A lost Wright of Derby? (ctd.)

April 24 2016

Image of A lost Wright of Derby? (ctd.)

Picture: Derby Museums/TAN

Regular readers may remember that last year I reported on Derby Museum's commendable decision to restore two works in their collection which had been the subject of a botched restoration job. Indeed, so bad was the conservator's efforts (from the 1960s or 70s) that the attribution had been doubted. Now the pictures have been revealed, and there can be no doubt that they're fine works by Wright. More here in The Art Newspaper.

Botched conservation is, in my experience, the number one cause for attributions being lost. It never ceases to amaze me how inept some professional conservators can be. 

I am so pleased to see that Derby Museums have taken this project on. It shows a deep care and passion for their collection, even for apparently duff pictures, which must be the foundation for any museum.

This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

April 24 2016

Image of This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

Yesterday saw the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and of course the event was marked with many erroneous portraits of the great man. I was pleased, therefore, to see that someone else apart from AHN has taken up the case of the Cobbe portrait - here is William Leahy in The Guardian:

[...] why use a picture of someone who is definitely not Shakespeare to promote Shakespeare?

This common mistake all started in 2006. As explained on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website, this picture, the so-called “Cobbe” portrait was “identified” as being a portrait of William Shakespeare. There is not much evidence for this claim, but the Birthplace Trust purchased* the painting and launched it upon the world through the “Shakespeare Found” touring exhibition in 2009.

The painting’s claim to authenticity seems to be, according to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, that it “may” have been commissioned by the Earl of Southampton. They then go on to repeat a widely held myth that Southampton was Shakespeare’s patron; but there is no evidence that this was true. Or that the earl and the playwright knew each other or ever met or spoke.

* I don't think they did buy it, merely that it was on loan.

Wright display at Tate

April 24 2016

Image of Wright display at Tate

Picture: FT

Tate Britain has, for the first time, hung Joseph Wright of Derby's preliminary sketch for 'An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump' alongside the finished picture. More here.

£20 Turner

April 24 2016

Image of £20 Turner

Picture: Guardian

Last year the Bank of England conducted a consultation on which British artist should be on the new £20 note. Turner has won the day, and his self-portrait will feature on the note alongside his 'Fighting Temeraire'. Of course, I lobbied for Van Dyck. But at least it's not Jake and Dinos Chapman.

New connoisseurship conference

April 24 2016

Image of New connoisseurship conference

Picture: codart

Codart, the 'international network of curators of Dutch and Flemish art', is devoting its annual conference this year to connoisseurship, which is great news. The keynote speaker is Prof. Christopher Brown, former director of the Ashmolean, who (I can vouch from personal experience) is a most formidable connoisseur. The opening pitch for the conference sums up the connoisseurship dilemma perfectly:

Connoisseurship has long been at the heart of the work of attributing an artwork – that is, associating it with a specific artist, period, and/or location. Ever since the 17th century, attributing works of art has ranked among the foremost tasks of the art historian. Traditionally, attribution is predicated on meticulous examination by a connoisseur. Yet for some time now, art-historical attribution has been virtually absent from academic training. Indeed, it has even been denigrated as an unscientific, anachronistic activity. For museums and the art market, however, it has lost none of its significance.

It's a shame that the programme of speakers is entirely devoid of anyone from the art market - which of course is the area where connoisseurship is practised most intensely.

I see also that Martin Myrone from the Tate is speaking, and regular readers might remember from an earlier conference where I spoke alongside him (at the Paul Mellon Centre) that he is no fan of connoisseurship. 

Update II - any discussion of connoisseurship amongst museum curators needs really to address the question of why so many museums refuse to allow their staff to give opinions on other people's paintings. Not only does this arbitrarily cut curators off from wider discussions about pictures and attribution, but it also creates two classes of object; those that happen to be in public ownership (good) versus those that are privately owned (bad). It is usually in the latter world that the most interesting discoveries are to be made - so why should museums refuse to comment on them? Museums and curators should follow Sir Nick Penny's dictum (as discussed with me in my podcast here) - 'the picture comes first'. Who owns it, or what (gasp) it might be worth, is irrelevant.

