How did they do that?

February 11 2014

Image of How did they do that?

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has found £15.6m to buy its 'first US artwork', a painting by George Bellows. The picture also becomes the first Bellows to enter a UK public collection. The money came principally from the acquisition fund established by the late Sir Paul Getty, and other anonymous donors. In other words, no public funding body, such as the HLF, was involved. That's testament to the National Gallery's impressive fundraising operation. More details on the purchase in the NG's press release here

Given that the picture was painted in 1912, and so lies outside the 1900 cut off date that has traditionally been followed by the National Gallery, some have wondered how this affects both the National's and Tate's future acquisition policy. The BBC's arts editor, Will Gompertz, writes, on the BBC website:

Tate and the National Gallery have an agreement that is renewed every decade that sets the parameters of each institution's collection strategy to avoid overlap and competition. The line has hitherto been drawn around 1900, the point at which the National Gallery hands the story of Western art over to Tate Modern.

The acquisition of the Bellows blurs that line as it was produced in the second decade of the 20th Century, which has always been very much Tate territory. It raises the prospect of the two national galleries competing for certain paintings in the future, which either could argue fits within their historical art narrative.

The picture was de-accessioned by the Maier Museum, part of Randolph College in Virginia, in the US. This has created a bit of to-do, because the institution in question, Randolph College, is using the money to fund general operating costs, not for its art collection. The CAA has its say here.

The acquisition is a rare, and pleasingly welcome, case of a UK institution buying a US de-accession. The boot is usually on the other foot...

Update - a reader points out that there are of course many other 'American' paintings in the NG:

A couple of things about the reporting on this: much has been made that this is only the second American work in the NG’s collection, after the Inness landscape.  Which, by the way was cleaned recently and has been displayed on the main floor of the Gallery.  More important, and somewhat overlooked, is the fact that while the Bellows is the second work by an American artist in the collection OF an American subject, there have been, and are, other works BY American artists in the collection.  The Sargent of Lord Ribblesdale still forms part of the collection and Whistlers like this one have also been displayed there relatively recently.  The press releases for the acquisition of the Bellows make something of its relationship to artists like Manet but, of course, both the Whistler and the Sargent are more closely connected so are they now going to form part of the main display?

One further thing: the division of the spoils date-wise between the NG and Tate has never been absolute or logical.  Tate has hung on to one of the loveliest of Degas pastels  - the drawings and sculptures by Degas can’t be transferred – and Tate clearly wasn’t interested in taking the Nationals latest complete work.

Another reader wonders where all these new pictures will go:

The Bellows is a wonderful addition to the National Galleries collection, but makes the pressure on wall space, if the break off period is now 1910, for the NG/Tate divide, critical. I wonder when the National Gallery will bite the bullet, and start to built a brand new extension on the Radisson Blu Hotel it owns to the east in Whitcomb St.

Another reader asks, why did they do that?

Congratulations to the National Gallery for acquiring its first significant American painting.  However, one is left to wonder about the true cost of the £15.6m George Bellows canvas, 'Men of the Docks.'

Last year an important painting ('Richmond Hill') by renowned American artist, Jasper Cropsey, was subject to a temporary export ban by Ed Vaizey to provide a last chance for a British museum or gallery to save it for the nation.  The National Gallery declined to step in to meet the £5m asking price and the painting, in the UK since it was originally painted 150 years ago, was lost overseas.

The importance of the Cropsey painting (an artist not represented anywhere in the national collection) was recognised by the National Gallery itself in 2000 when it was also at risk of going abroad and the then Director, Neil MacGregor, campaigned for it to be saved.   So why the change of mind?

In the past twelve months, export stopped paintings by Domenico Puligo and Niccolo Gerini have also been lost despite their importance and exceptional works by Benjamin West (born in America) and Alonso Coello are currently at risk.  None of these artists are represented in the permanent collection of the National Gallery and all four would cost less than two thirds of the price of the Bellows painting.

