Poor OMP sales

July 10 2015


I am sorry for the lack of posts these last few days. The story of the Old Master sales this week is one of patchiness and disappointment. I'll look at why over the weekend.

London Art Week

July 3 2015

Video: Sotheby's

If you like Old Master paintings, then London is the place to be next week. There are the main sales from Christie's, Bonhams and Sotheby's, as well as special exhibitions from the major dealers. More here

Above, Sotheby's Alex Bell talks about two full-length portraits coming up in their Evening Sale, a Romney and a Batoni.

And there is an interesting introduction to London Art Week from Dr Nicholas Penny, which makes some subtle but important points:

It is a pleasure to write again in support of London Art Week in July because I can tell readers (who can tell their friends and clients) that the National Gallery will remain at the heart of this event, its curators among those moving eagerly from gallery to gallery, from viewing to viewing, opening to opening.

My successor as Director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, well-known to so many of you, will be conspicuous in the future among them. And will receive you as I have done within the Gallery itself, because we want all collectors, not just of Old Master Paintings, but of Old Master Drawings and Sculpture to support the National Gallery – as all (or almost all) dealers of Old Masters already do of course.

We believe in the pleasure to be obtained from the close scrutiny of a work of art, of looking at it in different lights and seasons, again and again.  And yes, we all believe in the pleasure of possession. Of course dealers generally get over this and sell what they love – although frequently retaining some secret emotional investment in it and planning one day to retrieve it for a while. And we curators and curator-directors (the category to which I belong) have to learn to welcome the rest of the world into our galleries. During this festive week in particular we will, I’m sure, all try to share as well as covet and compete.

Update - Monday: I'm in London viewing the sales, so I'm afraid there might not be much from me today.

Update II - neither full length sold. Curious.

Update III - It's Thursday, so many apologies for the absence of blogging. It's been a busy time up in London. Thanks to all readers who stopped to say hello. 

'Fake or Fortune?' series 4

July 3 2015

Video: BBC

Here's a trailer for the forthcoming series of 'Fake or Fortune?'. The artists under consideration this time are: Renoir, Lowry, Sir Winston Churchill, Alfred Munnings, and an unknown Venetian Old Master.

A Picasso in a suitcase? (ctd.)

July 2 2015

Image of A Picasso in a suitcase? (ctd.)

Picture: Scotsman/Fife Free Press

The story about the apparent discovery of a 'Picasso' in an attic in Scotland has gone around the world. As Maggie Miller, who first broke the story in Fife Free Press, reports:

Within hours of the Fife Free Press’ story, Dominic was interviewed by BBC and ITV news.

The following day, his astonishing discovery was featured in print across the UK and on the internet it went viral reaching Europe, Canada and the United States, followed by South America, Pakistan, China and Japan the next day.

Dominic has been approached by various TV production companies hoping to document his journey as he goes about proving the painting’s authenticity.

The story so far is that the picture - which is strikingly similar to a Picasso in the art institute of Chicago (below, right) - was a gift to the mother of Dominic Currie (above, who found the picture in his late mum's suitcase) by his father, a Soviet soldier called Nicolai Vladimirovich, of whose existence Mr Currie only learned about late in life. Mr Currie's mother (whom, growing up, he believed was his sister) apparently had a romance with this soldier in Poland in 1955, when she was on holiday.

The Russian name given, however, is only a christian name and a patronymic - that is, 'Nicolai, son of Vladimir' - and seems to be missing the surname we would usually expect to see. This made looking into the story of how the soldier might have got hold of the Picasso a little difficult.

Nevertheless, I did a reverse Google image search of the photograph of Nicolai Vladimirovich seemingly provided to news outlets by Mr Currie himself (above), but with the frame cropped out. This search revealed that the original photograph is listed on a website called hdstockphoto.com, where it looks as below. It must be, with the same scratches and other details, the same photograph or original image. The hdstockphoto website, in turn, points to the source of that photo - what it calls the 'original website' - being Ebay.