Contemporary art is bad for your health

April 21 2016

Image of Contemporary art is bad for your health

Picture: Telegraph

Or at least, some of it, maybe - though AHNers knew this already of course. Scientists testing the level of formaldehyde gas in the air around Damien Hirst's dead floating animal pieces at Tate Modern found that the levels were higher than permitted by law. More here

HMQ at 90

April 21 2016

Image of HMQ at 90

Picture: Royal Collection

The Queen is 90 - AHN wishes her a very happy birthday. In a fine blog post, James Mulraine notes the absence of any of her painted portraits in today's many 'Queen's 90 years' press stories, and writes about his favourite by Pietro Annigoni (above):

[...] my favourite portrait of the Queen is this 1969 portrait by Pietro Annigoni. Annigoni is best known for the earlier portrait of the Queen in Garter robes, like a photograph by Cecil Beaton. He was inspired  by the Italian Renaissance, and this painting has something in it of the supernatural power of Piero della Francesca, not a messiah but a ship’s figurehead the waves would bow to. At the same time it is so triumphantly modern. You hear a Parry anthem in your head, and see it freeze-framed like scene from a movie. The Queen will sweep on into the frame, and turn and speak. It is an icon of Duty, the perfect Royal portrait, because it makes a vast abstraction real because it fits with what we believe of the sitter’s character. It is the last transcendental Royal portrait, in a tradition stretching back to the Christ-like Westminster Abbey portrait of King Richard II, Holbein’s annihilating mural of King Henry VIII, and the Ditchley portrait of Queen Elizabeth I as Fortune.

Turner’s Investment Records Found

April 21 2016

Image of Turner’s Investment Records Found

Picture: Eric Shanes/Bank of England

There's a new biography of J.M.W. Turner just published by Eric Shanes - 'Young Mr Turner, The First Forty Years 1775-1815'. It has already received glowing reviews, which is perhaps not surprising for Shanes has been working on the book for ten years, and is already well established as a Turner scholar. Shanes has kindly sent AHN this snippet of new research, having discovered Turner's investment details at the Bank of England. As you might expect, Turner was careful with the pennies.

Acting on a tip-off that the painter’s name had been spotted in Bank of England ledgers some years earlier, I have unearthed Turner’s investment records from the age of nineteen onwards. Naturally, the new financial data tells us a huge amount about Turner’s patronage, sales, career planning, and much else besides. 

The son of a humble Covent Garden barber, Turner showed signs of extraordinary talent at a very early age and began selling from the start. By 1794, when he was nineteen, he was able to make his first investment in government stock, and he went on doing so thereafter. Correlation between financial memoranda jotted down in his sketchbooks and Bank of England ledgers demonstrates that on many occasions he would invest a particular sum of money on the selfsame day he had sold a work for precisely the same amount. Clearly he never looked for quick or large returns; instead, what he sought was long-term security for his money, which is why he acquired government stock offering safe but low-yield dividends. By compiling a running total of Turner’s holdings, we are now able to pinpoint exactly what he was worth at any given moment. Thus on 23 April 1815, when he reached 40, he held exactly £10,186–8s–10d in government stock, all of which had been earned in the twenty-eight years since 1787. (By way of comparison, an ordinary labourer on a working-class average annual income of £26 would have earned a mere £735–10s during the same period, none of which could easily have been retained in the form of savings or investments.) Over the course of a career spanning sixty-five years or so, Turner became very wealthy, and now we can perceive how, when and why he did so.

Mona Lisa theory no. 748

April 21 2016

Image of Mona Lisa theory no. 748

Picture: Louvre

The Italian 'art detective' Silvano Vinceti (past claims include finding Caravaggio's remains) has been in the news again - this time saying that the Mona Lisa is in fact Leonardo's gay lover, Salai. It's not actually a new idea, and in fact Vinceti has already tried this exact story before, in 2011. Such is the media's demand for any story connected to the Mona Lisa that nowadays you can just get away with recycling any old theory. This time around it's chiefly of note for producing one of the best art historical put downs I've yet seen, from the Leonardo scholar Prof. Martin Kemp, who told The Telegraph:

“This is a mish-mash of known things, semi-known things and complete fantasy”.

Who was André Borie? (ctd.)

April 20 2016

Image of Who was André Borie? (ctd.)