Bold acquisitions from overseas are to be encouraged but is it right that this should be at the expense of equally as important works more closely associated with this island's history which continue to leave these shores with depressing regularity?

Michelangelo the forger

February 11 2014

Image of Michelangelo the forger

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

The Independent has picked up on a paper given at last weekend's View art history festival in London, on Michelangelo. French art historian Thierry Lenain explored Michelangelo's apparent penchant for forgery, and even theft:

According to Mr Lenain, author of Art Forgery: The History of the Modern Obsession, the Italian frequently forged artworks in order to obtain the originals from their owners by giving them the copies. On one occasion, Michelangelo made a painted copy of a print representing Saint Anthony by the engraver Martin Schongauer, making his version so similar to the original it was impossible to tell which one was which.

Speaking at the VIEW festival of art history, Mr Lenain said: “He admired these originals for the excellence of their art and sought to surpass them.”

This is not the first time rumours of the artist’s forgeries have emerged. One anecdote describes how in 1496 a young Michelangelo copied a Roman sculpture, Sleeping Cupid. He buried it in the ground to give it the various stains, scratches and dents needed to make it look like a genuine antique. He then used a middleman to sell the piece to Cardinal Riario for a substantial sum.

I wonder what the Chagall Committee would make of a Michelangelo forgery, though. By their logic, all such things should be burnt.

Update - a reader writes:

The allegations regarding Michaelangelo emphasize the point that "fakes" are originals by the faker or copyist and may be by a very good or great artist.  Selling them as being by another artist is, if course, fraud.  However, if Michaelangelo's early fraud were detected and prosecuted we wouldn't have his sculptures of David and Moses, or his Sistine Chapel frescoes.

The Chagall Committee is based on the same sort of tunnel vision logic that led to the fall of France 74 years ago.


February 7 2014

I'm away today I'm afraid. Back Monday. The last in our current series of 'Fake or Fortune?' goes out this Sunday at 6pm, BBC1. The artist we're looking into this week is Thomas Gainsborough. Hope you like it!

Update - Not feeling too hot today either (Monday), so hopefully back tomorrow...

Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)

February 6 2014

Image of Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Here's the latest from the Chagall Committee (via AFP):

A painting bought by a British businessman who thought it was by famed artist Marc Chagall is a "very bad copy", an expert Paris-based committee announced, though it ruled out any hasty destruction of the fake.

Martin Lang spent £100,000 (121,000 euros, $163,000) on what he believed was an original work by Russian-born artist Chagall in 1992, but learned it was a fake when his painting was tested for a BBC documentary and sent to the Chagall Committee for verification.

Lang was shocked when he found out that the committee intended to keep and destroy the painting -- a nude -- wishing instead that they mark the word "forgery" on the back of the canvas and return it to him.

Under French law, counterfeit work can be destroyed, and the committee told AFP late Tuesday that it could go to court if the 63-year-old property developer refused.

"It is a very bad copy of an original 1911 painting that is in a private collection. A stylistic analysis is enough to conclude it is fake," it said.

"Unlike what is suggested in the documentary, the association does not take any arbitrary measures and does not proceed with any destruction without prior agreement from the owner, or failing that, without court authorisation," it said in a statement.

"When the destruction is authorised, it is implemented by a bailiff who chooses the most suitable method according to the nature of the support of the counterfeit work."

Lang had insisted in an interview that the painting was his property -- fake or not -- and had pointed out that the canvas could be evidence against the forgers and should therefore be preserved.

Chagall, who died in France almost three decades ago, is considered a pioneer of modernism. His work can sell for millions.

The Chagall Committee is run by the artist's grandchildren to protect his reputation in the art world.

In other words, 'bof'. They're not giving it back. They'll wait till the fuss has died down, and then get a French court to sanction the destruction.

If nothing else, I hope the plight of Martin's picture highlights to the world the sheer loonery of France's 'droit de moral' laws. Did you know that they are perpetual? So there could still be a Chagall Committee in a thousand years time, based not on any form of expertise whatsoever, just arbitrarily seizing and burning things they don't like.

