New Bosch discovery

February 9 2016

Image of New Bosch discovery

Picture: Bosch Research and Conservation Project

Hieronymous Bosch scholars have identified a previously lost painting by the artist - in the store rooms of a US museum. From The Guardian:

The painting lay in storage for years at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, which acquired it in the 1930s.

Entitled The Temptation of St Anthony, it shows the saint gathering water in a jug as he leans on a staff in what was probably part of a larger panel, possibly a triptych.

Initially it had been believed to be the work of one of the many students who flocked to Bosch’s workshop in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

But an international team who carried out a five-year research project using sophisticated infrared technology determined that the painting was in fact by the master himself.

There will be a major Bosch exhibition soon in Holland, at the Noordbrabants Museum, opening 13th February. More here.

Old Master yourself

February 9 2016

Image of Old Master yourself


There's a new website called Nobilified which allows you to get a portrait painted in the style of the Old Masters (or in the style of the '1%' as they put it). The way to get your face 'painted in history' is simple. You take a selfie, upload it to the site, choose your Old Master pose, pay $99, and hey presto. Here are two of my favourite examples so far:

A Miereveld:

And a Caravaggio (which looks like it has been painted by the Monkey Jesus lady):

Mercifully there's not yet a Van Dyck. Though of course I am tempted...

White glove shot (ctd.)

February 9 2016

Image of White glove shot (ctd.)

Picture: Times/AHN reader

Ok, now they're just taunting me. From today's Times.

Update - a reader asks:

Wait!  Is the volcanic Lady Hamilton in the painting in the newspaper photo not wearing diaphanous white gloves herself, to hold her tambourine ???  (And if not, why not?)

Knoedler trial ends!

February 8 2016

Image of Knoedler trial ends!

Picture: NYT

Drat - the De Soles and Ann Freedman have settled their case. Just as it was getting interesting. Freedman (above) was due to take the stand. 

I am still baffled as to why no criminal case has been brought.

Update - the Knoedler trial is not ending! The De Soles were suing both Ann Freedman and Knoedler. Freedman has settled, but (a reader kindly points out) the case against Knoedler, the entity, goes on.

Knoedler fake trial begins (ctd.)

February 7 2016

Image of Knoedler fake trial begins (ctd.)

Picture: Illustrated Courtroom

The first few days of testimony at the Knoedler fake trial have swung a lamp over some of the most deplorable aspects of the art market. Mr and Mrs De Soles are suing Ann Freedman, director of the now closed Knoedler gallery, for selling them a fake Rothko. The picture is admitted to be a fake, but the Knoedler defence is that the De Soles should have checked it out themselves. In other words, tough cheese. The Knoedler defence has gotten off to a shaky start, however, with numerous experts who were cited by Knoedler as endorsing the painting's attribution in fact saying they did not. It looks like Knoedler was behaving in an extraordinary way, and you have to wonder how they did not realise the suspiciously cheap, previously unknown works were not fake.

But for me the  my eye was most drawn to this snippet reported in Art News:

The total sale price [of the 'Rothko'] was, in fact, $8.5 million, according to an invoice presented as evidence. Kelly, who purchased the painting on the De Soles’ behalf, said on Thursday that he negotiated with Freedman a $200,000 discount—and, as he told the jury, he kept $100,000 of that discount for himself as his commission after telling the De Soles that Freedman only offered them a $100,000 discount. “I could have kept the $200,000,” he said.

This fellow James Kelly should be deeply ashamed of himself. Asked to negotiate the purchase of a painting on behalf of the De Soles, he decided to pocket half the proferred discount himself. That's a disgusting thing to do, but I guess he's not the first person to have done it. Kelly runs an art gallery in Santa Fe.

There have been a number of eye-opening revelations about the Knoedler modus operandi. My favourite was the fact that they asked technical investigator James Martin of Orion Analytical to make massive changes to his report on one fake painting, in effect falsifying his own results. Of course, Martin rightly told them where to go.

See the top 5 aspects of the case so far here on ArtNet News.