Update - the medals shown, on the right, are Hero of the Soviet Union, and the Order of Lenin; two of the highest military honours of the Soviet Union. In other words, this Nicolai Vladimirovich should be easily identifiable. If he exists.

Update II - a Lynda Currie, who is listed on Mr Currie's Facebook page as selling some of his art on Ebay, has in the last six months bought more than one item from Ebay retailers specialising in Soviet memorabilia. I'm not saying there's anything in this. I'm just sayin'.

Update III - a video interview with Mr Currie is here

Update IV - all the photos used in the press coverage are captioned '(C) Dominic Currie/SWNS'. SWNS is a press agency, which has a website called www.sellusyourstory.com. These are the figures they quote for various stories:

Here is a loose example of what you can typically expect for a real life story (sold as an exclusive). Please remember that these prices can be higher or lower depending on availability of similar stories, quality of photos, the publication’s current budgets, and even the time of year (or other supply and demand factors):

£50 – Providing comment about a topic or issue, or appearing as a small case study.

£100 – Volunteering as a case study / part of a multiple feature.

£200 – Interesting or unusual story.

£500 –  Interesting or unusual story that is rare or related to current news agenda.

£1,000 to £3,000 – Extreme or sensitive story.

£3,000 to £10,000 – Extreme or sensitive story, rare story or unusual story involving a celebrity or public figure.

If you had a painting you thought might be a £100m Picasso, would you sell your story for this kind of money?

Update V - don't they teach the basic stuff in journalism school anymore?

Update VI - looking around Mr Currie's art online, he's actually quite talented.

Update VII - I haven't yet found the original listing for the photograph of 'Nicolai' on Ebay, but I have found what appears to be the frame in which it has been put (below). The Ebay listing for it was last updated on 1st April (inadvertently pertinent, perhaps), and it was bought by what appears to be the Lynda Currie Ebay account from someone called 'Bedfordbroker'. I say appears to be, because buyer details are anonymised on Ebay - but we do know that the Lynda Currie account bought something from the Bedfordbroker account at around this time, and her feedback rating star is both red and has the number 1383 beside it - and both these details appear on the buyer listing for the frame.

Update VIII - they also appear to have bought an 'Old Vintage Student Youth Festival Souvenir Book Russia USSR Soviet Union', for £2, and a Soviet 'Ticket for Wine Tasting' for $6.97.

Update IX - Oh, and a 'large blank canvas'.

Update X - Mr. Currie has confessed. It was a hoax all along. More here.

Sotheby's £130m contemporary sale

July 2 2015

Image of Sotheby's £130m contemporary sale

Picture: Melanie Girlis

There was a protest outside Sotheby's 'record sale' in London last night (I'm not quite sure which record, there's so many of them these days), as photographed above by The Art Newspaper's Melanie Girlis. Such is the way of the contemporary art world, it probably helped prices.

Marion Maneker of the Art Market Monitor has a breakdown of the sale here

The computer as connoisseur

July 2 2015

Image of The computer as connoisseur

Picture: Technologyreview.com

Scientists in Serbia say they have developed a way of telling the difference between an original work of art and a copy, even if they're by the same artist, as in the case of the two identical pictures by Magritte, above. They use 'machine-vision analysis techniques', and this is how they do it:

Their fundamental hypothesis is that the action of creating original art is part of a self-organizing process orchestrated by the brain. As such, it leads to a unique level of complexity in the way paint and colors are used and distributed.

By contrast, the process of copying is much more methodical and leads to lower levels of complexity. And this difference should make it possible to distinguish originals from copies.

But how to tell the difference? Rajkovic and Milovanovic contend that this is possible using wavelet analysis that transforms a two-dimensional image into a time-frequency representation which captures information about the painting at various scales. These scales can be thought of as looking at progressively more blurred images of the paintings.

Rajkovic and Milovanovic perform this analysis using the red, green, and blue channels of a conventional RGB image of each painting. and they repeat the analysis for patches of each painting.

