Lucian Freud's Corot

February 4 2013

Image of Lucian Freud's Corot

Picture: National Gallery/Getty

The National Gallery is up a Corot after the government permanently allocated to it the above portrait from Lucian Freud's collection, accepted by the nation in lieu of tax. The Courtauld has been allocated three sculptures by Degas. More here.

Update - a reader writes:

Interesting to see how the "bequest" is being reported.  It's as though the works are being seen as an outright gift when, in fact, the transfer has tax benefits for Freud's estate.

Update II - another reader writes:

I happened to see somewhere in the weekend papers that the Corot ‘had been valued at £5m.’ ?! Is it just me or does that seem an absurd amount for a (rather ugly) portrait by an artist famous for his landscapes ?! What intrigues me is who is doing these valuations on behalf of the Revenue ? 

I see from ArtInfo's Art Sales Index (which is free, and, wonderfully, means you no longer have to be fleeced by Artnet to look up prices paid at auction) that the picture sold at Christie's in New York on 9th May 2001 for $2.6m or $1.64m. With inflation at UK CPI that would be £2.16m today, which I know is a not very useful calculation, but nonetheless worth noting. Perhaps the remaining increase is accounted for by the illustrious new provenance?

Update III - clearer figures are emerging. The Guardian reports that the total tax benefit to the Freud estate of the Corot and the Degas sculptures is £2.34m. However, they still, pace our first comment, write the story up as 'Freud's donation', which it isn't. 

It's also good to see, following my comparison with Spain below, and the lack of visible high profile political support for art donations here in the UK, that the unveiling was attended by Culture Secretary Maria Miller. But then, I know they read AHN down at the Department for Culture, MEdia and Sport...

Update IV - another reader writes to defend the quality of the picture:

The late Corot figure given by the Freud estate in lieu of tax is a masterpiece and deserves its place among the other great paintings at Trafalgar Square. Its valuation is supported by a much smaller Corot figure of high quality which sold at Sotheby's New York more recently for over $4,000,000 US. Corot's figure paintings are among his most admired works, and the Freud Corot was one of the last major examples in private hands.

Update V - a reader asks:

Has anyone quoted to you the old art market adage about Corot Something like "there are 10,000 Corots in the United States of which 9,000 aren't by him".

New restitution claim - from the French Revolution?

February 4 2013

Image of New restitution claim - from the French Revolution?

Picture: Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantes

ArtInfo has news of another impossible long-sighted restitution claim:

During the French Revolution, the French army took a Rubens painting from the cathedral in Tournai. The work, titled “The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus,” [above] ended up in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes. Now the Belgian town is demanding the work’s return.

Rudy Demotte, president of the French Community of Belgium, has written to French president François Hollande and culture minister Aurélie Filippetti to ask that the painting be returned, Le Journal des Arts reports. He made the same request to the French government last year but received no reply.

Ludicrous though the claim is, it's a bit rich of the French to ignore this one, after they recently seized a painting they said was stolen in the French Revolution. That said, I still think that we need to think about a time limit for restitution cases. Otherwise minor politicians like Rudy Demotte will continue to seek media coverage by making silly claims like this.

Update - a reader writes:

I agree that some sort of time limit should be in force but, frankly, the seizure of the Tournier by the French state last year was - to say the least - a bit rich.  

Anyone visting the Louvre will notice that many major works in its collections were accessioned during the Revolutionary Wars: ie they were brought there from all over Europe by Napoleon's forces.  Altarpieces by Cimabue, Giotto, Fra Angelico - all the way to Carracci and Barrocci - were "acquired" from Italian churches: indeed all sorts of objects, like the Rubens, found their way into French museums never to be returned.

While I think it is too late for restitution in most cases there are one or two instances where this should happen, for reasons of artistic inegrity as it were - though this might in itself provide a dangerous precedent.  

If one visits the Doges Palace yawning gaps will be seen in the coffered ceilings in two rooms - these were filled by paintings by Veronese removed by Napoleonic forces and still in the Louvre.  And then there's also the blank wall the end of the refectory in S Giorgio Maggiore which contained Veronese's Marriage at Cana in the Louvre. I seem to remember that the Treaty of Vienna specified the return of the latter but the French did a deal with Austria - who were given control of the Veneto - and exchanged it for a LeBrun for Vienna instead.

