Two convicted in Kunsthal case

November 28 2013

Two of the six Romanian suspects have been found guilty of taking part in the Kunsthal theft in Rotterdam. They were sentenced to six years and eight months. The trial continues for the other suspects. More here.

Save Van Dyck! (ctd.)

November 28 2013

Image of Save Van Dyck! (ctd.)

Picture: Philip Mould & Co.

An artist reader writes:

Could you please show all Van Dyck fans a photograph of his superb self portrait without the frame? 

I imagine that having bought it, you must have taken it out of its frame and had it photographed at the same time. Though it is a superb example of early framing in its own right, its brightness distracts one from seeing this dark painting properly.

Is there any evidence that the frame was made for the painting or  that it was framed like this during Van Dycks's lifetime?

As you can see above, a reader's wish is AHN's command. Don't tell anyone, but I think I prefer the picture out of its frame. The portrait seems more direct and unassuming, and it could be that the elaborate frame makes one interpret Van Dyck's characterisation as more self-confident than he intended. If the portrait was painted as late in his career as art historians suspect, then it was at a time of great uncertainty in his life. Obviously, this is all speculation, and nor do we know to what extent Van Dyck conceived the picture as always being presented in its current frame. Interestingly, the unframed image shows (in the way the drapery is painted at the bottom) that Van Dyck always intended the picture to be an oval.

Update - excellent piece by historian Andrew Roberts in the Spectator on the NPG's campaign:

Why should a portrait of a Flemish painter by a Flemish painter be considered so important to Britain that the culture minister Ed Vaizey has slapped a three-month export delay on it, and the National Portrait Gallery has announced a £12.5 million campaign to keep it in the country? Moreover, why is it so important that after reading this article you should immediately go to www.savevandyck.org and make a generous contribution to save it from going abroad? The answer lies in four words: Sir Anthony Van Dyck.

No other single artist has had such an impact on British art as Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641) not only in his own lifetime but also — as the 2009 Tate Britain’s exhibition demonstrated — right up to the 20th century. He was by far the most influential painter to have worked in Britain during the 17th century and must be seen as the launching point for so much of what happened artistically in subsequent generations. Van Dyck decisively turned British portraiture away from the stiff, formal, ‘iconic’ approach of Tudor and Jacobean painting, replacing it with that distinctive, fluid, shimmering, painterly style which was to dominate portraiture for nearly three centuries after his death. Making Britain his home from the beginning of his second visit in 1632 until his tragically early death in 1641, he painted the royal family and scores of other notable contemporaries. Flemish by birth, he was British by conviction; royalist by politics and patronage (he was knighted by Charles I), he was nonetheless utterly revolutionary as a painter. After him portraits weren’t just of people, they were about people.

Roberts concludes:

Of all the great British portrait painters, Van Dyck is by far the most important not to be represented by his own portrait in one of the great British public collections, considering how central he is to the history of the British school of painting and how his influence has grown over the centuries. ‘We are all going to Heaven,’ Gainsborough said on his deathbed, ‘and Van Dyck is of the company.’ For the National Portrait Gallery, the story of Britain that it attempts to tell through portraiture is simply incomplete without a portrait of Van Dyck, which has long been identified as one of the major lacunae in its otherwise superb collection.

This is the only chance a museum or a gallery in the United Kingdom has of acquiring the masterpiece, and it’s the only portrait of the artist ever likely to be made available for acquisition by a British public collection. Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, has described it as ‘undoubtedly one of the finest and most important self-portraits in the history of British art’.

What kind of a people are we if we allow this picture to be lost to Britain? Hit that website!

Update II - an artist replies:

A painter replies:

Thank you so much for showing us Van Dyck's self portrait without its  frame.

How much better it looks and how much more one can see!

I hope the NPG will exhibit it in a plain dark frame with maybe the gold frame hung alongside at a safe distance.