Sure enough, they say a difference in complexity is clearly visible between Caspers’s originals and copies. “For all patches and all the paintings, the mean global complexity of an original painting is larger than the corresponding value of a copy,” they say.

Is this now what we should call connoisseurship (for that is the process the scientists are describing): 'human-vision analysis techniques'?

More here.

Sotheby's Institute of Art

July 2 2015

Learn the Business of Art at Sotheby's Institute of Art from Sotheby's Institute of Art on Vimeo.

Video: Vimeo

I've given quite a few lectures for the Sotheby's Institue of Art, and have been an admirer of what they do (it's one of the few places to teach anything about connoisseurship for a start). It's expensive, but worth considering if you want to work in the art world. 

New law to protect art historians?

June 30 2015

Image of New law to protect art historians?

Picture: Connoisseurs by Honoré Daumier

There has for some years been a trend for people to sue art historians and scholars who do not give the 'right' opinion on a work of art. An academic or curator says your picture is a copy? Sue them.

Some famous cases have involved works by Andy Warhol, where lawsuits (or merely the threat of them) from disgruntled owners ultimately obliged the Warhol Foundation to shut down some of its activities. In France, the owner of a putative Monet (which we featured on 'Fake or Fortune?') sued the Wildenstein Foundation after they refused to list the work as a genuine Monet. And even I've had threatening letters and emails after expressing a view on the attribution or identification of a painting. 

To protect those who merely seek to give an opinion on works of art, and to freely publish that opinion, the New York legislature has now passed "An act to amend the arts and cultural affairs law, in relation to opinions concerning authenticity, attribution and authorship of works of fine art”.

The bill is not yet enacted, and for more details read Kevin P. Ray's blog here. But it's evidently a step in the right direction. For although those who give opinions on authenticity can sometimes be bone-headedly wrong, it seems to me absurd that anyone should be allowed to sue an art historian, and oblige them, via a court, to change their mind. So - well done New York, and I hope other legislatures follow suit. 

New Hermitage website

June 30 2015

Image of New Hermitage website

Picture: Hermitage

The Hermitage in St Petersburg has a new website, and very good it is too. Some of the images are available in high resolution, and the search function is easy to use. The Hermitage was one of the first to have an online collection, many years ago. I'm still baffled, however, by the number of major European museums which still don't have good online databases; the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Uffizi in Florence, to name just two.

New Gainsborough drawing discovery

June 30 2015

Image of New Gainsborough drawing discovery

Picture: Bainbridges Auctions

A newly discovered drawing by Thomas Gainsborough is to be sold at auction, with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000. More here

Re-assembling Charles I's art collection

June 29 2015

Image of Re-assembling Charles I's art collection

Picture: Louvre

Here's an exhibition I can hardly wait for: the Royal Academy will, in 2018, bring together a large number of works from the former collection of Charles I. Although many pictures were brought back into the royal collection by Charles II - after the great Commonwealth sale of the collection in 1649 - a large number of works escaped overseas, and these are the ones the RA (working with the Royal Collection Trust) hopes to bring back.

Another little-known loss to the royal collection came in the late 17th Century, when William III took a stack of pictures with him to Holland, to furnish his palace at Het Loo. The British government tried to get them back after William's death, but the Dutch resisted. Eventually some of them were even sold, after the Dutch government ran into financial trouble. 

More on the 2018 show here, where the Surveyor of the Queen's pictures, Desmond Shawe-Taylor, discusses the show's aims in further detail. 

A Picasso in a suitcase?

June 29 2015

Image of A Picasso in a suitcase?

Picture: Scotsman

An artist here in Scotland claims to have found a painting by Picasso in an old suitcase of his mother's. The picture had lain undisturbed for decades, says Dominic Currie, above, but was opened after his mother's recent death. Apparently, Mr Currie's mother met and fell pregnant to a Russian soldier whilst on a holiday to Poland in 1955, and the picture was a gift from him. More here

Update - some doubts raised here in the Mail, by some who think it looks to be a pastiche based on another work by Picasso in Chicago, his portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (below right).