Perhaps the most heinous example of not returning an object concerns Mantegna's altarpiece from S Zeno in Verona.  Again, the restitution was specified in the Treaty of Vienna and the French complied, in part.  The main panels sent back to the church but the French kept the three predella panels: the Crucifixion is in the Louvre and the two others are in Tours.

It's worth pointing out that French institutions, as well as individuals, were also targetted during this time: the Louvre's van Eyck of the Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin came from Autun Cathedral.

A sleeper awakes...?

February 2 2013

Image of A sleeper awakes...?

Picture: Sotheby's

For me, the highlight of the New York Old Master sales was the above small oil on panel described as 'Follower of Rubens' at Sotheby's, with an estimate of $30,000-$50,000. The sitter was identified as 'Possibly Clara Serena Rubens', the artist's daughter, and was being deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum. After a protracted bidding battle between what seemed to be at least half a dozen bidders, the picture sold for $626,500. 

The picture shone out from the wall at the viewing, and I'm not surprised that more than one person had the same idea as Philip Mould and I - that this was by no mere follower of Rubens. What could have appeared at first glance to be a poorly drawn face was in fact a wonderfully observed informal portrait of a seemingly self-conscious but relaxed young girl. The shadowing and reflected light on the right hand side of the face and neck, for example, were masterly. The key here was the informality of the picture, which, in its sketchy application (especially in the drapery) set it apart from Rubens' better known and more finished head studies. The fact that it was partly obscured by several layers of old varnish, particularly in the hair and background, also made the quality of the work hard to read at first. But enough people were convinced to take it to a higher level, and I'm not surprised it made a high price.

You might say, however, that if it was so apparently by Rubens, why did it not fetch more? The answer lies in the - how shall I put this? - unsettled nature of Rubens scholarship at the moment. The Rubenianum is a fine and glorious body, but it is known for its multi-headed approach to its cataloguing - that is, it is unlike the Rembrandt Research Project, where a single figure of tested connoisseurial ability, Ernst van der Wetering, is the ultimate arbiter of attributions. As a result, a number of surprising attributional calls are made on Rubens as scholars with varying thresholds of what is and isn't a Rubens publish works on seperate areas of the artist's work. Therefore, the picture at Sotheby's will be a difficult one to 'get through', as we say in the trade, and thus carries a greater commercial risk. Plus, there is the fact that this picture was deaccessioned by the Met - as big an institution as they come - as a copy of a lost original, presumably with the agreement of the current crop of Rubens scholars, and with the views of important names such as Julius Held, who in 1959 first questioned the previously accepted attribution to Rubens, behind it. So the buyer of the picture is necessarily going to put a lot of noses out of joint if he or she does prove that it is by Rubens - almost as many as me for writing this post, in fact.

Still, it's all good fun, and art history will be the ultimate winner for the picture getting greater attention. I don't think, by the way, that Sotheby's were wrong to put the picture in as by a follower of Rubens. First, I and the other bidders may well be wrong (though I don't mind saying here that I think it certainly is by Rubens, and the winning bidder will have to excuse me for not publishing here all our research on the picture). Second, if the Metropolitan Museum and five decades of Rubens scholarship have said it is not by Rubens, then it's hardly up to Sotheby's to tell the Met where it might be going wrong. The picture will be an interesting one to follow, and gives a timely reminder here in the UK on (as I have highlighted many times) the perils of deaccessioning.

New York Old Master week

February 2 2013

Image of New York Old Master week

Picture: Sotheby's

Christie's seem to have had the more successful week of Old Master sales in New York, though I preferred Sotheby's offering myself. I flew out with my boss, Philip Mould, on Saturday and left on Sunday evening, which gave us enough time for a close view of the sales, and refresher trips around New York's incomparable Met and Frick collections. We've ended the week with three new acquisitions, two of which will prove to be, we hope, new discoveries - more details here soon.

