'Fake or Fortune?' new jumper alert

January 18 2016

Image of  'Fake or Fortune?' new jumper alert

Picture: National Library of Scotland

The BBC came to look in on me doing some research in the National Library of Scotland on Friday. I treated them to a new jumper.

By the way - art history research fact: did you know that Edinburgh is, in terms of libraries, probably the best city in the world for an art historian? Not only do we have the excellent National Library (a UK legal deposit library, so it has a copy of everything ever published here) but we also have an amazing fine art room in the City public library, the best I've ever come across; I can borrow even the most obscure art historical titles. And for anything that's fallen through the cracks, there's the library at the Scottish National Gallery. 

Gurlitt horde (ctd.)

January 15 2016

Image of Gurlitt horde (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

From Berlin (via the New York Times) comes the disappointing and rather puzzling news that so far just five works out of 1200 are to be returned to their rightful owners. The governmnet-appointed 'taskforce' to look into the provenance of works owned by the late Cornelis Gurlitt has made slow progress in its provenance research. More here.

Cuts! (ctd.)

January 15 2016

Image of Cuts! (ctd.)

Picture: UPI

The FT reports that even museums in Qatar (whose government recently spent a reported $300m on the above Gauguin) are feeling the pinch, thanks to falling oil prices:

Qatar Museums, headed by Sheikha al-Mayassa bint Hamad al-Thani, had 1,200 workers two years ago and was looking to double in size, but it has shrunk to fewer than 800, according to insiders.

Managers are said to have told drivers that they cannot use petty cash to wash official cars and staff receive one bottle of water on their desks each day rather than two.

“People are coming into the office to find their email not working. When they ask IT what’s going on they are told that they have been made redundant,” said one.“It’s absolutely grim what’s going on here.

It's not all bad though, for the same source adds:

"They are still buying lots of art, however.”

Louvre to clean another Leonardo

January 15 2016

Image of Louvre to clean another Leonardo

Picture: Louvre

The Louvre has announced that they're going to clean Leonardo's late work, St John the Baptist. This is a brave move, for their last major restoration, of Leonardo's Virgin and Child with St Anne, was controversial and (in my opinion) not done especially well.

I'm afraid in my experience museum conservation departments don't always have the best conservators.

Still, according to The Art Newspaper, it looks like the conservation will focus on thinning the many layers of old varnish, not removing them entirely. This practice is more in keeping with the Louvre's traditional policy of not overly cleaning pictures. Indeed, the policy accounts for why the Louvre's collection is generally in such excellent condition. Remember, no single group of people has done more damage to paintings than those charged with 'conserving' them. 

Another curious thing about the decision to clean the Leonardo is that so many other pictures at the Louvre, including dozens in the same Italian gallery as the Leonardos, are almost impossible to appreciate thanks to the thick layers of dust (as I reported here last year). If only the Louvre, instead of comprehensively cleaning one picture at a time, could just go around with a feather duster every now and then, the whole collection would be in much better shape.

'Re-imagining Gentileschi's Danaë'

January 15 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's asked film-maker Pamela Romanowsky to create a film inspired by Orazio Gentileschi's Danaë


January 15 2016

Image of 7.5p

Picture: Telegraph

That's the amount that, on average, visitors put in the National Gallery's donation boxes.

7.5p! What a stingy lot. 

The National tells me that the average amount raised annually from their donation boxes is £450,000. Nice - but that's from over 6m visitors a year. I do think museums in the UK (which generally are free) should be more muscular about steering visitors towards the donation boxes. But how to do it? At one extreme we have the Met in Ny with their mandatory 'voluntary' donations. While in the UK our boxes, though placed by the door, are too easy to ignore amid the hustle and bustle. Perhaps they should be moved to within the galleries themselves. And rather than say 'Please give £5', which let's face it not many people will, should we aim for a smaller target that's more likely to succeed in getting people to cough up - just £1?

Do readers have any other bright ideas?

Update - a reader writes:

Perhaps a few signs simply stating that the average donation is (an embarrassing) 7 1/2p, together with a succinct statement saying why donations are needed, would improve the takings.

Update II - another reader writes:

Given the perverse nature of human psychology, publicising that there is a very low level of donation (7.5p average per visitor) will never encourage people to donate more. They're more likely to think 'Well if they can keep this establishment going on such a low level of contributions, clearly I've been over-donating with my £2.50 in the past - I won't put in anything this time..'

However, publicising what has been donated does encourage visitors to donate more - you promote the positive behaviour you would like to see more of and lo, it happens. 

So a museum or gallery could publicise one of their favourable figures or percentages and ask all other visitors to follow suit. For example '75% of our visitors donated £1 this year - thank you to every one for their support. Be part of supporting our arts/exhibitions #every£1counts - donate just £1 today'.

Update III - a reader adds:

I would try a sign saying “THANK YOU. Your donation helps to keep this museum open and free”. And put a poster of a favorite painting just above the box to attract attention.

Second offer an optional one pound donation added on in the café and the bookshop.  When people are already spending a little they might add a pound.     Have vouchers conveniently available that they can hand to the cashier to add a one pound gift to their purchase. 

Finally, have “Thank You for your gift to the museum” signs in other languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Japanese. In these cultures making a gift adds face to the donor. The word gift has a materially different meaning than does donation.

Confident that none of these suggestions will be undertaken.

