Luke Syson on changing jobs and genres

January 17 2014

Video: TED

Good talk by Luke Syson this. Says the blurb:

Luke Syson was a curator of Renaissance art, of transcendent paintings of saints and solemn Italian ladies -- serious art. And then he changed jobs, and inherited the Met's collection of ceramics -- pretty, frilly, "useless" candlesticks and vases. He didn't like it. He didn't get it. Until one day … (Filmed at TEDxMet.)

Can you imagine UK museums putting on talks like this? When it comes to new media, we have a long way to go to catch up with institutions like the Met. Also, note how wonderfully free from guff Syson's talk is. 

New directions at the Met

January 16 2014


Here's a good video, a conversation between the former Met director, Philippe de Montebello, and the current one, Thomas Campbell (of whom, as regular readers will know, AHN is a fan). UK museums, please note the Met's embracing of the digital age. We have a long way to go over here...

I can't wait to see the new European paintings galleries when I'm in New York next weekend. 

Nazi 'degenerate art' inventory online

January 16 2014

Image of Nazi 'degenerate art' inventory online

Picture: TAN

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey reports that the V&A is to publish online the only surviving inventory of the Nazi's 'Degenerate Art' exhibitions. More in TAN here, and see the inventory at the V&A here

The artybollocks generator

January 16 2014

Image of The artybollocks generator


DIY artguff. See how easy it is?

Not Henry VIII's 'last portrait'

January 16 2014

Image of Not Henry VIII's 'last portrait'

Picture: The Times

A new dendrochronological analysis of the above portrait of Henry VIII at Longleat House has led to some incorrect news reporting. The Mail, for example, reported the following:

The painting was previously thought to be a portrait of the king painted after his death. Now, after thorough scientific examination of the oak, experts believe Henry VIII may have posed for an unknown artist in 1544, three years before his death. The wood is believed to date back to 1529.

The painting has an inscription on it stating that it was painted when the Monarch was aged 54, in the 36th year of his reign, but it was common for information to be placed on later copies.

But a closer look at the inscription showed it had been added at the same time the portrait was created.

Then we have this quote from a Tudor historian:

Elizabeth Norton, an author and historian of the Tudor monarchy, said: 'He died in January 1547 and suffered from ill-health for much of 1546. There aren’t any paintings of him depicted as as old man.

'It may well be the last painting that he posed for.'

Readers even half familiar with Tudor iconography will know, however, that the Longleat picture is merely a (very good, by the look of it) replica of Holbein's best surviving face-on portrait of Henry in Rome,* which can be dated to 1540 and is inscribed as showing the king at the age of 49. In the Rome picture, as in the Longleat replica, Henry is shown wearing the clothes he wore for his marriage to Anne of Cleves in 1539. So it isn't at all possible that the Longleat picture, which is inscribed as showing the king aged 54, is a life portrait.

In fact, Holbein's original portrait of the king in this full-frontal pose, for which Henry must presumably have sat, was the c.1536 mural at Whitehall palace, which was destroyed by fire in 1698, after a laundry maid left some washing too close to a fire. The mural was recorded in 1667 by Remigius van Leemput:

Some years ago I re-created (after many hours on Photoshop) a digital, life-size recreation of Holbein's mural for an exhibition in the Philip Mould gallery guest-curated by Dr David Starkey, called 'Lost Faces'. Contemporary accounts of the original mural reported people 'trembling' in front of it. And when I stood before the replica at full scale I could understand why. For a tudor spectator, Holbein's extraordinary realism, combined with the relatively confined and probably quite gloomy space the mural was in, must have convinced some that they were in the presence of some sort of royal witchcraft. Most people then, of course, would never have seen a work of art on such a scale before, and nor such a good one. 

Finally, contrary to what Elizabeth Norton says, there are indeed portraits which show the king as an older man, as seen in the example below (from the National Portrait Gallery) in which he is shown with what must be one of the blingiest walking sticks in history:

As to the Longleat picture's value, which the newspapers inevitably speculated on, then I would say it comes in at around the level of the Studio of Holbein portrait sold recently at Christie's for £650k. This last picture was one of the first Tudor portraits I researched, and it was fun to find it in the inventories of the Dukes of Hamilton. 