Christie's seperate Renaissance sale did well, making a total of $42.6m (all prices with premium). Highlights included a Fra Bartolommeo Madonna and Child (in its original frame) at $12.9m; a Botticelli Madonna and Child at $10.4m; a Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni in incredible condition by Il Gaetano at $7.58m (a record for Gaetano, or Scipio Pulzone); and even a somewhat compromised Raphael drawing of Saint Benedict Receiving Maurus & Placidus making $1.2m. In their main sale, Christie's total of $88.4m with premium was just above its pre-sale estimate of $75m-$115m (excl. premium). However, their Bronzino Portrait of a Young Man with a Book at $12m-$18m failed to sell. Possibly this video didn't help. Other sales of note for Christie's included a Watteau at $602,500; and a fine Chardin making a record $4m. Van Dyck fans like me will have noted the 'Portrait of a Cavalier' making $542,500. A rare oil on panel portrait, it had been excluded from the recent 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne. But I thought there was little doubt about the attribution, and one could even argue, given the way colours fade less on panel, that more of Van Dyck's portraits looked as colourful as this once upon a time. Another record at Christie's was this delightful drawing by Claude, which made $6.1m against a $500k-$800k estimate. In all, Christie's totalled $88.4m, which was its best New York Old Master total since 2006 - so congratulations to them. 

For Sotheby's, things were a little patchy. Their total was just over $80m including premium, not far off Christie's, but some way below the lower estimate total of $89m (which does not include premium). Their highlights included Fragonard's Goddess Aurora Triumphing Over Night, which was sold to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for $3.8m; a newly discovered Christ Blessing by Hans Memling at $4.1m; a delightful Turner watercolour Heidelburg with a Rainbow at $4.5m; and Pompeo Batoni's amazingly fresh Susanna and the Elders [above], which made $11.4m against an estimate of $6m-$9m. The last price was interesting given that the picture failed to sell at £3m-£5m when last offered in London in 1991. Sotheby's did however have more than a few buy-ins, including a Goya estimated at $6m-$8m.

Overall the week was, I think, a reasonably healthy indicator of the Old Master market given the general economic backdrop. As ever, there were some record prices and many over-estimated turkeys. But I cannot see how Souren Melikian, writing in the New York Times, concludes that:

Slowly, the signs are multiplying that the auction market for Old Master paintings as a financially viable system might be drawing to a close.

In five to 10 years, there probably won’t be enough top- to middle-range pictures left to keep the two international auction houses’ engines running.

People have been saying this kind of thing for years.

Update: The Grumpy Art Historian has a review of the Old Master drawings sales here.

Agnews to close

February 2 2013

Image of Agnews to close

Picture: Look and Learn

I was very saddened to read in the FT this morning that Agnews, one of the world's oldest art dealers, is to close. Georgina Adams writes:

Agnews, one of the world’s oldest art dealers, is to close. The 195-year-old London gallery will cease trading on April 30, after a final outing at the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht.

Chairman Julian Agnew is from the sixth generation to work for the family firm, which has long been in decline. In 2008 the chairman sold its historic Bond Street premises [above], purpose-built by his great-great grandfather in 1877, for a reported £25m, and moved to a smaller space in nearby Albemarle Street.

Negotiations with a prospective buyer ended in failure last year. “I wanted to retire and there was no obvious successor,” says Agnew, whose daughter Gina left last year to start her own gallery. “We are not in a happy place: we are neither big like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the ‘supermarkets’ of the art world, nor small enough. We were undercapitalised for today’s art prices.” The firm is privately owned, with 16 family shareholders, and its most recent available accounts, dating from 2011, reveal a loss of £1.8m, including various writedowns for accountancy reasons.

In its heyday, Agnews handled major Old Master paintings: Reynolds, Gainsborough, Van Dyke and Rembrandt, as well as selling watercolours and British paintings. One of many splendid works it sold is Velázquez’s “Rokeby Venus”, now in London’s National Gallery.

The firm has been running down stock, and the remainder will be disposed of gradually. Agnew says he will continue to work from home advising clients privately, and that he will keep the company name. “I actually want to spend less time with my family, the company, and more with my own family,” he says.

Now is not the time for post-mortems. But Agnews' closure is more evidence, if we needed it, of how hard it is to be an Old Master art dealer these days. Recently, another major London dealer retreated from their traditional ground floor gallery to second and third floor offices. The two major auction houses are almost totally dominant, and have captured most of the market. Dealers cannot hope to outspend them or outmarket them. The only way we can compete now is to outthink them, which is why dealers have to be ruthlessly focused on a particular area of expertise, and, if possible, try always to remain one art historical step ahead. Knowledge is our most valuable commodity - not premises, brands, or even capital. That's what makes it so exciting.

