What is 'digital art history'? (ctd.)

March 7 2013

Image of What is 'digital art history'? (ctd.)

Picture: Courtauld Institute

Following my post below on digital art history, reader Neil Jeffares tweets:

The current quagmire around image copyright & failure to sort out the law restricts the full power of digital art history.

Quite so. I was discussing the new UK copyright laws at a meeting at The National Archives today. The new laws will make life very difficult for art historians, especially the rules about 'orphan' works, or those where you are not sure who holds the copyright. This is often the case for old photographs of paintings.

So if, for example, the Witt Library at the Courtauld wanted to digitise its collection of old photographs, as the RKD in Holland has begun to do, it would now have to pay an 'orphan' rights fee to the government for every individual photograph where it wasn't sure who owned the copyright. In other words, most of the photographs in the Witt Library. And the Witt Library would only be able to do that after it had conducted a 'diligent', and expensive, search to find the copyright holder of each individual photograph. So in effect the new laws will make it impossible to make mass digitisations of old photographs. It will simply be too expensive.

Yet another legislative success by the UK government, and also, in this case, the EU.

It's still not Shakespeare (ctd.)

March 7 2013

Image of It's still not Shakespeare (ctd.)

Picture: BG

This portrait of Sir Thomas Overbury still keeps popping up as Shakespeare in the press, this time in the Sunday Times

Liz & Bob together at last

March 7 2013

Image of Liz & Bob together at last

Pictures: BG

I went to the opening of the new V&A show, Treasures of the Royal Courts, last night. The exhibition allows you, as the blurb says, to:

Experience the majesty of the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I to Ivan the Terrible and the early Romanovs in a major exhibition at the V&A. From royal portraits, costume and jewellery to armour and heraldry, Treasures of the Royal Courts tells the story of diplomacy between the British Monarchy and the Russian Tsars through more than 150 magnificent objects.

A star of the show was the 'Hampden Portrait' of Elizabeth I, which was almost entirely unknown until we here at Philip Mould & Company bought, restored and published it, with the help of Tudor historian Dr David Starkey. It used to hang, unloved, in the judges' changing room at Aylesbury Crown Court. I was delighted to see Elizabeth hanging next to a portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her most determined (and possibly successful) suitor. The portrait of Dudley, on loan from Waddesdon, always struck me as being, most likely, by the same artist as the Hampden portrait. I think that more than ever having seen the two pictures together last night. Not that my opinion matters very much - if you think connoisseurship is frowned upon amongst art historians, wait till you try discussing it amongst 16th Century specialists. 'Authorship' is mightily sniffed on, and there's a determination to call everything 'English School'. You can read more about the painting and its history here, and about its possible artist, Steven van Herwijck, in my British Art Journal article here

The exhibition comes highly recommended from AHN - I greatly enjoyed it. Being a multi-disciplinary exhibition, with everything from costume to statuary, it's one of those shows which shows the great value of a good curator. So great praise then to the V&A's Tessa Murdoch, whose selection of objects gives the perfect overview of what one might have found in a Tudor diplomatic baggage train wending its way to Moscow. The fine catalogue, which has the Hampden Portrait on the front cover, is also well worth having.

Update - a reader writes:

Was wondering how they got the loan of Bob from Waddesdon but checking on the website confirmed that it’s not part of the permanent collection there – which never lends – but one of the objects on loan from the Rothschild family trusts.

I think you’ve remarked before how unhelpful it is for specialists to be averse to attributing 16th portraits to particular artists or their circle.  What’s worse is the approach is inconsistent: going through the PCF records as I have done there are cases where versions of the same portrait are, depending on the view of the collection curators, are in one case given to a named artist and in another to English School – or even British School.  Aargh!

Can a $75,000 degree get you a job in the art world? (ctd.)

March 6 2013

Image of Can a $75,000 degree get you a job in the art world? (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's Institute

Further to my article in the The Art Newspaper on whether a new $75,000 course at Sotheby's Institute could help you get a job in the art world, a reader writes:

I have read your article in The Art Newspaper about Sotheby's Institute MA Program and agree with you completely.

