The Saenredam seesaw
July 6 2012
I was pleased, but not surprised, to see that the Saenredam View of Assendelft made a huge £3.7m at Christie's on Tuesday. This was the same picture that had nearly sold as a sleeper at Christie's South Kensington, with an estimate of £3-5,000. To their credit, Christie's mentioned the South Kensington near-miss in their catalogue, but couched it by adding that they weren't the first people to misattribute the painting. Alas, there was no mention of Art History News' role in the picture's re-attribution.
Meanwhile, a Saenredam of a church interior which sold at Sotheby's New York in 2004 for $1.85m made just £713,250 this time round.
More on the Caravaggio discovery
July 6 2012
Picture: La Stampa No photo after a cross email from ANSA.
As you might expect, the Caravaggio 'discovery' story has gone round the world in a flash. Briefly, a team of Italian art historians claim to have found the works in the (publicly held) archive in Milan of Simone Peterzano, who employed Caravaggio as an apprentice between 1584-1588. From The Guardian;
"We always felt it was impossible that Caravaggio left no record, no studies in the workshop of a painter as famous as his mentor," Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz Guerrieri, artistic director for the Brescia Museum Foundation, told Italian news agency Ansa.
There is very little evidence to go on so far. It seems most of the works are drawings; of the 100 sketches newly attributed to Caravaggio, 83 are apparently repetitions of faces or poses from his known paintings. So the possibility is there that this is a cache of optimistically attributed studies done after the paintings. It's perhaps curious that some of the drawings published so far relate to works painted by Caravaggio long after he left Peterzano's employ, like the 1601 above drawing for the Supper at Emmaus [National Gallery].
The discoverer's e-book is already available to buy, so there's no doubt about the value of the publicity. Over at La Stampa there are some photos, which aren't clear enough to begin to make an opinion. In The Mail is a report with the sceptical view of other researchers.
More as I get it.
Update: more images here.
Update II - an email comes in:
Dear Sir, we verify on your website the publication of 2 images under ANSA copyright mistakenly attributed to La Stampa.
Please remove immediately and get in touch with our commercial department to clear the rights and pay the usage on your website.
'100' new Caravaggios discovered'
July 5 2012
This one sounds hard to believe, and apparently there will be more information tomorrow (Friday). But the Telegraph is reporting a newly discovered cache of up to 100 works by Caravaggio in Italy. More details here.
July 5 2012
Woeful service lately - apologies. I was filming all day today, plus we had the end of the Masterpiece Fair, and the Old Master sales are still ongoing. A full roundup of the week's events soon...
Quick - find an improbably strong blond intern!
July 4 2012
Further to my post yesterday about the marketing of the Constable, a reader writes:
It appears it's not a case of either or; looking at a photograph from the Guardian this morning we see that the 'young lovely' developed considerable muscle overnight and is now able to carry Constable's The Lock at the same time as admiring it.
Constable 'sells for £22.4m'
July 3 2012
Good news that Christie's set another record price for a British painting. There were lots of TV cameras at the sale (above). The price matches the record for Stubbs' Gimcrack. Now this may or may not be a coincidence, for both pictures were estimated at £20m-£25m, and both were guaranteed before the sale by an undisclosed third party. A bid at the lower estimate of £20m plus buyer's premium comes to £22.4m. The Stubbs sold to the guarantor - so in that case it is almost certain that the price the buyer actually ended up paying was not in fact £22.4m (to find out how the system works, click here).
So has the same happened tonight with the Constable? Who knows. I suspect it has (and it should be noted that before the sale the auctioneer announced that the guarantor would indeed be bidding on the painting, and would recieve a 'funding fee' for doing so - for which read, 'a discount'). Obviously, if the guarantor is the buyer of the Constable, then treat those 'Constable sells for £22.4m' headlines with caution. And ask yourself whether, if Christie's was a bank and the prices that pictures realised were as crucial as, say, setting the Libor rate, people might be slightly puzzled by all this.
Update: Christie's have confirmed that the guarantor was indeed the buyer.
Omai refused export licence
July 3 2012
Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Omai will have to remain in the UK, after culture minister Ed Vaizey refused to grant an extension to the licence it had previously been given. From The Guardian, Vaizey said:
"Joshua Reynolds' Omai is an outstanding work of art which has already spent more than five years overseas and I do not want to see the regime being undermined by repeated use of temporary licences, so I have refused to grant a second licence on this occasion."
Constable's 'Lock' - will it sell?
July 3 2012
All eyes on Christie's this evening, to see if another record will be set for a British painter. So far, the omens for Constable's The Lock are good - there was lots of interest at the viewing from telly and the like. The picture is already guaranteed. The question is, will it sell to the guarantor, or will other bidders come forward? I hope so. But my hunch is they won't.