Picture: Journal des Arts

The seller of the cache of Old Master paintings caught up at the centre of potential faking scandal has broken cover. He is Giulano Ruffini, and is shown in the photo above with Andrée Borie, the daughter of Andre Borie the French industrialist who died in 1971. It is from Borie's collection that, we were told, the Old Masters came from. Ruffini is in his 70s, and lives in Malta.

Ruffini has given two interviews. The first is in Le Journal des Arts to the French journalis Vincent Noce, who first broke the story in The Art Newspaper. The other is to the online magazine called Roadsmag. Both are in French, and worth reading in full. There is a lot of stuff in the latter about the financial dealings between the various parties who sold the Cranach Venus (seized last month by a French court amid allegations that it was a fake) to Colnaghi, the London dealers who then sold the picture to the Prince of Liechtenstein. These are allegations that I don't want to get involved with, for the main interest for AHNers is in whether the pictures are genuine or not. 

So, here are the headlines from Ruffini's interviews. First, the Journal des Arts. My thoughts, for what they're worth] are in square brackets.

  • Through Ruffini's hands passed works by, or described as being by; Bruegel, Hals, Gentileschi, Correggio, Van Dyck, El Greco, Velazquez, Parmigianino, Bronzino, Grimmer, Coorte, and others. [The Correggio AHN readers will be aware of - that picture was on the market with Borie provenance. The Van Dyck I have not heard of, the Velazquez may be the same picture referred to already on AHN (see below). Rumours have been circulating in the London art trade about a Coorte for some time. Whether it is associated with this discussion I do not know.] 
  • The Hals (sold to the London dealer Mark Weiss) was, Ruffini says, not from the Borie collection, but bought in 2000 in France from the 'friend of a Duke, who was ambassador to the Netherlands for just €7,000 or €8,000. [This is new information - previously it appeared that the Hals came from the Borie collection.]. Ruffini says he showed the picture first to Diaz Padron (formerly of the Museo Prado) who said it was not by Hals. Then he showed it to Christie's in Paris, who said it was by Hals, and that they could sell it for him. The Louvre then tried to buy the picture, for €5m, but failed. It was then sold in 2010 to Weiss, with, Ruffini says, 'no guarantee of authenticity'.
  • The Gentileschi did, Ruffini says, come from the Borie collection, though he bought it 'indirectly'. Again, Ruffini himself did not believe the picture was genuine - other experts declared it so. Weiss acquired it in 2012.
  • The Cranach also, it appears from this interview, comes from the Borie collection. He had it since 1973 (which is when, we have been told previously, Ruffini acquired a number of pictures from Borie's daughter). Again, Ruffini says he did not think it was genuine, but other experts declared it so.
  • The Velazquez of Cardinal Borgia Ruffini also says was a copy, and that he never wanted to sell it as an original. This was apparently consigned to Colnaghi for a while, but is now back in Ruffini's possession. [This may or may not be the same Velasquez of Cardinal Borgia which a Velasquez scholar told me was, in his view, 'a recent fake'.]
  • Andrée Borie died in 1980. She had previously sold some works from her father's collection [where are they?] but others she gave to Ruffini. There is no paperwork, and it was says Ruffini a private transaction. He says he had many photographs, but his wife threw them away.
  • He reiterates, finally, that he at no time said his pictures were genunie.

Now, onto the Roadsmag interview.

  • This begins with reference to a novel by the French author Jules-Francois Ferrillon about a forger. This forger happens to sell a fake Cranach of Venus, and indeed a photo of the Liechtenstein Venus appeared last year in a You Tube video about the book. Ferrillon in interviews has so far been vague about any connection between the two cases, but now Ruffini says that he discussed the whole idea with Ferrillon. 
  • He says he was qualified to discuss these matters with Ferrillon because he knew about how forger's make copies, and discusses some of the techniques (such as being heated in an oven).
  • Ruffini says in this interview that he bought the Gentileschi in 1995. He does not say from where. He says he thought it was a later copy, perhaps 19th Century.
  • Ruffini says he sold the Hals for €3m 'without warranty' for the attribution. 
  • He says he never said the Cranach was genuine. There is a great deal of allegation about the people he says cheated him out of money on the Cranach.
  • In his youth Ruffini was an artist.

