Agnews to close (ctd.)

February 15 2013

Image of Agnews to close (ctd.)

Picture: Look and Learn

When I reported that Agnews was to close after 195 years, readers asked what would happen to their invaluable archive. A reader informs me that it will definitely be sold, and that it is already boxed up, ready to go. The question is, of course, where will it go? Two centuries' worth of dealing in everything from Rembrandt to Bacon has left Agnews with what must be one of the most important - and valuable - art historical archives in the country. A likely bidder, however, is the Getty Institute in California, which has a fine provenance research centre. Of course, one would prefer the archive to remain in the UK, and it seems unlikely that it will easily get an export licence if sold abroad. But it would not be too much of a loss if it did go to the Getty - as they would soon have everything online, and open to all.

Update - on Twitter, Neil Jeffares makes this important point:

Let's update the Waverley criteria, distinguishing information from objects, [and] making online publication a condition.

The UK export controls currently only allow for a binary decision - it either stays in the country or it doesn't. Probably, in this digital world, the exporting committee should be able to allow for a foreign buyer like the Getty to give an undertaking to provide universal access, and factor that into an application.

One reader, however, would rather the archive remained in the UK:

You may know that the Getty already has microfilm copies of part of Agnew's archive, comprising stock books for the years 1852-1938.

Personally I think it would be a pity if the Getty got it - after all, how many people are going to traipse all the way over there to consult them? The Agnew's archive is the kind of essential reference resource you will want to dip into repeatedly, but briefly, year in year out. Who did they get that picture from? They exhibited such and such a drawing in 1932, but did they sell others from the same source at the same time? That kind of thing.

But you make an excellent point: nowadays if you want to acquire an important art historical archive, it really isn't good enough to expect people to plod along to your premises to examine it between the hours of 10 and 5 with an hour for lunch, under arcane study room conditions. What if you are based in Canada, and the archive is in London? At least the Getty understands that if it wants to be a leader of its kind, it has to address an audience well beyond those that can visit its reading rooms.

Moving Michelangelo

February 15 2013

Video: via Art Daily

The Uffizi Gallery has refurbished its Michelangelo room. Here's a video showing them moving and re-hanging Michelangelo's Holy Family (or Tondo Doni).

Doesn't look quite straight to me.

Sotheby's sued over Caravaggio attribution

February 15 2013

Image of Sotheby's sued over Caravaggio attribution

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports that Sotheby's is being sued over a work it sold as a copy of a Caravaggio in 2006, but which might in fact be the real thing. The vendor is apparently claiming up to £10m. The word 'might', of course, is the crucial bit here, for although the late Sir Denis Mahon said the picture was by Caravaggio, other Caravaggio scholars have said it isn't. And Sir Denis might have had a conflict of interest - he bought the picture at Sotheby's, for £50,400.

From TAN:

The claimant is Lancelot William Thwaytes, who consigned the work to auction in 2006; it was catalogued as The Cardsharps, “a 17th-century copy after Caravaggio’s original now in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth”. The painting had been in the Thwaytes family since 1962. According to the claim that was filed at the end of January, Thwaytes seeks unspecified damages, interest and costs relating to the price difference between the £42,000 the painting sold for in 2006 and “what its true open market value was in 2006”, had it been attributed to Caravaggio and to be determined by expert evidence. The filing includes the claim that Sotheby’s did not undertake the necessary research and analysis prior to the work’s sale.

In a statement, Sotheby’s says that its “view that the painting is a copy and not an autograph work by Caravaggio is supported by the eminent Caravaggio scholar Professor Richard Spear, as well as by several other leading experts in the field”. Other experts who have gone on the record in support of Sotheby’s view include Helen Langdon, the Italian Baroque scholar and the writer of Caravaggio’s 1998 biography, and Sebastian Schütze, a professor of art history at the University of Vienna. In reference to Mahon’s The Cardsharps, Schütze writes in his 2009 catalogue of Caravaggio’s paintings that “the quality of the execution… rather suggests the painting to be a copy”.

So far, Sotheby's case would seem pretty strong, not least because it's very hard to sue an auction house if they make a mistake over attributions. The Terms and Conditions you sign when consigning a painting for sale effectively give them carte blanche to call a picture what they like. The only thing you can sue auction houses for is negligence - that is, say they didn't bother to do even the most basic research on a painting - and that is very hard to proove. In my experience, at least, the major auction houses usually are professional and diligent in how they catalogue pictures. 