A new blog, and a new artist

February 6 2014

Image of A new blog, and a new artist

Picture: Private Collection

Here's a new(ish) blog from Caroline Pegum, of the NPG London, which focuses on British and Irish art of c.1700. Well worth checking in on. In her latest post, she discusses works by previously unrecord artists, including a Robert Threder, who painted the above portrait of Henry, 2nd Baron Coleraine, in 1694. 

A rarely seen Monet

February 6 2014

Image of A rarely seen Monet

Picture: The Times

The Times reports that a previously unseen Monet, Sur Les Planches de Trouville, will be exhibited at the Musee Marmottan's forthcoming exhibition of Impressionist works in private collections. Sur Les Planches de Trouville apparently belongs to the Freud family. 

Boom (ctd.)

February 6 2014

Image of Boom (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

More records have fallen during the recent London Impressionist and Modern Art sales. At Sotheby's last night, the firm took in £163m on one night, a record for their London saleroom. Included in the sale was the above Camille Pissarro, Le Boulevard Montmartre, which made £19.7m against a £7-£10m estimate. Meanwhile, at Christie's the day before the haul was even higher - £177m.


How much for the Michelangelo?

February 5 2014

Image of How much for the Michelangelo?

Picture: Wikipedia

Wow, the Italian government really is crazy - today, the country's auditor general announced that it's suing Standard & Poor for issuing a negative credit rating, on the grounds that the agency didn't take into account the value of Italy's art during a recent assessment. The damages sought are up to £194 billion. From the FT:

Notifying S&P that it was considering legal action, the Corte dei Conti [Italy's auditor general] wrote: “S&P never in its ratings pointed out Italy’s history, art or landscape which, as universally recognised, are the basis of its economic strength.”

Which presumably means that, if it is demanding all the art be valued as a national asset, the Italian government might one day potentially consider selling David?

Update - a reader asks:

Is that why Gordon Brown, when Chancellor, insisted that national collections add the value of acquisitions to their balance sheets?

Update II - a reader adds:

If the Italians were successful it could strengthen the Scottish case to include national collections as assets in a devolution divorce settlement from a less united UK.

I open the bidding for David at one million lire.

Re the Scots, the latest legal thinking shows that in the event of a yes vote for independence, Scotland will get a share of UK assets, but not UK institutions. So the question is, is the British Museum a UK institution, or an asset? If the latter, then Alex Salmond will be hot-footing it down to Bloomsbury with his bag of swag...

Update III - another reader alerts me to the news that in Italy, they are apparently no longer teaching art history in schools.


Miros withdrawn in London

February 5 2014

Image of Miros withdrawn in London

Picture: Guardian

There's been a hoo-ha over a cache of Miro pictures being sold by the Portuguese government. The pictures were nationalised when the Portuguese bank BPN was bailed out in 2008. The state wanted to sell the pictures to get some of its money back, up to £29m apparently. But after protests in Portugal, Christie's withdrew the pictures last night. More here

The Art Fund gets political

February 5 2014

Image of The Art Fund gets political

Picture: Fitzwilliam Museum

There was a fruity letter in the Guardian yesterday from the Art Fund director, Dr. Stephan Deuchar, accusing the government of contributing to the loss of important works of art overseas because of its cuts to museum funding. It's powerful stuff, and unusually political for the Art Fund.

The letter was in response to a story in the Observer, detailing a 'treasure trove of more than £1.7bn-worth' of art which has been 'lost' to 'rich foreign buyers'. These include pictures like Picasso's Child with a Dove (valued at £50m), and Raphael's drawing of an apostle (at £29m), neither of which any UK museum, even if it had Getty-like levels of funding, could ever have hoped to buy.

