New 'Fake or Fortune?' starts Sunday
July 13 2016
Series 5 of 'Fake or Fortune?' begins this Sunday on BBC1 at 8pm, and yours truly can be glimpsed in it every now and then. Above is the new trailer. The first programme is all about a mystery painting (below) once claimed to be by Lucian Freud. It seems to have good early provenance. But there's just one problem - Freud denied painting it...
Update - I gather another series has already been commissioned. And on The One Show this evening, Fiona said that future programmes might consider things other than paintings, such as antiquities and objets d'art.
Bowes museum secures £2m endowment fund
July 13 2016
Picture: The Bowes Museum
Great news for the Bowes Museum, which has secured a £2m capital endowment fund. The fund involved the museum raising £1m itself, which is then matched by the UK government's Catalyst Endowment Fund. At a time when so many regional museums are facing funding constraints (and, let's be honest, when not enough of them are looking at enterprising ways to secure their financial futures) the ability of the Bowes museum to go out and shake the tin among local benefactors has been extraordinary. Well done to them and all involved.
Incidentally, the idea of a Lottery funded endowment fund first appeared in the Conservative party's arts and heritage manifesto of 2005 - the one wot I wrote. Just sayin'.
Earliest known British architect portrait at NPG
July 13 2016
The National Portrait Gallery in London has acquired a newly discovered portrait of Ralph Simons, the 16th Century architect. Painted in c.1595, the painting is the earliest known portrait of a British architect. It was discovered in an Italian auction by the sleuthing Lawrence Hendra, of Philip Mould & Co in London. More here.
Selfies galore in Edinburgh
July 13 2016
Picture: Scottish National Portrait Gallery
A new self-portrait exhibition opens this week at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, including examples by Rembrandt and the Scottish artist John Byrne (above), of whom I'm a great fan. More here.
Cornelius Johnson exhibition
July 13 2016
Picture: Weiss Gallery
I've been meaning to mention an excellent exhibition on the work of Cornelius Johnson, Charles I's sometime court artist, at the Weiss Gallery in London. The show is on till 15th July, and there is a good catalogue published too - the front cover shows a newly identified self-portrait (above).
Might the Wildensteins sell their art?
July 13 2016
Against the backdrop of the family's ongoing legal problems, Marion Maneker of The Art Market Monitor speculates:
If the case in France goes against the family, their may be a net benefit for the art market. Starved for high quality material, the market could leap at works the Wildensteins might want to sell to satisfy the French claims.
July 13 2016
This fine picture by Frans Pourbus the Younger came up in Paris recently, here, described as a work by a follower, and with some confusion over the identity of the sitter. The estimate was €2k-€3k, but it made €195k hammer.
I would have bid, but it seemed so obvious the picture would make a decent price I didn't bother. Sometimes it seems the days of the cheap sleeper are over...
Doig or didn't he?
July 13 2016
Picture: New York Times
What a curious story this is - someone says they bought a painting from the famous and valuable British contemporary artist Peter Doig, made when they were 16, back in the 1970s. Doig, however, says he didn't paint it - and there's compelling evidence the picture was actually made by someone called Peter Doige, with an 'e', and indeed that is what the signature says too. This Peter Doige is dead. Nevertheless, poor Peter Doig - without the 'e' - has been compelled to attend a court hearing to prove that he didn't paint a painting he has already said he didn't paint.
I'm not sure what more he can do. And why should be he waste time and lawyer's fees getting involved?
Cleaning test fun
July 13 2016
I had a fun afternoon yesterday doing some cleaning tests on a picture I discovered recently, a genre painting by Matthijs Naiveu (1647-1721). Naiveu was a pupil of Gerrit Dou, and this I think might be an early work, perhaps made whilst he was working in Dou's studio. A number of props in the painting appear in works by Dou. It's signed lower right 'M. Naiveu'. Though Naiveu is not a widely known name, I just can't resist these things when they surface in a country sale - especially when they're crying out to be rescued from beneath three or four hundred years of dirt and old varnish.