Ex-Gurlitt Liebermann makes £1.9m

June 29 2015

Image of Ex-Gurlitt Liebermann makes £1.9m

Picture: Telegraph

The first painting to be restituted from the Gurlitt collection, Max Liebermann's Two Riders on a Beach, has sold for £1.9m at Sotheby's in London. More here

Has someone found the missing Ghent Altarpiece panel?

June 29 2015

Image of Has someone found the missing Ghent Altarpiece panel?

Picture: Facebook

Or have they, more likely, been busy with the Photoshop?

Should the art market be regulated?

June 29 2015

Image of Should the art market be regulated?

Picture: Wikipedia

Not especially, says this recovering art dealer. But in Apollo Magazine, Henry Little (an art dealer) points out that there is already a hefty amount of regulation anyway:

A report compiled by the lawyer Pierre Valentin of Constantine Cannon LLP, at the request of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), lists 167 laws and regulations (as of February 2015) that apply to the British art market in England and Wales, suggesting that a dealer active today operates in an unequivocally regulated market. With notable exceptions such as foreign laws that may apply, or laws governing general business practice, it includes laws, regulations and codes of conduct covering everything from Nazi loot to VAT, and from endangered flora and fauna to the protection of shipwrecks – many of which are effective laws not specifically aimed at the art trade. The International Art Market in 2011 report repeats anecdotal observations from dealers who cite the mushrooming of regulations and charges as one of the most significant developments of the past few decades.

Skimming the list of regulations, it swiftly becomes clear quite how many of them are relatively new – not only insofar as pre-war legislation has been in some cases more rigorously codified, but also with the introduction of innovations such as the Artist’s Resale Right regulations of 2006. All the major international treaties aimed directly at the trade, such as the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970), occurred during or after the Second World War. Any gallerist, dealer or auction house operating in England and Wales is answerable to a wide range of English, EU and international laws, whether directly aimed at the trade or clearly applicable to it.

A trip to Antwerp

June 26 2015

Image of A trip to Antwerp

Picture: BG

I was in Antwerp last week, and took the time to hunt out Van Dyck's birthplace, which is thought to be no. 4 on the Grotemarkt. In Van Dyck's day it was called 'Den Berendans', or 'the Bear Dance'. Today, the house is rather a sad sight - there's a rusting plaque declaring that Van Dyck was indeed born there, but the place itself is empty, having been a tea room by the look of it. Next door is the 'Pizzeria Antonio', which must be where the great man went for his Friday night takeaway.

In fact, no. 4 Grotemarkt is available to rent, if anyone fancies turning the place into a 'Van Dyck-huis', rather like the excellent Rubenshuis museum just down the road. If I was a billionaire, that's what I'd do.

Talking of the Rubenshuis, I went to have another look at the really excellent Rubens in Private exhibition. It closes on 28th June, so you have two days left to go and see it. I particularly enjoyed seeing the juxtaposition of Van Dyck's portrait of Rubens' first wife, Isabella Brant, and Rubens' own portrait of her. In the below snap, you can see Van Dyck's portrait on the left, and just in the distance in the next room, Rubens' portrait.

For me, Van Dyck will always be the better portraitist, for when you encounter a Van Dyck portrait you get the sense of truly individual human character. He (usually) resists the temptation to stick to a formulaic way of constructing heads, as so many portraitists do - in England, the likes of Lely and Kneller are obvious examples of artists who, it can feel, barely bothered to look at the person they were tasked with painting. Sometimes, it must be said, one does sense this towards the end of Van Dyck's career in England, when he was beginning to churn portraits out with the help of assistants - but it's rare.