My MA in Lisbon has a partnership with Sotheby´s and I have also participated in other of their courses - Could not be more pleased with the Institute. 

Like you mentioned the school is, indeed, very good - Well-structured programs, high quality classes, really good teachers and so on.

Nevertheless, I would like to add the following, regarding to the expensive fees:

  • Sotheby´s Institute students have many visits and lectures outside the school. Also many visits to museums, auctions, exhibitions, galleries... (Which is fantastic!) Usually the school take care of all expenses (tour guides, entrance tickets, trips - Last time I was at Sotheby's we had a bus and a boat trip that were totally organized by the Institute) This, facilitates students lives and solves logistics problems, but it is an additional economic burden to the school - Not sure if other schools do the same (in Portugal, certainly not).
  • Sotheby´s Masters students have access, during (I think) a week, to personalized support in order to help them to develop a plan on how they should approach the job market. I suppose this help includes: tips on how to write resumes; motivation letters; approach on interviews. To decide which type of job position is best suited for them to start and to pursue their professional goals. They provide a "guide" with places where to look for jobs and (I guess) they even make the first approach for you. They care and want to help their students to find a job, which is, obviously, good for the school as well. 
  • Sotheby´s Institute have one of the best networks in the art world. Certainly, their employability rate is quite high and, I guess, that is also included in the $ 75,000 fee.

Sometimes I wonder if instead a Postgraduation in Art Connoisseurship + a Master in Art Business (a total of 4 years + 5 in college!!!) I should not have gone for a one-year course at Sotheby's... The answer is, probably, yes...

What is 'digital art history'? (ctd.)

March 6 2013

Video: Getty Trust

Three Pipe Problem alerts me* to the above video, posted online two days ago at the start of the Getty Trust's Digital Art History Lab. It's well worth a watch, as it makes clear  - much clearer than the article I rather meanly parodied earlier - why and how art historians should be embracing the digital age. 

My heart soared when I heard this opening statement from Murtha Baca, head of digital art history access at the Getty Research Institute, in answer to the question, 'Why does art history need to be resuscitated?':

I work at the Getty Research Insititute [...] and we attend these very obstruse lectures by the various residential scholars [...] and the people that can understand the presentations might be five or ten other scholars throughout the world. So I think that art history, also because of its apparent hesitation at embracing digital technology, really risks being left behind, and becoming marginalised or obsolete. It's also being dropped in a lot of academic programmes.'

Way to go Murtha! If the digital age forces art historians to broaden their audience, and by necessity speak a language that everyone can understand, then art history will once more flourish as a subject. If they don't, then we're all toast. You can read more from Murtha here.

I must, however, add one caveat about art history's, or indeed any academic subject's, embrace of the digital age. In the above video, the discussion moves onto how digital access to scholarly material can save time, as Susan Edwards says:

The literature studies field was actually really early to adopt [digital means], by digitising texts and making it really easy to analyse vast quantities of data. And it really transformed the literature field, so in the past a scholar who would have to spend his entire career learning all of the classical texts, for example, in order to analyse and create meaningful analyses of the text, now, through something like the Perseus digital library [...] within hours can do the research today that it would take a scholar, forty years ago, his whole career [to do].

As a practising art historian, I find it increasingly useful that I can just type random words into Google or JSTOR, and up comes a vital lead in, for example, my provenance research. But I'm increasingly aware that my overall knowledge is suffering. Because I can save time by searching for tiny nuggets of information, I miss absorbing all the peripheral material which, over time, gives one the overall command of a subject. I find it harder to remember things, because my brain instinctively knows that I no longer have to. It's frustrating. 

I'm old enough to remember learning in a non digital age, and I'm so glad I did. In 'the old days', one's whole approach to learning was to actively absorb knowledge with the aim of retaining it, because it was often impossible to instantly retrieve, say, a book in a library. Now, we actively don't retain information, because we know where it can be found, usually through our phones. Samuel Johnson once said: 'Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.' These days, it's the latter which dominates, almost exclusively. We live in a cut & paste world. So the point of this rather long-winded and decidedly analogue paragraph is to say, by all means embrace digital art history, but don't let it turn your brain to mush.