Re-uniting two great Gerrit Dous
July 13 2016
Video: Dulwich Picture Gallery
At Dulwich Picture Gallery, they've re-united two fine works by Gerrit Dou which used to be in the collection of Johan de Bye, Dou's most significant patron. The pictures have not been hung together since 1665.
The exhibition is called 'Dou in Harmony', and as ever these days there has to be a contemporary angle - and here it's a sound installation 'inspired by the paintings'. You can listen to it here, and it's supposed to help you 'connect on a metaphysical level' with the paintings. It sounded to me as if someone had left on a slightly tuneful hoover. But each to their own.
Spot the fake!
July 13 2016
Picture: Sky Arts
Sky Arts is making a programme about seven fakes that have been hung at galleries across the UK. It's competition of sorts I think, and the idea is that if you can spot all seven, then you win a prize. The seven pictures are illustrated here among genuine works, so you can have a go at sleuthing online. It's pretty easy, I think you'll find - whoever made the fakes has not tried especially hard to mimic the Old Master ways. But I'm all in favour of things like this - anything to make people look more closely at the object. Well done to those participating galleries. More here.
"How Rembrandt made his etchings"
July 13 2016
Nice short video by Christie's on how to make an etching.
Did Abramovich buy the £44m Rubens?
July 13 2016
Colin Gleadell in the Telegraph wonders, and reports that whoever bought the Rubens also bought a number of other pictures, including the set of Four Seasons by Brueghel the Younger.
Rembrandt pair at the Rijksmuseum
July 13 2016
The Rijksmuseum has made a nice video about their new Rembrandt acquisition (made jointly with the Louvre) of the portraits of Marten and Oopjen Coppit. Meanwhile, in the New York Times, their former owner Eric de Rothschild has spoken of the process of selling them.
London Old Master sales (post-sale)
July 10 2016
I think there were two main stories from last week's London Old Master sales: first, Brexit didn't have as much of an impact on the overall market as some might have feared (as ever, the OMP market just plods along, whatever the economic weather); and second, Christie's are back in play in the Old Master field. Christie's evening sale total was £65.3m (pre-sale estimate £36.4m-£54.9m), compared to Sotheby's £16.4m (est. £20.m-£31.2m). (All sale prices quoted here include premium).
Of course, the greater part of Christie's total was made up of the £44m Rubens, but then we should also consider the major Old Master works that Christie's sold in the previous week as part of their British Art sale, including a £14m Constable and a £3.7m Reynolds. Christie's success marks something of a turnaround in their OMP fortunes - for the last few years they have lagged behind Sotheby's.
The impact of Brexit will inevitably take some time to be felt in the UK domestic market. As I wrote here for The Art Newspaper, I'm not optimistic. But in the short term it seems the suddenly weaker pound encouraged overseas bidders to keep taking an interest in what London had to offer. For dollar buyers, the exchange rate meant effectively a 15% discount. On major lots that's equivalent to waiving the buyer's premium. I heard one report of a vendor ringing the auction house to demand that their estimate be increased, in light of the weak pound. A sign perhaps of the inflation to come...
One can perhaps also begin to discern the effect of Brexit in the middle market. Some obviously British pictures in the day sales, such as this perfectly nice Lely portrait estimated at £15k-£20k (which one would have expected to sell to domestic buyers) did not attract any bidders. But it's probably too early to tell here.
Anyway, it was overall a heartening series of sales, from which those of us in the Old Master game could take much comfort. Yours truly even managed to sell four pictures - nothing stellar, but enough to keep the show on the road for a wee while longer.
So let's look at some of the indivudal lots. The main story of the week was obviously the Rubens of Lot and his Daughters, which made an impressive £44.8m against an estimate of £20m-£30m. Although I thought the picture would sell, I didn't expect it to do that well. It just goes to show how difficult it is to value Old Masters. Many thought that the subject matter was, in terms of desirability, some way off that of the last major Rubens to break into the £40m category, the Massacre of the Innocents which made £49.5m in 2002. But 14 minutes of bidding demonstrated that people and insitutions are still prepared to pay significant sums for undoubted masterpieces. Another Rubens from the Beit collection, a sketch for Venus Supplicating Jupiter, sold for £1.3m.
