October 24 2012
Both the Prado and the Met call it an unknown sitter. To me, it feels like a self-portrait, both compositionally and in its unfinished state. It looks very like him too, don't you think? The picture bears a close resemblance to a head on the far right in Velasquze's Surrender of Breda, which was once thought to be a self-portrait, though the Prado's website says that this idea 'is no longer accepted'. Personally, the head in question in The Surrender also feels to me like a cheeky self-portrait, in the way it beckons you towards it at the edge of the canvas. Such a conceit is of course not uncommon.
October 24 2012
...for the slow service recently. I've been moving. A tiny flat in Kensington is now home, but the boon is a much shortened commute. So that means more time for AHN!
Yesterday I went to the town hall to pay my council tax. The above photo shows you how they spend it. *astards.
To steal a Picasso...
October 22 2012
...you just need a hoodie, and an inept alarm system. The Dutch police have released footage of the Kunsthal theft in action. It took the thieves two mintures to pack their stash of pictures onto their backs. Apparently the alarm system fitted at the Kunsthal automatically opens the door locks once it has been set off. And since there was nobody on site, and the police took five minutes to arrive, it was essentially an accident waiting to happen.
Small but perfectly formed
October 22 2012
Picture: Dulwich Picture Gallery
The Courtauld's new show Peter Lely - a Lyrical Vision, which looks at Lely's early works, is one of the best small exhibitions I've ever seen. If you haven't yet been, go. If you live abroad, book a flight. Happily, I didn't see much sign of the nonsense put out in the Courtauld's press release for the exhibition (tho' I haven't yet read the whole catalogue).
So congratulations to the Courtauld, and to curator Caroline Campbell, for staging it. (Congratulations also, by the way, to James Stunt, who is described on the wall as the exhibition's 'Lead Sponsor'. Readers who are up on their celebrity news will know that businessman James is married to Petra Ecclestone. Those of you who don't read Heat or the Daily Mail should marvel at a young man who not only likes Old Masters, but also supports academic research into them. How rare is that? He also has a fine collection of 17th Century British portraits, including works by Van Dyck, and lends many of them to museums, including the Huntington museum in California.)
I should really write a review of the exhibition, but Brian Sewell has beaten me to it, and I can't hope to improve on his piece in the Standard. He likes the exhibition (which of course means it's really excellent), but quibbles with the chronology of the works on display:
This is a bonne bouche of an exhibition, a delicious morsel (perhaps titbit is the better translation in this context) thrown in with the admission charge to the rest of the Courtauld Gallery. It is the sort of thing sometimes done so well there to fill a gap in our knowledge of art history, throwing new light on familiar paintings and revealing others unfamiliar. I lament only that the curator neither asked nor answered the question: “Who dared buy such sexually provocative paintings during Cromwell’s Courtless and puritanical Interregnum?” And the proposed chronology is suspect.
None of the works on display are securely dated, and the chronology is indeed hard to pin down. In part this is because Lely was so variable in his output. When he could be bothered to do justice to the full range of his talents, he was unmatched. But at other times one suspects he was an idle genius. But then, which geniuses aren't? His brilliant Nymphs by a Fountain (above), on loan from Dulwich, is so infinitely better than the works hanging either side of it that one begins to wonder if they're by the same hand. We must also note that one of the major works on display, The Concert, is quite clearly unfinished (a fact not always appreciated), which makes comparison with other early works tricky.
Regular readers will remember me banging on about Lely being a rare case of an artist getting worse as he got older. Largely, this is to do with the dread hand of the studio assistant creeping into his output. This is mainly confined to Lely's portraiture, and so doesn't wholly impact on the subject pictures on show at the Courtauld. It's a question which, coincidentally, Sewell touches on in his review:
There may well be thousands of these portraits, ranging from rare prime originals of often quite astonishing quality, to crass workshop replicas by assistants drilled to imitate Lely’s way with the fashionable face and repeat the stock patterns of the dress, landscapes, flowers, musical instruments and other essential embellishments of portraiture. On Lely’s death in 1680 his executors employed a dozen such slaves to complete for sale the many unfinished canvases stacked about his studio. It is these half-and-half and hardly-at-all Lelys that line the corridors of the indigent aristocracy whose houses are now administered by the National Trust, and no sight is more aesthetically and intellectually numbing, unless it is a corridor of Knellers.
Poor Sir Godfrey. Personally, I love a good corridor of portraits - even Knellers.
Update - a reader writes:
Brian Sewell's query about Lely's market for nuddy pics is interesting. There's an 'Art in the Interregnum' doctorate in there but the image of the regime booting the door in if you weren't living like something out of The Crucible is misleading. Once he was firmly in control I think His Highness the Lord Protector - with his fine tapestries and music evenings at Hampton Court - I think England was much the same. No theatres, true, but the late Protectorate was religiously tolerant, and by extension I suspect that there wasn't a moral embargo on what paintings you could own.
The Protectorate didn't fail because it was too strict - I think early modern Englishmen quite liked strongarm government, like Henry VIII - but because it couldn't establish a convincing 'narrative' to replace the old monarchy in people's minds, and without a strong successor it was natural - thank God - to want the old ways back.
And even if it was all starched collars and sermons, Lely's paintings would be a private expression of what people no longer saw in public. In Afghanistan under the Taliban, Kabul's most popular bootleg film was Titanic, and barbers would style men's hair a la Caprio, to be hidden under turbans.
More free stuff online
October 22 2012
Picture: Met Museum
The trend for US museums (but alas not UK ones) to make their collections and knowledge available online for free is growing. Now (I learn via Tribune de l'Art) the Met is putting all of its out of print exhibition catalogues online for free use. At the top of this page you can find current catalogues, which are not all free. But scroll down and you'll find the out of print ones. Enjoy!