'Picasso' seized in Turkey

February 7 2016

Image of 'Picasso' seized in Turkey

Picture: Guardian

Another week, another story from the Turkish police about how they've seized another valuable work of art. Earlier this month we had a story about a '$4.6m Van Dyck' which was not by Van Dyck. Now we've got one about an $8m Picasso. The picture, Woman Dressing her Hair, is supposed to be a Picasso stolen from a private collection in New York. But in fact Picasso's Woman Dressing her Hair belongs to Moma, and as far as I know has not been stolen. Isn't the picture in Turkey just a 'distressed' copy?

Louvre acquisition in New York

February 7 2016

Image of Louvre acquisition in New York

Picture: Sotheby's

A picture that sold well above estimate in the recent Sotheby's New York sale was the above Pandora by the 'School of Fontainebleau'. It sold for $754,000 (inc. premium) against an estimate of $300,000-$500,000, and was bought by the Louvre. Didier Rykner's Tribune de L'Art has the story here.

New Tefaf fair in New York

February 7 2016

Image of New Tefaf fair in New York

Picture: Tefaf

The European Fine Art Foundation (Tefaf), which runs the annual art fair in Maastricht, is to open two new satellite fairs in New York. Reports Scott Reyburn in The New York Times:

Tefaf New York Fall will open in October to showcase dealers specializing in artworks from antiquity to the 20th century. Tefaf New York Spring, scheduled for May 2017, will focus on high-end modern art and design. Each fair is to feature about 80 to 90 international exhibitors.

Because Reyburn seems to be on a campaign against Old Masters, we get the following remark in a passage about the Maastricht fair:

Awkward to get to (unless by private plane), overstocked with unfashionable old masters and situated in the middle of a continent with plenty of economic problems, Tefaf has been looking to widen its reach for some time. 

I find the concept of art being 'fashionable' pretty weird. And how do we judge it? Jeff Koons' work may be extremely valuable at the moment, and doubtless Reyburn would declare it 'fashionable'. But how many Koons prints do you see in living rooms up and down the country? 

Update - a reader writes:

The NYT article mentions that the unreachable TEFAF is full of unfashionable items but that it is also visited by 200 museums and 75 000 visitors.

A bit incoherent should we say?

Boom (ctd.)

February 7 2016

Image of Boom (ctd.)

Picture: Blouin Artinfo

It's been interesting to see how the media narrative for the health of the 'art market' has turned to talk of correction. Everyone is now firmly convinced of it, even though we're only one major sale into the year (Impressionists in London), and the evidence is slight. That's not to say it won't happen - I just find it interesting how impatient the media can be.

Anyway, contemporary art harrumphers like me are used to warning that the most valuable names now might not be so valuable in a generation or so. But I was surprised to see endorsement of that view from Marc Spiegler (above), who is director of the contemporary mega-fair, Art Basel. He said recently (in The Art Newspaper):

Of the artists selling well today, roughly 80% will be basically unsellable in 20 years, which is perfectly fine. Because collecting contemporary art is about engaging with the zeitgeist. People should buy art that they believe in.

Wise words.


February 2 2016

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, I've taken ill.

Update - recovered now, thanks for your kind emails!

Getty buys $30.5m Gentileschi

January 29 2016

Image of Getty buys $30.5m Gentileschi

Picture: Sotheby's

The Getty museum were the triumphant buyers of Orazio Gentileschi's Danäe last night at Sotheby's. The total price after commission was $30.5m. There were at least three bidders going for the picture, though I presume one of them was the third party guarantor. Another underbidder was (I presume) an Asian collector speaking to the Chairman of Sotheby's Asia, Patti Wong. The Getty will hang the picture next to Gentileschi's Lot and his Daughters, which was originally hung next to Danäe. So, well done the Getty. There was a curious little scene after the bidding - the Getty's victorious bidder walked up to the rostrum and handed over a letter to George Wachter, the head of Sotheby's New York Old Master department. I wonder what it said.

