Major art theft in Holland

October 16 2012


Works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Gauguin have been stolen from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam. They were taken early this morning. In the video above you can see one of the gaps on the wall. More details here.

Update: see images of the stolen works here.

Update II - a reader writes:

It's a great loss of paintings and probably will have a knock-on effect on museum security - especially as it's a loan exhibition. Extremely sad for the owners of the Triton Collection.

The thing that intrigues me is - in the absence of Golfinger in his underground kunstbunker - paintings are used as collateral in criminal deals: but if they are largely unsellable, how are they worth anything as collateral? As ransom, I suppose, but that would surely be passing a great danger of getting caught on to whoever uses them.

Sadly, the art ransom racket is now so well established that there is probably little chance of the perpetrators getting caught. Too many galleries have paid out ransoms, and thieves have worked out how the system works. Usually, the art goes to somewhere like the Balkans. There, the artnappers get in touch through well-established channels with those looking to recover the works. Eventually, a ransom is paid. If you're the Tate, you call it a 'fee for information'. Each person in the recovery chain back to the thief gets a lick of the spoon, so to speak, and there is little incentive to help police catch the real masterminds. As a result, art galleries likke the Kunsthal are increasingly paying the price for too much connivance between insurers, thieves, and middle-men.

Update III - another reader has a theory:

Thank you for posting the link to the recently stolen pictures.  I know twentieth century art is less of your area but I can't help noticing that often there seems to be one or two dodgy pictures among the art haul - never to be recovered!  In this instance, the Matisse is interesting .... Sometimes you have to feel for the insurers.

The bin with a Damien Hirst on it.

October 15 2012

Image of The bin with a Damien Hirst on it.

Picture: Vipp/

But not in it. Not yet.

Order yours here

The sleeper from Harrods

October 15 2012

Image of The sleeper from Harrods

Picture: Mail/BNPS

A lost picture by John Godward, which was bought from Harrods in 1957 for £100, has sold at Lawrences in Crewkerne for £380,000. More details here

A Holbein sitter identified?

October 15 2012

Image of A Holbein sitter identified?

Picture: Royal Collection/Telegraph

Conservation of a Holbein in the Royal Collection has revealed more clues about the identity of the sitter. I'll try and get more images, like x-rays, from the Royal Collection. But I'm a bit pushed for time today, so for now, find the basic story here

Update - see more images and the x-ray here.

Update II - find further details here at the NPG, and watch a talk by Royal Collection curator Clare Chorley here.

A sign of Parisian good taste

October 12 2012

Image of A sign of Parisian good taste

Picture: Emma Rutherford

My colleague Emma Rutherford, in Paris for a conference on portrait miniatures, sends me this photo for my Van Dyck scrap book. She says that Avenue Van Dyck is 'pretty and tree-lined'. Bon.

I think we need a Van Dyck Avenue in London. But we having nothing so cultured. According to Google Maps, the closest we have here in the UK is a Van Dyck Close. It's on a housing estate sandwiched between the M3 and the Basingstoke ring road. Also on the estate is a Rembrandt Circle, Gainsborough Road, and Rubens Close. Excellent. Do any readers of AHN live there? 

Update - a reader writes:

The avenue Van Dyck in Paris near the pleasant Parc Monceau is in quite pleasant company: avenue Velasquez (small but accessing the park), avenue Rembrandt, etc. The rue Rubens is in a more popular "quartier" near the Gobelins and less green or tree-lined.

While in England, a reader says:

I don’t live on Van Dyck Close mum lives close by to Constable Road in Eastbourne (which connects to Gainsborough Crescent, Reynolds Road and Hogarth Road and Turner Close).

And another:

Correspondents have probably already said that there's also a Van Dyck Road in Colchester. Appropriately, Gainsborough Road branches off it and curves back to end on it.

There's another one in Ipswich, again surrounded by other artists. Landseer features prominently in both.

Suffolk probably does have a real sense of its role in painting.

In case you can't get to Frieze...

October 12 2012

Video: Blouin

...this is what you're missing. Or perhaps not missing.

I love the way art isn't sold at Frieze - it is 'placed'. Do some people really take themselves that seriously?

It's Frieze Week!

October 11 2012

Image of It's Frieze Week!

Picture: BG

So London's art dealing district is full of trendy contemporary art parties like this. You know, the kind where nobody actually goes into the gallery to look at the art.

