July 23 2013
Picture: Alamy via Guardian
A big AHN congratulatory hug to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son. In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones provides a brief history of royal baby portraits, such as Holbein's Edward VI above, and concludes that the new prince should be painted by... Paula Rego. Not a bad idea, actually.
However, given the frosty reaction to Kate's own portrait, I should think one for her baby is the last thing on her mind.
July 23 2013
Regular readers will know that I get anxious about great art being hidden away in museum basements. The LA Times, however, reports on an intriguing idea:
Behind an art museum's gleaming galleries lies the off-limits and uninviting space that can hold as much as 95% of its collection: storage.
These spaces are often packed with hundreds or even thousands of paintings, decorative art objects and other artifacts that can languish, unappreciated and untouched by curators, for years.
But as a way to bring art out from its underbelly and display more of a museum's possessions, several institutions are embracing "visible storage" in public areas, exhibiting the art without the expense of a spacious, beautifully installed and curated show.
And two new, but quite different, examples are planned for museums in Los Angeles.
At the L.A. County Museum of Art, where only 2.3% of the 119,000-piece collection is currently on view, director Michael Govan has been working with architect Peter Zumthor on new $650-million building plans that would, among other things, bring more artwork out of storage.
Meanwhile, at the Broad under construction downtown, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro are essentially putting the storage room itself — and maybe the idea of storage as well — on display. The Broad is expected to open to the public by the end of 2014.
Update - a reader writes:
I should just like to highlight that the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre conduct guided tours of their Nitshill storage facility and very good they are too. While I fail to appreciate the utility of art held in public collections languishing unseen - indeed 2nd or 3rd Division art would be better appreciated and loved in private hands - I applaud them for their readiness to cater to the art loving public.
She did burn them
July 23 2013
Or at least, three of them. Yesterday, the mother of one of the thiefs accused of stealing seven works of art from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, who had told police she burned the paintings, retracted her claim. This may, as the New York Times reports, have something to do with the fact that:
Under Romanian law, the crime of “destruction with very serious consequences,” one of three charges against Mrs. Dogaru, carries a sentence of 3 to 10 years — far longer than the punishment for her two other alleged crimes, “supporting a criminal group” and “assisting criminals.”
Oops. Undermining her new found innocence, however, is a report from Reuters that the charred remains of three paintings have been found in her stove:
"We gathered overwhelming evidence that three paintings were destroyed by fire," said Gheorghe Niculescu, head of the team examining ashes that police found in a stove at her house in Carcaliu, a village in southeastern Romania.
Crucial pieces of evidence examined with high-tech equipment were the nails used to fasten the canvases to their wooden frames, and a particular blue paint, Niculescu, of the National Research Investigation Center in Physics and Chemistry, told Reuters.
But he could not say which paintings were destroyed, nor say whether the burned remains could have come from other paintings.
Really keen AHNers can hear me discuss the theft on the BBC World Service, here at 48:20 in.
Why buy a copy?
July 22 2013
Picture: Susie Ray Originals
An article in The Guardian alerts me to a new gallery selling copies of famous artists. 'Susie Ray Originals' in Cornwall will do you a nice signed Monet for £8,000, or a Renoir for £3,900. But, asks The Guardian:
[...] isn't this forgery? Isn't Ray's whole oeuvre that of a cynical charlatan? "I'm not a forger," she says, arguing that she's different from, say, the notorious cockney forger Tom Keating, who avoided jail even after admitting to painting 2,000 fakes of old masters. On the back of each copy, Ray signs her name. Real forgers don't do that. That said, she tells me some of her clients have passed off her copies as the real thing, if not to make money then to show off to dinner guests. One household name (whose identity I can't reveal) loves to boast about his Claude Monet – when it's really his Susie Ray. But isn't Ray facilitating such grubby behaviour? "A lot of famous people pass off my copies as original," she says. "That's up to them."
Susie Ray's website provides us with more reasons to buy a copy, including this baseball card analogy:
Art collectors can use high quality copyist paintings to complete a collection by an original artist, where the work is out of circulation.
The Monets and Van Goghs seem impressive from the website, but the Old Masters less so.
City in debt? Flog the museum! (ctd.)