I speculate that the oval shape was chosen partly  to avoid distracting from the face by showing too much of his painting arm going out of  the bottom  of the painting on the right, as would occur with a rectangular frame. (in mirror image of course)

We now see him as his sitters would have seen him. To the women, a romantic face with a soulful, intense gaze;

to the men a graceful, flamboyant and fashionable figure whose attributes they or their parents desired to be transferred, to their own likenesses by his peculiar magic and genius.

This painting is an object lesson in the extreme economy of means exhibited by the greatest portrait painters (Velasquez, Vermeer, Hals, Sargent) which nevertheless fool the eye into believing there is far more detail than that actually painted. The colours used are very few: Lead white, crimson, blue, black, ochre, umber, and perhaps a colour equivalent to 'indian red'.

The whole canvas is underpainted in a medium 'ocherish' brown This is allowed to show through, untouched, in the hair on the left, the eyebrow, and the whole, moustache area. The details of the hair framing the face  and the moustache are then 'drawn' in over the underpaint  with a darker umber painted with a long sable brush. The whole backround on the left is then overpainted in a darker brown to make the adjacent hair look lighter. By contrast the hair on the right appears darker agaist the original underpaint.

The rest of the face is painted with an opaque impasto. The shaved areas of the jaw are given a bluish tinge and the bridge of the nose, the corner of the eye and  the cheekbone a hint of crimson. Masterly highlights which throw the face into relief, run from the brow through the eyelid to the  tip of the nose. The iris and the edge of the lower eyelid below have restrained but perfectly placed  dots of paint adding a liquid quality to his gaze.To the right of the iris, the eyeball  is given its roundness by the contrast between the warm reflected light on its upper surface and the cooler area below.

Above the nostril, ( outlined in umber)  a cool shadowy plane terminates at the tip of the nose in a pink rectangular highlight, visually linked to the highlight in the hollow next to the corner of the eye. The overall effect is to produce an illusion of three dimensionality from which Bernini could have made a marble bust.

The rapidly dashed in light areas of collar and slashing were probably painted in after an initial drying of the painting, certainly not 'wet on wet'. Maybe on a different day, with different clothes whose startling and effective contrast  was suddenly noticed in the studio mirror.

Update III - in the Evening Standard, the Great Brian Sewell has blessed us with his view on the appeal, and recoils at the picture being sold to a collector for more than it was bought at auction - in other words (gasp) 'a profit'. In the meantime he also sticks the boot into 'Fake or Fortune?', which he calls 'dire'. So suddenly this blog's admiration for Brian has taken a dive. Anyway...

Brian's ultimate point is that the the National Portrait Gallery should have been in the auction room in 2009 (not 2010, as Brian claims) when the portrait was sold for £8.4m. Thus the NPG could have 'saved' the nation a few million, now that the price is £12.5m. But Brian makes the mistake of assuming that had the NPG bid in 2009, the final price would have been just a little bit more than £8.4m. Which is not true. How does Brian know where we, as the ultimate buyers (in partnership with Alfred Bader fine arts) would have stopped bidding? I can tell you now that the NPG would not have got it at auction for less than the asking price today.

It may rankle Brian that galleries like the one I work for, Philip Mould & Company, have, as specialist dealers in the market, a sharper view of what a certain variety of pictures are worth. But I'm afraid we do. The fact that we have since sold the picture to a private collector for £12.5m should be proof enough of that. There is also then the fact that no museum can gather together within just a month or so (the time between a catalogue appearing and an auction) the sort of funding necessary to buy the Van Dyck self-portrait (which was estimated at just £2m-£3m). In such a scenario, it may well fall to dealers like us to buy a picture and allow the fundraising effort to take place with appropriate time. I'm pretty sure that if a private buyer had outbid us at the 2009 auction, and then applied for an export licence, the picture would have left the country. In those days the Heritage Lottery Fund rarely considered picture acquisitions, and the government of the day had just axed by 50% the National Heritage Memorial Fund, so no museum would have been able to stop the picture going overseas. You could argue, therefore, that if we hadn't stepped in to buy it, the picture would almost certainly have been lost by now.