Here's what Dr. Deuchar wrote in response, and he's right to point out that much of this art 'lost' overseas is inconsequential:

You report (The works of art that could not be saved for British collections, 31 January) the "loss" abroad last year of 33,000 works of art and other items of cultural value. This is less serious than it sounds. Most were everyday sales from private collections here to private collections elsewhere. Welcome to the art market. The small number that were of high potential importance to UK museums were properly identified by the export review system.

Of these, only six of the original 19 were successfully acquired for public ownership. But it is the sharp decline in public funding for the arts, rather than the export controls themselves, that lies squarely behind this failure. The works which the culture minister, Ed Vaizey, challenged curators to fundraise for in 2013 were, at £115m, worth 50% more than those he export-stopped in 2012; meanwhile his government oversaw funding cuts averaging more than 20% across the sector. With such a background it was remarkable that as many as six were saved.

Agencies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund continue to do all they can to guard the UK's arts and heritage against the ravages of the government's austerity programme. In the case of the National Portrait Gallery's current campaign for Van Dyck's self-portrait, a number of trusts and foundations, as well as significant sums from public donations, are also of crucial help. The combination of high art prices in a buoyant international market, currently fast-fuelled by hungry private investors, and a sorry parallel decline in national and local funding for UK museums, is the only enemy.

Stephen Deuchar, Director, Art Fund

It's the last part of Dr. Deuchar's letter that I find curious. It's undeniably the case that overall operational funding for UK musems has been cut. This is a sad thing, but of course has to be set in context of the UK's broader fiscal problems. However, these cuts to the day-to-day running of museums do not necessarily impact on the capital funding available to acquire works of art, which traditionally come from other sources outside the museums themselves, like the privately supported Art Fund (museums' own acquisition budgets disappeared a long time ago).

In fact, although it may not suit some to acknowledge it, the present government has made significantly more money available for acquisitions than any other recent government. This is due to two principle reasons.

First, there was a sizeable increase in lottery funding for the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which gives out capital grants for arts and heritage purposes. Under Labour, the HLF had seen much of its funding diverted towards regular government expenditure, like the NHS, and also the Olympics. But nowadays the HLF is £25m a year better off.* 

Secondly, there was a more recent change in the HLF's attitude to acquisitions. Regular readers may recall my frequent rants in years gone by about the HLF's traditional unwillingness to fund the acquisition of cultural objects. But it is almost entirely thanks to the HLF's new, enlightened and laudatory policy towards acquisitions that we have been able to save pictures like Manet's Mademoiselle Claus for the Ashmolean, and Poussin's Extreme Unction for the Fitzwilliam (above). If the HLF had not supported these appeals, both pictures would have left the UK. There are many, less notable cases where the HLF has recently made all the difference to an acquisition, like Birmingham Museum's purchase of Wright of Derby's Portrait of Erasmus Darwin. It should also be noted that the present government has increased the funds available to the Acceptance in Lieu programme, from £20m to £30m.

All of which makes the letter to the Guardian somewhat puzzling in one aspect. Might such charges damage politician's support for the present glut of funding for acquisitions? I'm all in favour of criticising governments when they screw up, and I certainly don't support the sometimes arbitrary cuts to museum services. But we are in fact experiencing a new age of plenty when it comes to museums being able to buy objects. The numbers don't lie. And surely we should acknowledge that. Politicians are sensitive people, and there's something in the old maxim, 'don't bite the hand that feeds you'.

Update - a reader urges us to look further back, when things were really rosy on the acquisition front:

Things of late are better but I do think it’s worth looking at a longer historical perspective – maybe because I’m that old. Up to the mid-1980s the National purchased around 5-6 works each year out of its acquisitions grant from government – it simply can’t do that now for the simple reason its grant-in-aid doesn’t leave enough spare after running costs.  And it certainly couldn’t step into the international market to snap up say the major Gauguin it has been looking for for years or a work by Schiele – I don’t think even the advent of the John Paul Getty Jnr money would allow it to do that – and both were possible at one time.  Part of the problem, as you no doubt realise, is the level of market prices but if the previous level of support had been maintained it would have been able to acquire van Dyck’s self portrait and several other works without resorting to seeking additional support.