July 19 2013
In May, I reported on the possibility that the Detroit Institute of Art's collection could be sold off to pay the city's debts. News today that the city has now filed for bankruptcy has raised the threat, although the state of Michigan has been taking steps to prevent such a calamity, as the Washington Post outlines:
In May, the city’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, requested an inventory of the DIA’s collection, causing concern among arts leaders that the works could be sold if the city filed for bankruptcy. In June, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued an opinion that the city’s art could not be sold to pay off its estimated $19 billion in debt, citing the state’s charitable trust law.
The state Senate recently passed a bill that would prohibit the sale of the city’s art unless sold to a comparable institution to further the museum’s core mission. But the bill has yet to become law, and the museum has hired attorneys to advise it on protecting the art.
“I’m obviously concerned,” said Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums. “We thought that this was behind us in terms of the collection at the DIA, but I’m not an attorney so I don’t know what could happen. This has never happened before.”
The collection is undoubtedly valuable. Graham W.J. Beal, director of the DIA, has called it one of the most valuable in the Western Hemisphere. An independent assessment by the Detroit Free Press estimated that the bulk of the collection could be worth $2.5 billion, although the exact value is impossible to determine because it is rare for so many valuable works to hit the auction block. The DIA has more than 60,000 works spanning centuries, with nearly 90 percent of the pieces in storage.
I bet someone involved in the city's administration will wonder if the 90% in storage can be sold...
Update: Wowee - fast work; The New York Times reports that Christie's is already in on the action:
About a month ago, the institute’s officials were contacted by Christie’s auction house, which asked for an inventory of works and asked if appraisers could visit to assess the collection. It is unclear whether such a visit took place and whether it was creditors or someone else who enlisted Christie’s to begin an appraisal. (Mr. Nowling said that the emergency manager’s office did not do so, and Christie’s declined to comment.)
Update II - Tim Worstall, a fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London, says (in Forbes), sell the lot, and quickly!
Leave aside the precise legalities of this for a moment. The City’s in the hole for something like $10 billion and one quarter of that amount could be raised by moving around some paint daubed pieces of canvas. That looks pretty much like a no brainer to me as a start. What is it that we’re supposed to care about? A few pieces of canvas or real lives as they are actually lived? Pensioners moving down from known meat from an animal whose species can be assured to the cat food aisle? Retired city workers getting the medical treatment they were promised for 40 years or keep a few paintings that the well to do like to oooh and aaah at? Get the ambulances back on the road, get cop cars to a 911 in under and hour or please the arts establishment?
It’s a toughie really, isn’t it?
Imagine that the paintings are sold: we’re moving two sets of assets from where they have a lower value to a higher. Firstly, we’re moving money into Detroit. Given that whoever buys the paintings will clearly, by the purchase itself, value the painting more than the money being paid for it we therefore know that the money is worth more in Detroit. Similarly, that the painting is leaving the city means that we also know that the money is worth more to Detroit than the painting. So we have moved two assets from places where they are lowly valued to places where they are more highly valued. The money’s worth more in Detroit and the paintings worth more out of it.
And this is the thing: moving an asset from one use to one where that asset is more highly valued is the very definition of wealth creation. So, selling the paintings would indeed be wealth creation.
Boijmans museum buys 15thC triptych
July 19 2013
Picture: Museum Boijmans van Beuningen
I'm afraid I can never get that excited about gold ground paintings, but if you can, then cheer at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen's acquisition of the above c.1410-20 triptych by an unknown artist for more than 1 million euros. More here.
Update - a reader writes:
You say "I'm afraid I can never get that excited about gold ground paintings": but you just did get excited (rightly) about the Lorenzetti panel acquired by the Ferens!!
That was, I'm ashamed to say, more at a regional UK museum acquiring a such an expensive work.
Update II - another reader asks:
Not even a little bit excited about the Wilton Diptych?
Oh alright then. But mainly because it's Richard II.
'Attributed to' or 'Probably by'?
July 18 2013
Picture: National Gallery
The Grumpy Art Historian has noticed that the above Portrait of Margaretha de Geer, on display at the National Gallery, London, is now labelled as 'Probably by Rembrandt', while it used to be called Rembrandt in full. The GAH observes:
I was surprised by the change, partly because I think it's by Rembrandt, and partly because the NG Director has said that he doesn't like using the term 'Attributed'.
[...] They [the NG] confirmed that it was previously given to Rembrandt, and they've now updated the label to 'Probably by Rembrandt'. I think the avoidance of the term 'attributed' is silly, and I think the portrait is by Rembrandt, but on this occasion I think the new label is spot on. The NG is right to reflect scholarly dissent about the attribution, but also the balance of probability towards Rembrandt. Certain technical aspects of the picture are atypical of Rembrandt, and it rather pales beside the awesome power of the finished portrait, usually shown in the same room. But no other artist has come so close to capturing Rembrandt's late manner, and this is a very accomplished picture.