But that's enough about capitalism, let's get back to the art history.

Update IV: a reader writes:

I think you have misrepresented the Great Brian’s point.

He was not saying that the NPG should have been in the auction room – in fact, he explicitly says: “The auction sets a price over which a national gallery or museum has had no influence; if at that figure a gallery decides that the picture (or any other treasure) should be in its collection, then we should have a system that allows it to match the final bid.”

In essence the tweak he is arguing for is that private dealers in the UK are treated the same as foreign buyers.

Obviously dealers have an advantage when it comes to the agility required to raise substantial funding for a painting within a month – isn’t Sewell’s precise complaint that he doesn’t think that this difference in agility should produce the potential for a large profit that comes out of public money?

The case argued for above is similar to that in France, where museums can arbitrarily declare a work 'bought' after an auction, and stop cultural objects leaving the country that way. However, it is a grossly unfair system to the vendor, and is designed simply to allow the state to buy works on the cheap. French museums don't bid on the work at auction, and so the price reached doesn't properly reflect the demand for it. Furthermore, for most important works, everyone knows it'll be declared bought by the state, so very few people bother to bid. This is not good news for the poor seller. The system we have in the UK is a very fair one, and allows an important work of art like the Van Dyck to be sold for its full value.

UK acquires another Van Dyck

November 28 2013

Image of UK acquires another Van Dyck

Picture: National Trust/PCF

It's all go for Van Dyck at the moment (hurrah). On his National Trust Treasure Hunt blog, Emile de Bruijn tells us that Van Dyck's touching portrait of Sophonisba Anguissola (painted in Sicily in about 1624) has been allocated to the National Trust as part of the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu tax scheme. The picture will remain at Knole house.

You can see the other AIL treasures from 2012-13 here

New Constable discovered verso

November 28 2013

Image of New Constable discovered verso

Picture: V&A 

The V&A has discovered a sketch (above) by John Constable on the reverse of their Branch Hill Pond, Hampstead. The picture was found when a later re-lining canvas was removed. More here.

Apologies...

November 28 2013

...for the poor service yesterday - I was away (birthday!). I'm now 36. Which means that I can use that great (and humbling) Tom Lehrer line, 'when Mozart was my age, he'd been dead for a year'.

Save Van Dyck!

November 25 2013

Video: Artfund

I went to the launch this morning (below) of the National Portrait Gallery's campaign to save Van Dyck's last self-portrait for the nation. The picture has been sold to an overseas buyer, and the NPG has 8 months to try and raise £12.5m to keep the painting in the UK. 

It's the largest such campaign ever mounted by the NPG, and so far their determination to succeed is both admirable and encouraging. Regular readers will know (as I posted last week) that I work for the company which has sold the picture, so I'm in something of a predicament. But of course, the Van Dyck fan in me (he's my favourite artist) wants to see the picture remain on public display in the UK.

A large part of whether the campaign to save the picture succeeds will come down to how the public reacts. Funding bodies like the lottery will want to know whether the picture is not just an important work of art, but also whether it's something the public really relates to. That's why the NPG are taking the picture on tour round the country, and cleverly pitching it as one of the greatest 'selfies' ever painted (which it is).

So if you'd like to see the picture stay here, spread the word as far and wide as possible. Take your kids to see it. Tweet #savevandyck endlessly. Watch the video above and share it. And most importantly of all, donate!* Which you can do here, on the Art Fund's 'Save Van Dyck' website.

Update - the BBC already has the story here (with a portrait of Charles I not by Van Dyck), and the Telegraph here.

Update II - excellent reaction on Twitter already, including this helpful Tweet from Derren Brown, just sent to his 1.7m followers:

Update III - a fine piece from Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, who asks, is the picture worth it?