Another impressive price at Christie's was the rare complete set of all Four Seasons by Breughel the Younger, which made £6.4m (est. £3m-£5m). This and the £506k (est. £300k-£500k) for yet another version of The Payment of the Tithes showed that the Breughel the Younger market seems to be as strong as ever. I speculated a while ago that a decline of Russian bidders might affect this market, but it seems I am wrong, and someone in the know about these things assures me I am. The only Van Dyck to sell last week did well enough, the previously unknown Portrait of a Lady making £170k, over its estimate of £100k-£150k. A pair of Bellottos in good state made £3.5m (est.£2m-£3m). A William Larkin portrait of lady (below) made an encouraging (for British art lovers) £266k against an estimate of £40k-£60k. This is the sort of Old Master picture which increasingly fits contemporary taste, with its naivety and colouring, and the fact that it's on panel. Some years ago it would most likely have been a Day Sale kind of picture.
One major Old Master name that didn't fare so well at Christie's was Titian, whose full-length portrait of Guidobaldo II delle Rovere failed to sell at £2m-£3m, probably due to its condition. An intriguing 'Dutch School' portrait of a man in a hat painted in c.1655 made £385k - I wonder if we'll soon see it again cleaned, and with an artist's name attached.
I was surprised to see a copy of Caravaggio's Boy Peeling Fruit (above) sell so well at £218,500. I happened to see the original recently (in the Royal Collection) and the picture at Christie's was some way off even being called 'Studio' of Caravaggio, if indeed he had a studio. But marketing a copy, which would normally be catalogued as 'circle of' or 'after', as 'Associate of Caravaggio' perhaps gave the picture an air of being closer to Caravaggio than it really is. The original has a pentiment of a leaf behind the peeled fruit - which presumably would only have emerged through the white drapery after a period of time. In the copy at Christie's that pentiment has itself been copied, but as a kind of smudge or shadow in the drapery, which suggests the copyist didn't really understand what was going on in the original. So one wonders quite how close to Caravaggio the copyist was, even in date.
Sotheby's established a handsome new record for the work of the French pastellist Liotard, this time for an oil of A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (above), which made £4.4m (est. £4m-£6m). The previous Liotard record was €1.4m in 2012, for a pastel. A Rubens sketch of The Chariot of Apollo showed the market for Rubens' studies is still as strong as ever. Indeed, a pair of putti in Sotheby's day sale selling for £245k (est. £80k-£120k) showed that Rubens seems to be especially favoured at the moment - the two pictures were perfectly nice, but were in fact fragments from a larger picture which had been cut up by a dealer in the mid-18th Century (shame on you, M. Wachters), and much repainted in parts by restorers over the years. Another strong Ribera price (£293k, est. £100k-£150k) at Sotheby's showed that even the most 'boring' religious subject, of a bearded saint looking up and wearing brown (below), can sell well if it's painted by someone as dazzling as Ribera. A recently restituted Jan Brueghel the Elder still life of flowers (seized in by the Nazis in 1939 from Baron Alphonse von Rothschild sold for £3.84m (est. £3m-£5m). A still-life of glasses and fruit by Pieter Claesz was unsold at £1.8m-£2.5m. It does seem that the Dutch 17th C market is softer than it once was. A rather rubbed late-English period Van Dyck portrait of a lady in red didn't sell at £400k-£600k - this picture had been up before in 2012 at Christie's and also failed to sell. Sotheby's sold three out of the four Dominic Serres views of Havana.