Update - a reader writes:

Yes I quite agree about digital art history - brilliant, but binary. Either you find what you are looking for, or you don't; nothing else.

It's like my beef about music. No one listens to albums any more, just cherry-picks tracks they've already heard elsewhere. In the old days your favourite song on an album would often be one you'd discovered on it, not the ones they played on the radio.

But as you say, digital benefits are vast.

Update II - another reader adds:

Access to digital articles and research is fantastic, especially when thirty students get set the same essay title and there are limited library books…and book hoarders! 

But as Annelisa Stephan points out, art history needs to find ways of getting the full use of digital scholarship. Surely Your Paintings has already made huge headway with this, after all where would art historians be without art, especially art in excellent digital quality that can be pasted and referenced easily into essays! Even more excitingly, with the increased development of 3D scanners and digital microscopy, perhaps at some point in the future someone in, for instance, China will be able to digitally tilt/rotate a painting in, say,  Hawaii, every direction to analyse brushstrokes in minute detail. Or, if the painting has been conserved, to see the paint layers and therefore be able to analyse the artist’s technique, date the painting etc. This would obviously be 10x more awesome for sculptures and other three dimensional art and artifacts. 

* I love the fact that a blogger in Australia can alert me, in London, to a discussion happening in Los Angeles. Digital art history in action!

Guffwatch: what is 'digital art history'?

March 6 2013

Image of Guffwatch: what is 'digital art history'?

Picture: Getty Iris/Google Images

In an article for Getty Iris, Nuria Rodriguez Ortega looks at the question of digital art history, and concludes with three recommendations for art historians:

In the first place, as I mentioned above, I believe that we are in the midst of a “re-establishment”—not the beginning—of digital art history, in which, obviously, we have to take into account the specifics of our time: the new knowledge economy, new technical tools, and the changes brought about by the evolution of the Web, which has become an enormous data warehouse waiting for us to analyze it.

In the second place, I think that digital art history, without losing its ties to the digital humanities, needs to establish itself in accordance with its own idiosyncrasies, basing itself on the preceding decades of research, analysis, and exploration, which should in no way be devalued in comparison with the digital humanities.

In the third place, I believe that it is crucial that we focus our attention on the specific epistemological and methodological problems of our discipline, and that we include not only academic art history but also museums, art publications, art criticism, artistic creation, the reception of works of art by the public, and so on, under the rubric of digital art history.

Call me analogue, but I'm afraid I have no idea what Nuria is actually talking about here, particularly with regard to point 2. Perhaps I need to establish myself with my own idiosyncracies.

[How would this work, by the way?

  • Me: 'Hello idiosyncracies, how are you doing?'
  • My idiosyncracies: 'Fine thanks. Feeling a bit unusual.'
  • Me: 'That's odd.'
  • My idiosyncracies: 'Not really. I'm meant to be odd.'
  • Me: 'Oh, ok.'

etc.]

Update - a reader sends in this handy translation:

I read with great interest (and amusement) your internal monologue on the idiosyncrasies mentioned in the Getty piece!  If anything, Nuria Rodriguez Ortega is perhaps guilty of some of the wordy banter that makes some forms of written art history inaccessible as much as it is idiosyncratic. 

To attempt to de-guff , I propose this synopsis of these somewhat valid{?} points

i. art history as a discipline, and individual art historians are adapting to using technology in their work (some obviously better than others)?

ii. art history as a discipline, and individual art historians are wondering if use of technology will mean they will lose something they value?  note: this point does seem very ambivalent. What element being preserved do art historians have a vested interest in? eg. particular methods of teaching or modes of analysis? or the dependence on print publishing as a marker of academic reputation and success etc?

iii. Many different people are interacting with and commenting on art. These relationships are being studied more closely than ever before. It would be good for art historians to be involved in this as well ?