Absolutely. I think this is one of the most worthwhile campaigns in years to "save" a work of art for the nation. Van Dyck's Self-Portrait would make a spectacular addition to the National Portrait Gallery. Quite frankly, it could make the place. It would give a gallery stuffed with pictures of primarily historical interest a true artistic masterpiece, by the man from Antwerp who gave birth to British art.

Van Dyck was fascinated by the English face. His paintings are full of pale faces, with quirky physiognomies and flaccid skin – the faces of the English upper class in the reign of Charles I. You can see how intrigued he was by this northern island just by looking at his portrait of the art collector George Gage doing business in Italy. Van Dyck shows this elegant art lover as a quintessential Englishman abroad, his long white hands and face looking raw and even sickly in the light of Rome.

Charles I ruled over an art-loving court and Van Dyck, a painter who could and did work all over Europe, came to Britain to get paid for portraits. His images of Stuart ladies and gentlemen have immense panache and cavalier style. They are at once real and down to earth – those pasty faces – yet magnificent in their silken garments and rich settings.

When British art took off in the 18th century, it was Van Dyck that artists like Gainsborough looked back to as the father of British painting – Gainsborough's painting The Blue Boy is his tribute to his art hero.

The painting the National Portrait Gallery wants to buy is the last known self-portrait by Van Dyck. He was very conscious of his talent – this portrait shows it. He stands sideways to the mirror he is looking at while he paints, and turns his head lightly towards it in a nonchalant, aristocratic pose.

Yet his world was falling apart. This was painted in 1640 to 1641 as Britain descended into a civil war that would leave many of Van Dyck's subjects and patrons, including Charles I, dead.

Meanwhile, Van Dyck himself had died by December 1641. The king said – as praise – that he spent all his money living "more like a prince than a painter".**

Van Dyck was Britain's first art star. For once, a campaign to save a painting is not just hype. This gifted Flemish student of the English face belongs in this country, at the National Portrait Gallery, among all those people whose bad skin and bad teeth and cockeyed smiles he had such a good eye for.

Update IV - more news coverage in The Guardian, The Independent, the Evening Standard, and The Art Newspaper

Update V - an overseas reader writes:

Not my business (as a Canadian, although we did recently nick your General Wolfe letters...), but I couldn't agree more with you and J.Jones et al: it is a superb portrait, with a great historical meaning, in a marvellously "right" frame too.  So  best wishes for successfully keeping it in Britain!

Update VI - More Twitter action. Celeb endorsement from Mary McCartney. And this great Tweet from Deborah Larbi:

 If #Movember was a competition, Van Dyck would win. Let's win this for him.

Meanwhile, Waldemar is mounting a one-man campaign to have my employer donate the picture to the NPG...

Update VII - on the last point, a reader writes (helpfully!):

In defense of capitalism and the art market, Mould & Co are entitled to profit from 1) saving the Van Dyke four years ago by taking the risk of purchasing it at auction during a very difficult economic period 2) holding the painting for four years with a lot of someone's capital in it 3) researching the picture to add to its value all that is now known about it.

I haven't seen Waldemar suggest that Sotheby's or Christie's or Bonham's (they will appreciate inclusion here) return or contribute their buyer's premium and commissions in similar circumstances.  I know that his tweets are good natured pricing to help raise some funding.  Aren't they.

Having said all that,  some contribution from Mould's profit to the NPG would be nice, however that is in fundamental conflict with Mould & Co.'s duty to its client who is trying to purchase the picture and carry it to foreign shores.

*yes, I'm doing my bit.

** I'm not sure Charles I did say that, I think it was said of Van Dyck when he was in Rome.

Meyer leaves Sotheby's

November 25 2013

Image of Meyer leaves Sotheby's

Picture: Newsweek

I don't think many people saw this coming - Tobias Meyer, Sotheby's talented modern and contemporary art auctioneer, is to leave Sotheby's. Oliver Barker (congrats) is to take his place. The Washington Post reports:

Sotheby's is parting ways with its head of contemporary art, an area where the auction house's performance has been criticized by activist hedge fund manager Dan Loeb.

