The Hitler market
June 25 2015
In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones has been looking at the high prices fetched by paintings by Hitler - or rather, attributed to Hitler. The thing is, fakes abound, because nobody wants to be in a position to be an, er, Hitler connoisseur. So closet Nazi art collectors are spending vast sums, sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds, on modern daubs that some enterprising fellow has signed 'Hitler'. As the saying goes, a Nazi fool and his money are easily parted.
£71m sale - 'strong prices' or a 'flop'?
June 24 2015
Such is the twitchiness among some that we're at bursting point in the art market that even the mildest setback is interpreted as a disaster. Yesterday's Impressionist sale at Christie's made £71m, and was led by the above £10.8m Monet. But a few duff lots have led to Bloomberg headlining the sale a 'flop'.
One such was a Picasso portrait which sold for £4.5m, despite having been bought for $6.8m in 2010. Apparently, the fact that the vendor didn't quadruple their money in just five years on an average painting by Picasso is a portent of art market armageddon.
Needless to say, the Christie's press release of the sale gives an extremely rosy view, heralding 'strong prices across the breadth of the category'. The truth lies somewhere between the two.
New Monet pastel discovery
June 24 2015
When the London-based art dealer Jonathan Green came to remove some tape from the back of a Monet pastel he'd bought at auction, he was pleasantly surprised to find another, completely unknown pastel by Monet. More here in The Guardian.
'Washington at Princeton'
June 23 2015
I do like Christie's series of 'Game Changer' videos - where specialists talk about an object they particularly like, not just something for sale. Above, Christie's specialist John A. Hays talks about Charles Willson Peale's Portrait of George Washington at the Battle of Princeton.
Beit collection works withdrawn from Christie's
June 23 2015
I mentioned briefly, in my look at the forthcoming Old Master sales, the hoo-ha in Ireland about the consignment of 7 important pictures from the Beit Collection. These are housed in the magnificent Russborough House in Co. Wicklow (below), and were given to a charitable trust by the late Sir Alfred Beit. The trust, which manages the house, had claimed that the works could not be on show for 'security reasons' (some had been stolen twice already), and had to be sold to provide funds for the upkeep of the house.
In Ireland, there was considerable uproar, and questions were even asked in the Irish parliament. The role of the National Gallery in Ireland was also placed under scrutiny - should the pictures have been given an export licence? Many said not, but the Gallery said they did not have the money to save the pictures.
But now, with just days to go (the Irish Times reports) the Beit Foundation has announced that they want to withdraw the pictures, after 'private Irish donors' offered to buy the works. If the Foundation signed the standard Christie's sale contract, then there will be hefty withdrawal fees to be considered. These are calculated at 75% of the agreed seller's commission and buyer's premium which would have been due if the pictures sold at the lower estimate. In this case, the total of the combined lower estimates is £5.3m; there is a Rubens portrait head, above, at £2m-£3m, a Rubens sketch at £1.2m-£1.8m, a Teniers at £1.2m-£1.8m, as well as a Van Ostade, and two Guardis. We can't know what commissions were agreed between Christie's and the Beit Foundation, but I imagine the liability is potentially something like £500,000.
The standard Christie's contract also says that vendors may only withdraw pictures under certain circumstances - so the Beit Foundation will have to ask nicely. To be honest, my immediate sympathies are with Christie's, who have spent considerable time and resources marketing the paintings, and now have a large gap in their forthcoming sale. The Beit Foundation certainly does not come out of this with any glory - if these private donors exist, why did the Foundation not make more of an effort to find them before sending the pictures to Christie's? It looks like a failure of imagination: 'we need cash, so let's flog some paintings and hope nobody notices'.
Anyway, if the pictures do remain at Russborough, then clearly something radical has to happen there about the way the pictures are regarded by the trustees. It would be a nonsense for the pictures to be 'saved', but then left in storage because they can't resolve the security situation.
And while we're at it, the procedures for exporting important works of art from Ireland need to reviewed too. In Ireland, legislation was passed in 1997 setting out the various value thresholds and cultural status requirements when it came to exporting works of art, much like we have here in the UK. But for some reason that law has never been brought into effect. Therefore, a 1945 law is still in force, by which the export of any painting, even if it is worth just 1 Euro, must apply for an export licence, which has to be personally signed by the director of the National Gallery - who I'm sure has better things to do with his time. You might think that such a situation would help protect the export of important Irish works of art. But in practice, unless you have a system like we do in the UK, where the passing of certain value thresholds sets a series of institutional alarm bells ringing, it actually becomes more difficult to have procedures designed to 'save' the important works. As far as I can tell, all that is needed to bring the 1997 law into effect is a ministerial signature.