The sale totalled $53.4m - which (says Bloomberg) was below the low estimate. It was a patchy affair, which some lots soaring away, others just squeaking by (like the newly discovered Jordaens selling at the low estimate of $4m) but almost half the lots failing to sell. I'll post a fuller analysis later on - I'm heading back to the UK today. The volatility can be put down to a few things it seems to me: first, the weather robbed Sotheby's of three days viewing time; second, the recent stock market wobbles put off more than a few collectors; and finally, though this is more long-term, I think this is what an auction market looks like when you no longer have a firm base of trade buyers ready and willing to pick up the slack. But with the Taubman pictures doing ok, and some clear strong prices across the board, it seems we can end the week knowing that the Old Master market is still alive and kicking. At a time when everyone is predicting a slowing art market across the board, this is no small thing.

Art Fund to stop saving works from export

January 29 2016

Image of Art Fund to stop saving works from export

Picture: Sotheby's/ArtFund

Here's a curious story: Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that the Art Fund will stop fundraising for works of art under threat of export, unless changes are made to the UK's export licensing system. Says TAN:

Stephen Deuchar, its director, tells The Art Newspaper: “If no changes to the present system are made, we do not see how we can, in all conscience, launch fundraising campaigns to save export-stopped works.” He adds: “People will only donate to a campaign if they know a work can actually be purchased at the end of it.”

Deuchar is deeply disturbed by what he regards as abuses of the UK export system. This follows the debacle that ensued when the foreign buyer of a £35m work by Rembrandt, Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet (1657), withdrew an export licence application when the Art Fund decided to mount a public campaign to buy the picture for Wales. “We believe the UK export system should serve our public collections more effectively by requiring licence applicants to give a binding commitment that they will not thwart museums that want to match the price,” Deuchar says.

Deuchar, a former director of Tate Britain, is backed up by Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota:

Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, also wants reforms to ensure that buyers confirm in advance that they will accept matching offers from UK public collections. “Without such a provision, future fundraising campaigns will be doomed to failure, as donors will not be inclined to give when their generosity may turn out to be an empty gesture,” he says.

So, what's going on here? Clearly, the recent Rembrandt business has left a bad taste at the Art Fund (for a recap on that see here). Consequently, the Fund now seems specifically to be wanting to change the UK's export licensing rules to compel an owner or buyer to accept a matching offer from a UK museum. At the moment, when an export licence application is made (either by a new owner, or on behalf of a prospective new owner) the export committee asks whether a museum's matching offer will be accepted. If the buyer says 'no', then the export licence is automatically rejected, and you can't re-apply for ten years: the picture stays in the UK. If you say 'yes', and then change your mind later, the export licence is still automatically rejected: the picture stays in the UK. In other words, the picture is not 'lost' - it just isn't necessarily transferred into public ownership. Everyone has the chance to try again ten years later.

And that, therefore, tells us that the primary purpose of the UK's export licensing system is to prevent works deemed of national importance from leaving the country - not transferring them from private ownership to public ownership. It is after all possible to 'save' a picture for the nation without a museum buying it. Consequently, the UK government's response to the Art Fund's threat is this: “The system is designed to strike a balance between the public interest and the rights of individuals to enjoy their property.” Which seems to me to be eminently sensible.

Nevertheless, there is a chance that a fundraising campaign can go ahead, and at the last minute, after all the money has been raised, and the collection boxes are full, the plug can be pulled. This is, actually, a rarity. In the case of the Rembrandt, no campaign was actually launched. Back in 2003, the Tate did raise the money to buy Reynolds' full-length portrait of Omai - only for the owner, John Magnier, to change his mind. The picture is still in the UK, but it's not on public display. One might think, from the words of Serota, that any campaigns to 'save' works after the Omai case were 'doomed to failure' - but of course they were not, as the Art Fund's magnificent efforts over the last ten years has demonstrated.

That said, I can certainly see the case for making some changes to address the issue the Art Fund is raising (just as I agree there need to be some changes made on the related issue of tax exempt works being sold). It would indeed be frustrating for a future campaign to raise all the money required, only to then see the licence withdrawn. While the great majority of funds raised in this manner are pledges that aren't cashed until the picture is actually acquired, it's still impossible to give back those smaller donations put in the collection boxes.