The company said Tobias Meyer, its world-wide head of contemporary art, will leave after more than 20 years with the global art auction house. Sotheby's characterized the decision as mutual and coinciding with the coming expiration of Mr. Meyer's contract.

Contract negotiations with Mr. Meyer began before Mr. Loeb aired his criticism, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Meyer didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Mr. Meyer became the world-wide head of contemporary art in 1997 and principal auctioneer in July 2003, according to the company. For years, shareholders at Sotheby's annual meetings could count on seeing him in the crowd.

The decision follows last week's high-profile New York contemporary art auctions in which rival Christie's pulled in $782.4 million over two days of sales anchored by a Francis Bacon triptych that went for $142.4 million, the highest price for a piece of art sold at auction.

Sotheby's, with Mr. Meyer presiding at the evening sale, brought in $474.2 million over two days, including a $105.4 million price for a work by Andy Warhol, a record for the artist.

Oliver Barker, deputy chairman for Sotheby's in Europe, will pick up responsibility for the auction house's marquee evening sales of contemporary art in New York and London, the person familiar with the matter said.

The recent article on Meyer in Newsweek, which I posted below, gives you an idea of how important people like him are to the auciton houses when it comes to sourcing works for sale - and how stressful it can be if you don't nail the crucial consignments.

Update - ooh, a reader alerts me, in of course an entirely unconnected way, to the end paragraph in Daniel Loeb's recent broadside against the current Sotheby's management, in which he (as Sotheby's largest shareholder) mentions certain 'internal candidates' as replacement CEO's, were he to have his way in restructuring the company. Is there something afoot?

Sotheby’s is like an old master painting in desperate need of restoration. Auctions, private and internet sales all need to be reinvigorated or revamped. Sotheby’s global footprint must expand, and opportunities to exploit the Sotheby’s brand through adjacent businesses should be considered. Sotheby’s can also use its unique position and potential excess capital to judiciously take principal positions in works of art when doing so would not conflict with its clients’ interests.

As with any important restoration, Sotheby’s must first bring in the right technicians. Third Point is not only Sotheby’s largest shareholder but also has significant experience and a successful track record of serving on public company boards. I am willing to join the board immediately and help recruit several new directors who have experience increasing shareholder value, share a passion for art, understand technology and luxury brands, or have operated top-performing sales organizations. Importantly, our candidates would also better represent Sotheby’s expanding geographic footprint. We support the Company placing a designee from another large shareholder on the Board as well. Once installed, these new directors would determine what other steps are necessary to ensure that the Company benefits from the rigor and direction that comes with having an “owners’ perspective” in the boardroom.

It is also time, Mr. Ruprecht, for you to step down from your positions as Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer and for the role of Chairman to be separated for your successor. While you were an able caretaker of Sotheby’s during times of crisis, you have not shown the innovation or inspiration the Company sorely needs to play offense today. Sotheby’s requires a CEO with sufficient knowledge of the global art markets to make critical decisions, who can move seamlessly around the globe building the business and strengthening client relationships. Respectfully, we do not see evidence that you are the right person to repair the Company and drive its growth in today’s dynamic global art market.

Therefore, once on the Board, it will be our top priority to commence a search for a new Chief Executive Officer from either within or outside the Company. Based on our due diligence and discussions with participants in the art market, there are at least two internal candidates for the CEO position who warrant serious consideration. We have already begun informal discussions with outside candidates and would welcome the opportunity to bring the internal candidates into a formal process.

It's official - art makes you smart!

November 25 2013

Image of It's official - art makes you smart!

Picture: NYT

Exciting news from the New York Times:

FOR many education advocates, the arts are a panacea: They supposedly increase test scores, generate social responsibility and turn around failing schools. Most of the supporting evidence, though, does little more than establish correlations between exposure to the arts and certain outcomes. Research that demonstrates a causal relationship has been virtually nonexistent.

A few years ago, however, we had a rare opportunity to explore such relationships when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Ark. Through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, we were able to determine that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

By extension, of course, reading AHN will make you a bloody genius.