However, then Sotheby's go and spoil their case by saying:

Sotheby’s adds: “Our view is also supported by the market, which gave its verdict on this painting when it set the price at £50,400 [the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium] at Sotheby’s sale in December of 2006. The catalogue in which the painting was included was distributed among the world’s leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers—had they deemed the attribution different to that given in the catalogue, the price realised would doubtless have reflected that.”

This is a spurious argument, and I can't believe that anybody senior at Sotheby's has signed off on it. Such logic would rule out any cheaply bought 'sleeper' ever being right. And, if the inverse is true, it must mean that when 'the market' bids way over estimate for a picture called, say, 'follower of Rubens', then not only is the market right that it is by Rubens, but the auction house must wrong in stating that it is by a follower.

The 'Caravaggio' in question here was offered at Sotheby's minor saleroom in Olympia, which is now closed. It was a pain in the bum to get to, and only the hardy and determined tended to go and view paintings there. So it would have been quite easy for the 'the world's leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers' to miss the painting. It used to happen a lot, but sadly, for bottom-feeding dealers like me, doesn't so much these days; high-resolution online images mean most people can inspect pretty much everything on offer at auction, no matter where it is. But in the distant days of 2006 online images weren't as good as they are now, and the Sotheby's Olympia catalogues generally only had very small printed images. You can see the original catalogue entry here. So it's just not possible to use an auction sale price as proof of a painting's attribution. For what it's worth, I remember looking at the picture - and not having a clue that it might be by Caravaggio. The attribution is now also supported by, according to TAN:

[...] Caravaggio scholars Mina Gregori and Maurizio Marini; Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums; the curator and Bolognese art expert Daniele Benati; Thomas Scheider, a writer and restorer; and Ulrich Birkmaier, the chief conservator of the Wadsworth Atheneum.

Update - a reader asks:

A very interesting article on the Mahon 'Caravaggio' - do we know where it currently is, does it form part of the Mahon estate, which I understood was willed to the Art Fund, and on a slightly different matter, what is the news on Mahon's will, which I believe still hasn't been published?

Another reader also wonders:

Interestingly the article actually says Mahon “obtained an export licence for it that gave an estimated selling price of £10m”. 

I assume this was a temporary one for the exhibition in Trapani as I don’t recollect any case before the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art.  Unless of course there was no objection to a permanent export licence by the Committee’s expert adviser, the National Gallery, which, given the rarity of authentic Caravaggios in the UK, one would expect there to be.  

And what has happened to it since?  I notice that the Mahon pictures in the National Gallery have not yet been accessioned, they remain “On loan from the Personal Representatives of Sir Denis Mahon”.

Update II - I am reliably informed by someone whose opinion on attributions I trust entirely, that the picture is certainly not by Caravaggio.

The wrinkly Elizabeth I

February 14 2013

Image of The wrinkly Elizabeth I

Picture: Telegraph

I feel I ought to point out a few things about the 'newly discovered' portrait of Elizabeth I doing the rounds, which has gone on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. The fact that it shows Elizabeth with wrinkles has been cited as evidence of its extreme rarity. From The Telegraph:

[...] Thomas Herron, an author and English professor at East Carolina University, noted that the reason for the portrait’s obscurity may lie in Elizabeth’s efforts to control her image.

And according to Anna Riehl, author of The Face of Queenship: Early Modern Representations of Queen Elizabeth I the [...] portrait is a "rare exception in not covering up the queen's flaws”.

A 1563 draft of Royal Proclamation attempted to regulate the production and circulation of the Queen's portraits, and a 1596 order to the Privy Council commanded public officers "to aid the Queen's Sergeant Painter in seeking out unseemly portraits which were to her 'great offence' and therefore to be defaced and no more portraits to be produced except as approved by [the] Sergeant Painter."

While Herron points out that “the decrees don't specify ‘ageing’ portraits or even comment on the queen's own looks in any way”, many paintings of the time presented an eternally youthful Elizabeth. Herron also notes that visitors at her court commented upon the queen’s advanced age by the 1580s and 90s - as well as her dignified and benevolent disposition. He further observed that visitors offered less flattering descriptions.