And regarding van Dyck, the last time they bought one without additional support was in 1984, when they at last got a major subject piece – the Lonsdale Charity,  The same year they also acquired the Bassano Calvary (with NHF help), the Rosa Witches (for £350,000), the Pissarro of Sydenham (at auction from a foreign source for £561,000), the David portrait of Blauw (from France at last and the UK’s first David), and the Wright portrait of the Coltmans (at auction for £1.4 million with HMF help of £400K).  What would they need now to cover that lot.

Update II - the Art Fund seems really to be running with this 'blame the government' line, as they've published the letter as a news item on their website

Update III - a reader says we should all contribute more to museums, like they do in the US:

[...] it would be nice (and nice implies unlikely) if a shift in British character towards more generous contributions would occur.  Supported by significant income tax incentives and estate tax benefits (i.e. government funding) US residents are  more charitable than our British counterparts at all income levels.  Part of this obtains from the benefits mentioned already, but also it is a matter of social standing and custom.  When the Thomas Eakins painting "The Gross Clinic" was to be sold to Crystal Bridges, Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts raised USD 65 million to keep it in a city already replete with his work.  Several individuals gave five million each. Britain has ten times the population of the Philadelphia area and plenty of possible donors for its museums.

Sadly, this will never happen, and it's not a question of a shift in character. Here, we pay vastly more in tax, and there will never be the same range of incentives to give to museums that there are in the US. 

*(And I'm vain enough to say that this policy was something I helped push through when I worked for the Conservative party in opposition, first by including it in the party's 2005 Arts & Heritage manifesto (Copyright, BG), and secondly by including in the party's Arts Taskforce report, ahead of the 2010 election.)

Looted art - how to track down heirs

February 4 2014

Image of Looted art - how to track down heirs

Picture: New York Times/Louvre

In the New York Times, Doreen Carvajal has an astonishing article on how she decided to turn amateur provenance sleuth, and track down some of the descendants of those whose art was stolen by the Nazis. In 60 years, the French government has only returned 80 of the more than 2,000 unclaimed works of art hanging in French museums. But Carvajal was able to find a whole number of potential owners in just weeks, including for the above Rubens, currently hanging in the Louvre. More here

How to be an art critic

February 4 2014

Waldemar, one of the greatest , tells us how he did it.

Update - a reader writes:

Waldemar's story is as inspiring as the art that inspired him, and must make us appreciative at having overcome more privileged upbringings to also become diligent and productive.  The talents of many artists arose from cauldrons like the one he experienced.

Paid internship at the NPG

February 4 2014

One day left to apply for a paid internship at the NPG in London. More here. Good luck!

The blockbuster effect

February 4 2014

Image of The blockbuster effect

Picture: The New Yorker

Interesting piece in the New Yorker on how the Frick coped with the crowds for their recent Mauritshuis exhibition.


February 4 2014

Image of Guffwatch

Picture: The Art Fund

A reader alerts me to this gem, which was enough to persuade the Art Fund to part with some cash* to help the Guildhall Art Gallery buy Mark Titchner's sculpture, Plenty and Progress:

At first glance, Plenty and Progress seems to embody the affluence evoked by its title: Titchner's sculpture is spectacularly glossy, bursting with a vibrant red reflected within its own mirrored surfaces. Yet a close inspection reveals that the apparent plenty is only surface deep. The sculpture isn't precious metal but stainless steel, a material of austerity, while the circularity of the work seemingly resists any notion of linear progress. The work invites the viewer to consider the issues raised, without providing any conclusions of its own.

What utter b*llocks.

My reader adds:

I wonder if Michelangelo and Raphael's tondi also resist any notion of linear progress. The last sentence is a classic of the genre.

* We're not told how much.

Update - a reader writes:

I wonder what the Guildhall Art Gallery paid for the Mark Titchner 'sculpture' - it's ironic that you should blog it on the very day you also report the export ban on the Benjamin West from St Stephen's Walbrook - which should surely go to the Guildhall if it isn't going back into the church.