Being a stick-in-the-mud, I prefer 'attributed to'.
I always feel sad about Rembrandt's oeuvre, which has ballooned wildly in the last century. Once, over 600 paintings were accepted as being by Rembrandt, but only about 340 are today. Rigorous connoisseurship and attributions are to be applauded, but at the same time there's a tendency to be overly exclusionist for big name artists.
The more celebrated a painter, the more art historians he attracts, and, because there is a sort of academic glamour in being an exclusionist, a lowest common denominator effect comes into being where the probability of all scholars agreeing on an attribution is necessarily quite low. So the bar for a work to be accepted as a Rembrandt is placed much higher than many other artists, where perhaps the agreement of only two or three scholars is required. The result is that Rembrandt is rarely allowed to have had off days, studio help, or moments of experimentation (the picture above, for example, is questioned because the ground layer is different from that Rembrandt normally used).
Personally, I find it hard to accept that Rembrandt only produced some 340 pictures in his 63 year lifetime. Van Dyck made over 750 in his, and he died at the age of 42.
Update - a reader writes:
[...] the bust portrait of Margaretha de Geer has been labelled “attributed to” for nearly 20 years now, ever since scientific examination revealed the discrepancies with the artist’s usual techniques. It was downgraded after the Gallery removed the Old Man in an Armchair from the canon and at about the same time as the Tobit was readmitted. The only change since then has been the downgrading of the Adoration, though the current cleaning of the Rihel equestrian portrait may prove interesting in this respect.
History of Collecting on telly tonight
July 17 2013
This looks like fun - the history (or rather, as everything must be these days, the Secret History) of British art collecting, presented by Helen Rosslyn. Programme one, of three, is on BBC4 tonight at 9pm.
Update - I originally had a clip of the programme embedded into the site, but being a BBC clip, with a tedious code, it didn't work (just put it on You Tube please). You can watch the programme here.
It was an enjoyable programme, well made, and often beautifully shot. There were, however, a few moments where breath was sharply inhaled on the Grosvenor sofa. The programme made the mistake of many art histories of 16th Century English art - it judged the era on what has survived, which is almost entirely easel portraiture, and not all the religious and decorative art which has not (the former done for by the Reformation, and the latter because it perished with the buildings it decorated).
The programme's starting premise was that in England we were, artistically, only interested in stiff and dull portraits of ourselves. While it is largely true that collectors such as the 21st Earl of Arundel revolutionised English taste in art with the religious and historical pictures they brought back from the continent, there was nonetheless a non-portrait tradition in England. We can never know much about it, alas, because it hasn't survived.
For me, therefore, a better distinction to make is one of artistic quality. We may well have liked all sorts of art in England in the 16th Century, but almost of all of it was made by artists who paled in comparison to the greats of Europe brought to England by collectors like Charles I and Arundel. Their contribution to the history of art in England was to make us realise what great painters could do,and to raise the bar for our native English talent.
Update II - sharp-eyed viewer John Matthews spotted a possible error on one of the sitters featured in the programme:
The BBC programme on 17th century art collectors was fascinating. It included a sequence in which the Duchess of Norfolk and Helen Rosslyn discussed Aletheia, Countess of Arundel whilst looking at a 1619 portrait by Cornelius Johnson. Unfortunately this was portrait was not of Aletheia and was probably not a Countess of Arundel. I have posted a longer discussion of this portrait on Academia.edu.
Update III - a reader writes:
History of Collecting – one of the most interesting and informative programmes I’ve seen for ages you’ll be pleased to hear! Aside from your comments, and those of readers to your site already posted, a couple more inaccuracies: Charles I too commissioned work from contemporary Italian artists – the Exeters were not the first, from Reni and from Orazio Gentileschi among others – the latter coming over to England. And I understand the “Rembrandt” at Wilton is now considered a Lievens.
Van Dongen theft in Belgium
July 17 2013
Picture: Van Buuren Museum
Another art theft in Europe, this time in Belgium at the Van Buuren Museum, where two thieves stole six pictures valued at over 1.5m Euros. The best known work was Kees Van Dongen's 1906/7 'La Penseuse'. More details here.