Another reader writes:

Thanks for sharing the Getty article - it's an absolute gem!  I love every word of it.  The attempted informality that degenerates into ponderous sub-clauses.  The ignorant reference to the 'new knowledge economy' (a novel term back in the 1970s), which we're supposed to realise is 'obviously' related to art history.  I've read a fair amount on the new knowledge economy, and quite a lot of art history, but I have no clue here.  I guess I'm just dim.  The plea for equality with the 'digital humanities' - is there some hidden debate about the status of digital art history?  Are the digital geographers dissing the digital art historians?  Oh, and then of course it's "crucial" that we consider epistemology.  We need to think differently in art history.  And we need to think especially differently in digital art history.  Finally she makes an unarguable case for the importance of digital art history by asserting that everything connected with art is part of digital art history.  I definitely prefer analogue.

Update II - Annelisa Stephan, the editor of The Getty Iris, writes:

Thanks for discussing the piece we published yesterday on the Getty Iris. I enjoyed your inner monologue!

I'm the editor of the Iris and wanted to add my $0.02 to "translating" Nuria's three points into simpler wording. Yesterday I attended day 1 of the Digital Art History Lab convening this week at the Getty, so can bring the background of that discussion to this clarification.

1. Digital art history got off the ground in the 1980s and '90s and then stalled. So rather than talking about launching a digital art history, let's instead talk about picking it up where we left off. (This relates to points made earlier in the piece, as she notes.) Side note: the knowledge economy isn't new in Internet time, but in art historical time, it is.

2. Digital art history is part of the broader digital humanities field, but art history shouldn't slavishly copy models of digital scholarship adopted in other fields, such as linguistics or history. We need to consider art history's methods, history, and subject matter to come up with our own path.

3. Art history has its idiosyncrasies just as any field does, and rather than pretending that it doesn't, we should acknowledge them. Moreover, we should take this moment to explicitly affirm that art history isn't just about critiquing individual objects, but about analyzing visual culture more broadly. (The Mona Lisa image search became a meme of sorts in yesterday's discussions of this theme, which is why I used it in the post.)

How to get a museum internship

March 6 2013

Following my article in The Art Newspaper on ways to get a job in the art world, I've just come across this 2012 article on The Art History Blog, entitled 'How to get an Internship'. A top tip is to wangle something I hadn't heard of before, an 'informational interview':

If you’re not quite ready for an interview, ask someone at the museum for an informational interview. See if you can take someone in the department you’re interested in to coffee in order to hear about their job and give you advice. People love to talk about themselves and their job, and it’s likely they would love to feel important enough to share their story and advice with you. You will learn a lot about the many paths people take to work in arts institutions, and you will almost definitely gain a connection. (And, although you should try to pay for the coffees, they will probably treat you, because they were once a broke college student too.)

One thing that is super important about the informational interview: DO NOT try to weasel a job out of it. Seriously. They know you’re looking to break into the museum world–everyone understands the underlying reason for informational interviews–you don’t need to put it out there. Be subtle by not mentioning it at all, graciously thank them for their time, and there’s a good chance they will say something along the lines of “feel free to contact me if you have any other questions, and I’d be happy to keep you in mind for any internships if they come to my attention.” If they don’t offer something like that, don’t bug them to do so–it puts them in an awkward position if they didn’t really connect with you.

Emails...

March 6 2013

I seem to have a problem with vanishing emails at the moment. So if you've written in and not recieved a reply from me, or not had a comment posted on the site, many apologies. Hoping to get it fixed soon. In the meantime, bendor[at]philipmould.com is more reliable.

Staatsgalerie Stuttgart returns looted Madonna

March 5 2013

Image of Staatsgalerie Stuttgart returns looted Madonna

Picture: Bloomberg/Concordia University

The Max Stern Restitution Project has achieved the return of another picture looted by the Nazis, this time a Virgin and Child attributed to the Master of Flemalle. More details over on Bloomberg.