So, what to do? I'm instinctively reluctant to do anything that compels someone to sell their work of art to a museum. Call me old fashioned, but I believe in the right to private property. And there are other ways a picture can be 'saved' - for example, the so-called Ridley Rules allow a private buyer to provide a matching offer to save a work of art, as long as they put it on public display for much of the year. But could changes be made that disincentivise owners from changing their minds? Certainly. How about raising the period of time before you can reapply for an export licence, from ten years to, say, fifteen, or even longer. That would make people think twice about withdrawing an offer at the last minute.

There is of course the wider question of whether the Art Fund should be resorting to cultural blackmail like this? Personally, I'm surprised to see the Art Fund getting so political. I'm not entirely sure it does the Fund any favours in the long term, though it might generate a few headlines. Presenting an ultimatum like this to the government is a risk too, for passing the necessary legislation, even if the government agreed to make the changes, can take a long time. The right to enjoy your private property is actually a European human right, so for fear of a challenge, I can't see any UK government deciding to change the rules quickly. And in the meantime what happens to the works currently threatened with export (for a list, see here)? And is making such a threat really the best way to get the government to respond? I'm not sure. Finally, if indeed we do want to 'save' more works from export abroad, then we really need to look at the bigger issue here, and that's the need for more money. 

Update - a reader writes:

On the Art Fund’s ultimatum, if you look at this from a buyer’s perspective, the question is why anyone would go to the financial and emotional trouble to bid in a highly competitive auction for a masterpiece, when there is the constant risk that the Art Fund can reclaim it. If some of the pieces that are currently blocked from export, such as the anglo-saxon bronze brooch sold for about GBP9,000 (!) were of such national importance, shouldn’t have the government through a foundation or a national museum tried to buy it when it came up for sale? The same may hold true for Hans Krebs’ Nobel Price medal, which was sold at the lower end of the estimate range, hence any museum, university or whoever exemplifies the national interest in this case, could have simply bought it out of the sale.

£7.3m Audubon wallpaper

January 28 2016

Image of £7.3m Audubon wallpaper

Picture: Telegraph

In the early 19th Century, Lady Isabella Hertford decided to jazz up the wallpaper in her house, Temple Newsam (near Leeds) by cutting out the birds from a copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America. Since this has now become one of the most valuable books in the world, with an example selling recently for £7.3m, Lady Isabella's cut and paste could be said to be the most expensive ever. Her efforts have now been restored, and The Telegraph has the full story here.

Censoring art history

January 28 2016

Video: Euronews

Bizarrely, the Italian government covered up a series of nude classical statues at the Capitoline Museum in Rome for a visit by the Iranian president. More here.

$24m Taubman Old Master sale

January 28 2016

Image of $24m Taubman Old Master sale

Picture: Sotheby's

The Old Masters from Alfred Taubman's collection were sold at Sotheby's last night for a total of $24.1m (inc. premium). The pre-sale estimate was $21m-$30m (excluding premium) - but the estimates were already high, given the need to recoup Sotheby's guarantee of $515m from the Taubman sale. Indeed, it seems the sale went better than Sotheby's expected, and last night they were able to cut their expected loss on the Sotheby's guarantee from $6m to $3m. Possibly, given some minor remaining lots in future auctions, and judicious private selling of those works that did not sell last night, the auction house might in time even come out just ahead on the deal.

Overall, though, the sale last night was seen as good news by those in the 'trade'. When the small Raphael portrait, the first major lot of the Old Master week, sold for $2.7m against an estimate of $2m-$3m you could almost feel the whole room relax. Sotheby's specialists must have been under a heap of pressure going into the sale, and I think they did well, aided of course by the incomparable auctioneering of Henry Wyndham. Sotheby's also sensibly cut the reserves on some of their more over-estimated lots, such as a Beccafumi tondo which hammered at $1m against an estimate of $2m-$3m.