Update - a reader writes:
I am a reader of your weblog arthistorynews and wanted to provide you with a few more details on the Van Buuren theft.
According to Belgian newssite Deredactie.be, thieves took 10 pictures, not 6. Other sources mention at least 10 pictures. The museum's security system was in full working order, but the thieves left the building after little more than 2 minutes, long before the police arrived. Expert Janpiet Callens argues that the pictures must have been stolen either on behalf of an obsessive collector or in view of asking a ransom. Among the stolen works are pieces by James Ensor, Kees van Dongen, Brueghel the Younger and Adriaen Brouwer. The Van Buuren museum is located in the home of banker, collector and patron David van Buuren and his wife Alice Piette and features their private collection in the villa's art deco rooms.
Fakes, fakes everywhere (ctd.)
July 17 2013
Not our usual fare this, but it's worth reading the story in today's Telegraph about a museum in China that has closed, because its entire collection (of some 40,000 objects) is made up of fakes. Bummer. Still, we must applaud the optimism of the museum's staff:
Wei Yingjun, the museum’s chief consultant, conceded the museum did not have the proper provincial authorizations to operate but said he was “quite positive” that at least 80 of the museum’s 40,000 objects had been confirmed as authentic.
Ferens gallery acquires Lorenzetti panel
July 17 2013
Many congratulations to the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, which has acquired the above panel by Pietro Lorenzetti for £1.6m. The picture had had an export licence deferred back in January, so it's good to see the system working, and especially for such an apparently un-glamorous object. Funding came from the gallery itself, the Art Fund, and the Heritage Lottery Fund. More details from Jonathan Jones in the Guardian here. Giant round of applause to all involved.
Update - the picture was originally sold for £5m, but tax breaks allowed the Ferens to buy it for just £1.6m. More details here.
Rembrandt sleeper blocked for export
July 17 2013
The recently discovered Rembrandt self-portrait, sold last year to the Getty, has been temporarily barred for export. If a UK museum wishes to buy it, it must raise £16.5m by the 15th October. Unlikely, you'd have to say, but best of luck to anyone trying.
Connoisseurship alive and well in Texas
July 16 2013
Video: Rice University*
Congratulations to Melisa Palermo, a PhD student at Rice University at Texas, who has identified a manuscript illumination by Pedro de Palma in the University's collection. From the Rice website:
Using an art historian’s keen eye and analytical skills (art historians call it “connoisseurship”), Palermo was able to identify the previously unattributed manuscript and its image of an Old Testament prophet as the work of 15th-century Spanish painter Pedro de Palma. Hand-drawn on a large vellum sheet and beautifully illustrated, the manuscript had been donated to Rice in 1949 by New York City bookseller and antiquarian Paul Gottschalk and is housed in the library’s Woodson Research Center as part of the Illuminated Sacred Music Manuscript Collection.
*via the Association of Art Historians
Kunsthal theft trial
July 16 2013
Picture: AFP via Art Daily
Last year in Rotterdam thieves stole seven important pictures by the likes of Picasso and Monet from the Kunsthal. Now, even though no pictures have been recovered, six Romanians are to stand trial for the theft in Bucharest. More on Art Daily here.
Update - the mother of one of the alleged thieves claims she burnt the paintings. From AP:
A Romanian museum is analyzing ashes found in a stove to see if they are the remains of seven paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and others that were stolen last year from the Netherlands, an official said Tuesday.
Prosecutor spokeswoman Gabriela Chiru told The Associated Press that Romania's National History Museum is examining the ashes found in the stove of Olga Dogaru. She is the mother of Radu Dogaru, one of three Romanian suspects charged with stealing the paintings from Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery in a brazen daytime heist.
It was the biggest art theft in more than a decade in the Netherlands. The stolen works have an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars if they were sold at auction.
Dogaru told investigators she was scared for her son after he was arrested in January and buried the art in an abandoned house and then in a cemetery in the village of Caracliu. She said she later dug them up and burned them in February after police began searching the village for the stolen works.
Update - Mrs Dogaru is not the first art thief mum to do this. In 2002 a German woman chopped up her son's stolen art, and dumped it into the Rhine.
More cuts at English Heritage (ctd.)
July 16 2013
I recently mentioned the latest round of cuts to English Heritage's budget, which has taken repeated hits now for almost a decade. A reader has kindly had a go at doing the maths on what those cuts amount to over time, and it's not good:
Based on Bank of England CPI data, the English Heritage budget of £127,901,000 in 2004 is equivalent to £160,556,000 in 2013 British pounds. That means the English Heritage budget of £83,056,000 in 2013 represents a 52 percent decline in real terms (i.e., adjusted for inflation) from its level in 2004.