Update - a reader surveys the comparable situation in the UK:
The National Gallery in London published extensive catalogues of its permanent collections half a century ago, and have even published new editions since then.
But the Tate...
well, back in 1988 they published a catalogue of 83 paintings and 85 prints & drawings by artists born 1675-1709, and very useful it has proved too. This was introduced as "the first to be published of a planned series which will eventually catalogue the whole of the British Collection at the Tate Gallery, each volume to cover a specific period." So confident were they that the plan would be executed, that this volume - the first to appear - was issued as volume 2. Nothing has appeared since.
It's not like they have a large historic collection. The Tate website labels a mere 110 paintings as 16th & 17th century and 103 as 18th century. Take out the 83 paintings already published in the 1988 catalogue and that leaves a mere 130 left to do. There are (I think) 4 or 5 curators or assistant curators concerned with the historic period at Tate Britain. How about they each undertake to catalogue 1 painting every fortnight, starting now? After all, there must be a lot of material in the files to draw from. They could have a draft catalogue ready in exactly a year. Two of the curators have been in post for many years so could perhaps proceed at a faster pace; for the new or more junior staff, it would be an excellent way of getting acquainted with the collection.
Tate's published 'mission' is 'to promote public understanding and enjoyment of British, modern and contemporary art'. Thinking back to the Met, Philippe de Montebello's forward to the 3-volume catalogue of early American paintings begins thus: 'An essential part of the museum's mission is to provide information on numerous levels and in varying degrees to its widespread and diverse public.' So far, so Tate. But he continues: 'One of the most effective means for such communication is through publications, more specifically complete and detailed assessments of the permanent collections.' I couldn't agree more!
After the Last Supper was over
October 22 2012
Picture: Bence Hajdu/Mail
Hungarian artist Bence Hajdu has an interesting new take on Old Masters - he's removed all the people. More here.
Face of the Day
October 18 2012
My colleague Emma Rutherford has spotted the above miniature on Ebay. Can readers suggest what the sitter might have said when she first saw the portrait?
New acquisition in Wales
October 18 2012
Picture: National Museum of Wales
The National Museum of Wales has acquired two early 18th Century landscapes of Margam House, near Port Talbot. The pictures (which I valued for the museum about a year ago), cost £218,500, of which £142,300 was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund. So more good news from HLF on the picture buying front. The pictures aren't especially good, but with early Welsh art you have to slightly take what you can get (there, I've said it).
You can find more details on the acquisition here on the BBC, but nothing on the museum's own website (another case of a museum's left hand not talking to its right).
Coincidentally, the present Margam House (which looks very different to the house in the view above) is in the process of applying to the HLF for a grant to restore the gardens.
Wise words from HM
October 17 2012
Saw this on the wall at the National Portrait Gallery this evening.
It's all going modern at the National Gallery
October 17 2012
Picture: National Gallery/Estate of Richard Hamilton
I had a quick look at the new Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery yesterday. Boy, could he not paint.
Regular readers, who know what a reactionary stick-in-the-mud I am, won't be surprised to hear that I'm a little puzzled by the National's direction of travel at the moment. They seem to be on a quest to contemporise everything. We recently had the Titian Metamorphosis show, in which Titian's Diana masterpieces were shown next to robotic antlers, naked bathers, and stage designs. Now we have Richard Hamilton's park-railing pastiches of Poussin and Titian. And later this month we'll have Seduced by Art, in which we can "View Old Master painting through a new lens with the National Gallery's first major exhibition of photography", where contemporary photographs will be hung alongside "historical painting".
It's all most curious.
'It's a snip'
October 16 2012
Video: Art Fund
The National Gallery in London is exhibiting Poussin's 'Extreme Unction', which, as I reported a while ago, the Fitzwilliam Museum is hoping to buy. It is one of the Rutland series of Seven Sacrements. In the video above, Fitzwilliam curator Jane Munro sets out the picture's merits. The price is £3.9m after tax deductions, which is rightly described by David Scrase in this video, as 'a snip'. The Kimbell Museum in Texas recently shelled out £24m for their Sacrament.
Waldemar went to see it at the National, and wrote a lively piece about the picture in the Sunday Times. He said (and I thoroughly agree with him);
If they had had a cash box in the room, I would have emptied my pockets into it there and then. As it is, I hope you will join me in adding a donation at artfund.org/poussin.
I hope they raise the cash, and have until November to do so. There is just one thing which might hinder the effort - the Fitzwilliam currently has no director. Timothy Potts recently left to go to the Getty, and a replacement has yet to be announced. Normally, one would expect such an appeal to be led by a museum's director, someone who can act as a focal point for the marketing and lobbying, and help generate the private donations needed.
A very heavy 'dialogue'
October 16 2012
Doubtless when it is 'installed', dramatically lit, and with a label beside it, this 'Treetrunk' by Jurgen Bey will be worth the £4-6,000 Christie's says it is. And doubtless too it will, as the catalogue entry states, 'offer a dialogue between culture and nature'.
But to me, as I was walked past Christie's this morning and saw it being lifted through the front door, it just looked like a large log with two chair backs stuck into it.
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
But not in it. Not yet.
Order yours here.
The sleeper from Harrods
October 15 2012
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
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.
A sign of Parisian good taste
October 12 2012
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 but....my mum lives close by to Constable Road in Eastbourne (which connects to Gainsborough Crescent, Reynolds Road and Hogarth Road and Turner Close).
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
...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
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
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.