Bonhams had one of their best Old Master sales for many years. They sold a good Claude for £722k, and the star of the show, a self-portrait by William Dobson, soared above its £200k-£300k estimate to make £1.1m. In the back of the room I saw the great Waldemar (perhaps the world's biggest Dobson fan) directing a film of the bidding (above). The curiously cheap Ribera I mentioned in an earlier post made £218k (est. £20k-£30k). It would have made more, I am told, but for hesitancy over its mid-WW2 sale history. A London dealer won some strong bidding for an attractive Romney portrait of Elizabeth Burgoyne (below), which made £314k (est. £70k-£100k), and proved that the market for later 18thC 'peaches and cream' English portraiture can still be strong. That said, a portrait of her husband Mr Burgoyne (in just as good condition, and attractive enough in a red jacket) failed to sell at £30k-£50k. The portrait market is very subjective, and value is often all in whether the sitter is good looking or not. Sad, I know - but at least it means that great examples of portrait painting can be had cheaply - a perfectly decent Gainsborough can be yours for £10k if you don't mind it showing an aged old lady.
Some of my Old Master colleagues wondered if the strength of the London sales was due to a transfer of affections by some collectors from the contemporary and modern market - post-Brexit and ahead of the expected economic uncertainty. I doubt it, but here's hoping. And a glimmer of hope might be that, as Ermanno Rivetti reports in The Art Newspaper, the Rubens of Lot and His Daughters was bought by a client dealing with Christie's head of post-war and contemporary art, Frances Outred. If the Rubens was indeed bought by a 'contemporary collector', then that will energise the market somewhat.
Oh - I must also mention that Sotheby's sold their Lely self-portrait drawing for £869,000, which was a great result.
July 10 2016
Well it seems another week has gone by without much activity on the blog - I am sorry. But the Old Master sales week has kept me busy, and we're in the home straight of our new BBC4 series, which airs on 14th September. It seems I'm on a plane somewhere at least three times a week at the moment. I hope to have more time to catch up on stories on Tuesday and Wednesday.
London Old Master sales (part 2)
July 3 2016
Today I went to view Christie's Old Master sales at King St. And what an impressive sight it was - this year Christie's has put together an extremely strong sale. The weight of great art on show at King St. is also added to by a loan exhibition of works from private collections, which is displayed in some newly refurbished rooms on the ground floor. The exhibition includes works by Bacon, Freud, Gainsborough, Canaletto, Lawrence, and Turner. I also enjoyed seeing Landseer's famous Monarch of the Glen (above), which I don't recall seeing before. The exhibition is on until July 15th, and is well worth a visit.
As expected the most important painting of Christie's Evening Sale is the early Rubens of Lot and his Daughters. This is officially described as 'estimate on request' in the catalogue, but an estimate of £20m-£30m has been widely discussed. It's a great picture (and I know that's an over-used phrase in the art trade), in excellent condition, and I expect it to sell well. As mentioned earlier on AHN, Rubens is also included in the sale with a sketch of Venus Supplicating Jupiter from the Beit Collection (£1.2m-£1.8m).
There is a rather lovely, and entirely 'right', previously unknown portrait of a lady by Van Dyck. It is in perfect 'dealer bait' condition, cheaply estimated at £100k-£150k, and the temptation to take off the old varnish will be great. It should blossom into an engaging and important late English period Van Dyck - and will surely sell above the estimate. A full-length Titian is on offer at £2m-£3m, which price probably reflects the condition of the picture - it's a little thin in parts, which is alas so often the case with Titian. It seems that pictures by the most famous artists have, over time, been cleaned far more regularly than those by minor ones - and have consequently suffered from the attentions of over-enthusiastic 'restorers'.
A rarity on offer at Christie's is a complete set of Peter Breughel the Younger's 'Four Seasons' estimated at £3m-£5m. Individual 'seasons' have made strong prices in the past, and I'd expect the set at Christie's to make more than the lower estimate. That said, the Breughel market has been affected by a recent decline in Russian buying. For some reason Russian buyers were particularly keen on Breughel the Younger, and for a while in the last decade his pictures became something of an art historical currency. A 'Payment of Tithes' by Brueghel the Younger is also in the sale £300k-£400k. Other pictures I liked included a Paulus Potter 'Milkmaid' at £250k-£350k, and a small Canaletto 'View on a River' at £700k-£1m.