Update - aw shucks, the Grumpy Art Historian says it ain't so, and writes:

That NYT piece picks up on some research done a while ago, which I refuted thus.

All it really proves is that kids remember stuff. The actual research doesn't bear out the claims made in the article.

I would not, of course, deny that AHN can still make you a bloody genius.

The gratuitous girl in white gloves shot (ctd.)

November 22 2013

Image of The gratuitous girl in white gloves shot (ctd.)

Picture: The Times

It's the unwritten rule of saleroom and museum photo-calls: when the photographers arrive, you have to have a young, female, and preferably good-looking member of staff on hand to pretend to 'hang' a painting, or look at an object. And that person always has to wear white gloves (despite the fact that nobody really uses them anymore).

Above is a great example of the genre in today's Times, where a member of staff at the Royal Collection 'observes' a screen of works by Thomas Rowlandson.

The Rowlandson exhibition is now on at the Queen's Gallery in Holyroodhouse. More details here

Update - a reader writes, and asks:

Yes, but isn't this at least a funny riff on the hackneyed motif? and one that, as a caricature itself of the good-looking-girl-pretending-to-hang-a-painting, refers cleverly to subject of the exhibition, the Rowlandson cartoon caricatures?  The "gratuitous girl"'s magnified teeth even resemble one of the ways Rowlandson caricatured his targets.... So this particular photo isn't really "gratuitous" at all, is it?

BTW, a question from ignorance: if white gloves aren't worn any more, why not? is something else worn, or don't paintings need the supposed protection?

The problem with white gloves is that they make it harder to handle things, because you can't grip, and your fingers become clumsy. You're more likely to drop a painting, or rip a piece of paper (try reading a book in gloves). The best thing is to just wash your hands. Sometimes, latex gloves are used.

The only time archivists ever use white gloves is when they're being filmed - otherwise they get a deluge of people writing in, saying 'why don't you use white gloves?' 

Update II - a reader notes:

most print rooms do insist on white gloves when handling mounted drawings, because it avoids sweaty hands staining the mounts at no risk to the drawing itself. Counterintuitively - but sensibly - gloves are not used when handling unmounted material.

Leonardo's harpsi-cello

November 22 2013

Video: via The Dish

This is very cool. Polish concert pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki has recreated an instrument invented by Leonardo, following designs in the Atlantic Codex. The instrument is a combination between a cello and a harpsichord. Great sound. 

More information here

Leaky roof closes museum

November 22 2013

Image of Leaky roof closes museum

Picture: KMSKB

Maaike Dirkx alerts me to the closure of the new Rogier van der Weyden exhibition at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels (above), due to a leaky roof. The museum says:

[...] it is no longer possible to guarantee that the roof of the building housing the exhibition The Heritage of Rogier van der Weyden  is watertight. In order to prevent any eventual problems and as a precaution, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels have decided to close the exhibition permanently.

Please rest assured that this difficult and painful decision for our institution is dictated by concern with the preventative conservation of this exceptional cultural heritage, and that our team will make every effort to ensure optimal management of the situation.

The exhibition had opened on 12th October, and was due to run until 26th January. I'm sure visitors wouldn't have minded the odd bucket on the floor.

The show had a good and informative website, which you can still see here.

Update - a reader writes:

I am shocked to read about the museum in Brussels having to close the Heritage of Rogier van der Weyden exhibition. I visited the exhibition on Tuesday when it reopened after having closed down for the previous week, apparently due to leaking water. I had booked my ticket well in advance and took a day trip on Eurostar. It was an excellent exhibition, really well displayed in the spacious basement galleries, with numerous works of art by anonymous Brussels painters gathered together from as far away as Australia and plenty of interesting new research. I was very lucky and it's a shame for all those who will be disappointed.

What's the greatest painting in Britain?

November 22 2013

Image of What's the greatest painting in Britain?