Update - a reader tells me that when, last week, the Beit Foundation trustess refused to withdraw the works, they cited (to the Irish Arts Minister) a €1.4m fee payable to Christie's. More here.
Update II - Reuters reports that the proposed rescue deal involves an Irish tax relief scheme - and also that if the plans don't work out, then a sale will be back on the agenda in October. Quite why none of this was explored earlier, long before a sale at Christie's was planned, is a mystery. It sounds to me as if Russborough needs some new trustees.
Update III - All hail one of the trustess, Carmel O'Sullivan, who has consistently argued against the sale. And here in the Irish Times is an interview with the late Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, in which they say that their express wish is the keep the collection intact.
Looking at the list of Russborough Trustees, it seems they Foundation is following a slightly outdated practice of appointing trustees from worthy societies, such as the Irish Georgian Society. This is all well and good, and we can't dispute the integrity of the current trustees. But really the Foundation needs to move into the 21st Century, and appoint one or two trustees who a) are rich, and b) know other people who are rich.
Getty buys lost Bernini sculpture
June 22 2015
The New York Times reports that the Getty has bought the above bust by Bernini of Pope Paul V. The 1621 bust was long thought lost. More here.
Export block on Courtauld Cezanne
June 22 2015
A Cezanne bought by the great collector Samuel Courtauld, and owned his descendants, has had a temporary export bar placed on it by the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey. The picture had been on loan at the Fitzwilliam for 30 years before being sold at Christie's earlier this year for £13m. Will any museum step forward to buy it? I doubt so - but good luck if you do.
New Rembrandt attribution at the Mauritshuis
June 22 2015
The Mauritshuis has re-attributed their 'Saul and David' to Rembrandt, after eight years of research and conservation. The above video is very CSI, and tells us that the great Ernst van der Wetering has signed off on the attribution. More here.
Bargain of the week? (ctd.)
June 22 2015
Here's one for my sadly rather long 'ones that got away' list... Regular readers may remember that last year I underbid a possible 'sleeper' which, for me, was way 'off piste', but which I nonetheless liked very much; a possible Goya. The picture had long been accepted as Goya's copy of Velasquez' famous portrait of Innocent X, but was lately doubted (as indeed are so many Goyas).
Anyway, I had the chance to see the picture again the other day - after it had been given a light clean - and I was personally more convinced by it than ever before. At £37k, something of a bargain. Still, onto the next.
Van Dyck, on the money! (ctd.)
June 21 2015
Picture: Gainsborough's House
I mentioned recently the Bank of England's desire to put an artist on the new £20 note. Of course, I suggested Van Dyck. But now Gainsborough's House museum in Sudbury has said it must be Gainsborough instead (above). And very good he looks too.
You can nominate your favourite artist here.
Update - the Georgian Society tells us (via Twitter) that:
Almost everyone in England is within 40 miles of a Capability Brown landscape.
And that he should therefore be on the £20 note. That's a great statistic, and I'm almost tempted to vote for him myself. Here's a map of Brown's landscapes by the way.
Clandon - to be rebuilt 'in some shape or form'
June 21 2015
Video: The National Trust
The National Trust have said that Clandon Park, destroyed by a recent fire, is to be rebuilt 'in some shape or form'.
No word yet on the causes of the fire - though these must surely be known by now.
Sotheby's Castle Howard sale - The Movie
June 21 2015
Sotheby's have really pushed the boat out for their latest Old Master video; drones fly around the house, and the voice-over is from none other than Jeremy Irons. Irons, of course, starred in the Brideshead Revisited series that helped make Castle Howard so famous.
June 18 2015
The Battle of Waterloo was fought on this day two hundred years ago. There are plenty of Waterloo related things coming up for sale at the moment, and my eye was caught by the above watercolour by Turner of The Field of Waterloo; yours for £150k-£250k at Sotheby's on 8th July.
Museums and the Trade - National Gallery conference
June 16 2015
The National Gallery in London have put out a call for papers for a conference next year on the art trade and museums. Here is what they're after:
- Mechanics of the relationship: How did the relationships between dealers and art museums work? Were these business relationships, advisory roles, or both? Which sources can we use to establish such relationships? Can quantitative evidence like pricing be used to illuminate these relationships further? Can any shifts in these dynamics be identified or measured over a geographical or chronological range?
- Biographies: Who were/are the main dealers associated with art museums? Can the personal and institutional biographies of specific dealers, agents, curators and other associated players assist in the reconstruction of the dealer-museum relationship, either in the historical or contemporary domains?