Rubens, who was not fond of painting portraits, doesn't fall into this trap either, but can sometimes seem to produce works that border on the caricature - are they real people, we wonder? But the flipside of Rubens' approach is that his portraits are often full of character, even if this sometimes comes at the expense of verisimilitude, an age old problem for the portraitist. And in Rubens' portrait of Isabella Brant (below)* we see an example of a great artist painting a portrait that conveys both character and likeness to an almost perfect degree. In Van Dyck's portrait we feel confident to say 'this is what Isabella Brant looked like'. But in Rubens' portrait we can just as confidently say, 'this is what Isabella Brant was like'.

*I'm not entirely sure that hand is by Rubens by the way, could be an addition.

How to be the National Gallery director (ctd.)

June 26 2015


Thanks very much to the more than one thousand of you who have downloaded AHN's first podcast, with outgoing National Gallery director, Dr Nicholas Penny. I mention it again because there's a good editorial in the latest Burlington Magazine, which touches on some of the themes Dr Penny and I discussed - well worth a read.

The Burlington also has news of a recently discovered sketchbook by John Lavery.

The Queen as Connoisseur

June 26 2015

Video: Reuters

Here's some footage of the Queen being presented with a painting in Germany, by the German president Joachim Gauck. She's there at the moment on a state visit.

The newly commissioned picture (below), by Nicole Leidenfrost, is meant to show the young Queen on horseback, with her father, George VI, holding the reins. But the Queen's remarks show that she was a little uncertain what to make of it; 'that's a strange colour for a horse, isn't it?', and 'is that supposed to be my father?' The German president, sensing that the Queen might not be too impressed with the painting, moved swiftly onto the next gift, saying 'if you don't like it, here is some marzipan'. Yum.

The Queen loves paintings of horses, and she and Prince Philip often buy equestrian pictures. Only time will tell whether this new and rather bizarre gift - in which I suspect the greatest faux pas is that the late king looks like a groom - will take pride of place alongside other equestrian gems from the royal collection. Let's keen an eye on Ebay...

'Fake or Fortune?' returns (ctd.)

June 26 2015

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' returns (ctd.)

Picture: BBC

I said last week that the new series of 'Fake or Fortune?' returns this Sunday - but in fact that's wrong. There was a potential clash with the final ever episode of Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson on BBC2 at the same time. So the powers that be decided to delay our new series by one week.

The new series will now start next Sunday, July 5th, on BBC1 at 8pm. There are four programmes, and then after that, in the same slot, there will be four repeats from earlier series.

The first artist under examination is L. S. Lowry. Here's what the BBC website says about the programme:

Art detectives Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould return for a brand new series, starting with an investigation into three small pictures by one of Britain's best-loved modern artists - LS Lowry.

Stephen Ames, a Cheshire property developer, has a problem - he's inherited three small oil paintings believed to be by Laurence Stephen Lowry, an artist renowned for his scenes of northern life, but he doesn't have any proof. All he knows is that they were bought by his father Gerald, a self-made businessman with a passion for art, in the early 70s.

The trouble for Stephen is that LS Lowry is probably the most faked British artist, his deceptively simple style of painting making him a soft target for forgers. As a result, the art market has become very wary of newly discovered Lowry works. If he can't find evidence in favour of the pictures, they are worthless.

As they hunt for proof with the assistance of specialist art researcher Dr Bendor Grosvenor, the team encounter unexpected obstacles and extraordinary coincidences, culminating in a groundbreaking scientific discovery that challenges everything we thought we knew about Lowry the artist. But is it enough to prove that the pictures are genuine?

I hope you enjoy it. And, pray, spread the word!

Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)

June 25 2015

Picture: BBC News

Bravo to Cornwall Trading Standards officers, who have successfully prosecuted an art dealer for selling fake works by Alfred Wallis (such as the above). More here

We need other investigations across the UK - there are far too many fakes being sold at auction. The Telegraph reported recently the case of David Henty (below), who has been notoriously selling suspect pictures he makes himself, described as 'after Lowry' and 'after Duncan Grant' on Ebay, but saying that he bought them long ago privately, and that they might be the real thing. So far, he's been able to pretty much get away with it. 

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