Critic's choice

March 4 2013

Image of Critic's choice

Picture: BG

Very kind of the The Sunday Times to make our Culture Show programme (Saturday 9th March, BBC2, 6.30pm) their 'Pick of the Day'.

Cool ad watch

March 4 2013

Image of Cool ad watch

Picture: Salon du Dessin

The Salon du Dessin has come up with another inventive poster to publicise this year's event, which opens on 10th April in Paris.

Rare 15th Century wall paintings in Wales

March 4 2013

Image of Rare 15th Century wall paintings in Wales

Picture: St Cadoc's Church/Jane Rutherfoord

I learn via the Society of Antiquaries of a project in Wales to uncover a rare series of 15th Century wall paintings from the Church of St Cadoc's, Llancarfan. More details here

The importance of understanding condition

March 4 2013

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Picture: Spear's Magazine

Regular readers will know that I often bang on about the importance of understanding a picture's condition, particularly when it comes to making attributions. In a recent edition of Spear's Magazine, dealer Ivan Lindsay counsels that anyone buying at auction needs to be sure of condition too:

It’s worth being cautious about restoration when it comes to auction rooms. The leading auction rooms, particularly as they develop their rapidly growing private sales (dealing) business, go to considerable lengths to advise their clients that buying at auction is so easy that they shouldn’t feel the need to seek any independent advice before buying. They are wrong.

In the Daily Telegraph in October, Orlando Rock, deputy chairman of Christie’s, offered up a detailed guide on how to buy art at auction. It is all very reassuring to know that, despite any misgivings you may have had about the art world, it is in fact a nice cosy place and the leading auctions are a ‘transparent and fair platform’ that offer goods at fair prices with the ‘stamp of long-term quality and value’. And that buying art at auction is ‘accessible, affordable, personal and fun’. I would add ‘nerve-racking, opaque, confusing and often expensive’.

Rock does mention that condition is an issue and suggests that, if you feel the need, you can ask for a condition report from one of the in-house experts. However, these should not be relied on. A good restorer can make a painting that is in bad condition look fine to all but the trained eye. They can also be very good at disguising their work. The old expression that you do not find out what you have bought in the art world until you try to sell it is never truer than when it comes to condition.

If experienced dealers always feel the need to seek the advice of an independent third-party restorer before they buy, then that should tell private clients what they should be doing. Restorers are mainly generous with their time and often have to attend the major sales on behalf of clients. By seeking such advice, collectors will save themselves plenty of expensive mistakes, and it is sound practice to take the time to get to know a good restorer and make him part of your team.

Guffwatch - Burlington Magazine joins the fray

March 4 2013

Image of Guffwatch - Burlington Magazine joins the fray

Picture: Burlington Magazine

Three cheers for The Burlington Magazine, which, in its latest editorial, calls for an end to Artspeak in:

[...] art-historical books and publications. Here, what is striking is not so much the cliché but the inventiveness of the language used, the reckless extensions and elaborations of words, the adverbial decor, the nifty transformation of noun into verb, the plain sentence got up in grotesque academic drag. We have recently witnessed ‘the narrativisation of subversion’ and ‘the spatiality of viewership’, among other portly neologisms. And the more the argument concerns art’s inclusiveness, the collective memory or the demotic gaze, the more the language seems to retract into hermetic exclusivity. Critical and historical writing must in some way be shaped by an intended audience. Style – whether it be complex or succinct, expository or descriptive – is a writer’s personal expression inflected by a sense of that audience. In a good deal of recent art history, felicitous style is rarely a consideration, but the imagined reader is there, drawn from a restricted circle of fellow academics (who will, incidentally, nod knowingly at the fashionable names quoted and cited that give the writer a spurious authority). Articles are couched in a careerist language to be peer read for renewal of tenure. An initial distrust of plain English turns into a positive fear of it, in case of reprisals.

Update - a reader writes:

How many of them are out there I wonder? Sitting on comfy stipends in faculties and institutions around the globe, writing impenetrably cryptic books, papers, monographs and theses that nobody but their identical  peers or hapless undergraduates will read?

Turner discovered in India

March 2 2013

Image of Turner discovered in India

Picture: Bid & Hammer Auction

A missing Turner watercolour showing part of the fortifications at Seringapatam has been found in India. It is to be sold at auction soon, with an estimate of 2-3 million Rupees (approx. $370,000-$555,000). More details here.