Another adds:

On another topic, with respect to contemporary art such as Peace and Prosperity I prefer the old maxim "res ipsa loquitur" to the Guff that critics compose from their basket of jargon blocks.

Sotheby's NY Old Master sales

February 4 2014

Image of Sotheby's NY Old Master sales

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's total haul for the Old Master week was $76.2m, so some way ahead of Christie's at $64.2m (all prices inc. buyer's premium). The top lot was Honthorst's fine and newly discovered musical scene, above, which made $7.5m, against a $2m-$3m estimate. Other notable prices included $2.4m for Jan Miense Molenaer's Self-Portrait with his Wife, Judith Leyster (Frans Hals' daughter), $4.4m for a Jacob Ochtervelt genre scene, and $5.8m for a curious early work by El Greco, which was based on a lost Titian. Notable casualties included a 'playful' nude scene by Fragonard, which bought in at $6m-$8m. Yesterday's taste...

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Sotheby's in New York usually has a better haul of pictures than Christie's. Maybe I'm swayed by the presentation - Sotheby's NY headquarters is infinitely nicer than Christie's, and the pictures are showed to much better effect. 

Incidentally, this last comment doesn't apply to Sotheby's new website, which is woeful.

Gwen John's grave found

February 4 2014

Image of Gwen John's grave found

Picture: Tate

In Dieppe, apparently. More here

Authenticating Modigliani

February 4 2014

Image of Authenticating Modigliani

Picture: NYT

If you thought authenticating Chagalls was frought with difficulty, spare a thought for Modigliani - as Patricia Cohen in the New York Times reports, the artist's ouevre is now beset by fakes and controversy:

Three daunting facts confront anyone interested in buying one of Amedeo Modigliani’s distinctive elongated portraits. They tend to have multimillion price tags; they are a favorite of forgers; and despite an abundance of experts, no inventory of his works is considered both trustworthy and complete.

Christian Parisot, for instance, the author of one catalog and the president of the Modigliani Institute in Rome, is due in court this week in Rome on charges that he knowingly authenticated fake works.

Marc Restellini, a French scholar compiling another survey of Modigliani’s work, jettisoned part of his project years ago after receiving death threats.

And even those who swear by a listing of 337 works created by the appraiser and critic Ambrogio Ceroni acknowledge it has significant gaps. The effort to establish an authoritative record of Modigliani’s work “resembles nothing so much as a soap opera,” Peter Kraus, an antiquarian book dealer, wrote in an essay published a decade ago.

Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)

February 4 2014

Image of Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Martin Lang, the owner of the Chagall fake we featured on 'Fake or Fortune?' last week, has served an injunction on the Chagall Committee, to try and stop them burning his picture. So far, the Committee has remained silent...

In the Telegraph, attention has turned to the crazy French system of authenticating pictures:

As in the latest case, the decision often rests with an artist’s descendants, who are indefinitely allowed to exercise the “moral rights” of their forebears under French law. Similar committees decide whether works apparently by Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso and Man Ray are genuine. Yet, as Valentin puts it, “The children, grand-children or great-grandchildren of an artist are not necessarily the best experts.”

Mould argues that the system ought to be reformed. “The son of a brain surgeon is not someone you would trust to work on your brain,” he says. “After all, they hold a very powerful right: they can turn something bought for £5 in a flea market to £1 million. Conversely, as in Martin’s case, they can turn £100,000 to nothing.”

Update - it hasn't been burnt yet. Hope builds...

'Fake or Fortune?' makes into 'Thought for the Day'

February 4 2014

Audio: BBC

'Thought for the Day' is the holy slot on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and is heard every day (save Sundays) at 7.50am. If I hear it, it normally means I've woken up too early. This morning, however, I was startled to hear the Bishop of Norwich discussing the fake Chagall we had on 'Fake of Fortune?' last week, and somehow linking it to Jesus. Still, top marks for watching the programme Bish!

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.