So, what to make of all the above? I need to digest all this further, and must now dash off to a speaking engagement at the Bowes Museum. But first, it seems to me that Ruffini has been extraordinarily lucky, to find or buy or be given a succession of previously unknown Old Masters which are unusually well preserved.

Second, I am struck by the repeated insistence that he never himself thought or claimed that his pictures were genuine. He thought they were all copies - it was other people who declared them so. And yet at the same time he is now claiming he has been swindled out of the proceeds of the sale of a genuine Cranach.

Is Ruffini the luckiest collector in history?

Update - here is a follow up piece in Le Quotidien de L'Art which has a photograph of a 'Pontormo' apparently connected to the affair. It also reports that the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is involved in analysing the Cranach. I heard independently, but cannot verify, that the Louvre had apparently refused to be involved in testing the Cranach.

Update II - further provenance for the Hals can be found in the Weiss Gallery's catalogue here, no.20, which states that it came from the collection of the 4th Viscount Mablas (1893-1985) of Spain, and that it then passed to a private collection in Biarritz, from where it was sold in 1994.  

Update III - something about that photo is puzzling me.

Apologies (ctd.)

April 17 2016

I'm off early to London tomorrow (Monday) for 'Fake or Fortune?', so there may not be any posts. I do have interesting news on the Borie/Cranach story, which I hope to put up before the end of the day.

In other news, I'm pleased to be able to tell you that the BBC have commissioned a new series with yours truly, for which production is now getting under way. This may mean a quite a few 'Apologies' days over the next few months, I'm afraid. 

Still, it's exciting stuff, and I shall let you know more details when I can.

Update - sorry, sorry, sorry: filming was rather busy so I had no time to post anything on the blog. And now I'm off to the Bowes Museum in County Durham to discuss a new discovery (on which, more soon). 

Here's a photo from Philip's Twitter, which shows us discussin a potential Lucian Freud in The French House pub in Soho. Freud used to drink there with Francis Bacon. The picture is just out of shot on the left. 

Christie's 'Classic Art Week' (ctd.)

April 16 2016

Image of Christie's 'Classic Art Week' (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

There has been much chatter in the Old Master world about the wisdom or otherwise of Christie's moving their main New York Old Master sales from January to April. The move also saw a re-branding to 'Classic Art Week'.

The Old Master sales were yesterday, and it looks to me as if the results were very strong indeed. The gamble has paid off, and we must congratulate Christie's for doing something bold and different - and also, more significantly, for halting what appeared to be a slide in their New York Old Master fortunes. There have been some key new appointments in the New York office in the last year or so, most notably Francois de Poortere, the new head of Old Masters. 

The 'Part 1' sale total was $30.4m. Last year's major January Old Master sales at Christie's (their 'Part 1' and 'Renaissance' sales combined) made just under $25m. This year's 'Part II' sale did better than last year's too. Here's Christie's press release heralding the news.

Christie's top lot was a small El Greco (above, 11 x 7.5 inches) of The Entombment, which made $6.1m (inc. premium) against an estimate of $4m-$6m. El Greco is one of the Old Master artists of the moment - his quirkiness and bright colouring appeals to today's artistic taste. Next up was an early 15th C gold-ground painting by Bernardo Daddi, which made $3.8m (inc. premium). There were very few buy-ins in the Part 1 sale. See the full results here. The newly discovered almost-sleeper Rubens I mentioned earlier, sold well at $269k (est. $120-$180k).

So, although I am of course a perennial Old Master optimist, I think this is all a good sign for the market. There were no real mega-star pictures in Christie's sale, but they still got a good total with decent selling rates. Should Sotheby's move their sale too? I hope not - I think it's a good thing the major Old Master offerings are spread more evenly throughout the year. Dumping so many pictures on a small market all at once always struck me as an odd strategy.


April 15 2016

Image of Apologies...

Picture: David Taylor

...for the lack of action yesterday and today - I have been in London Lachlan Goudie's evening on Scottish Art at the Mall Galleries. Above is a photo of the speakers, in front of a self-portrait by Alexander Goudie. It was a fascinating evening, with a good turn out - a special thanks to those AHNers who made it!

A new 'lost' portrait of Anne Boleyn?

April 13 2016

Image of A new 'lost' portrait of Anne Boleyn?