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones makes this conclusion about the painting:

In the new, unvarnished portrait of Elizabeth I, wrinkles-and-all, the artist has stepped over a fine line. All the accoutrements of her glamour are there, but the painter has gone just that bit nearer to the reality behind the myth than was required to give a portrait plausibility. The result is a cruel unmasking of power. Could this have been a deliberately subversive image, hidden away in the house of some rebellious lord? Here is the fairy queen, her spell broken.

Sadly, there is little we can deduce from this picture, and certainly not enough to make speculative claims of artistic subversion. First, contemporary portraits of Elizabeth I with wrinkles are not unknown. The famous Ditchley portrait in the National Portrait Gallery shows her looking quite aged, for example, though you can't get a full sense of it from the photos. Secondly, the picture above is a not particularly good workshop painting based on a 'mask' that would have been re-used many times. The features and lines, in the process of copying, have become exaggerated. Finally, the effect of the wrinkles is exaggerated by the condition of the picture, in which a greyer ground layer is coming through pink flesh tones which have both faded and been somewhat abraded.

The 1563 proclamation referred to in The Telegraph almost certainly relates to the earliest portrait type of Elizabeth as Queen, an example of which we currently have here in the gallery. The Queen evidently didn't like these portraits, which the proclamation said 'did nothinge resemble' her. They were swiflty superseded in 1563 by the Hampden portrait (which we also once had here at Philip Mould) which was much copied, and set the pattern for the remainder of her reign. 

Update - a reader writes:

Yes I thought that too about the Wrinkly Elizabeth. The 'rebellious Lord' bit was like something you'd hear from a well-meaning country house guide.

That type is curious - a highly individual Ditchley variant. I've seen a few examples - probably more than any other late type, but still fewer than you ever see of Henry VIII. Strange how rare relatively Queen Elizabeth's portrait is. Where did all these corridor pictures go?

Update II - another reader writes:

Too bad you pooh-pooh this wrinkly Elizabeth as a "not particularly good workshop painting" -- I confess with head lowered that I find it deeply poignant and oddly impressive.  Ah well, that is the advantage of not having any connoisseurship expertise, perhaps!

Optimism (ctd.)

February 14 2013

Image of Optimism (ctd.)

Picture: Monda Lisa Foundation

The folks behind the so-called 'Isleworthless Mona Lisa', who claim their picture to be 'the first version' by Leonardo, have come out with yet more 'evidence' behind their claim. From The Independent:

New tests on a painting billed as the original version of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci's 15th century portrait, have produced fresh proof that it is the work of the Italian master, a Swiss-based art foundation claims.

The tests, one by a specialist in "sacred geometry" and the other by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, were carried out in the wake of the Geneva unveiling of the painting, the Isleworth Mona Lisa, last September.

"When we add these new findings to the wealth of scientific and physical studies we already had, I believe anyone will find the evidence of a Leonardo attribution overwhelming," said David Feldman vice-president of the foundation said.

Not me, alas. 'Sacred geometry' or not, it's just a (not very good) later copy. But don't take my word for it; read Leonardo scholar Professor Martin Kemp's view here.

Leonardo note-books in high-res

February 13 2013

Image of Leonardo note-books in high-res

Picture: British Library

The British Library has published Leonardo's 'Codex Arundel' online, in ultra-high resolution. You still need a mirror to read the text though.

Update - Three Pipe Problem tweets:

Surprised that @britishlibrary Leonardo manuscript viewer did not embed "horizontal flip" functionality to make text more accessible.

Guffwatch - CAA special

February 13 2013

Image of Guffwatch - CAA special

Picture: CAA

The College Art Association conference is taking place at the moment in New York. For a certain type of academic art history, it's the main annual event, certainly in the US. I'm sure those attending and giving papers will have a great time - but as ever I'm baffled by many of the session titles. On the first day there are, for example, sessions called:

  • The Proof Is in the Print: Avant-Garde Approaches to the Historical Materials of Photography’s Avant-Garde 
  • Transmaterialities: Materials, Process, History (which includes a paper entitled, 'The Generative Possibilities of Base Materiality in Postwar Conceptions of Art and Architecture')
  • The Empathetic Body: Performance and the Blurring of Private Self in Contemporary Art 
  • Beyond Good or Bad: Practice-Derived Epistemologies of Studio Critique

I have no idea what any of the above are about. Why do art history papers have to have obfuscatory titles? For a subject which continually claims to be anti-elitist, art history too often speaks in an alien language designed specifically to exclude.