Sotheby's V Christie's

March 1 2013

Image of Sotheby's V Christie's

Picture: Sotheby's

Last year's overall sales totals are in for both Sotheby's and Christie's. Christie's wins it by just under a billion this time round with $6.3bn compared to Sotheby's $5.4bn. 

Last week Christie's announced it would be increasing its buyer's premium, and, surprise surprise, Sotheby's have also now followed suit. From the Wall Street Journal:

Since Sotheby's said it must continue to eat into its commission to woo top sellers, the auction house said it plans recoup some losses by charging buyers more for winning artwork. For the first time in five years, Sotheby's said it would raise its buyer's premium from March 15; an artwork's winning bidder will be asked to pay a fee of 25% of the work's gavel price up to $100,000, plus an additional 20% of its price up to $2 million, plus 12% of anything above that.

That's an eye watering premium, especially here in the UK with VAT on top.

Sir Anthony's ride

March 1 2013

Image of Sir Anthony's ride

Picture: Fred Bancroft

Reader Fred Bancroft has made my day with this photo. 

If Van Dyck had lived in the 1980s, he'd have definitely had a Jag like this.

Can a $75,000 degree get you a job in the art world?

March 1 2013

Image of Can a $75,000 degree get you a job in the art world?

Picture: Sotheby's Institute

Sotheby's Institute have launched a new one-year art business course in partnership with the Drucker School of Management in Los Angeles; price, $75,000. To find out if it's worth it, read my latest article in The Art Newspaper.

For those with a smaller budget, Sotheby's Institute have London-based courses for about £20,000. 

Update - a reader writes:

Great "high flier" article in "Comment" (just saw it this morning). You raise a great point, which anyone who has taught at Sotheby's Institute (I have occasionally) will have noted. Most of the students come from wealthy backgrounds. If a master's in art business becomes the entry requirement in the art world, it is being restricted to a very narrow segment of society.

 I too would take the Spitfire.

Five star Barocci (ctd.)

February 28 2013

The Great Brian also likes the National's new exhibition (tho' not the catalogue):

This is a beautiful, thrilling and intelligent exhibition, its exegeses so self-evident that the turbid and turgid, over-explanatory and occasionally foolish catalogue is virtually superfluous. For a less formidable introduction library users should borrow Nicholas Turner’s Federico Barocci, 2000 (ISBN 2-84576-025-6) though the reproductions are appalling; I commend, too, David Ekserdjian’s Correggio, 1997 (ISBN 0-300-07299-6), for some recollection of his work is essential if one is to understand Barocci. Having seen the exhibition, the visitor might find it fruitful to look at early works by Rubens, and paintings by Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni and other painters from Bologna.

A painting's eye view

February 28 2013

Image of A painting's eye view

Picture: BBC

Here's a screen grab from the forthcoming BBC2 Culture Show programme I'm in, presented by Alistair Sooke. On the left is the director of the Bowes Museum, Adrian Jenkins. We're examining what might, or might not, be a major discovery... Tune in at 6pm on Saturday March 9th to find out...

Plug - new Kneller discovery

February 27 2013

Image of Plug - new Kneller discovery

Picture: Philip Mould & Company

I thought I'd mention an unfinished picture by Sir Godfrey Kneller we've just discovered here at the gallery. It came up on the Continent as German School, and was much over-painted. Happily, the over-paint was easily removed, and we also found Kneller's signature on the back of the original canvas when we re-lined it (always nice to have your connoisseurial hunch confirmed like that). It's a rare religious picture by Kneller, and probably shows his daughter, Catherine Voss, modelling as Mary Magdalene. Although the picture is unfinished, as shown in the very sketchy handling of the fabric and background, Kneller himself must have viewed it as somehow complete, hence the signature. More details at Philip Mould & Company here

A V&A deaccession for sale

February 27 2013

Image of A V&A deaccession for sale

Picture: Grassi Studio

A sharp-eyed reader has spotted this St Anthony Abbot panel by Vittore Crivelli for sale at TEFAF Maastricht - with the provenance revealing that it was once owned by the V&A. 