- Collaboration and conflict: How close was/is the relationship between various dealers and art museums? To what extent can these relationships be construed as successful or otherwise? Are there examples of conflict, such as failed deals, arguments over pricing or the breakdown of relationships? How were successful cases, such as acquisitions mediated by dealers, negotiated? What happens when dealers are in competition with each other? And what happens when museums are in competition with each other?
- Works: How can case studies of single artworks or groups of pieces help us to understand better the model of dealer-museum interaction? How do the previous histories of works, their provenance, and the manner of their acquisition (e.g. private treaty or auction sale) affect their afterlife in the museum?
More here. It sounds right up my street, and I'd like to go. But I can't immediately see anything in the tightly written criteria above that I can knowledgeably give a talk on.
Fitzwilliam Michelangelo discovery conference
June 16 2015
Picture: Fitzwilliam Museum
The Fitzwilliam are having a special conference to discuss those newly attributed Michelangelo bronzes. Says the museum:
It was thought that no bronzes by Michelangelo had survived but now an international team of experts believe they have identified not one, but two.
Convincing evidence based upon stringent art-historical research, scientific analysis and anatomical observation argues that the Rothschild bronzes, which have spent over a century in relative obscurity and which are currently on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum, are early works by Michelangelo. If this attribution is accepted, these unsigned and undocumented works would represent a highly significant addition to Michelangelo’s oeuvre.
On Monday 6 July 2015 at Downing College, University of Cambridge, an international panel of art historians, conservation scientists, and other experts will present further research into how these enigmatic masterpieces were made, their likely iconography, meaning, patron and purpose. Papers will also consider how they fit into Michelangelo’s career more broadly and how they relate to the work of his contemporaries.
Tickets are £85, and can be booked here.
Changes to access at the British Museum print room
June 16 2015
They've made some changes to access arrangements at the British Museum's prints & drawings room - now you have to make an appointment up to two weeks in advance, where previously you could pretty much turn up. The Grumpy Art Historian is unamused.
Pictures, pastels and prices
June 16 2015
Picture: Neil Jeffares' blog
The indispensable Neil Jeffares has a good blog post looking at how we should look at historical picture values and prices - in particular pastels. The moral of the story, as ever, is only buy a picture if you like it.
Hubris and optimism
June 15 2015
Here's a story of a lethal combination of attributional optimism, hubris, and lawyers who don't know their way around art history. A fellow called Jonathan Weal, who was recently declared bankrupt, is being prosecuted in the UK for the crime of 'non-disclosure of property by a bankrupt'. The government is claiming that far from being bankrupt, he apparently has a valuable art collection worth up to '£20 million'. The star of his collection is the above picture by 'Turner' - which Mr Weal did not tell bankruptcy officials about when he was declared bankrupt.
But the picture is not by Turner. It was bought by Mr Weal for £3,700 at an auction in 2004, and he then (as is the way with these cases of attributional optimism) came to believe that it was by Turner, and worth a great deal. Apparently he was filmed on television declaring his delight that the picture had been 'authenticated' by some experts, though this in fact turns out not to be quite accurate.
I have been sent photographs of the painting more than once, by different people, asking my opinion - and though I am no Turner scholar, it was immediately clear that this picture is nothing more than a pastiche, and not even a very good one at that. So it baffles me that the government is now prosecuting Mr Weal - who's only major crime appears to be believing that he might have had a Turner - for not declaring the value of a painting which is in fact not worth anything.
More on this sorry saga here, in the Daily Mail.
Update - an email arrives from Mr Weal:
I formally challenge you to a live televion debate on the picture fishing boats in a stiff breeze by JMW Turner.
The opinion you seek to rely on is totally discredited.The authentication was approved by the leading art law firm Mischcon de Raya.
Your firm recieved an invitation to the academic event inclusive of my posaition as a lecturer on the topographical component location as the Kent coast Ramsgate and Margate.
Instead attending to hear your superiors speak you produced your own fake and fortune production and walked the coastline at the location that you had been notified was close to mine.
The Turner museum at Margate then had there work authenticated by your team.These pictures unlike mine did not contain the forensic and historical research relation to the signature.
I formally challenge you to a head to head live television debate.More than 700 invites to the Dulwich Picture gallery conference were sent including ten to the Fitzwilliam museum at Cambridge.
The prognosis that it was not had been discredited.
The Swiss/Germans used to loot art in the 1930susing such false instruments as forged valuations either side of the Bundesbank printing counterfeit money in 1928 and Nazis making there counterfeit instruments inclusive of forging the Queens head on Pound notes.