Restoring Gilbert Stuart
July 3 2012
At the National Gallery in Washington, a series of 16 Gilbert Stuarts are being restored.
Quick - find a blond intern!
July 3 2012
I always like seeing how the press photograph Old Masters coming up at auction. Sometimes, you get photos of a porter pretending to hold the painting up with white gloves. More usually, a young lovely from the department is drafted in to 'admire' the painting; in this case a Rembrandt coming up tonight at Christie's, estimate £8m-£12m.
Rubens or Van Dyck?
July 2 2012
There was a curious story in the Sunday Times yesterday (paywall) about the above portrait of Van Dyck, owned by the Rubenshuis. Apparently, a new type of x-ray has persuaded some scholars to change the attribution to Van Dyck; thus it is a self-portrait. The story was a little garbled, and the full research has not been published yet. But the gist was that the x-rays revealed a picture beneath the portrait which was close to the type of thing painted by Van Dyck at that time. Thus the portrait on top was more likely to be by Van Dyck.
The attribution of the painting has gone back and forth between Rubens and Van Dyck over the years. Personally, I always leaned towards Rubens, but not with great certainty. Early Van Dyck is fiendishly difficult, not least because he was a master of assimilation. Laughably, the self-appointed Van Dyck 'scholar' Erik Larsen once suggested, in his Van Dyck 'catalogue raisonne' that the picture did not only not show Van Dyck, but that it was by George Jamesone.
So I hesitate to pronounce on the evidence published so far. But this is a blog, and on blogs you're allowed to be a little cavalier. So for me, the x-ray theory sounds a trifle odd. This is mainly because even snazzy new x-rays don't let you determine what a painting beneath a painting looks like to the extent that you can make an attribution. In this instance the attribution is made more difficult by the obvious fact that Van Dyck was then working in Rubens studio. Furthermore, the composition doesn't strike me as a self-portrait. It is very different to Van Dyck's own undisputed early self-portrait in Vienna.
Finally, I am increasingly wary of what appears to be almost a new fashion amongst some Rubens scholars to take work from the period of Rubens' career when Van Dyck was working for him, and give it instead to Van Dyck. Such decisions often happen despite the opinion of previous Van Dyck scholars that the work in question was not by Van Dyck.
So I look forward to seeing all the new evidence, but for now I stick with the opinion of many Van Dyck scholars that it is the work not of their man, but Rubens.
Update - a reader writes:
I wish my George Jamesone portraits were nearly as good as the Rubens/Van Dyck portrait in today's blog. Jameson's work is now for the first time in years well illustrated by his room in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, those pictures vary in condition and quality, and it is great to see them on display,but are still of course a bit provincial by comparison.
Our Royal exhibition
July 1 2012
In case you're in London this week, or even today (Sunday), we (Philip Mould & Co) have a small exhibition of royal portraits in the gallery, all part of Master Paintings Week. In the room above, there are 11 monarchs (14 if you count the Jacobites), 3 princesses, 2 consorts, and 1 royal mistress.
Man punches Monet
July 1 2012
Picture: National Gallery of Ireland
Not a headline you ever want to read. At the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, a man punched a whole through Monet's 1874 Argenteuil Basin with a Sailboat. A gallery source has described the damage as 'very serious'. The puncher, who has been detained under the Mental Health Act, apparently had paint stripper in his bag.
Is it me, or are these attackes becoming more frequent? Do we need to have a collective rethink about museum security?
Update - a reader writes:
You're right about these attacks on paintings - and not just paintings. The newsreader's phrase 'stabbed by a stranger' leapt out at me last night from the telly. It sounded just like a category, and I thought how, these days, the news always contains at least one mindless unprovoked attack on a member of the public.
Records at Christie's
July 1 2012
Coming to this a little late I'm afraid, but worth noting that Christie's recent post-war and contemporary evening sale made £132.8m, a record for any european auction house. One of the top lots was Francis Bacon's Study for Self-Portrait (above), which made £21.5m. Prices include buyer's premium. More details, including Sotheby's results, in The New York Times.
Achtung! Ominous news from Berlin
July 1 2012
The art historian Hope Walker has alerted me to an alarming proposal to re-house the Gemaldegalerie's Old Master display in Berlin, and reduce the amount of works on display:
...the city of Berlin is seriously considering "temporarily" relocating one of it most valuable cultural assets, the collection of Old Master paintings, currently housed in the Gemaeldegalerie on the Kulturforum Potsdamer Platz. This building is a mere 15 years old and has been designed with the sole purpose to house this particular collection. [...]
The city has been given two modern/contemporary collections, and, as is usual with these gifts, is obliged to show these collections. Since the Neue Nationalgalerie (Mies van der Rohe building) is nearby, the city thought it could just relocate the Old Masters (partly into the Bode Museum and partly into storage!!! until a new building has been built, for which there's no money), and use the Gemaeldegalerie for the presentation of these contemporary collections.