The session on Practice-Derived Epistemologies, whatever they are, includes a paper called, 'Demystifying Critique: Exploring Language and Interaction with Non-Native Speakers of English'. I'm a native English speaker, and I need help demystifying this kind of language. But then maybe I'm just a bit dumb.

Update - a reader writes:

If you took, more or less at random, some of the words in all the papers you cite, you could still come up with a paper that wouldn't look out of place on a CAA programme. How about:

Transmaterial empathies: Conceptions of practice-derived critiques of the self in Avant Garde postwar epistemiology.

Update II - I probably am just dumb. Reader Dr Matt Loder tweets:

I went to one of the supposedly unfathomable panels. It was perfectly fathomable. I hope Bendor comes to AAH!

On the other hand, I did spot, on the second day of the CAA conference, at least one session title that even I would understand:

French Art, 1715–1789 

West Ballroom, 3rd Floor 

Chair: Colin B. Bailey, The Frick Collection

Update III - another reader writes:

Highlight for me was the "Critiquing Criticality" session, with the unintentionally ironic paper "Mediocrity doesn't happen overnight ... it takes a lot of hard work".  I do hate 'critique' as verb.  I know it has historic precedent, but 'criticising' is always better.  'Critiquing' gives the wrong focus, implying that it's all about the construction of a critique rather than the criticism of an external object.  But maybe that's the right connotation in this context.  

The 'New Connoisseurship' panel looks interesting though - I hope an AHN reader is attending and will provide a report.

Me too. The session on connoisseurship is titled:

The New Connoisseurship: A Conversation among Scholars, Curators, and Conservators 

West Ballroom, 3rd Floor 

Chairs: Gail Feigenbaum, Getty Research Institute; H. Perry Chapman, University of Delaware

Note that dealers don't get a look in. But then we are very much 'Old Connoisseurship'.

Update IV - I am not dumb! Top US art critic Jerry Saltz writes on why he goes to CAA:

I say go for the voyeurism and snacks, stay for the panels and symposium. I often attend super obscure ones about how wood was beveled in 15th century Italian marquetry; or the presence extra-terrestrials in pre-Christian art. Mostly, however, when I get the CAA program (available on line or at the Hilton) I'm utterly baffled by the titles. Much of academia speaks a foreign tongue, using insular jargon and language I'm either unfamiliar with, can't understand, or isn't in dictionaries. I love made-up words. But when they don't make any new sense I get antsy. And feel dumb.

Phew...

Update V - a distinguished art history professor writes from the US:

I am an avid reader of AHN and was amused by your comments about the CAA meeting in NY. I gave up attending several years ago -- too crowded, too frantic, too expensive, too many presentations I don't understand or care about.

Update VI - a CAA attendee writes (kindly):

I've been following your delightful blog for a few months now and I want to thank your for the work you put into it. It is balm for an art soul tattered by the likes of Artfagcity and Hyperallergic here in the NYC area. I was playing catch up and came across your Guff post on the annual CAA conference. I had to laugh because I fell behind while attending for the first time this year. There was the nonsense I knew to expect from more seasoned veterans, and that I didn't feel to badly trying to avoid, and some wonderful panels that left me inspired to go back to grad school and do good art history, not bad contemporary art-history-theory nonsense.  For all the panels on art criticism this year, and despite my interest and concern for the field I only sat through one lecture (which was great, but I was too exhausted to go on, and it might have continued horribly).

'Looking at the View'

February 13 2013

Image of 'Looking at the View'

Picture: Guardian

I'm looking forward to seeing Tate Britain's new 'Looking at the View' show, despite the exhibition's curious raison d'etre, as stated in The Guardian:

"It is about putting the old and new together so that the whole collection looks like it is one collection rather than two collections," said Tate Britain's director, Penelope Curtis, explaining why art from across 300 years, including painting, video and photography, had been put together for the display, Looking at the View.

"There has been a tradition here, I think, that people either came for the historic collection or they came for the modern and contemporary and people were not very good at thinking that actually, it was all one collection. I'm interested in trying to make it cohere more," she said.

It seems instead, from the exhibits seen here, that the show is merely an amiable look at landscape in art. The exhibition is made up of Tate's own works, and fortunately this time around it's free (unlike the recent and woeful Migrations, which charged entry to see works mainly drawn from Tate's own collection). Not, incidentally, that Tate has spent any money on trying to make the narrative of the exhibition have any deep meaning, or - dare I say it, cohere - for:

There are no long descriptive labels and no route for visitors to follow, the display is all about looking, says the Tate. "Hopefully people will find different kinds of rapport and different meanings for themselves," said Curtis.