Despite what you might read over the next few days in response to the Agnews story, the end of the London art market is not nigh. In the modern and contemporary sector all is booming - David Zwirner, for example, recently opened an enormous town house gallery next to us here in Dover Street.

Update - did I speak too soon? Christie's have announced that they are closing Haunch of Venison in London and New York. However, it has seemed for some time that the health of Christie's contemporary outpost was under question, after its original founders, Harry Blain and Graham Southern, left to start up another gallery.

Update II - a reader writes:

I am deeply saddened by your news that Agnew's is to close. But I feel you missed a big part of the story: what on earth will happen to their incomparable library and archive? This actually is a question of great importance. I did much of the key work for my phd in the basement of their old Bond Street gallery. The library was amazing - I wonder, come to think of it, if it was the same library whose sale you wrote about last year? - but the archive is perhaps more significant. They have complete dealers books and many valuable photographs and related correspondence. For example, they handled the sale of drawings by Francis Towne from the Merivale family - Towne, a late 18th century landscape painter (I did my phd on him), had bequeathed his entire estate to the Merivales in 1816 and the descendants began to sell in the 1920s and 30s. Paul Oppe advised them, and drew up a handlist of all the drawings, which Judith Merivale annotated with the dates, prices and buyers of her drawings. The only copy of this catalogue is in the Agnew's archive. Agnew's was the major dealer in English watercolours throughout the 'golden age' of collecting.

Update III - a dealing reader writes:

I largely agree with your interpretation of the not entirely unexpected news about Agnew’s demise, but should point out that the auctioneers are not yet all-conquering. No sooner had the hammer gone down on a lot in the OMP sale at Sotheby’s NY last week than one of the specialists ran up to ask if we would be prepared to ‘take a quick turn’ and sell it straight on to their client (the underbidder on the telephone) for a token profit. What this tells us is that, for all their supposed might, the auction house specialists still can’t encourage every client to outbid the dealers, with the result that they are reduced to traipsing round Maastricht day after day arm-in-arm with the underbidder wondering what might have been!

Rather like vultures at the roadside, the auction specialists are now present at Maastricht from the minute it opens almost until the end, keeping an eye on ‘their’ clients and patrolling the corridors for ones they don’t know. They bring private buyers onto stands and say, ‘Here’s that picture we told you to buy; look what he’s asking for it now !’ The implication is invariably that, ‘We know what we’re talking about, so listen to us next time; and, oh, by the way, aren’t dealers awful to ask such big mark-ups !’

The first point here illustrates the importance of the trade to the auction houses, and overall values in the Old Master sector. It isn't in the auctioneers' interest to kill the trade off entirely - it's the trade that underpins prices. We don't do Maastricht, so I can't comment on the second point.  

New Met videos

February 2 2013

Video: Metropolitan Museum

The Met has launched a new series of short films on the highlights of their collection. Watch the introduction above, and more episodes here

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

January 31 2013

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: Getty Research Institute

The recently closed Knoedler gallery in New York has been hit with a fresh lawsuit, this time over an allegedly fake Rothko. From Bloomberg:

New York’s defunct Knoedler Gallery was sued by a Liechtenstein-based family trust, which accused the gallery of selling a forged painting by the late artist Mark Rothko for $5.5 million.

The Martin Hilti Family Trust, named for the founder of construction tool firm Hilti AG, alleged in a complaint filed yesterday in Manhattan that the gallery deliberately withheld information about the painting that would have hurt the sale.

The gallery, on East 70th Street in Manhattan, has been sued by other collectors who alleged they were duped into purchasing fakes of works by noted artists, including paintings purportedly by Rothko, Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning. Knoedler unexpectedly closed in 2011 after 165 years.

The Hilti trust alleged in its complaint that it purchased what was represented as a 1956 Rothko work“Untitled” in November 2002. The gallery and its chairman Michael Hammer and director Ann Freedman falsely described the painting as coming from a previously undiscovered cache of masterworks owned by an unknown collector, described in the complaint as “Mr. X.”

For previous AHN on the Knoedler debacle, put 'Knoedler' into the search box top right.


January 31 2013

Image of Really?