Picture: English Heritage

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones makes the case for Rembrandt's self-portrait at Kenwood, which is now open again after restoration:

This majestic work of art is about to go back on permanent public view when Kenwood House in north London reopens its doors on 28 November. It has been closed for repairs and restoration by English Heritage, and if you have been missing it, or have never been, an artistic feast awaits. Kenwood has a staggering art collection, including Gainsborough's Countess Howe and Turner's Iveagh Sea-Piece.

But the Rembrandt is something else. You don't have to take my word for it: when Kenwood was closed, this painting was excitedly borrowed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which showed it as one of Rembrandt's ultimate achievements alongside its own masterpieces by him.

Rembrandt, at the age of about 59, looks at us from the depth of his years, and with the authority of his craft. He has portrayed himself holding his brushes, maulstick and palette, in front of two circles drawn on a wall. Why the circles? Do they represent a sketch for a map of the world? Or is Rembrandt alluding, with this drawing on a brown surface, to stories that say the first picture was a drawing made with a stick in sand?

His eyes contain so much knowledge and melancholy that even looking at this painting on a computer screen, I get the eerie feeling that Rembrandt is looking back and weighing up my failures. You can deduce the power of the original.

US National Gallery acquires its first Honthorst

November 22 2013

Image of US National Gallery acquires its first Honthorst

Picture: Washington Post

And it's an epic one. The Washington Post reports:

The Dutch masterpiece hasn’t been on public display since 1795. But on Friday, the National Gallery of Art will announce that it acquired “The Concert,” by Gerrit van Honthorst. The six-foot-wide work, painted in 1623, will go on display in a special installation at the National Gallery of Art’s West Building on Friday morning. It is the gallery’s first painting by Honthorst, one of the preeminent painters of the Dutch Golden Age and part of the Utrecht “Caravaggisti,” or early-17th-century painters who were influenced by Italian baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. The National Gallery acquired the painting from a family’s private collection in France.

Arthur Wheelock, the National Gallery’s curator of northern baroque paintings, visited art dealer Adam Williams’s gallery in New York to view the piece. Wheelock recalls how Williams pulled back a curtain to show an unfamiliar dynamic work, portraying several musicians gathered around a table playing instruments. He didn’t know who painted it at first, having never seen an image of “The Concert.”

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

November 21 2013

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: Kemper Museum

The Knoedler fakes scandal rumbles on (put 'Knoedler' into the search box for more history). Now, The Art Newspaper has published a list of the paintings Glafira Rosales (the 'dealer' who sold works to Knoedler) has admitted are fake. One of the works (above) was bought by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas, and (I see this afternoon) is still on their website as a genuine work. The museum says:

The dynamic gesture, with which he painted the black and white passages as equally important, spoke to the energy of action painting.

This may have been the thought of the actual artist of the painting, Pei-Shen Qian, but I doubt it. 

Curate your own contemporary art show!

November 20 2013

Image of Curate your own contemporary art show!

Picture: theweek.co.uk

Ever fancied curating your own exhibition of contemporary art? Well, the Hayward Gallery is inviting everyone to have a try:

Hayward Touring invites proposals for an exhibition of contemporary art to be shown in four UK galleries in 2014/15. You don’t have to be a professional curator or exhibition-maker to submit an idea. We welcome suggestions for innovative projects from artists, writers and imaginative thinkers in all walks of life, as well as from people working in galleries and museums. Your proposal might be for an exhibition that re-invents the way we think about art; it might be a new and surprising take on a well-worn subject; there may be a theme or tendency in contemporary art and visual culture that you think deserves to be explored in new ways; or a theme that you have always thought would make a great exhibition.

Go on, have a go. How hard can it be? A recent Hayward exhibition was their 'invisible art' show (above), so the bar will be set very low.

'Meet the New Tate Britain' (ctd.)

November 20 2013

Video: Tate

Tate Britain gets more of the Grand Designs treatment. Also a bit of Masterchef by the look of it.