Long descriptive, educative and informative art historical labels - dontchajusthatem?

Update - The Grumpy Art Historian has more on the label phenomenon.

'Just nonsense'

February 13 2013

Image of 'Just nonsense'

Picture: Tate

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper has an interesting story about the Tate's acquisition of Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam! in 1966. The picture had been offered to Tate for £4,665, but there was;

[...] opposition from three key trustees: the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, the painter Andrew Forge and the critic Herbert Read. Writing to Hepworth, Read described Whaam! as “just nonsense”. However, other trustees were keener, and after negotiations, Sonnabend offered to reduce its price to £3,940.

More details here.

Another Richard III found

February 13 2013

Image of Another Richard III found

Picture: Adam Busiakiewicz

Reader Adam Busiakiewicz from Warwick Castle sends news of a potentially exciting rival Richard III discovery. The above head was found:

[...] outside Bear and Clarence Towers, two buildings that were commissioned by Richard III himself, but never completed. He married Richard Neville’s, ‘The Kingmaker’, daughter Anne Neville in 1472... so we are celebrating this link a lot at the moment!

'Connoisseurship has never been more popular'

February 12 2013

Ok, so this article in the New York Times is primarily about chocolate, cheese and coffee connoisseurship. But it nevertheless contains, in the shape of Yale Chief Curator Laurence B. Kanter, someone from the museum world who is prepared to wave the flag for connoisseurship.

Connoisseurship has never been more popular. Long confined to the serious appreciation of high art and classical music, it is now applied to an endless cascade of pursuits. Leading publications, including The New York Times, routinely discuss the connoisseurship of coffee, cupcakes and craft beers; of cars, watches, fountain pens, lunchboxes, stereo systems and computers; of tacos, pizza, pickles, chocolate, mayonnaise, cutlery and light (yes, light, which is not to be confused with the specialized connoisseurship of lighting). And the Grateful Dead, of course.

This democratization of connoisseurship is somewhat surprising since as recently as the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s connoisseurship was a “dirty word” — considered “elitist, artificial, subjective and mostly imaginary,” said Laurence B. Kanter, chief curator of the Yale University Art Gallery. Today, it is a vital expression of how many of us we want to see, and distinguish, ourselves.

As its wide embrace opens a window onto the culture and psychology of contemporary America, it raises an intriguing question: If almost anything can be an object of connoisseurship — and if, by implication, almost anyone can be a connoisseur — does the concept still suggest the fine and rare qualities that make it so appealing?

There were probably Neanderthals who tried to distinguish themselves through their exquisite taste in cave drawings. But the word connoisseur was not coined until the 18th century — in France, of course, as a symbol of the Enlightenment’s increasingly scientific approach to knowledge.

At a time when precious little was known about the provenance of many works of art, early connoisseurs developed evaluative tools — for example, identifying an artist’s typical subject matter, use of color and use of light — to authenticate works by revered masters and to debunk pretenders to the pedestal.

“Works of art do not carry a guarantee,” said Dr. Kanter. “It has always been the job of the connoisseur to question, investigate, refine the received wisdom of earlier generations.”

Prado discovers rare early 15thC panel

February 12 2013

Video: Museo Prado

The Prado has restored a newly discovered early 15thC panel showing Louis I d'Orleans. From the Prado website:

Shown to the public for the first time, the Museo del Prado is presenting The Agony in the Garden with the Donor Louis I d’Orléans (1405-1407/1408), a previously unpublished work acquired by the Museum in 2012. Following a lengthy process of restoration it will now be placed on display in the permanent galleries and represents a major contribution to the field of Early French Painting. The aesthetic and pictorial merit of the painting, recently restored with the sponsorship of Fundación Iberdrola, combined with the rarity of works from this school, make this panel a unique example of enormous historical importance given that it is the only known panel painting to depict Louis d’Orléans. With a possible attribution to Colart de Laon, Louis’ painter and valet de chambre, the panel will be presented in a special display until 28 April in Room 51A, alongside X-radiograph and Infra-red reflectograph images of it and a video that shows the different stages of its restoration.