Velasquez cleaned

February 27 2013

Image of Velasquez cleaned

Picture: Otto Naumann Ltd

The recently discovered Velasquez sold at auction at Bonhams in 2011 for £2.6m has been cleaned, in time for display at TEFAF Maastricht (which opens on 14th March). You can zoom in on the cleaned picture here

No triple A, just triple dip

February 27 2013

Image of No triple A, just triple dip

Picture: BG

Apologies for the poor photo, but this cartoon in the Sunday Times was an amusing combination of Lichtenstein's 'Whaam!' (currently on show at Tate Modern) and news that the UK has lost its AAA credit rating.

We seem to be heading for a triple dip recession here. Regular readers may remember that AHN predicted this back in 2011. Hopefully, HM Treasury might think that if even obscure art dealers could have told them that their economic policy was wilfully, entirely, idiotically useless misguided, then it's time for a rethink. But that's some hope. Instead, it's time for AHN to again remind readers in government what John Maynard Keynes, he of sound economic sense, looked like. The below portrait of him is by the great cartoonist, Sir David Low, and belongs to the National Portrait Gallery.

Five star Barocci (ctd.)

February 27 2013

Video: National Gallery

See a longer video on Barocci's life at the bottom of this page.

Five star Barocci

February 27 2013

Image of Five star Barocci

Picture: BG

I got back from New York yesterday morning, and just had time to dash round the preview (above) of the new Barocci exhibition at the National Gallery. It's an excellent show, enjoyable, informative, and even revelatory. But don't just take my word for it - Richard Dorment in The Telegraph gives it five stars, and although we're only in February, says:

All I can do is plead with you to go. This is the exhibition of the year, and the way things are going we won’t see anything like it for a long time to come.

Most of us will be familiar with Barocci's work from books, and the occasional painting seen in the flesh. But this exhibition is one of those rare moments when you finally get to see a mass of paintings by an artist whose work you thought you knew, and realise that you had no idea just good they were. It's sad that Barocci has been significantly under-appreciated by art history, but wonderful that the National Gallery has made such an effort to correct this. Not many leading galleries would give an artist like Barocci such a big exhibition, and if this is a reflection of Nicholas Penny's new academic focus, then we have a great deal to look forward to during his directorship.

Barocci's head studies (which he relied on due to an illness that it made it tiring to paint large pictures without full preparation) are amongst the finest in Western art. That said, in some of Barocci's larger pictures, like the Last Supper, the overall composition suffers from the fact that so many brilliantly observed head studies have been directly translated onto the larger canvas, for they all shine out at you, and the eye doesn't know quite where to look. I went round the exhibition thinking that Barocci would have made a great portraitist, and happily in the last gallery the exhibition includes a sublime c.1571/2 portrait of Francesco Maria II della Rovere.

Hack Job

February 26 2013

Image of Hack Job
Pic: PCF


When a member of the Talbot family had to sell an octagonal portrait of Henry VIII to fund repairs they were struck with a problem - they had no octagonal potrait to fill the plaster frame attached to the wall. They did however have a three-quarter length and a knife...

Guess Who

February 25 2013

Image of Guess Who
Pic: LH


Part of my job here at Philip Mould & Company is to request images of upcoming lots from various auction houses around the world. We always ask for high-resolution images and very rarely get them. Instead, we get bombarded with hundreds of terrible low-res snaps from which nothing can be gleaned. I have decided therefor to share my frustration with you all by taking a terrible photo of a nice little painting we have in stock, the first person to guess the artist will get a handful of the much coveted AHN points, now accepted in all good retailers. 

Update - thanks for your entries. The artist is, as two of you guessed correctly (well done), Mary Beale. 

Christie's Online

February 25 2013

Image of Christie's Online

Pic: Christies


Tomorrow Christies will open bidding for the second batch of works from the Warhol Foundation after their decision to sell the lot last year. Intriguingly Christies have decided to offer them in an online auction over the course of one week;

"The timed online format allows clients to browse, bid, receive instant updates by email or phone if another bid exceeds theirs, organize shipping, and pay from anywhere in the world."

This eBay style of auctioneering seems to be all the rage at the moment and a few regional auction houses have also opted for this method of sale, normally for their lesser valued items such as wine as well as unsold lots. With the ever increasing overheads of large commercial spaces, this quicker method of public offering will no doubt become common ground in the years to come.

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