'Meet the New Tate Britain'

November 20 2013

Video: Tate

A wonderfully pointless, but cleverly made, little video from Tate to mark the completion of the newly refurbished Tate Britain.

In The Art Newspaper, an interview with Tate Britain director Penelope Curtis reveals she may yet want to increase the gallery space upstairs. Excellent.

Where next for Tate Britain? Curtis does not rule out an extension, but she says that it is a virtue that the building is “not too big”. That said, she thinks that the basement could yield more display space. “The upper floor could then be devoted to the collection, with temporary exhibitions on the lower level,” she says. 

Bacon Triptych heads to Qatar?

November 20 2013

Image of Bacon Triptych heads to Qatar?

Picture: Telegraph/Christie's

Apparently the buyer of the $142.4m Bacon triptych was the mega art buying Shiekha Mayassa bin Hamad al-Thani, of Qatar. More here. She is also thought to have bought the $250m Cezanne Card Sharps, which means she owns the most expensive pieces of art ever sold both privately and at auction.

A reader alerts me to this rather appropriate cartoon, from The New Yorker:

Nazi-era law prevents restitutions

November 20 2013

Image of Nazi-era law prevents restitutions

Picture: Getty Images/AP. 'Landscape with Horses' by Franz Marc, from the Gurlitt collection.

Extraordinary to think that, as the New York Times reports, the 1938 law which allowed the Nazis to seize 'degenerate' art is still valid in Germany, and may prevent much of Cornelius Gurlitt's art stash ever being restituted:

The Nazis sold thousands of the confiscated works on the open art market to fill wartime coffers. Repeal or reform of the 1938 law could unravel an intricate web of art deals involving such works that have been negotiated around the world in the decades since, something that even many museum curators like Mr. Büche are loath to consider.

Despite the lengths Germany has gone to to repair the moral and material damage done during World War II, for decades the restitution of confiscated art was not a topic of discussion or action here, and no German government has sought to repeal the Nazi law.

Update - a barrister writes:

Your post questions why the law has not been repealed; and, on the surface, it is a reasonable question.  Framing the issue in that way of course obscures a veritable plethora of considerations and ramifications that would flow from repeal of a law, that you have noted, has served as the root of good title to the works upon which many subsequent transactions have undoubtedly been based.  The sheer effluxion of time since the works were taken will mean that many of those works are now in the possession, and have been through the hands, of many people and institutions whose conduct could not be reasonably impugned, and who have acted only in good faith and almost certainly without notice of what may, upon repeal of the 1938 law, become a defect in the title to the works.  Repeal of the 1938 might well satisfy a moral need but the consequence will almost inevitably be the visiting of considerable harm of other people and institutions who are on any any view blameless.  It is for this reason that many common law jurisdictions will ordinarily protect the position of a bona fide purchaser for value without notice.

Nothing that I have written is intended to suggest that restitution cannot or should not be made where the circumstances reasonably permit it.  I write only to observe that the failure to repeal the 1938 law may not be so much a moral failure as a recognition of the extraordinary consequences that may flow and the almost impossible balancing of the many interests that would be affected.  That in itself is not a reason to stay restitution, however it must also be acknowledged that the intergeneration unravelling of so many transactions will not be without ramification or consequence, and the results could well be incredibly harsh for some people who could only be properly described as innocent.  Many legal scholars will tell you that difficult cases tend to make bad law, and these circumstances may become a stark demonstration of the truth of that adage.

New Tate Britain unveiled

November 18 2013

Video: Tate

The new entrance and rooms at Tate Britain open tomorrow. There's a shiny new staircase, and even a 'newly discovered' room. £45m has been spent. I must say, I quite liked the old rotunda, and I'm not entirely sure why Tate needed to isntall a staircase to take visitors downstairs, when they've just had to go upstairs (from the street) to get in. But anyway, it all looks splendid - so well done Tate Britain. In the film above, Kevin McCloud goes over the site when work was being done. More pictures and video of the finished galleries here.

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