Exclusive - UK museums bid for Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral'

February 11 2013

Image of Exclusive - UK museums bid for Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral'

Picture: National Gallery

Newly released minutes of the National Gallery of Scotland's trustee meeting reveal that the NGS is combining with four other organisations to acquire John Constable's epic 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows'. The picture is being made available via the government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The NGS minutes state:

Possible AIL Acquisition: Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by John Constable 

Mr Clarke [NGS Director] reported that NGS was applying for the above Constable painting through the AIL scheme in conjunction with four other organisations (including Tate Britain).  If successful, NGS would get one fifth share of the painting.

The picture is currently on loan at the National Gallery, London, from a private collection. The picture has been in the same ownership since 1857. No values have been stated yet. More details as I get them.

Update - a reader who spotted the news writes:

I was really surprised for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is surely the wonderful late Constable which has been on loan to the National Gallery, London , from the Ashton of Hyde family, since at least the early 1980s?

Then, from the NGS Minutes it seems to being bid for by five ( yes five) galleries including the Tate . The NGS of Scotland seemed to think it would get a fifth share.  Does that mean that this splendid painting will be trundled up and down the land for ever more?  It is worrying enough that the two great Titians will be shuttled between London and Edinburgh twice every 10 years.

Then, while writing this with a Scottish mother and English father, I wonder why the National Gallery of Scotland thinks it is entitled to a share of a painting by a very English artist which has only ever been in English collections and for over 30 years has been shown at the National Gallery? Are works of art from Scottish collections, accepted by AIL, allocated south of the border? Probably yes, as I can think of the Raeburn “The Archers” double portrait which came to the National Gallery in 2001, but I wonder what the ratio is.

And, yes, I believe that national painting collections should not be restricted to the art just of that country but, at the same time I would prefer that this decision on allocation was made after the Scottish independence vote in 2014!

And another writes:

5 galleries sharing such a work would be unusual - the need for so many to be involved suggests that a substantial sum of money is also going to be involved to make this deal work.

I suspect that the case might one where the value of the painting exceeds the value of the tax to be waived. The combined effort may mean that a substantial fundraising effort is required. The record for a Constable work is the £22.4m for The Lock sold last year, and Salisbury Cathedral is twice the painting. Regular readers will know, however, that the £22.4m figure is one to be taken with a pinch of salt

Update II - a reader wonders if the NGS were meant to spill the beans this early on in the acquisition process:

When the National Gallery in London publishes its Minutes to trustee board meetings, discussion on acquisitions always note “Information has been excluded under s 43 Freedom of Information Act 2000”

Update III - a reader agrees with the above, but then makes a heretical suggestion:

I agree with the two updates - my thoughts too.  A little while ago I noticed it missing from the NG and asked a guard about it.  He pointed to its usual place and said it was there ... then realised that it was gone!  It was just at an exhibition, but he hadn't noticed its absence.  Much as I love seeing it in London, I'd frankly prefer it to go elsewhere rather than be shuffled between five galleries.  Not the Louvre - they'd only send it to Lens.  But what about the Musee D'Orsay?  It would fit the collection well, and it seems appropriate for Paris to have a great Constable given how they appreciated him in the nineteenth century.  Or the Neue Pinakothek in Munich - a great collection that would be able to show it in a different context.  I know they won't have the funds for a purchase on this scale, but I'd make a donation.

Another reader agrees about the secrecy angle:

Your Update 2 contributor is right; now the National Gallery, London Trustee Meeting Minutes exclude all references to Potential Acquisitions.  It was not always such because as recently as 2006, there were references to discussions about potential acquisitions, accepted and rejected, and even prices paid. Then, all that stopped and the “Excluded under the Freedom of Information Act etc” was all you got. So I wrote to the NG about the sudden change in the quality of information given in the Trustees’ Minutes and received a “snotty” reply saying that they were entitled to exclude material etc…..So much for transparency, although, of course, sensitive information about current negotiations should be excluded, even though Minutes are always four months in arrears.

Tate Trustee Minutes are even worse, threaded with “Excluded….” tags like confetti through the text!

Update IV - the NGS minutes have now been removed. Oops.

You read it here first

February 10 2013

Image of You read it here first

Picture: Tate

I was tickled to see Richard Brooks write in The Sunday Times today:

Nearly a year ago, I broke the story that Picasso’s well-known painting Child with a Dove, which had been in Britain since 1928, was to be sold overseas. The government then stepped in to allow others to try to raise £50m to save it, but not enough could be found. So it flew abroad.