Bendor Grosvenor you have not seen the picture live is your just another art looter opinion from the 1930s or can you stand up to me Man to Man.
I have thrown down the gauntlet the debate can be live.
For the record the Turner museum attended the lecture and approved it .So who are you to say it is not.
Man or mouse who are you? Take the challenge or are you to scared?.
Update II - further emails arrive...
Update III - Mr. Weal was found guilty, but spared jail because the judge found that the painting could only be valued at £6,500 - after all, no widely accepted Turner experts have judged the painting to be by Turner. So the offence was relatively minor, and only community service (120 hours) is appropriate. And yet Mr Weal emails me copiously to say that he has 'ten professors' behind him.
In all, a sorry tale.
New Samuel Pepys exhibition
June 15 2015
I think Samuel Pepys' diary would be the one book I'd take to the desert island - perfect for dipping in and out of, and always amusing. So I'm glad to see there's a new Samuel Pepys exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, opening on 20th November 2015, until 28th March 2016. Here's the bumf:
Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution opening at the National Maritime Museum on 20 November 2015 will be the largest ever exhibition about the famous diarist with 200 objects from national and international museums, galleries and private collections.
Pepys, one of the most colourful and appealing characters of the 17th-century, witnessed many of the great events that shaped Stuart Britain, bringing them brilliantly to life in his famous and candid diary. He lived through a time of turmoil which saw kings fighting for their crowns, and medieval London transformed into a world city following the devastation of the plague and the destruction of the Great Fire. He was a naval mastermind, a gossip and socialite, a lover of music, theatre, fine living and women. He fought for survival on the operating table and in the cut-throat world of public life and politics, successfully navigating his way to wealth and status until his luck, intimately entwined with the King’s fortunes, finally ran out.
Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution places this fascinating and multifaceted figure within a broader historical context, beginning at the moment a schoolboy Pepys played truant to witness the execution of King Charles I in 1649. It explores the turbulent times which followed, including the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 in a year of personal crisis for Pepys as he underwent a life-threatening operation to remove a bladder stone the size of a snooker ball without anaesthetic or antiseptic. He was fortunate to survive the ordeal; his recovery perhaps, in part, due to being the first on the operating table that day, reducing the risk of infection. The grisly and extremely painful procedure is graphically brought to life by 17th-century medical instruments (Royal College of Physicians).
Pepys began his now-famous diary on 1 January 1660 and was on board the ship that carried Charles II out of exile at the restoration of the monarchy later that year. He met and conversed with the King and his brother, James, Duke of York (later James II), who promised Pepys ‘his future favour’. In the diary he records his disapproval of the debauchery at court during Charles II’s reign, including the King’s many mistresses. But Pepys himself was frequently unfaithful to his wife. The exhibition will display the famous Portrait of Charles II in Coronation Robes (Royal Collection), as well as objects connected to his mistresses including one of his love letters to Louise de Kéroualle which uses her nickname ‘Fubbs’, meaning chubby (Goodwood Collection).
During his lifetime Pepys was best known for his important work in running the naval affairs of England, a career that propelled him towards wealth and power and the creation of a truly ‘professional’ navy. His work also took him to the English colony of Tangier, a place notorious for drunkenness and immorality, all of which he observed and noted in his writings.
The penultimate section of Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution looks at the dawn of the scientific revolution. Pepys was president of the Royal Society when Newton’s Principia Mathematica (Royal Society) was published, placing him at the centre of scientific debate. Publications like Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (British Library), which Pepys thought ‘the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life’, made unseen worlds of lice and fleas visible. While the matters discussed at the Society interested him, he confessed not always to understand what he heard.
The exhibition ends with extraordinary events of the Glorious Revolution, which resulted in the overthrow of Pepys’s great patron, James II. It shows how intimately Pepys’s own career was intertwined with larger national events outside his control. With the accession of William and Mary in 1689, Pepys stepped down from office and began an active retirement, indulging his many passions.
Using the voice and personality of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution explores and interprets a remarkable time of great accomplishment, upheavals and excess. It was a formative era in British history that saw the repositioning of the monarchy and the development of Britain’s place as a maritime, economic and political force on the world stage.
Why engravings aren't always right
June 15 2015
Picture: National Portrait Gallery
In art history, sitter identifications are often made on the basis of later engraved images. But, as the above 19th Century engraving of Rembrandt shows, they aren't always right; he's definitely not Prince Rupert. It's hard to see how even in the 19th Century publishers were able to make such a mistake. Still, at least they figured out that Rembrandt was the artist.