Picture: Mail/Newsteam/Mullock's Auctioneers

There's been lots of excitement in the UK press about a 'newly discovered' portrait of Goering. From the Mail:

A never-before-seen portrait of Nazi leader Hermann Goering painted by a Jewish artist during the 1930s is set to go under the hammer.

The oil painting by Imre Goth enraged the tyrant after it was completed, as he was furious that it depicted him as the morphine-fuelled drug addict he was.

Goering was so outraged by the artwork that Goth feared for his life, and was forced to flee Germany and seek refuge in Britain. The portrait never left the possession of its creator, and on his death 30 years ago he asked a friend to destroy it. But the confidante kept the unique work, and it is expected to sell for thousands of pounds when it goes up for auction next month.

I'm no Imre Goth expert, but from what I've seen of his work he was a much better artist than this. There's something rather disingenuous about the picture on offer here - its surface, colouring, and drawing all look most odd. Caveat emptor, as they say...

And in any case, why would you want to sell, much less buy, a portrait of such an odious figure. Check out this peculiar argument for buying the portrait from the auctioneer:

The portrait forms part of a war memorabilia sale to be held by Mullock’s auctioneers in Ludlow, Shropshire on February 14. Its reserve price is £8,000, but it has previously been valued by experts as high as £50,000.

'The historical significance of this portrait cannot be denied,' said Richard Westwood-Brookes of Mullock's.

'As opposed to the official Nazi portraits of Goering, this shows him exactly what he was - a depraved drug addict - and for that reason I personally think it should be displayed publicly to show successive generations exactly what the Nazis really were, as opposed to their now more familiar propaganda images.'

Update - a reader writes:

I agree who would want it. The sad reality though is that there are lots of people out there who are Nazi sympathers/fans/memorabilia collectors and all it really takes is two of them!

..If you Google nazi memoribilia there are even dealers!

Update II - another reader writes:

I too was bemused by Mullock's angle on the portrait. There's a faint sense like a bad smell in the back alleys of the auction world that shiny boots and swastikas are considered rather impressive.

An ironic attribution

January 30 2013

Image of An ironic attribution

Picture: Your Paintings/Maidstone Museum

A reader alerts me to this unfortunate, if ironic attribution on the Your Paintings database. Is there a John Collier expert out there to resolve this ignomy?

More Tudor & Jacobean treats

January 30 2013

Image of More Tudor & Jacobean treats

Picture: English Heritage 

Following my post below on two forthcoming Tudor and Stuart exhibitions in London, Amina Wright, Senior Curator of the Holburne Museum in Bath, writes:

For readers who can't wait until May, the Holburne has just opened "Painted Pomp: Art & Fashion in the Age of Shakespeare" based around the nine Larkins from the Suffolk Collection, currently in exile from Kenwood.  Judging by the numbers at the private view and over the opening weekend, not to mention the excited Twitterings, this is going to be one of our best yet....

New British portraits website

January 30 2013

Image of New British portraits website

Picture: UBP

Here's a handy new website, from the Understanding British Portraits [UBP] subject specialist network. The UBP is funded by the National Portrait Gallery, the National Trust, the Arts Council and the Foyle Foundation. On their new website you can find all sorts of useful information:

New online publishing and best practice case studies, guest blog, and queries board are just some of the additions to our website which has been designed with your portrait-needs in mind! Find out what recent delegates at our Annual Seminar found relevant to their collections, how to identify portrait specialists, and practical guides to researching and interpreting portraits and devising learning programmes. Tell us what you think, submit reviews, and share your thoughts on the illustrated queries.

The list of British portrait specialists will be useful. Though when I put in Van Dyck, 'no matches' came up. Mind you, 'no matches' also came up when I put 'Grosvenor' in...

Update - this clarification comes in about the funding:

The network is supported by the National Portrait Gallery, National Trust, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, and Bristol Museums Galleries Archives. A grant from Arts Council England is assisting a great deal with our programming costs, and the website is entirely funded by the Foyle Foundation, for which we’re very grateful indeed.

Prado donation

January 30 2013

Image of Prado donation

Picture: Prado

The Prado press office writes:

The Museo del Prado has received an important donation of works from the Várez Fisa Collection in a ceremony attended by the President of the Spanish Government, Mariano Rajoy [above].