Hals in Haarlem

March 5 2013

Image of Hals in Haarlem

Picture: Frans Hals Museum

The first major exhibition on Hals for almost 25 years will open at the Frans Hals museum in on 23rd March till 28th July. 'Frans Hals: Eye to eye with Rembrandt, Rubens and Titian' will, says the museum, show:

[...] key works by the artist amidst paintings by such famous predecessors as Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens [...]. This extraordinary confrontation of old masters is essential to the understanding of seventeenth-century art. Famous painters often produced their works in response to one another, seeking to outdo the other artist and create something exceptional. The best way to assess the results of their efforts is to look at comparable works side by side. Visitors can see for themselves the artistic challenges Hals must have faced and what makes him unique. The paintings come from some of the world’s greatest museums, among them the National Gallery in London, the Prado in Madrid and the Louvre in Paris, and from various private collections. 

Titian in Rome

March 5 2013

Image of Titian in Rome

Picture: Palazzo Pitti

A new Titian exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome (5th March - 16th June) looks to be worth a trip. From the exhibition website:

Through iconographic comparisons - particularly emblematic, among the many that the exhibition will be hosting, is a comparison between the Crucifixion from the Dominican church in Ancona, the Crucifixion for the Escorial in Madrid, and the fragmentary Crucifixion now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna - visitors will be able to gain a direct perception of the master's innovative approach and compositional structure, in an exhibition designed to convey not only his crucial role as a religious painter but also his complex career as portrait-painter extraordinary to the nobility and aristocracy of his day. [...]

The exhibition will be accompanied by the results of an extensive campaign of scientific analysis which has encompassed a large part of the artist's output.  Conducted by the Centro di Ateneo di Arti Visive at the Università degli Studi di Bergamo, the campaign has achieved results of the utmost importance in defining the relationship between autograph works and workshop products, and in fully documenting Titian's technical development from the earliest days of his apprenticeship.

The Met buys a sleeper

March 5 2013

Image of The Met buys a sleeper

Picture: TAN

Paul Jeromack in The Art Newspaper reports that the Metropolitan Museum has pulled off a bit of a coup, with the purchase of the above drawing by Jacques Louis David for just $840. It came up for sale in a minor auction in New York, called 'French School, early 19th Century'. It relates to David's painting The Death of Scorates, which belongs to the Met.

The auction, at Swann Galleries, took place on 29th January during New York's Old Master week. In other words, the Met bought a sleeper in the same week that they might well have sold one

Art history is young?

March 4 2013

Image of Art history is young?

Picture: Thames & Hudson

I'm interested, but also slightly baffled, by a new book called, 'The Books the Shaped Art History: From Gombrich and Greenberg to Alpers and Krauss'. Interested because it sounds like a worthwhile, and worthy read, and baffled because it assumes art history began in about 1900, as summed up in this review by Jackie Wullschlager in the FT:

 Art history is more nervous and self-doubting than any other humanities discipline. The reason is obvious. Literary, political and social historians all use words to analyse other words – texts, documents, archives. But art historians grapple in the rational tool of language with material far less ordered. It will always be an uneasy mix.

Art history is also young. It lacks foundational texts like Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria or Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Until the 20th century, writers on art offered partisan, if sometimes brilliant, commentaries on their own or recent times – Vasari on the Italian Renaissance, Ruskin on Turner. The Books that Shaped Art History, a path-breaking volume emerging from a series in The Burlington Magazine, explores through a focus on 16 works how the discipline evolved after 1900.

Now then. Art has had its histories ever since Pliny wrote about Zeuxis. What is new, (in a post-1900 sense) is the determination to theorise art, often based on no historical evidence at all. Happily, for those who like to theorise, the fact that art history revolves primarily around images, as opposed to documents, allows scope for endless, hard to contradict supposition on what pictures 'mean'. In part, this reflects a curious lack of historical skills on the part of art historians, for very often key documents exist, but are neither found nor used. Mostly though it reflects the fact that, in some quarters, art history has become a form of illustrated sociology.

If I was teaching an art history course, I would begin lesson one with this resonant quote from Turner: 'Have you read Ruskin on me? [...] He sees more in my pictures than I ever intended!'