The Longleat story was also in the Times today.

Update - a reader writes:

I have the same reaction to all these portraits of Henry VIII: that was one very, very frightening man!!

Fine art on the 'One Show'

January 16 2014

Vuillard, Monet, Rubens and Van Dyck (and 'Fake or Fortune?') all featured on yesterday's BBC1 'One Show'. Here on iPlayer if you're interested. 

Happy Birthday Getty Villa

January 16 2014

Image of Happy Birthday Getty Villa

Picture: Getty

The Getty Villa is 40 years old today. 

Guffwatch - Prague edition

January 15 2014

Video: Vernissage TV

You and I might think the video above represents a vision of hell. But in the world of contemporary art such things are entirely normal.

Here's the exhibition blurb:

Thomas Zipp's exhibition with the title Task Dependence of the Effect of Standards on the Perception of a Series of Objects at the gallery SVIT in Prague narrates to several spheres in our society. In this installation Thomas Zipp thematizes his long-time interest in the research in the area of psychophysics, specifically in the relationship of man to plants. The exhibition transform human (life) cycles to basic elements such as feeding; plants as eatable form, instrument as entertainment. The gallery space is transformed into a laboratory, where the artist and his colleagues present performances; they play music -- and hope that they influence the plants; if not the plants, then in any case the observers. In the interview Zdenek Felix talks about the background of Thomas Zipp's project and the installation on display. Thomas Zipp talks in detail about the specially produced new works. The show runs until January 18, 2014.

Update - a reader writes:

This is neither science (no control or measurement of results) nor art, just self indulgent humans. An example of western human sociology fit for Spengler.

Making paintings move

January 15 2014

Video: Rino Stefano Tagliafierro

This is quite clever. The beginning is perhaps unsettlingly kitsch, but the scary part in the middle is quite cool. 

Update - Jonathan Jones in The Guardian doesn't approve.

'Fake or Fortune?' programme 1

January 14 2014

Video: BBC

Here's a short clip from programme 1 of the new series, which is all about the great post-Impressionist Edouard Vuillard.

A poem for the Rubenianum

January 14 2014

Image of A poem for the Rubenianum

Picture: Rubenianum

The Rubenianum in Antwerp, world centre of Rubens scholarship, has been made the subject of a poem by Antwerp's official poet, Bernard Dewulf:

It might be better in Dutch.

Is this the first time an art historical establishment has been the subject of a poem? Does anyone know any more?

Update - a reader sends in this:

'At the Royal Academy', by Thomas Hardy

These summer landscapes--clump, and copse, and croft - Woodland and meadowland--here hung aloft, Gay with limp grass and leafery new and soft,

Seem caught from the immediate season's yield I saw last noonday shining over the field, By rapid snatch, while still are uncongealed

The saps that in their live originals climb; Yester's quick greenage here set forth in mime Just as it stands, now, at our breathing-time.

But these young foils so fresh upon each tree, Soft verdures spread in sprouting novelty, Are not this summer's, though they feign to be.

Last year their May to Michaelmas term was run, Last autumn browned and buried every one, And no more know they sight of any sun.

Update II - a reader alerts me to this poem by Jack Butley Yeats, about the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. 

Update III - a reader writes:

Regarding the post on your blog on the poem for the Rubenianum (which, by the way, is as bad in Dutch as in English): there is W.H. Auden’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, although it is more about a painting than about the institution mentioned in the title.

$330m deal to save Detroit Institute of Arts

January 14 2014

Image of $330m deal to save Detroit Institute of Arts

Picture: BG

It looks like convincing efforts are being made to avoid a sale of the DIA's collection. A number of US charities is coming to the rescue, and have so far raised $330m. Says the New York Times:

As part of the plan, which negotiators have been working on quietly for more than two months, the museum would be transferred from city ownership to the control of a nonprofit, which would protect it from future municipal financial threats. The foundations would stipulate that Detroit must put the money into its pension system, said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation.

The unusual effort by the foundations was not the first instance of charitable groups’ and high-profile figures’ trying to help the ailing city. Previous contributors include Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, and Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor, who attended an event with city and state leaders in November to announce a $20 million initiative to help small businesses in Detroit.