The donation, which comprises twelve, 13th- to 15th-century works of Spanish art from the Várez Fisa Collection, will enrich and complement the holdings of Spanish Medieval and Renaissance art in the Prado’s collections.

That's a fine donation, but what intrigues me most about the story is the presence of the Spanish Prime Minister. I can't remember ever seeing Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or David Cameron photographed at a similar event in the UK.

More details on the Prado gift here

Tudor & Stuart royal fashion at the Royal Collection

January 29 2013

Image of Tudor & Stuart royal fashion at the Royal Collection

Picture: Royal Collection

What's this - yet another Royal Collection exhibition to look forward to? From the Royal Collection press office:

For the Tudor and Stuart elite, luxurious clothing was an essential component of court life.  Garments and accessories – and the way in which they were worn – conveyed important messages about wealth, gender, age, social position, marital status and religion.  Through the evidence of portraiture, In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion traces changing tastes in fashionable attire and the spread of fashion through the royal courts of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Using paintings, drawings and prints from the Royal Collection, and rare surviving examples of clothing and accessories, it explores the style of the rich and famous of the Tudor and Stuart periods.

The exhibition will follow the current show, the epic, brilliant The Northern Renaissance: Durer to Holbein* (if you haven't yet seen it, you have until 14th April), and opens on 10th May.

London will be a feast of Tudor-iana this summer, as the V&A are also having a Tudor themed show, called 'Treasures of the Royal Courts'. A key exhibit will be the earliest full-length portrait of Elizabeth I, the Hampden Portrait (below), which I had the pleasure of researching when we sold it here at Philip Mould & Company some years ago. If you fancy it, you can read my article on the picture here in The British Art Journal. The V&A show is in collaboration with the Kremlin Museum in Moscow, and will also feature goodies from the courts of the 16th Century Tsars.

*by the way, I know I once promised a review of 'The Northern Renaissance', so apologies for never writing it. Damn good show though, and a typically excellent Royal Collection catalogue to go with it too.

X-ray-ing Rembrandt

January 29 2013

Image of X-ray-ing Rembrandt

Picture: Getty Institute

The Getty has known since 1984 that their 1630-31 Portrait of an Old Man by Rembrandt (above) was painted over another, inverted, portrait - but now new x-ray techniques have apparently allowed curators to get a better idea of what the mystery picture looks like, and even attempt to recreate it. From Live Science:

"Our experiments demonstrate a possibility of how to reveal much of the hidden picture," Matthias Alfeld from the University of Antwerp said in a statement. "Compared to other techniques, the X-ray investigation we tested is currently the best method to look underneath the original painting."

Alfeld and an international team used macro X-ray fluorescence analysis to examine a mock-up of Rembrandt's original, created by museum intern Andrea Sartorius, who used paints with the same chemical composition as those used by the Dutch master. Sartorius painted one portrait on the canvas and then an imitation of "Old Man in Military Costume" on top.

Here's what the reproduction looks like:

Guffwatch - how it began (ctd.)

January 29 2013

Thanks to everyone who alerted me to this article in The Guardian on 'International Art English' (IAE), or as AHN readers know it, Guff. The article, by Andy Beckett, looked at the research of artist David Levine and sociologist Alix Rule into the origins of IAE (first featured on AHN in August last year). Apparently they can plot the annual variations in the use of in vogue words:

 "Usage of the word speculative spiked unaccountably in 2009; 2011 saw a sudden rage for rupture; transversal now seems poised to have its best year ever." 

There are two key constituencies we can blame for IAE, first, the French:

In fact, in its declarative, multi-clause sentences, and in its odd combination of stiffness and swagger, they argued that IAE "sounds like inexpertly translated French". This was no coincidence, they claimed, having traced the origins of IAE back to French post-structuralism and the introduction of its slippery ideas and prose style into American art writing via October, the New York critical journal founded in 1976. Since then, IAE had spread across the world so thoroughly that there was even, wrote Rule and Levine, an "IAE of the French press release ... written, we can only imagine, by French interns imitating American interns imitating American academics imitating French academics".