Luke Syson on faith and sculpture

March 4 2013

Video: Metropolitan Museum

I've been enjoying the Met's new video series, '82nd & Fifth', which explores 100 key objects in their collection. Here, Luke Syson talks about Antonio Rossellino's Madonna and Child with Angels, c.1455-60.

Bad mouthing Lely's hands

March 4 2013

Image of Bad mouthing Lely's hands

Picture: Philip Mould & Company

In his generous review of the National Gallery's excellent new Barocci exhibition, Waldemar Januszczak makes this throwaway remark:

Hands are ­notoriously difficult to get right, even for the finest Old Masters (stand up, Peter Lely, I’m thinking of you), but Barocci emerges as something of a digital specialist.

On behalf of Lely, allow me to share with you these fine hands from a 1660s portrait of Anne Bayning. We recently had it here at the gallery. It is true that Lely, like many portraitists at work in England, sometimes left his hands up to his studio assistants. But he only did that because he knew he could get away with it. In the 17th Century, the English taste wasn't sophisticated enough to tell the difference between a well-painted hand or a stodgy one. So we only have ourselves to blame.

Even Van Dyck, one of the finest hand painters ever, sometimes slacked off when it came to hands. He did so rarely, however - when asked why he took such case paintings hands, he allegedly replied, 'Because the hands pay the bill.'

Update - a reader sends in this contender for comment of the year:

 

Im sorry what planet are you on? The example of hands painted by Lely are awful, no knuckle structure, white and lacking tone, elongated and curved in all the places they should be straight and straight in all the places their should be curved. Resultantly they look like flat, fat sausages squeezed out of a casing machine by someone attempting to do so for the first time. 

I have several family members who are doctors who always berate my interest in art because they believe so much of it to be anatomically inaccurate and unbelieveable, I try to argue against this for all the reasons that I hope you would agree with with but im not going to go into it here.. However the example you give..just wont stand up and you dont need a medical degree to see that.

sorry first and last AHN rant over!

Update II - another reader leaps lyrically to Lely's defence:

If I may Leave  aside the previous contributor's enquiry regarding the cosmological location of Mr Grosvenor for one moment, it is patent nonsense to say that the hands are badly executed according to shape and anatomical correctness - Doctor or no doctors..

Look a little harder and you might see the marvellous subtlety of his skill. He is painting the hands of a gentlewoman who never did manual work, and most probably cultivated a fashionably desirable skin tone of lucid paleness, hence the milky lightness. As with his predecessor Van Dyke, the slight suggestion of lucidity and purply vein under the skin is also beautifully hinted at if you look hard enough (not that difficult, surely?). Not being a cadaverous spinster of seventy, or a bruising farmer's wife used to a loamy prehensile grip year in year out, her hands therefore tend towards a slight plumpy sub-cutaneous sheath over the knuckles, surely a common physical trait the world over amongst folk still near enough to youth? The index finger of the top hand is the correct length in relation to the metacarpal area, and if you measure the whole length of the hand it is approximately the same as the distance from chin to brow, which is as it should be in anatomical study. I can see no 'straight lines'.. indeed, there are no straight lines in the human form.. every painter worth his salt in the academic tradition of the 17th C would have been taught this anyway. As for the curves... well they are Eve's blessing after all...

While another agrees that they're pretty bad:

Your "contender for comment of the year" addendum inspired me to take a closer look at the hands, and I have to agree with him.

The index finger of the right (upper) hand has an unnatural curve to it and is spread an uncomfortable distance from the middle finger, the middle finger looks unnaturally stiff - as though it had been broken and badly set so that the middle joint can't be bent - and the third and fourth look deformed, as does the joint at the base of the little finger. And where is the thumb? There is nothing to indicate that the the sitter has one.

The left (lower) hand looks much more 'loosely' painted (studio assistant?), so its defects are in a way less glaring, but the angle of the wrist makes it look sprained and feels uncomfortable to even look at, the index finger is clumsy, the middle finger again looks deformed, and the poor sitter  is apparently missing both her third and fourth fingers as well as her other thumb.

Perhaps, since you run a hands-on* blog,  you could share some close-ups of some of Van Dyke's (and others') hands for comparison purposes.