But it is far from certain whether the new pledges will bring about a deal to save the museum while also helping the city meet its pension obligations, and several possible roadblocks remain. As much as $500 million may be needed to protect the art from an auction, officials have said, so additional philanthropic donations are being sought. Detroit is also contending with some 100,000 creditors in its federal bankruptcy case, and some are expected to oppose the plan. Even if the notion were to proceed, it would not be enough to resolve the city’s pension underfunding, but merely to ease it somewhat.

Some way to go. But a most encouraging start. It's a shame we don't have a similar zeal here in the UK against deaccessioning. Southampton is the latest council pondering a raid on their local museum.

Meanwhile, the Detroit scheme has met with a cool reception from the International Committee of the Fourth International's World Socialist Web Site:

The scheme is predicated on ending the century-long public ownership of the DIA and handing control of its priceless masterpieces to the powerful corporate and financial interests that stand behind the foundations. For this reason alone it must be opposed. The art belongs to the people of Detroit, not the Wall Street bankers or corporate-backed foundations!

The foundations are not neutral “charities,” but multibillion-dollar operations that have been involved in the dismantling of public education, the promotion of charter schools and other pro-business initiatives in the US and internationally.

As John Cleese almost asked, 'What have the arts philanthropists ever done for us?'

Update - a reader writes:

Regarding the DIA one should remind the World Socialists that it was the capitalists and foundations that provided the art or the funds to purchase the art that is being saved.

A 'Parliament of Posers'?

January 14 2014

Image of A 'Parliament of Posers'?

Picture: House of Commons Works of Art Collection 

The Daily Mail has worked itself up into a lather over the Houses of Lords and Commons' art budget. In particular, it dislikes Parliament's decision to commission portraits of contemporary politicians. Says the paper:

Politicians have lavished a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayers’ money on vanity portraits of themselves.*

The spree included £11,750 for an apparently topless painting of Labour’s Diane Abbott [above, by Stuart Pearson Wright] – the same amount as was spent on a full-sized statue of Baroness Thatcher.

Other works include an £11,750 portrait of former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, a £10,000 portrait of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, an £8,000 painting of Kenneth Clarke and a £4,000 oil painting of Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Labour left-wingers Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner had portraits commissioned which cost £2,000 and £2,180 respectively.

The bill for the artworks of two dozen politicians has been racked up since 1995 and approved by the Speakers’ Advisory Committee on Works of Art. By far the bulk of the spending came in the second term of the New Labour government.

The huge sums were signed-off by a little-known committee off MPs which each year asks some of the country’s best portrait paintings to produce work of their colleagues.

You've got to love the 'apparently topless' line. Feel that Home Counties' indignation.

Now, you might expect me, as the author of the still-available-to-purchase book 'Crap MPs', to agree entirely with the Mail's Philistinism. But no! I used to work for the former chairman of the Commons Works of Art Committee, the late Labour MP Tony Banks, and worked on many of the projects the Mail disapproves of. So there are many points I could make here, but I'll confine myself to just three. 

First, Tony helped transform Parliament's art collection into a more vibrant, outward-looking and accessible collection, which it badly needed, and that required some cash. In a building almost entirely dominated by portraits of white blokes, it was entirely right that Tony commissioned portraits of people like Paul Boateng (the first black Cabinet Minister), Diane Abbott (the first black woman MP), Betty Boothroyd (the first female Speaker), and David Blunkett (who is blind). Secondly, the portraitists invariably reduced their fee in return for the prestige and publicity of the commission. Finally, it is surely Parliament's duty to continue to commission portraits of contemporary political figures if that process has been going on for literally hundreds of years. Why stop now? Wouldn't it be odd if, for example, the Speaker's House, which has portraits of Speakers going back to the 17th Century, to suddenly leave a gap for John Bercow, or to hang his portrait with a bargain-basement frame, just because it might upset the Mail

You can search Parliament's art collection online here. They even have a likeness of one Alfred Harmsworth, founder of the Mail empire.

*That figure comes if you add up the cost of all portraits commissioned since 1995. Almost 20 years ago. So that's an average of £13k a year. 