Picture: Mail

There was a story in the newspapers (The Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday) over the weekend about a 'newly discovered' portrait of Anne Boleyn. Actually, what has been discovered is an old reproduction (above) of an apparently lost painting - and the fact that it was found on eBay has given the story added legs (although just to be precise, what was being sold on eBay were modern reproductions - for £70 - of a print found in a print shop near Oxford by a former farmer and Tudor portrait enthusiast Howard Jones).

The identity of the sitter as Anne Boleyn has been endorsed by the Tudor historian Alison Weir, and also by Tracy Borman, who is joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces. Borman says:

I'm very convinced by this. It is hugely exciting. This could well be a Coronation portrait.

The whereabouts of the original painting are reported as being unknown:

The original painting was sold in 1842 from Strawberry Hill, the Twickenham castle to a London art dealer. 

He in turn sold it to Ralph Bernal, a British politician and collector who died in 1854. 

Then the trail goes cold. Weir said: 'Someone might come forward and say they've got it. They don't realise it now because it's bound to be labelled Lady Bergavenny.' 

As far as I can make out, the only evidence here to suggest that the sitter is Anne Boleyn is the letter 'A' at the centre of the necklace, and the repeated 'A's in the headdress, and a 'B' and an 'R' at the left and right of the necklace. These apparently point us to 'Anne Boleyn' and 'Anne Regina', hence the portrait being a coronation portrait. The fashion is also right for a portrait of the 1530s.

But of course, Anne Boleyn was not the only Anne in Tudor Britain, and we might even have to allow the possibility that the sitter was called Alice, or Angela, or some such name. Monogrammed jewels were all the rage in the 1530s, as the many surviving designs by Holbein show. And I think probably we would expect Anne, in a coronation portrait, to have either 'AR' for Anne Regina (as we see in the 1534 coronation medal) or 'HA' for Henry & Anne, which again we know was used by the couple thanks to Holbein's designs, and also from some surviving architectural elements. The use of 'AB', or even just a 'B', in the jewels some Anne Boleyn portraits come from posthumous portraits which we cannot take as reliable indicators of either likeness or what jewels she wore. 

The image is not unknown, for it was engraved at least twice in the 19th Century (here and here). Then, the sitter was thought to be Joanna Fitzalan, Lady Bergavenny. This Lady Bergavenny, however, died some time before 1515, and the fashion would appear to rule her out as the sitter in this portrait (though one never knows in Tudor portraiture, and we cannot exclude the possibility that it shows another member of the family). The picture was once at Strawberry Hill, and we must tempted to assume that if there really was any historical chance this sitter might have been Anne Boleyn, then those old iconographical optimists of the 18th and 19th Centuries would have labelled it such.

Anyway, AHNers, I can tell you that the original portrait is not lost, for some years ago I saw a good colour photograph of it. I was shown the photo in strictest confidence by someone who had been asked to look into the possibility that the sitter might be Anne. That person, incidentally, certainly knew their Tudor portrait onions.

Our belief at the time was the sitter was most likely not Anne Boleyn, though the tedious thing is I can't now remember all of our conclusions. There was nothing in the way of provenance, or traditional identification, to lead us down that path. As far as I recall, there was no mathing necklace in any Royal Tudor jewel inventory. But I do remember paying attention to the other motifs in the headdress, and not being able to connect any of them to Anne Boleyn. It's much clearer in the photograph of the actual painting, but the other letter given equal prominence in the headdress alongside the 'A' is what is most likely an 'I' (to see a similar Tudor decorative 'I' see here). It is therefore likely that the sitter in the original portrait is someone called 'AI' or 'IA', with some other initials 'B' and 'R' elsewhere in her or her family's name.

If anyone has any better ideas as to who she is, let me know!

Of course, it's worth remembering that we do in fact have a life portrait of Anne Boleyn by Holbein...

Update - the print itself is now being offered for sale by Howard Jones on Ebay for £1,000. Which is a lot of money for a print of an unknown 16th Century sitter.

Update II - here's a long analysis of the claims (and a sceptical one) from Claire Ridgway, on her blog The Anne Boleyn Files, including a view that the costume is in fact from the 1520s.

Update III - and here's a blog post from Alison Weir (scroll down the page) on why she thinks it might be Anne. I'm afraid it displays some basic misunderstandings about Boleyn's iconography.

