Saving Italy

June 23 2013

Video: Monuments Men Foundation

Robert Edsel, the author of Monuments Men (now being made into a film by George Clooney), has a new book out, Saving Italy. Looks like fun, and another useful reminder of just how close we came to losing vast chunks of western art history during the war.

They don't do restitution in Russia

June 23 2013

Image of They don't do restitution in Russia

Picture: Wikipedia

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to abandon plans to open a new exhibition in Moscow, after the Russian government found out that she was going to use the occasion to ask for the return of a star exhibit. The Eberswalde Hoard of gold objects was taken by the Soviets from Berlin in 1945, as war loot, and, like thousands of similar objects, has never been handed back. 

Can I just say...

June 23 2013

...on the basis of this-is-my-blog-and-I'll-rant-if-I-want-to, that Microsoft's new Windows 8 is utterly, head-bangingly useless, and should be avoided at all costs.

Photography at the NPG?

June 23 2013

Image of Photography at the NPG?

Picture: BG

I was cheered to see, on Newsnight on Friday, that the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne, seemed to indicate that photography might be allowed in the National Portrait Gallery. Sandy's view was, like mine, that being allowed to take photos (if done quietly and considerately) meant that people engaged with the art on display more, not less, and that allowing people to share images would be good for the gallery.

Others, however, feel that allowing photography stops people looking 'properly' at paintings, and that we should compel them to look at art in a certain, traditional way. 

That said, I was sorry to hear of this reader's experience of the Queen's Gallery, where they do allow photography:

Went to the excellent exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery yesterday and, very efficiently, the warders asked me to put my mobile on silent while in there: I liked this as it suggested there would be a suitable atmosphere for concentration and it was also, of course, a mark of consideration for other visitors.   How wrong I was!  I can honestly say that I have never been to show where there were more unnecessary distractions. 

Aside from the commentaries on audio guides providing a distant background noise through headsets, many people had downloaded the app for their phones and spent most of their time standing in front of works searching through and reading the content rather than looking – I think there may have been audio content on this as well to add to the sound effects.  Then there were the cameras – all seemed to have electronic shutter noises as these were going off constantly.  Not to mention the fact that the happy snappers seemed to spend a great deal of time lining up their shots – I watched one gentleman carefully scan a case – and just the case - for minutes before quickly taking a photo (loudly) of an object and then walk off.

What made all this worse was the, otherwise, silence of the tomb atmosphere – as I was with friends, we seemed to be disturbing the company by actually have discussions in front of objects.

Shock! The Great Brian likes something

June 23 2013

Image of Shock! The Great Brian likes something

Picture: Evening Standard

Brian Sewell liked the new 'Crisis of Brilliance 1908-22' exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery so much that he began his review with the word 'wow'. 

Fret not, however, for he was back on usual disapproving form with scathing reviews of two exhibitions at the National Gallery; the Michael Landy saints thingy, and the display of early additions to the Barber Collection.


June 21 2013

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

For the woeful lack of posts yesterday and today. We're in the thick of preparing for the Masterpiece fair, so it's a little busy at the moment. 

Update: we hung most of the stand yesterday (above) which, as a frustrated curator, is something I always enjoy. Star of the show at the front will be a rarely seen miniature by Nicholas Hilliard, whilst inside we'll have works by the likes of Augustus John, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Cornelius Johnson. And they're all for sale! We've also got some exciting discoveries, but I'll save these for later. Regular readers may be able to guess who one of them is by...

The fair opens on Thursday. If you would like a ticket, let me know (how's that for service?)

'Finding Van Dyck'

June 19 2013

Image of 'Finding Van Dyck'

Picture: Philip Mould & Co.

If you want to know all about how to tell the difference between a real Van Dyck and a copy, or indeed a studio work, then the catalogue for our 2011 Van Dyck exhibition is now online

Update - a reader writes:

I like your blog and your wit

I have nothing against an internet catalogue, but why publish an e-catalogue for your new exhibition "Rediscovering Van Dyck" if nearly half of the photographs when you browse it online are missing due to copyright problems?