Regular readers, of course, will remember that the story first surfaced here on AHN. Anyway, the news story this time around, which Richard is I think the first to break, is that x-rays have shown that Boy with a Dove was painted on top of another painting, a female nude (also by Picasso). The picture will be on display at the Courtauld's new exhibition, 'Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901', which opens on 14th February.

Richard III? (ctd.)

February 10 2013

Image of Richard III? (ctd.)

Picture: BBC

A reader alerts me to the various petitions on the Downing St website over where Richard III's remains should be buried. At the time of writing, York is ahead of Leicester by 18,177 votes to 6,810. My favourite petition, however, is one headed:

RICHARD III SHOULD BE REINTERRED AT ARUNDEL R.C. CATHEDRAL. READ THIS AND SEE IF YOU CAN DENY.

It has just two votes, so far. 

I favour York. But as I wrote last week, I still don't think we have enough proof to bury this body with full veneration and identification as Richard III. Before we take such a significant step, we must be 100% sure it's him. The University of Leicester's website information on the crucial DNA analysis remains woefully thin, and academically embarrassing. The more I find out about the DNA process used, the more I learn that it is far from conclusive. It may even prove nothing at all. So if I was to petition the Prime Minister on Richard's remains, it would be to ask: can we please not rush into this?

Wildenstein charged with tax evasion and money laundering

February 10 2013

Image of Wildenstein charged with tax evasion and money laundering

Picture: Getty Images

French art dealer Guy Wildenstein has been charged with tax evasion and money laundering, following a formal investigation which began in 2011. More details here.

Courbet discovery - is it all a load of 'foutaise'?

February 10 2013

Image of Courbet discovery - is it all a load of 'foutaise'?

Picture: Paris Match

Le Figaro has interviewed art dealer Hubert Duchemin on the apparent discovery of the head of Courbet's 'L'Origine du Monde', first published in Paris Match. He says it's all a load of 'foutaise' - or as we say in English, 'bullsh*t'. In addition, the Musee d'Orsay has issued a statement saying the discovery is, to use the technical term, a load of old phooey.

Didier Rykner at Tribune de L'Art has published Paris Match's recreation of how the sketch and body are supposed to match up [above]. Didier is deeply sceptical of the whole thing. Meanwhile, Jean-Jacques Fernier, the compiler of the Courbet catalogue raisonne who has accepted the work, is taking a dim view of the critics:

I don’t give a damn what they think. I am the official Courbet specialist and I have said it is by him. These Civil servants haven’t even seen the work.” 

The phrase 'official specialist' should be enough to chill the heart of any art historian. What a weird concept. But they seem to like doing things this way in France. 

Readers will notice that I've censored the above image, out of deference to Buckinghamshire County Council, who blocked AHN after I first reported the story. 

Optimism (stolen Leonardo special)

February 10 2013

Image of Optimism (stolen Leonardo special)

Picture: Duke of Buccleuch

A struck-off former solicitor is trying to claim £4.25m for the safe return of the Duke of Buccleuch's stolen Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo [above]. More details here, and earlier AHN coverage of the private investigators who were charged with handling the stolen picture here.

Ice Age hubris

February 10 2013

Image of Ice Age hubris

Picture: British Museum/Guardian

Jonathan Jones goes overboard in his Guardian review of the new ice-age art at the British Museum:

[...]  animals are portrayed with gobsmacking accuracy – from line drawings of reindeer to lions carved on ivory. While humans have been done better, no one – not even Leonardo – has ever surpassed these ice-age animal portraits.

Update - a reader writes:

Re Jonathan Jones's article on cave-painting; the later printing has a remarkable correction at the end:

• This article was amended on 6 February 2013 because it referred to Leonardo incorrectly as "Da Vinci" as if it were the artist's surname. Da Vinci refers to the Vinci district near Florence.

Previously I have railed against this new habit of talking about 'Da Vinci' but I'm not sure it merits an apology.

Cave-art and Leonardo are clean different things, but cave-art is - still - the best painting of animals in life and movement I have ever seen. And seeing what fossil animals really looked like is unbelievably exciting.

Face found in the Ghent Altarpiece

February 10 2013

Video: Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage

The above video is in Dutch, but is pretty self-explanatory: a face has been found in the underdrawing of Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece. Is it a cheeky self-portrait?

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