to admit that it is not always easy to find clients and to catch on with the established dealers. Anyway, I am still trying...
And an economist writes:
Your piece says it all.
The difficulty with the Old Masters market is that the works appeal mainly to people who can afford them and know something about pre twentieth century art which is a smaller market but competitive for top works and good pictures generally. It's a good market but isn't likely to expand noticeably because little effort is devoted to expanding the elite sell side versus the populist exhibition side. And the supply of quality works is limited and holding periods are generally long.
The Contemporary market is much larger appealing to people who can afford it and either know art (like all periods some is worthwhile) or believe what they are told about it or have investment advisers whom they believe or want to belong to the group of competitive collectors (like finding rare coins or antique automobiles). There is a vast and expanding supply of goods with dealers and in vaults, and the average holding period is probably shorter. Additionally, in some counties like the US there can be government sponsored financial incentives (deductions) to buying and donating art at an appraised value which subsidize the habit/hobby/sport
As a non income producing asset class - a store of value - it relies on a constant supply of buyers who can't sell any large percentage of their holdings simultaneously or the market will implode. Currently there are plenty of buyers with vast liquidity who would rather hold a Francis Bacon or a Giacometti than more bank deposits or another London property.
* That said, I should disclose that Christie’s sold a picture for me last week, and I was very pleased with how they handled it from start to finish.
** Masterpiece seems to be doing well, however; I've always been a fan of it. It's a very different fair to the traditional Maastricht and Frieze Masters approach, and that seems to be paying off for picture dealers. Selling at Masterpiece is fine art, however (no pun intended). Over the years I've seen some old-school dealers turn up with the same type of stand they're used to having, with the same pictures, presented in the same way as c.1985. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't work; Masterpiece is not about replicating your first floor gallery - you have to realise that it's a retail environment, catering to the super-rich whose experience of shopping is entirely different from the traditional experiece of art buying. Dealers who have done well there have to be quite careful about which works they take, and how they present them.
'Fake or Fortune?' - plug!
July 17 2015
This week in 'Fake or Fortune?' we look into a 'mystery Old Master' in a church in Lancashire. More here.