The exhibition was in 2011. All the photos were of course published in the original printed catalogue. This sold out promptly, and we felt that it might be useful to put the catalogue online. However, although we had paid handsomely for the right to reproduce photos in the printed catalogue, many institutions wanted an eye-waterginly high additional fee for publishing online, even in low resolution. Some refused altogether. So there are some gaps. Quick Googling will take you to the images in question (which shows how daft much of this rights and permission businesss is.)

'It's deeper than you think'

June 19 2013

Video: ICA

'Keep your Timber Limber' is the title of a new exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, which opens today. It includes 'F****d by Numbers', a drawing of a giant penis by Judith Bernstein, which, she says in the above video, is 'deeper than you think', and a profound reflection on the Iraq war.

Curator Sarah McCrory says of the exhibits, including Bernstein's:

One common aspect [...] is a high level of technical skill - these are artists who often confounded critics of their subject matter unable to condemn their technique.

So you can't dislike 'F****d by Numbers', because it is so exquisitely drawn.

Mauritshuis at the Frick

June 19 2013

Image of Mauritshuis at the Frick

Picture: Mauritshuis

Double plus fun in New York this autumn. From the Frick Collection:

This fall and winter, The Frick Collection will be the final venue of an American tour of paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. This prestigious Dutch museum, which has not lent a large body of works from its holdings in nearly thirty years, is undergoing an extensive two-year renovation that makes this opportunity possible. Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis will be on view in New York from October 22, 2013, through January 19, 2014. Among the paintings featured are the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer and The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, neither of which will have been seen by American audiences in ten years. The exhibition in New York-- which will be accompanied by a catalogue and a series of public programs and select evening hours-- is coordinated by Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator at the Frick.  The works were selected by Edwin Buijsen, Head of Collections at the Mauritshuis and former Frick Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator Colin B. Bailey.

Annoyingly, it looks like the exhibition closes just as I'll be heading out for the January Old Master sales. 

Art Basel

June 19 2013

Video: Vernissage TV

If you didn't make it to this year's Art Basel, the world's leading contemporary art fair, here's what you missed. Or possibly didn't. 

Why are so many paintings being attacked...?

June 19 2013

Image of Why are so many paintings being attacked...?

Picture: Getty/Guardian

...asks Jonathan Jones, following the spray painting of a portrait of the Queen (above) here in London:

This is an age of protest. If you have a cause you can share with lots of other people, you take to the streets. But what if your cause is too strange or overlooked for mass protest? Attacking an authority figure is one way to get it in the headlines, and as authority figures go, paintings are vulnerable. A portrait of the Queen has a lot less security around it than the woman herself. A museum is a tranquil place where a moment of destruction can catch guards unaware. The results can be gratifying, if you are desperate to get your voice heard.

Sad but true.

Who was Frank Holl?

June 19 2013

Video: Watts Gallery

Answer, one of the many good late Victorian painters you've probably never heard of. Now, the Watts Gallery in Surrey is hosting an exhibition of his work, the first for over 100 years. A review in The Guardian says:

When the last major exhibition of the work of Frank Holl was held, his paintings were shown beside those of JMW Turner and both were described as "deceased masters of the British School".

As it turned out, that exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1889, the year after the artist worked himself to death at the age of 43, was almost the last the world heard of Holl – until this week, when Watts Gallery in Surrey attempts to drag him back into the light.

The collapse of Holl's reputation was swift and spectacular. Soon after his death in July 1888 of heart failure, a memorial fund was set up with the intention of buying a major work for the national collection and building an imposing monument in St Paul's Cathedral. The appeal was abandoned after just six months when only £600 had been collected – though it did pay for a modest memorial at St Paul's, with a fine portrait bust by Alfred Gilbert.

What is a "Museum Price"?

June 18 2013

Image of What is a "Museum Price"?

Pic: Christies

Here at our gallery it means a super low discount price! But does it mean something very different for auction houses? 