*groan - so you won't have to :)

 

Be afraid...

March 4 2013

The Grumpy Art Historian informs me of 'the latest debate' in the museum world here in the UK, as set out by Maurice Davies of the Museums Association:

Increasingly museums want to be more explicit about improving people’s lives and strengthening communities. In the UK this has led to two different approaches emerging: social justice and wellbeing. [...]

Social justice museums and wellbeing museums aim to do pretty much the same things and achieve the same ends. They use their assets of collections, buildings, knowledge and networks to help create a fairer society, in which people live better lives. But there are some philosophical differences.

Social justice focuses on areas such as human rights, inequality and poverty. It believes the state should strongly intervene in communities. With origins on the left, it is perhaps red.

Wellbeing prioritises concepts such as self-help, local organisation and relationships. It stresses the role of civil society organisations, such as charities and community groups, to complement the work of the state, whose main role is to help local communities flourish so they can find their own solutions. It has its recent origins, at least in part, in the green movement.

Personally, I may be colour-blind, but I can’t see very much difference between these versions of red and green. Yet in my work on Museums 2020 I sense rumbling disagreements between the groups, with social justice people thinking wellbeing people are a bit wet and naïve about the realities of disadvantaged people’s lives. Conversely, wellbeing people think social justice people are a bit too top down and doctrinaire.

Yikes. If you ever needed a warning that museums and politics don't mix, this is it. It must also be a sign that some curators and directors have too much time on their hands.

Critic's choice

March 4 2013

Image of Critic's choice

Picture: BG

Very kind of the The Sunday Times to make our Culture Show programme (Saturday 9th March, BBC2, 6.30pm) their 'Pick of the Day'.

Cool ad watch

March 4 2013

Image of Cool ad watch

Picture: Salon du Dessin

The Salon du Dessin has come up with another inventive poster to publicise this year's event, which opens on 10th April in Paris.

Rare 15th Century wall paintings in Wales

March 4 2013

Image of Rare 15th Century wall paintings in Wales

Picture: St Cadoc's Church/Jane Rutherfoord

I learn via the Society of Antiquaries of a project in Wales to uncover a rare series of 15th Century wall paintings from the Church of St Cadoc's, Llancarfan. More details here

The importance of understanding condition

March 4 2013

Image of The importance of understanding condition

Picture: Spear's Magazine

Regular readers will know that I often bang on about the importance of understanding a picture's condition, particularly when it comes to making attributions. In a recent edition of Spear's Magazine, dealer Ivan Lindsay counsels that anyone buying at auction needs to be sure of condition too:

It’s worth being cautious about restoration when it comes to auction rooms. The leading auction rooms, particularly as they develop their rapidly growing private sales (dealing) business, go to considerable lengths to advise their clients that buying at auction is so easy that they shouldn’t feel the need to seek any independent advice before buying. They are wrong.

In the Daily Telegraph in October, Orlando Rock, deputy chairman of Christie’s, offered up a detailed guide on how to buy art at auction. It is all very reassuring to know that, despite any misgivings you may have had about the art world, it is in fact a nice cosy place and the leading auctions are a ‘transparent and fair platform’ that offer goods at fair prices with the ‘stamp of long-term quality and value’. And that buying art at auction is ‘accessible, affordable, personal and fun’. I would add ‘nerve-racking, opaque, confusing and often expensive’.

Rock does mention that condition is an issue and suggests that, if you feel the need, you can ask for a condition report from one of the in-house experts. However, these should not be relied on. A good restorer can make a painting that is in bad condition look fine to all but the trained eye. They can also be very good at disguising their work. The old expression that you do not find out what you have bought in the art world until you try to sell it is never truer than when it comes to condition.

If experienced dealers always feel the need to seek the advice of an independent third-party restorer before they buy, then that should tell private clients what they should be doing. Restorers are mainly generous with their time and often have to attend the major sales on behalf of clients. By seeking such advice, collectors will save themselves plenty of expensive mistakes, and it is sound practice to take the time to get to know a good restorer and make him part of your team.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.