This is an absurd proposal for a host of reasons, not least because it would destroy the unified presentation of one of the world's best collections of old master paintings and disband the collection for an unknown period of time.
You can find more details here in the Frankfurter Allgemeine (in German), where writer Niklas Maak describes the idea as 'ein dummen Scherz' ['a stupid joke'], and warns that in Berlin's recent cultural history, 'temporary' usually means 'indefinitely'. Personally, I can't quite believe this plan will happen, but it's yet more evidence of the 'allure of the new', and contemporary art collections of dubious quality taking up space previously dedicated to more established art. Just in case, though, I'm going to go to Berlin soon; I've never been to the Gemaldegalerie, and for some reason always end up in Berlin on a Monday, when the museum is shut.
Update - a reader writes to alert me to this petition, which asks Prof. Dr. Hermann Parzinger to reconsider the plans.
The thief who got cold feet
June 30 2012
Picture: BBC News
Last week a thief was recorded on CCTV stealing a Dali from a gallery in New York. Now the picture has been sent back by post. Details here.
At the Prado's Raphael conference
June 29 2012
Three Pipe Problem reports on all you need to know from the Prado's Raphael conference here. I was pleased to learn that Sir Timothy Clifford (above, grey suit) presented the most amusing primary source of day 1:
'Raphael will do as he likes and not as he is told'
Did you know...
June 28 2012
...that if you want to order a high-res image of a painting from the Louvre purely for research purposes, they'll charge you EUR175. As we say over on Twitter, #incroyable
June 28 2012
A reader alerts me to an interesting article in the FT about the value of Constable's The Lock, shortly to be sold at Christie's. The picture sold for £10.8m in 1990, and is estimated at £20m-£25m now. The FT asks:
[...] will this wonderful masterpiece actually reap a profit for its vendors? We asked the FT’s finest number-crunchers to calculate, taking into account inflation, costs and other factors, how it has fared as an investment over a 22-year period.
The FT's answer, as you can see from the chart above, is that The Lock was a turkey of an investment. You might think that potentially doubling your money between 1990 and 2012 is quite a good bet. But the FT introduces an extra 'cost' in owning the painting - the so-called 'opportunity cost' of having your money tied up for the 22 year period. The argument goes that you will have lost out by not investing that £10.8m elsewhere, and earning interest or a dividend on it.
I'm often asked 'is art a good investment?', so these figures are a useful case study. A look at the stock market today suggests that the FT is right. In July 1990 the FTSE 100 was at about 2300 points. Now it is slightly more than double that, at about 5500 points. With interest or a dividend at, say, 5% annually and reinvested, you would be looking at quite a bit more than doubling your original investment.
As an art dealer, you might expect me to say that art is a brilliant investment, and the ideal alternative asset class. But on a purely financial and short-term level, I would tell you it isn't, as the FT argument proves. Art is very illiquid, hard to sell quickly, and worse, it's hard to buy, or at least buy the right thing. In order to guarantee not buying a dud picture (say, one in bad condition) you have to use expert advice, and that is often expensive. And then there are charges relating to the purchase and sale of the art - at auction, anything up to a combined figure of 40%. All these costs need time to fall away in relation to the picture's capital accrual, so you have to keep your painting for the medium to long-term. The 22 year period for for re-selling The Lock at auction is, I'd say, probably too short for a picture so well known.
On the other hand, art as an asset class has the benefits of stability. Unlike Enron, a famous Constable cannot go bust. If the FT had done its calculations in early 2009, when the stock market crashed, The Lock would have looked like a far sounder investment than shares. And of course art lovers everywhere will know that to value a painting in terms of its 'opportunity cost' is philistine reductionism. The dividend of pleasure from owning such a work is incalculable.
So to view art as an investment is daft in the short-term, potentially quite sensible in the medium term (if you buy well, with good advice), and usually very sensible in the long-term. After all, when James Morrison bought The Lock in 1824, he paid 150 guineas for it. That's less than £20,000 today.
Update - a reader writes:
That FT piece is interesting. If you look at the far left column in their graph, you'll see they have adjusted the £10.8 million paid in 1990 for inflation - £10.8 million has become £20 million or thereabouts. Let's say the picture sells for £25 million, as the FT imagines. Take off the fees you paid for buying and selling it, plus any other costs, and you're still left with about £20 million. In other words, your money has stood still, after you've taken inflation into account. This is precisely what the FTSE100 has done in your 1990 and 2012 snapshots - the number has doubled but the purchasing power of the number has remained flat. Remember, we were entering a rather bleak global recession in 1990, which in the UK turned out to be the longest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Black Monday was a recent memory. With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy for financial analysts demonstrate how you should have invested your money over the past 20 years. But I think this old master painting was actually quite a good bet at the time, and hasn't performed badly.