A reader reminds me that two of the pictures on offer in the forthcoming Old Master sales, the Jan Steen and the Vernet, were, as tax exempted items of cultural interest, formally made available to UK museums some months before being sent to auction. Each picture was listed at what now transpires to be the upper estimate: the Steen [above] was being marketed to museums at a 'guide price' of £10m, and is now estimated by Christie's at £7-10m (and I'll eat my trousers if it gets much beyond the low estimate), while the Vernet was on offer at £5m, which is the high end of Sotheby's estimate of £3-5m.

As the Arts Council warned any museums interested in the pictures:

The practice of the auction houses is usually to pitch this at their high auction estimate or, sometimes, even higher.

Update: my earlier version of this story got the estimate for the Steen wrong - apologies!

Update II: as my fellow dealer Johnny Van Haeften often says; 'with dealers the price can only ever come down - but at auction it only goes up'.

Conservation conference, 12th July, London

June 17 2013

Image of Conservation conference, 12th July, London

Picture: BAPCR

This looks like fun, a one day conference in London on '50 years of painting conservation':

The Picture So Far...50 Years in Painting Conservation is a landmark retrospective of the painting conservation profession and practice. Such a comprehensive review has not been presented in this country before and the event has broad appeal, not only to conservators but to curators, art historians, dealers, and collectors. The conference will also address the present challenges facing painting conservation and will conclude with a chaired panel discussion on our future directions. We are very pleased to have attracted pre-eminent international speakers (Nicholas Penny, David Bomford, Richard Wolbers, Joyce Hill Stoner among others) who will offer an extremely valuable insight into this, one of the key professions within the ’fine art family’.

More details here. You'll need £120 to attend though...

Spanish Old Masters at Sotheby's

June 17 2013

Video: Sotheby's

More on the two El Grecos coming up at Sotheby's in London next month. 

Further Sotheby's Old Master videos available here.

Cuts ahoy! (ctd.)

June 17 2013

We don't yet know the exact figures, but here in the UK, the Department for Culture is briefing as 'a victory' a cut of 8% to their budget. It's certainly true that things could have been a lot worse, and with increased funding from the National Lottery*, arts and heritage bodies in the UK look to be reasonably well protected. From the Museums Association website:

"The Treasury and the chancellor have listened very carefully to a case given with great vim and passion.

“5% is a real result within the DCMS overall cut. It's still of course going to require some tough decisions, but it is a good result for the arts council and the DCMS in the way that they have put the case."

The arts council was asked to model cuts of 5%, 10% and 15%. An ACE spokeswoman said that the model was “very crude, and not definite”, but a 5% cut might reduce the number of organisations in receipt of grant-in-aid from over 700 to around 400-450.

Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, said: “This cut, on top of the previous ones, pushes some national museums in England close to the tipping point where large areas of their work will have to be abandoned and facilities closed down.

“It will also impact on Renaissance funding and may reduce the number of Major Partner museums.”

The announcement follows cuts in 2010 to DCMS' core budget from £1.4bn to £1.1bn and cuts of 50% to its administration, then a further £34m in cuts to its core budget in December last year.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Scottish National Party's Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop has given her response to Maria Miller's argument that the arts should be seen primarily as an economic commodity:

Recently, the Culture Secretary for the UK Government set out a different approach to culture and asked the culture sector to help her make the arguments about the economic impact of culture in the context of economic growth.

I don’t agree. That is not the future I choose.

The Scottish Government already accepts the case for the role of government in supporting the cultural sector. We actively support the case for public subsidy of the arts. We understand that culture and heritage have a value in and of themselves.

* Regular readers will not be surprised to hear me claim part copyright for this policy!

Plug! New Lely exhibition

June 14 2013

Image of Plug! New Lely exhibition

Picture: Philip Mould & Company

Please indulge me while I plug a forthcoming selling exhibition at Philip Mould & Co. of works by Sir Peter Lely and his circle. The exhibition will coincide with Master Paintings Week (28th June-5th July) here in London, which is when London's best Old Master dealers show off their wares with exhibitions and extended opening times.  