Update - a reader writes:
Concerning those English Heritage budget cuts, I cannot help thinking what a terrible reflection this is on the effectiveness of that organisation's leadership. As EH itself stated in evidence to Parliament in September 2010, although EH's budget had been falling since 1997, DCMS's as a whole had risen, as had many other arms-length organistions funded by DCMS. What does that say about EH's ability to get its point across to government?
Plug! & Test your Connoisseurship
July 16 2013
Picture: Emma Rutherford
Here's a photo taken here at Philip Mould & Co last night, where we were sorting exhibits for our forthcoming loan exhibition on... can you guess?
Clue; he was called 'the prince of limners'.
Update - yes, you nearly all got it, Samuel Cooper. More plugs masquerading as news on this soon.
Robots that paint
July 16 2013
Video: via geekosystem.com
And not too badly by the look of it. This one, called E-David, even washes his own brushes.
Update - a reader writes:
It may walk like a duck, quack like a duck, even roll water off it's back... but it ain't a duck.
Auction action from Finland
July 15 2013
Predictable, but amusing nonetheless.
Curious judgement allows church to sell $2.85m painting.
July 12 2013
Some time ago I mentioned the case of a large painting by Benjamin West, which used to hang in a church in the City of London, St Stephen's Walbrook. In about 1987 the church removed the painting, and has been seeking permission to sell it. It has been locked away in storage ever since. A recent Church of England court judgement means they are now able to, and it has (reports The Art Newspaper) been bought by an anonymous foundation for $2.85m. It will be loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
I've obtained a copy of the judgement, given on 10th July, by His Honour Judge Nigel Seed. Much of it is based on some very strange logic. Here's the conclusion:
'any connection it may be said to have had to the parish was illegally established and to the aesthetic detriment of the church and that it should be sold to be displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.'
Let's look at the judgement in a little more detail. First, Judge Seed said that the original installation of the painting, in 1776, was 'illegal', because the then parish priest, Thomas Wilson, did not get the necessary 'faculty permission' to place it in the church. Consequently, although its removal in 1987 was also done without 'faculty permission', it was not removed illegally, because 'legally' the picture was never there. Judge Seed seems to think that in 1776 parish priests and the Church were as scrupulous in observing bureacracy as they are today. I bet you, however, that if I were to pick at random ten objects that have been installed in churches in the 18th Century or before, many of them would have been placed there ' illegally' under current church rules.
Secondly, Judge Seed was convinced that putting the West painting into the church was:
'to the detriment of the interior and so would its re-introduction be.'
Now this is a purely aesthetic argument, hardly one for a court of law, and although Judge Seed was right to say that West's painting interrupted Wren's original design, I can't see that that is a reason to remove the picture. Otherwise we'd have to remove anything installed in a church after the original building was made. All those pesky memorials in Westminster Abbey, breaking up the architect's original gothic vision? Take them out!
Then we come to the question of whether Benjamin West was any good, and by extension, whether the painting is any good. The judge was apparently impressed by the evidence of Mr Andrew Wilton FSA, of Tate Britain, that;
...few would regard [West] within the pantheon of great British artists. [...] that several founder members and past presidents [of the RA] have been forgotten [...] the picture in question is not one of the great works of British art and it is an intrusion in the church of 100 years later.
Here's the thing about the painting in question though - nobody really knows what it looks like. This blog and other outlets have not been able to publish a reproduction of it, because none is available. We have to make do here with a print. I find it curious that a picture can be disregarded as a forgettable work of art, when the wider public and art historical community has hardly had a chance to study it, and yet we are asked to accept that it is important enough to be displayed in one of America's finest museums with a $2.85m price tag. For all I know, the picture could be West's lost masterpiece.
Then we come to the question of why the picture should be allowed to leave not just the church, but the country. Judge Seed says:
'no location is available within the City of London. [...] I am satisfied that it would be seen and appreciated by more people [in Boston] than it would in St Stephen Walbrook. I am also satisfied that from a curatorial point of view a picture would be better cared for and maintained there than in the church.
Whoa, hold on Judge! Are we to accept that a painting should automatically go on display in the place where the most people would see it? And isn't it a bit odd to compare a church in the City of London with one of the most popular museums in America? Isn't there a halfway house? Tate Britain, perhaps?