The Christie's Day Sale catalogue is here, and includes a fine picture of giraffes by Jacques-Laurent Agasse (£40k-£60k). If I had the space, I'd buy this massive landscape by Jan Looten and Jan Wyck, a bargan at £15k-£25k.
London Old Master sales (part 1)
July 2 2016
Picture: Ishbel Grosvenor
Greetings from London, where I've come down for Old Master week, and also for two days filming for my forthcoming BBC4 series. Today I went to see Sotheby's and Bonhams' offerings - Christie's was shut, and I'll go there tomorrow. In between auction viewings the Deputy Editor and I joined the 'March for Europe' from Park Lane to Parliament Square.
Anyway, before I give my pick of the Sotheby's and Bonhams sales, I must note the success of Christie's 'Defining British Art' sale, which was held last week. Christie's has decided that strictly period-defined sales are a thing of the past, and so we can expect to see more sales fashioned out of themes that cross the centuries. I think it's a good idea. So last week we saw works by Joshua Reynolds and John Constable sold alongside works by Henry Moore and Francis Bacon. There's a loan exhibition on at Christie's King Street of great treasures of British art, till 15th July (more here).
The bidding was strong, and it seems overseas buyers were keen to take advantage of the post-Brexit cheap pound, and buy works with an in-built discount of at least 10%. The Bacon painting made £20.2m, while the Moore, a reclining bronze, made a record £24.7m against an estimate of £15m-£20m. On the older side of things, a John Constable study 'View on the Stour near Dedham' made £14m, the second highest auction price for Constable. A fine 50x40 inch portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) soared above its already punchy estimate of £2m-£3m to make £3.7m.
At Sotheby's today I enjoyed seeing an exquisite oil painting by Liotard - A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (above) - which was recently in the Liotard exhibition at the Royal Academy. This is estimated at £4m-£6m. Other highlights included a Rubens oil sketch 'The Chariot of Apollo' at £1m-£1.5m; a trio of fine Joseph Wright of Derby Italian landscapes, all in unusually good condition (here, here and here); and a series of views by Dominic Serres of the British capture of Havana in 1762 (the last four lots here). Sotheby's evening sale catalogue is here, and the day sale here.
In Sotheby's drawing sale there is (as I've already mentioned) the exceptionally rare self-portrait drawing by Sir Peter Lely (above, est. £600k-£800k). I was again struck by how reasonable some Old Master drawings by top names are - worth having a flick through the Sotheby's drawing catalogue if you're interested. I particularly liked a study of a pollarded willow by John Constable - large, in good condition, and priced at £2k-£3k. It's the sort of tree Constable adopted enthusiastically from the works of Thomas Gainsborough, who was also a fan of the pollarded willow one often sees in Suffolk. When Constable went on his own travels on Suffolk he said, 'I fancy I see Gainsborough in every tree'. At it's still like that today in many parts - every time I go there, I can't help but think the same.
Bonhams have put together a very strong sale. Not only do they have the William Dobson self-portrait already covered on AHN (which seems cheap at £200,000-£300,000), but a large and very fine Claude landscape estimated at £600k-£800k (it should sell for over a £1m). My bargain of the week is also at Bonhams, a Jusepe de Ribera painting of St Sebastian (above) which is estimated at just £20k-£30k. If I thought it had any chance of selling for that I'd be bidding myself, but it will surely fly some way above that level. There is apparently another version in a museum in Seville, but the Bonhams picture is signed, and in excellent condition.
As ever, if any readers want advice on anything in the sales, just ask.
Update - I noticed at Sotheby's that beneath the usual labels giving title, medium and estimate, they now have a short descriptive label giving basic information about the artist and the picture. I think this is a great initiative - and could help encourage those new to the world of Old Master collecting. I don't think those of us in the art trade realise quite how challenging Old Masters can be for new collectors.