And, secondly, interns:

The mention of interns is significant. Rule, who writes about politics for leftwing journals as well as art for more mainstream ones, believes IAE is partly about power. "IAE serves interests," she says. However laughable the language may seem to outsiders, to art-world people, speaking or writing in IAE can be a potent signal of insider status. As some of the lowest but also the hungriest in the art food chain, interns have much to gain from acquiring fluency in it. Levine says the same goes for many institutions: "You can't speak in simple sentences as a museum and be taken seriously. You can't say, 'This artist produces funny work.' In our postmodern world, simple is just bad. You've got to say, 'This artist is funny and ...'"

For a reminder in how interns do indeed come up with much of the guff we see in the contemporary art world, see earlier AHN here.

New book on authenticity

January 29 2013

Image of New book on authenticity

Picture: Ashgate

This sounds like a good buy - a new book on 'Art and Authenticity' by the staff of the Sotheby's Institute. It's edited by Megan Aldrich and Jos Hackforth-Jones, who are respectively the Academic Director and Director of the Institute. I'm pleased to see from the blurb that the authors still see a role for connoisseurship, and despite the increasing reliance placed on scientific analysis:

Historically, the idea of scientific verification has arisen as a reaction against the perceived excesses of the connoisseurial tradition, a tradition which has fallen from favour over the last 50 years. The idea of individual 'expert knowledge' rests uneasily in the current climate. However, recent attempts by experts to develop definitive scientific methods for authenticating artworks are also proving to be problematic. Connoisseurship, it will be argued, still has its role to play within these debates.

I give regular talks in the gallery here, and lectures at UCL, to Sotheby's Institute students, because it's one of the few places where art history students are taught about connoisseurship. So I'm always keen to help out if I can. Incidentally, Sotheby's Institute is no longer anything to do with Sotheby's - the auction house sold it off a few years ago.

As David Packwood notes over on Art History Today, this is a timely publication. The book is published by Ashgate - venerable publishers where you can also sample some of my writing....


January 28 2013

...just back from a New York Old master viewing trip, so I'm catching up on things at the gallery. See you tomorrow...

This is not Katherine Parr (ctd.)

January 25 2013

Image of This is not Katherine Parr (ctd.)

Picture: NPG

Excitement in the news that the National Portrait Gallery has restored and put on display an early portrait of Catherine of Aragon. For many years it was called 'Katherine Parr', but now the NPG says it isn't. Readers of AHN, naturally, have known this for some months.

'Mona Kate' - a portraitist writes

January 25 2013

Image of 'Mona Kate' - a portraitist writes

Picture: NPG

A fine portraitist (take it from me) writes:

I couldn't agree more that the increasing (or very nearly complete?) reliance on photography for portrait painting is a very great shame.

The really sad thing is that visitors to the NPG are now so inundated by photo-based work that it has become not just he norm, but the ideal.  In recent years  the Visitor's Choice at the BP Portrait Award has always been a photo-realist work, usually enormous in size.

Importantly, photo-realism is not always a fetishistic audit of wrinkles and pores, but is often disguised with a lots of brushy paint, a painterly interpretation of a photo.

 I once asked one of the BP Portrait Award judges about how seriously they take the rule that "the work entered should be a painting based on a sitting or study from life", when for so many pictures that sitting must only consist of taking some photos.  How softly do they use the word "should"?  She said that they trust that the artists have followed the rule, but she didn't sound so sure that it was possible to tell when a painting was done from a photo.  I can't say I was too encouraged.

I must say I had no idea that the BP Portrait Award had a 'life sittings' rule - I'd assumed from the quality of the entrants that there were no rules at all. Similar views on the BP Award from Brian Sewell here.

PS - aren't those good photos of the Duchess? If only the NPG could just put those on the wall instead...

Lost Charles Le Brun found in Paris Ritz

January 24 2013

Image of Lost Charles Le Brun found in Paris Ritz

Picture: Liberation/AFP

Here's a nice story: an English art consultant has found a lost painting by Charles Le Brun in the Paris Ritz. The Ritz is currently closed for renovation, so the hotel decided to ask Joseph Friedman to look at their art. And lurking in a suite (below) apparently used by Coco Chanel he saw a signed and dated (1647) Sacrifice of Polyxena. The picture will be auctioned at Christie's in Paris in April, with an estimate of EUR 300k-500k. Shame they couldn't keep the picture at the Ritz, but I guess they let anyone in these days...

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