But wait, Judge Seed isn't bothered about any UK national heritage argument. Noting the sale of a Benjamin West altarpiece from Winchester Cathedral to the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1900, the judge says 'the precedent of an English church selling a religious picture by West to an American art institution was set then and not by me now.' On that basis (to pick a current example), because Catherine the Great was allowed to buy countless Rembrandts, Rubens and Van Dycks from Houghton Hall in 1779, it's ok to let any work of art leave the country now.
Update - a reader writes:
The Benjamin West is very cheap at under $3 million, as it's such an important painting for the City of London, wouldn't it be good if the Guildhall art gallery bought it, it can't be exported without a licence, so there can be no excuse.
Josh Spero, editor of Spears Magazine, tweets:
Why so vehement. Can't the church sell its property? It flogs deconsecrated churches.
But not overseas, Josh.
Update II - another reader writes (vehemently):
St Stephen Walbrook was listed Grade One in 1950; even if the late Chad Varah [the then priest] had applied for a faculty in 1987, English Heritage (or the 1980s version) might have objected as the painting had already been part of the decorative fabric of the building for two hundred years; during that period, no one seems to have raised the matter of any 'missing faculty'. I am uncertain if English Heritage have any jurisdiction over the C of E, but this story stinks.
Bugger Boston, the picture survived the Blitz and should stay in Britain.
Update III - a reader observes that the West painting is not the only interloper in Wren's church:
If the painting's removal is based upon it's stylistic and aesthetic incongruity within a purely architectural context, then why is Henry Moore's slightly deflated modernist marshmallow [the altar, officially, 'Circular Altar, 1972'] allowed to remain in situ slap bang under the stunning coffered dome and passing itself of as an altar of sorts? West's painting would surely have a stylistic consanguinity closer to the blend of classicism and the baroque that inspired Wren?
And on that Henry Moore altar, another reader notes that the lack of 'faculty' for the West painting need not matter:
Judge Seed should not have attached significance to the apparent lack of a faculty for installation; the Church of England's Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved (founded 1963) has the power to grant a restrospective faculty. It did so for the Palumbo-Moore altar at stephen walbrook.
Another reader comments on the 'illegality' of the original West installation, and notes that:
[...] the Vestry’s thanks in 1814 seems to indicate that they had accepted the gift by conduct. And although I’m no expert in church law, one would have thought that estoppel would come into play. But if the judge is right, isn’t the logical conclusion that the church cannot take the proceeds?
Good point - if the picture was, as the judge says, never 'legally' installed, then surely it is not the church's to sell. The judge did indeed reserve judgement on this point, and it would be an appropriately ironic end to the case if the Church was compelled to give its windfall to, say, the heirs of Thomas Wilson, the rector who commissioned the painting from West.
Another reader despairs:
I am shocked although not surprised by the judgement. As The Art Newspaper points out, it could set a dangerous precedent for other less wealthy churches which want to raise money by selling their treasures. As a rare example of a Protestant altarpiece from this era, in its original setting if not location, the painting should be celebrated and I think it is disgraceful that an expert was brought in to denigrate Benjamin West and thereby the need to keep the painting in this church. If all paintings in British churches were subjected to judgements on the nationality of the artist, the quality of the work and their compatiblity with the architecture, we would have almost nothing left. As I mentioned before, it would have seemed appropriate to link the Benjamin West with J.S Copley's Siege of Gibraltar in the Guildhall Art Gallery, perhaps by shared ownership with the church.
Clearly the church authorities don't like it or want to keep it and will never reinstate it over the altar. But they seem to have forgotten that in 1987, the Henry Moore altar was installed by overturning a decision of the London Diocesan Consistory Court, and it can in no way be said to represent Wren's original intentions, so hopefully will also be sold to the States in a few years time.
An alert reader tells me that the picture was offered for sale at Sotheby's London in November 2001, with an estimate of just £50-£70,000, but was withdrawn before the auction. A colour illustration can be found in the catalogue, and a black and white is available in the Staley & von Erffa catalogue raisonne of West's works.
Update V - a reader sees the matter in a more profound light:
The church was built for the parishioners to worship the glory of God and the gift of the painting was a show of worship too.. Can worship now be sold? Apparently yes.!
Update VI - I'm told that the petitioners against the removal and sale, including the senior counsel, were all acting on a pro bono basis.