Is there a €120m Caravaggio in your roof?

April 13 2016

Video: AFP

Zut alors! Imagine going to fix a leak in the roof of your house, and finding a lost Caravaggio instead. That apparently is what happened to a French family in Toulouse two years ago. The picture, below, Judith and Holofernes, has been researched by the French art expert and auctioneer Eric Turquin, and he has assembled a number of art historians who have pronounced the picture genuine.

The discovery was being kept under wraps, but the story was broken last week by the sharp-eyed French blogger Didier Rykner, after he spotted that the picture had been temporarily listed as a 'National Treasure' by the French government. The picture is now being analysed by the Louvre, who will pronounce on its authenticity. The figure of €120m has been attached to it.

Is the picture 'right'? Well, so far what are the known facts? The most pertinent ones are outlined in the video above by M. Turquin. I've attempted to go into the matter in a little more detail. But bear with me here, because I am not a Caravaggio scholar, and there is very little information available so far. I'm also rather busy today, so the thoughts below might be a little jumbled up.

  • First, we know Caravaggio painted a Judith and Holofernes in about 1598/9. That painting (below) is in Rome. Here's a high res photo of it. Naturally, it's very good. 
  • The claim is that Caravaggio painted another version of the subject at about the same time, and the Toulouse picture is it. An AHN reader in Paris has kindly sent some high res photos of details of the new discovery - and it is very good.
  • We apparently know that Caravaggio painted another version of Judith and Holofernes because Caravaggio's contemporary, Louis Finson (a Flemish painter), paints a copy of it when he has the original in his studio in Naples 1607.
  • The Finson copy (below) belongs to the Banco di Napoli, and is on display in Naples. Here is a decent photo of it. It is evidently quite copy-ish. But we await categorical proof that this picture is by Finson.
  • How do we know Finson painted a copy of Caravaggio's second Judith and Holofernes? The artist Frans Pourbus the Younger saw, we are told, Caravaggio's second Judith in Finson's studio, and wrote about it. 
  • This last piece of evidence is key, and as far as I can make out the letter is published here in French. But if this is the source, then Pourbus' description is in fact quite vague, for he just mentions a Caravaggio Judith and Holofernes that is for sale, and doesn't describe the composition in any detail at all.
  • Nevertheless, it is thought that Pourbus couldn't be referring (in Naples) to Caravaggio's first version of Judith and Holofernes (the one now in Rome), because that painting was believed to have been painted for Ottavio Costa, a banker in Rome, and it is listed in his posthumous inventory of 1639. In other words, the first Judith is thought always to have been in Rome.
  • Finson apparently owned Caravaggio's other version of the Judith and Holofernes along with another Caravaggio, The Madonna of the Rosary, for both pictures are recorded in his will in 1617. So that's two documentary sources (Pourbus in Naples in 1607 and a will in Amsterdam in 1617) that seem to attest to the existence of another Judtih by Caravaggio.
  • Therefore, it is likely (but not certain) that Pourbus was indeed referring to another version of the Judith subject by Caravaggio, that this picture was taken back to Amsterdam by Finson, who made a copy of it. 
  • As ever, there are already disputes over the attribution, billed by The Guardian here as 'splits in the art world'. Caravaggio scholar Mina Gregori has said it is not by Caravaggio. (She also said, regular readers will remember, than the late Sir Denis Mahon's Cardsharps was by Caravaggio, though it is not - just go give you an idea of how difficult Caravaggio connoisseurship can be). The Tribune de l'Art reports that many other experts agree with the attribution to Caravaggio, but few are willing to go on the record.
  • A key part of any argument in favour of the painting will be to demonstrate evidence of the artist's creative process; that is, any changes (pentimenti) to show that this is the first attempt at that composition, and not another copy by someone else. 
Update - Jonathan Jones in The Guardian declares it a modern fake.

Update II - here's a video from M. Turquin about the discovery (in French). He says that there is a pentimenti in the hand, where you can see an extra finger (which would be very helpful in proving the picture is not a copy). I've taken a screen grab of the area below. But I see no extra finger - it's just a brush stroke.