Update - the story has caught on, with even The Guardian following up. The Guardian piece includes this quote from Philistine Of The Day Jonathan Isaby of the (entirely self-appointed) 'Taxpayers Alliance':

"When photographs are so much cheaper than paintings, politicians need to think twice about spending our money immortalising themselves or their friends on canvas, or even in bronze."

Update II - a more considered view of MPs' portraits in The Telegraph here

Update III - by chance, I met Stuart Pearson Wright yesterday, who tells me that the reason his portrait of Diane Abbott is 'almost topless' is because she asked for it to be so.

Update IV - Joanthan Jones in The Guardian sees great value in the MPs' portraits:

Only a nation that utterly loathes its own elected representatives, and by implication its entire system of government, could find something to attack in this serious collection, that puts Abbott's face into history alongside the portraits and statues of her white male Victorian parliamentary predecessors. Painted portraits still flourish as a way of honouring someone and acknowledging their place in history. The National Portrait Gallery adds to its collection all the time – why not complain about its regular royal commissions, which come from public funds just as surely as anything parliament commissions?

Why you should read AHN often

January 14 2014

Image of Why you should read AHN often

Picture: FT

Because then you'd be able to win the Financial Times quiz of the year!

'A game changing gift'

January 13 2014

Image of 'A game changing gift'

Picture: Denver Post

Lucky Denver Art Museum, which has just announced the donation of its first Van Gogh, Cezanne (above), and Caillebotte as part of a 22 piece Impressionist donation from philanthropist Frederic C. Hamilton. More here

Trailer for 'Fake or Fortune?' series 3

January 13 2014

Video: BBC

Series 3 starts on Sunday 19th January, BBC1 at 6pm. More here.

Update - a reader asks:

When will these most interesting series of FAKE OR FORTUBNE come to the US so that we in the colonies can learn too ?

Not sure, is the answer. But episodes of ForF? are occasionally shown on various PBS channels across the US. Some episodes from series 1 are floating around on YouTube and tvo. And if you live in Sweden, then (thanks to a rights balls-up) series 3 has already been broadcast there. (By the way, how do I sound in Swedish?)

Update II - a reader writes:

God Morgon

Yo saund parfekt in svedish. Moost velkam to doo sam resartj her….:)

The Rothschild Prayerbook

January 13 2014

Video: Christie's

This is definitely worth going to see (at Christie's) if you're in New York during Old Master week. Astonishing illuminations, and (having been always kept bound) in such excellent condition.

It's interesting to see how, when the praise of a work of art is entirely justified, it can be done (as in the video above) without any need to gush, or to deploy the guff we so often see in modern and contemporary art (see below). 

'One of Freud's best works'

January 13 2014

Image of 'One of Freud's best works'

Picture: Telegraph

The above portrait by Lucian Freud, of the late Lady Lambton, is to be sold soon at Sotheby's for up to £3.5m. Here's some slightly OTT comment from the auction house:

Oliver Barker, senior international specialist for contemporary art at Sotheby’s, hailed the painting as “exceptional”, representing “exactly the moment” when Freud adapted a new technique working standing up using coarse hogs’ hair brushes.

He added the one-metre-square painting showed Freud “luxuriating” in his new liberations, focusing on the “joy and freedom” of painting.

“This exceptional painting has everything,” he said. It is one of only a very small number of great Freud paintings that have never before surfaced on the market, and it beautifully captures the form of the woman who was to play such a central role in Freud’s life for over two decades.

“It also marks a moment of cataclysmic change in Freud’s artistic style and practice and sees him embark on a new way of painting which was to define his career."

That $7 Renoir

January 13 2014

Image of That $7 Renoir

Picture: AP

The Renoir bought for $7 in a US flea market, but which turned out to have been stolen, must be returned to a museum in Baltimore, a judge has ruled. More here

Crowdsourced curating

January 9 2014

Image of Crowdsourced curating

Picture: MFA Boston

Here's an interesting idea - at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, they're asking locals to vote on which pictures they'd like to see in an exhibition. The website for 'Boston Loves Impressionism' currently has (quelle surprise) Monet and Van Gogh in pole position, and will open on Valentines Day. So top marks to the PR persion who came up with that idea. All the pictures on offer are, as far as I can tell, from the MFA's own collection. So there's no chance of upsetting potential lenders if a picture gets voted out.

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