We'll be announcing more details nearer the time, including an exciting royal discovery. Here for now though is a newly discovered portrait by Lely from very early in his career. In fact, given the Dutch fashion and handling of the drapery, it was probably painted before he came to England (where he was by 1643). The sitter is unknown, but the picture's unfinished state and overall intimacy make me think that it might show a member of his family. The picture isn't, you might say, the most commercial picture, but sometimes Philip and I can't bear to let a miscatalogued picture by a favourite artist slip by, and feel that we have to rescue them. 

We will also display newly found works by Lely's contemporaries, including John Michael Wright and Mary Beale. 

How do you explain connoisseurship?

June 14 2013

Image of How do you explain connoisseurship?

Picture: British Museum

Answer - with great difficulty. In a must-read article, however, Neil Jeffares has had a go on his blog. He concludes that it is almost impossible to explain the workings of the connoisseurial mind, for:

[...] the lightbulb in a single [connoisseur's] head is invisible to the rest of us, and indistinguishable from self-delusion (except by inference from that expert’s track record).

A good track record is always the best way to measure a connoisseur. And remember the crucial difference between a 'nein-sager' and a connoisseur: it's no good just listening, as many do, to those who do nothing but reject attributions. The exclusionist has to prove himself by saying yes to things too.

Update - I've updated the earlier post I linked to above, but the point is important, so I'll mention it here as well. The German art historian Max Friedlander (1867-1958) is often cited as a proponent of instinctive connoisseurship. He wrote:

“The way in which an intuitive verdict is reached can, from the nature of things, only be described inadequately. A picture is shown to me. I glance at it, and declare it to be a work by Memling, without having proceeded to an examination of its full complexity of artistic form.”

Art history's verdict on Friedlander, and his connoisseurial method, has not been overly kind, because it is considered that 'only half his attributions' have stood the test of time. However, this may be unjust criticism, for I found in Brian Sewell's autobiography an intriguing reference to Friedlander stating that only his pre-1933 and post 1945 attributions should be taken seriously. After that, when Germany was ruled by the Nazis, he was obliged to give optimistic attributions to Nazi collectors. He also helped Jewish families raise funds, he said, by issuing certificates that would make their art more valuable. 

Update II - a reader writes, most usefully:

The problem Friedlander had is the lack of documentation (at the time and since) regarding the Flemish 'primitives' - for example, the only documentation on Mostaert is van Mander (known to be suspect as mostly recorded via word of mouth) and a handful of references to works in collections - there are no signed works apart from a suspected signed work in Rome, so Mostaert's entire oeuvre is pretty much guessed from titles of works mentioned by van Mander and an Ecce Homo listed in Margaret of Austria's inventory. There's certainly no conclusive evidence that any works are actually by Mostaert. The same goes for most early Flemish - so essentially Friedlander had a ton of photographs that he had to arrange into some sense, and that for me is a good basis that early Flemish art historians can work from. I'm sure given databases, science etc that Friedlander would have been more than happy to revise many of his attributions. Putting a name to a group of iconographically/compositionally similar works was in a way better than leaving them all as anons. It was a fascinating period for art history and Friedlander was in the enviable/unenviable position of having the reputation of a connoisseur and having pretty much everyman and his dog that owned an old master sending him photographs on a daily basis after an opinion.

Sleeper alert

June 13 2013

Image of Sleeper alert


Dr Luuk Pijl writes from Holland:

The small copper enclosed is by Johan König (1586-1642). It was knocked down for 120.000 euro an hour ago at a sale in Toulouse against an estimate of 700/1000 euro, catalogued as Flemish school.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

June 13 2013

Another modern art forgery ring has been broken up, this time in Germany. They were faking Russian stuff (again). From The Guardian:

German police say they have broken up a multimillion-pound international forgery ring that specialised in Russian avant-garde artists.

Federal police said in a statement that 100 officers raided businesses, homes and art galleries across the country including in Munich, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Cologne on Wednesday and Thursday. Searches were also carried out in Israel and Switzerland.

Two suspects, aged 67 and 41, were taken into custody as alleged leaders of the group of six forgers.

Police said that since 2005 the ring has produced and sold more than 400 faked paintings as "previously unknown works" attributed to artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich for "four- to seven-figure euro sums" each.

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