Update III - Justin Davies of the Jordaens and Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project (about which more soon) has very kindly shared this snippet of research with us:

I am researching the collection of the engraver Alexander Voet I, who owned a considerable number of Van Dyck and Jordaens panels. In the posthumous inventory of his house in Antwerp, the Golden Arrow, in 1689 is, as the first painting in a huge collection:

"Een stuck schilderije wesende een Judith van Michiel Angelo de Caravasio".

The references are Duverger Kunstinventarissen, Vol. XI, p. 531 and p. 569. 

Majesty travesty

April 13 2016

Image of Majesty travesty

Picture: Guardian

The Central bank of Australia has issued a new $5 note – featuring a rather awkward portrait of the Queen. In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones looks at the progression of the Queen's portraits as she has got older:

It is a fine line between lending a modern monarch the magic of regal myth and telling obvious lies. As the Queen has got older that balance has got harder. The young woman who was crowned in 1953 was much easier to fit into fairytale fictions of royalty. More and more portraitists have tried to show the “real” Queen as she has aged, with less than happy results. Lucian Freud is one of the greatest British painters of all time, but his portrait of an unhappy Queen uneasily wearing the crown was not exactly a popular success. Profound realism or epic royal fail?

Bol export application withdrawn

April 13 2016

Image of Bol export application withdrawn

Picture: Arts Council

More bad news on the export licensing front: the buyer of a £5 million portrait by Ferdinand Bol (above) has withdrawn their application to export the painting following the expression of 'strong interest' from a UK institution to acquire the work. I do not know which institution tried to buy the picture, which used to hang at Castle Howard. The picture must now stay in the UK for ten years before a new application can be made.

The note of the hearing for the Bol portrait (held in December 2015) stated that the picture's owner:

understood the circumstances under which an export licence might be refused and that, if the decision on the licence was deferred, the owner would allow the portrait to be displayed for fundraising purposes.

In other words, this is another case where the owner of a painting has reneged on an undertaken accepted in good faith by the export licensing committee. Just to recap, under the UK's export licensing system, an owner can only apply for an export license if they agree in principle to allow any UK museum that wishes to try and 'save' the painting to raise a matching price. If the owner doesn't agree to this, no licence is granted. If they renege, as has happened here, no new licence can be applied for for ten years. 

So in one sense the system has worked, in that an important painting is going to stay in the country. However, the owner's actions point to a growing trend among export applicants to abuse the UK's scrupulously fair system. Regular readers will know that while I have argued strongly that the UK system does not need radical change, as demanded by the director of the art fund Stephan Deuchar, we do need to stop abuses like this taking place. It seems to be fair game now for owners to say 'yes I will accept a matching offer', but actually they're just saying that to get the application under way, and hoping that no museum shows any interest in the work. My suggestion has been to increase the 'pentalty' period for which a painting must stay in the UK if an application is withdrawn under such circumstances, from 10 years to, say, 15 years - or perhaps longer.

National Gallery acquires Signorelli

April 13 2016

Image of National Gallery acquires Signorelli

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London has acquired a new picture by Luca Signorelli through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. Man on a Ladder, painted between 1504-5, was (says the NG website):

Originally part of a vast altarpiece depicting the 'Lamentation at the Foot of the Cross' commissioned in 1504 for the church of Sant’Agostino in Matelica, a town in central Italy, the large panel was subsequently cut into separate pieces for sale to different purchasers. 'Man on a Ladder' is one of six known fragments of this altarpiece. The others are currently housed in museums and collections around the world, including the Museo Civico, Bologna, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and private collections in Genoa, Rome and England. 'Man on a Ladder' is the only fragment that can be seen in a UK public collection.


April 12 2016

... For the lack of blogging lately. I'm afraid I'm little unwell again. Hopefully back tomorrow.

Raising 'The Raising the Lazarus'

April 8 2016

Video: National Gallery, London

These National Gallery videos are getting better and better. In the video above, National Gallery restorer Jill Dunkerton (who, I must say, has great TV presence and authority) talks about restoring Joachim Wtewael's Raising of Lazarus. Longstanding readers might remember that this picture was a discovery from back in 2014, when it was spotted by a Bonhams specialist in Wycombe Museum. It had previously had no attribution at all, and was covered in many layers of dirt and old varnish. 

For more NG videos, see here.

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