Appreciating Wright of Derby

October 10 2012

Image of Appreciating Wright of Derby

Picture: Derby Museum

Read this tragic little editorial in the Derby Telegraph, and weep:

Today we pose a controversial question in the hope of provoking a serious debate.

Do we invest time and money in trying to maximise the potential of the city's impressive multi-million pound Joseph Wright Collection or, at a time of deep recession when the city council is being forced to cut millions from its budget, do we sell off the works of art to fund other projects?

Why are we asking such a question? Because, in a year when the Joseph Wright Gallery reopened in Derby after a £150,000 refurbishment, paid for by council tax payers, 40% of those people we asked had never heard of him, while 13% had heard his name but did not know he was an internationally-acclaimed painter.

We even tried to make the survey a little easier by posing our question outside some of the key places in Derby associated with the artist. And all of the 100 people quizzed lived locally and came from all age groups.

We have nothing against our heritage – indeed we are rightly proud of it – but we feel it is vital that the people of Derby engage in a debate about such an important issue.

Clearly some of the lack of knowledge could be tackled with improved education. We wonder just how many of our children are taught about Joseph Wright in our primary and secondary schools?

We could also follow the example of other city's like Wakefield, which built a gallery bearing the name of the world-famous sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, who was born in the Yorkshire city.

But, to pursue this option, will cost money and it needs to be supported by all sections of our community. We wonder whether there is an appetite for this sort of thing when so many people are losing their jobs or struggling to cope with cuts to services.

Is now the time to cash in this valuable asset and plough the money into something which will give real and significant benefit to the people of our city?

It is a difficult question but it needs to be asked.

No it doesn't. The question that really needs to be asked is why, in an editorial in which it complains about bad education, the Derby Telegraph cannot spell 'cities' correctly.

Still, it's at least heartening to read that Derby Museum, in a bid to 'increase awareness' of Derby is planning to mount a touring exhibition of 35 paintings by Wright.

That Raphael competition

October 10 2012

Image of That Raphael competition

Picture: Teylers Museum

I recently mentioned a novel approach to making attributions by the Teylers Museum in Holland. The museum's curators weren't sure about the attribution of the above drawing, and so decided to ask members of the public what they thought. 

A reader has taken up the challenge. He identifies the lower head in this drawing, below, in the Louvre, and writes:

I don’t mean to be a killjoy, but the red chalk study of three heads (Teyler’s) can no way be Raphael. It’s a spiritless, meticulously drawn facsimile of a ‘lost’ drawing. I know the bottom study from a drawing in the Louvre (inv. 3862). The style of this bottom head study reminds me of Raphael’s long-standing competitor, Sebastian del Piombo, but the top two rule out such an attribution.

Met acquires Gerard portrait of Talleyrand

October 10 2012

Image of Met acquires Gerard portrait of Talleyrand

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

I've always had a soft spot for Francois Gerard's portraits - one my earliest sleepers was a Gerard. So I'm grateful to the indispensable Tribune de l'Art for alerting us to a fine new acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum in New York of a portrait of Talleyrand by Gerard.

I've always been fascinated by French neo-classical portraitists, and how they managed to survive, or not, the tribulations of the French Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration. Jacques-Louis David, for example, was a better painter than Gerard, his pupil - but Gerard was undoubtedly the better politician. He ended up as a Baron, and the pre-eminent court painter, while David had to endure years of exile in Belgium. One perhaps can see a partial explanation of Gerard's success in this pleasingly flattering portrait of Talleyrand, himself one of the great survivors of the age.

Talleyrand, incidentally, once owned the Van Dyck Portrait of a Young Girl we discovered in Paris a couple of years ago. 

Achtung - PR blunder alarm!

October 10 2012

Image of Achtung - PR blunder alarm!

Picture: Mail/Newsteam

Regular readers will know that I take a very dim view of auctioneers who cash in on the highly distasteful Nazi memorabilia market. So let us applaud Northampton auctioneer J P Humbert's spectacular PR own goal, and say loudly 'serves you right'. Recently, Humbert's staged an auction full of Nazi items on the holiest day in the Jewish year, Yom Kippur. They even saw fit to festoon their rostrum with Nazi flags. It was all very Nuremberg. When the blunder made the news, Humberts tried to make amends by offering a donation to the Holocaust Education Trust. But this was rightly turned down. From The Daily Mail:

A spokesperson for the charity said: 'The Holocaust Educational Trust will not accept any donations from organisations which profit from the sale of items associated with the Nazi regime.