The best pictures went way above estimate, such as the above Valentin de Boulogne, which sold for $5.1m (inc. premium) against an estimate of $1.5m-$2m. As ever, Venetian vedute paintings sold well (you could even say there's something of a boom in this market), with a Bellotto making $3m against an estimate of $1.5m-$2m, and fierce competition on a Bellotti selling for $490k against an estimate of $150k-$200k. Taubman's British art did quite well too, with his full-length Gainsborough selling for $3.2m (inc. premium) against an already ambitious estimate of $3m-$4m. The bargain of the night for me was a 50x40 Gainsborough portrait in excellent condition, which sold to the UK trade for $187k (inc. premium, est. $100k-$150k). A Guercino Magdalene bought in against an estimate of $500k-$700k, and could presumably be bought cheaply after the sale if anyone's interested.

Constable restitution sought in Switzerland

January 27 2016

Image of Constable restitution sought in Switzerland

Picture: Vos Iz Neias

The descendants of a Jewish collector have filed legal proceedings against a Swiss museum for the return of a work by John Constable, 'The Stour Valley' (above). Shamefully, the Museum of Fine Arts in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds has refused to return the work, even though they have been aware for a number of years that the work was seized in Paris in 1942 from Anna Jaffé, a Jew, and sold at auction in 1943 against her will.

The first time Jaffé's descendants tried to regain the work, in 2009, the museum said that under Swiss law there was no compulsion to return the work. If this is the case, then clearly the law in Switzerland needs to catch up with the 21st century - as do the moral standards of Swiss museums.

Update - a reader writes:

I suspect that the moral standards of Swiss museums are in line with the moral standards of Swiss banks in this area…

Tracking down Valentin de Boulogne

January 27 2016

Image of Tracking down Valentin de Boulogne

Picture: Met

In October this year, the Metropolitan Museum in New York will put on an exhibition of works by Valentin de Boulogne - the first ever. In this blog on the Met's site, curator Keith Christiansen tells of one of his trips to track down one exhibit (above) in a French church. 

The show sounds great. Apart from anything else though, Christiansen's excellent blog posts are another demonstration of how the Met leads the way in digital engagement. We don't see enough of this from other museums, especially not UK ones.

To New York!

January 26 2016

Image of To New York!

Picture: BG

Greetings from Edinburgh airport, where 'Storm Frank' is causing a few delays. My cunning plan to get to New York in time to view the Old Master sales this afternoon won't quite work. Still, it's good to be going - for over the weekend it looked as if the sales might be put off, such was the snow, and I know a few people who had to cancel their trips. Time will tell whether this affects the sale.

In many ways, this week could be seen as a key moment for Old Masters. Certainly, with Christie's having moved their sale to the Spring, all the focus is on Sotheby's, and the first hurdle to clear - Wednesday's stand-alone sale of Alfred Taubman's Old Masters - is a high one. Already, Sotheby's has conceded that their $515m Taubman guarantee gamble won't pay off, so there will be many eyes watching to see how the last instalment of his collection does. That said, Sotheby's can't have spared much effort in pulling together what looks to be a strong series of catalogues, with works by the likes of Raphael, Turner, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Canaletto all coming up over the next few days. And of course, the major event of the week will be the $25m-$25m Gentileschi.

I've a busy schedule, so blogging over the next few days will be jet-lag dependent I'm afraid. If any posts appear over the next few hours, it'll be because the movie selection on United (which, amazingly, has Wi-Fi in the sky better than my BT one at home) hasn't improved. 

Update - the movies were good: Bridge of Spies, and The Martian.

Met hangs Le Brun masterpiece

January 25 2016

Video: Metropolitan Museum

AHN has been following the Metropolitan Museum's acquisition and restoration of Charles Le Brun's Portrait of Everhard Jabach and his Family. Now, the picture has finally been hung, and the above video recounts the great efforts by curators and conservators at the Met to put this fascinating picture on public display.

Knoedler fake trial begins

January 25 2016

Image of Knoedler fake trial begins

Picture: NYT

The much anticipated Knoedler fake trial begins today. In The Art Newspaper, Laura Gilbert has an excellent summary of the case so far, and what's at stake. The main case will revolved around this question: should the buyers of a fake work (in this case, a dodgy Rothko, above) have done more due diligence themselves, to find out if the picture offered was genuine, or should the gallery be expected to make sure the work was genuine first?

It seems extraordinary to me that the case has even come this far - surely a gallery must bear the responsibility, not the buyer. 

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