'It is our view that these items are best placed in archives, museums or in an educational context.'

Mr Humbert defended the auction house, based in Towcester, Northants, and said yesterday: 'Not being Jewish, how am I expected to know the dates of Jewish festivals?


October 10 2012

Image of Mili-Masters

Picture: The Art Newspaper

Fresh from his impressive conference speech (the success of which means that we must modify one of Harold Wilson's famous quips; clearly an hour is now a long time in politics), Labour leader Ed Miliband has visited the new fair of the moment, Frieze Masters. Good to see a British politician supporting the art market.

New York fake scandal widens

October 10 2012

Image of New York fake scandal widens

Picture: The Art Newspaper

The murky fake ring which apparently led to the closure of famous New York gallery Knoedler (above) last year seems to have ensnared another well-known dealer. Now Julian Weissman is being sued by a Kuwaiti sheikha, Paula Al-Sabah, for allegedly selling her a fake Motherwell. The picture is alleged to have come from the same source that provided Knoedler with its fakes.

I firmly believe that a frighteningly large proportion of the modern and contemporary art market is affected by fakery. Caveat emptor...

A Batoni in storage

October 10 2012

Image of A Batoni in storage

Picture: Brentwood Gazette

There's an interesting little story in the Essex local press today about the council's art holdings. The most valuable piece in their collection is the above Batoni, of Thomas Barrett-Lennard, 17th Lord Dacre, with his wife and daughter. Valued at £2.5m it is, needless to say, in storage. The Batoni was given to the council, along with other family portraits, by the late Sir Thomas Barrett-Lennard. The Council is hoping to display the works more effectively, but one wonders why it has taken them so long to find a suitable home. And doubtless a similar situation exists across the country with paintings that are owned by local authorities. As the PCF has sadly shown, 80% of publicly owned paintings are in storage.

There must be plenty of museums who would like such a fine work. The picture is an interesting, if rather sad one. The Dacres' daughter, Anne, had died before it was painted, and when the couple visited Rome a year after her death, they asked Batoni to include her portrait. He copied her likeness by Thomas Hudson, which accounts for the strange un-Batoni like quality of her head.

Dacre was a great patron of the arts. Some years ago we discovered his portrait by Andrea Soldi, which is now in the Rienzi House Museum in Texas (where, if you happen to be in Texas, you can soon see an exhibition on Romney).

Update - a reader writes:

I'm told that the great Eric Pickles has waded into this debate. I was pleased to hear that he supports wider display of publicly owned art, but was slightly surprised by his suggestion for how this should be done. Apparently the best place to do so is in supermarkets.

I would agree that the public could hardly avoid seeing these hidden treasures if they were next to a till in Morrisons, but I doubt very much if it will aid their appreciation. It hardly seems necessary to point out that there are other public buildings or more worthy not-for-profit sites such as churches or local museums/heritage sites which would welcome them.

You could get a lot of Clubcard points for a Batoni.

What price modesty?

October 9 2012

Image of What price modesty?

Pictures: BG

My post below about Gainsborough's grave reminds me of a thought I recently had about the new RAF Bomber Command memorial in Green Park (London); to what extent should a benefactor's name be put on a memorial?

In the case of poor old Gainsborough, the artist himself asked specifically for a very simple inscription. But in 1865 Edward Matthew Ward, a history painter, restored the grave, installing in the process a much more verbose plaque (as seen above). And bizarrely, Ward put his own name on it, which is written in even larger letters than Gainsborough's.

We are not faced with anything quite so absurd with the new Bomber Command memorial, which I like very much. But I still find it a little de trop that the most prominent names carved on the side and front of the memorial - in fact, pretty much the only names on the whole site - are those not of the leading airmen of the war or the most decorated, or those who were killed, but those who helped pay for it (below). We must of course applaud Lord Ashcroft and John Caudwell (founder of Phones4U) for their generosity in supporting the memorial. But surely it would have been better, in both the case of Gainsborough's grave and the Bomber Command memorial, if modesty had triumped over vanity?

Update - a reader writes:

I'm glad you like the Bomber Command memorial. My Grandfather missed seeing it by a couple of years and I think he would have been secretly very moved.

You're quite right about carving names. Recently I was at a school reunion and I noticed there were a lot of empty panels in the dining hall. I knew the school would be millennium fundraising soon and I had a brilliant idea. Why not donate by sponsoring panels and having our names carved in them? My friends were all very keen but while we were negotiating the price of immortality there was another appeal for the new war memorial, designed with empty spaces for the future. This put everything in its proper perspective.

And another:

Re. Bomber Command Memorial. I quite agree, to me it’s an insult. I once read there are two considerations when giving to charity. One give that which you cannot really afford to give. Two don’t tell the world about it.

Gainsborough's grave restored

October 9 2012

Image of Gainsborough's grave restored

Picture: BG/St Anne's Church Kew

Some time ago, I highlighted the parlous state of Gainsborough's grave in Kew (above), and the efforts of St Anne's Church to raise funds to restore it. I'm delighted to report that the Friends of St Anne's succesfully raised the necessary £15,000, and have now completed their work.

More grave matters here.

Developing connoisseurship

October 9 2012

Image of Developing connoisseurship

Picture: NPG

A reader poses an interesting question:

The two series of Fake or Fortune have really piqued my interest in the art world, the problem is no I know very little about it.

For a total beginner looking to develop his eye, with an aim to start collecting in the future what steps do I need to take? I understand there are no short cuts involved but are there any specific books or other resources I should be looking at?

Books? Pah. You can't learn much from tiny illustrations. The best advice I can give to anyone wanting to improve their 'eye' is to go to as many museums, auction rooms and stately homes as possible, and simply look at pictures - as if your life depended on it. Practice the art of close looking by staring intently at as many pictures you can, as close as you can, until the room guards begin to wonder if you're entirely normal. Take a pair of binoculars, and if you dare a torch. Spend just as long looking at bad pictures as good ones (for that's really the best way to train your eye to spotting genuine masterpieces; you have to first be able to tell the difference between, say, a copy, a workshop variant, and the real thing). So just look, look, look. And always buy the guidebook, or the picture list. In time, you can use it to test yourself with the attributions. 

Of course, the perfect primer for anyone starting out is Kenneth Clark's epic TV series, Civilisation. Order a copy (on Blu-Ray ideally) here.

Update - a reader writes:

Bendor, why don't you organize some "conoisseurship workshops" in your gallery, allowing prospective collectors to examine closely real things, copies and workshop variants? I am sure would be very popular!


October 8 2012

...we have a planning meeting for the next series of 'Fake or Fortune?', and then I must write a lecture (for this evening, on Van Dyck). So service may be a little thin I'm afraid... 

Why did nobody hit him?

October 8 2012

Image of Why did nobody hit him?

Picture: Guardian

An idiot has scrawled graffiti on a Mark Rothko painting at Tate Modern. Some reports say he used black paint and a small brush. That is, it was more than the work of a moment. And then, after 'sitting there for a while', he was able to leave without being caught.

As we say over on Twitter, #securityfail.

Update - even the idiot in question* was surprised:

"I was expecting that the security at Tate Modern would take me straight away, because I was there and I signed the picture in front of a lot of people. There is video and cameras and everything, so I was shocked."

*here on AHN we have a no-naming rule for publicity seeking prats.

Update II - he's been arrested. Now can we hit him?

A bargain Bond in paint?

October 5 2012

Image of A bargain Bond in paint?

Picture: Artnet

Sometimes Bonhams puts pictures in rather random sales, where they pass under the normal picture-buying radar. (I once bought a very important portrait of Disraeli in a 'Gentleman's Library' sale for peanuts. It's now hanging in the House of Commons.) The painting above came up last year in an 'Entertainment Memorabilia' sale, and sold for just £5,400 (inc. premium). Today's 50th Anniversary of Dr No, the first Bond film, has reminded me of it.

The picture was catalogued as 'attributed to Robert McGinnis', who designed the poster for The Man with the Golden Gun. Bonhams suggested it was the unfinished preparatory painting for the iconic poster. In which case, the picture was a steal at £5,400. But I see that the Bonhams website carries this update, with a quote from Mr McGinnis:

"It's possible I did it and have forgotten; however, if I didn't do it, someone made an exact copy of my final poster painting of Roger Moore."

So depending on Mr McGinnis' memory, it was either the Bond bargain of the decade, or a rather cunning fake. It thought it was well painted - if I'd seen it, I reckon I'd have had a punt...

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