Update IV - another reader writes:

You make a good point — why not donation boxes in some, at least, of the galleries where we really see the art, not just at the entry?  Rather “commercial” in some eyes, I am sure, but would it really be going too far?  In addition, of course, to better, more pointed, pleas — shaming? — at the usual spots; perhaps target notices at the majority who can easily afford donations?

Old Masters make you a better rockstar

January 15 2016

Image of Old Masters make you a better rockstar

Picture: Telegraph

The New York Times has re-run an interview with the late David Bowie, in which he talks about his art collection:

I have a couple of Tintorettos, which I’ve had for many, many years. I have a Rubens. Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own. It has always been for me a stable nourishment. I use it. It can change the way that I feel in the mornings. 

There's also this acute assessment of the Chapman brothers:

I’m not a huge fan of the Chapmans. It’s this sniggering little schoolboy kind of thing, and I refuse to take it seriously. They seem to me to have achieved a certain fame by doing one thing — which is, in a way, an illustration of the problem. I think their art has the same kind of spin as Jerry Springer.



January 14 2016

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

Sorry for the lack of action today, the crew from 'Fake or Fortune?' were visiting... 

Van Dyck as Andy Warhol

January 13 2016

Image of Van Dyck as Andy Warhol

Picture: Popartstudio.nl (with apologies to the National Portrait Gallery, London)

Much harrumphing here at AHN HQ this morning, after Jonathan Jones in The Guardian equated Van Dyck with Andy Warhol. Andy Warhol!

In his review of the new show at Dulwich centred on Van Dyck's recently acquired Self-Portrait, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, Jones writes:

Van Dyck is a flatterer of immense gifts, who never manages the depth and seriousness of his fellow 17th-century portraitists Velazquez and Rembrandt. Or does he? Van Dyck is the Andy Warhol of his time: apparently superficial yet somehow hitting intimate truths that can take you aback.

The idea that Van Dyck was a 'flatterer' seems to have taken hold in the recent literature, though of course it's almost impossible for us to tell (since his sitters are dead) whether he really was. Certainly, his portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria do not present them as the ugly curiosities of Goya's Spanish court (though Goya was aided by generations of Habsburg inbreeding).

But we shouldn't forget that one of the most detailed accounts we have of a sitter responding to a portrait in 17th Century England (from Eleanor Wortley, later Countess of Sussex) actually complains that Van Dyck didn't flatter her enough:

[...] the picture is very ill favoured, makes me quite out of love with myself, the face is so big and so fat that it pleases me not at all. It looks like one of the winds puffing - but truly I think it is like the original. If I ever come to London before Sir Van Dyck go, I will get him to mend my picture, for though I be ill favoured I think that makes worse than I am.

Anyway, inexplicably there are still some tickets left for my lecture on Van Dyck's self-portraits at Dulwich on 21st January. Sign up here!

Job Opportunity!

January 13 2016

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Wikipedia

The Wallace Collection will soon start looking for a new director, for Christoph Vogtherr is leaving to run the Kunsthalle in Hamburg. Vogtherr joined the Wallace in 2011. Last year he launched a rather ill-advised attack on the government, warning of dire budget cuts ahead (which did not materialise), accusing ministers of “systematically reducing funding and commitments to the arts” in the UK. He also signalled his admiration for the 'European system' where museums rely more on state funding (and by extension, control). AHN wishes him good luck in Hamburg.

Kenneth Clark's Raphael portrait

January 12 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Here's a video from Sotheby's on their $2m-$3m Raphael Portrait of Valerio Belli. It used to belong to Kenneth Clark, and was bought at his estate sale in 1987 by Alfred Taubman, then owner of Sotheby's. I'd love to own a picture of Clark's. In 1987 the picture's hammer price was £200,000.

New identity for Raphael's 'Lady with a Unicorn'?

January 12 2016

Image of New identity for Raphael's 'Lady with a Unicorn'?

Picture: Galleria Borghese

Raphael's Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn has travelled from the Galleria Borghese in Rome to a new exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. There, a new identity for the sitter has been proposed, as reported in The Huffington Post:

Writing in the exhibition catalogue, Galleria Borghese director Anna Coliva sticks to the long-standing view that the fair-haired sitter is Maddalena Strozzi -- based on similarity in pose and composition to a Raphael portrait from Florence's Pitti Palace. Through a detailed exploration of the sitter, unicorn, and setting, Dr. Linda Wolk-Simon, Raphael specialist and director and chief curator of the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University, suggests a new identity for the young woman.

In a catalogue essay that reads like a detective story, Wolk-Simon makes a persuasive case that the sitter is Laura Orsini, daughter of acclaimed beauty Guilia Farnese, mistress of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI (the rumor at the time was that Laura's father was Alexander, not Farnese's husband). In late 1505, right around the time Raphael painted the portrait, 13-year-old Laura Orsini wed Niccolo Franciotti della Rovere, nephew of Alexander's successor, Julius II.

"I started looking at every detail in the picture for clues and certain things started jumping out," says Wolk-Simon. To start, the sitter is blonde -- like Lucrezia Borgia, Alexander VI's illegitimate daughter and Laura Orsini's probable half-sister. A tower in the portrait's background is from a landmark in Urbino, the duchy ruled by the della Rovere family. Wolk-Simon also discovered that the sitter's stunning ruby and pearl pendant necklace closely resembles a description of Guilia Farnese's jewels from court documents; the mythical unicorn cradled in the young woman's right hand turns out to be part of the Farnese coat of arms.


January 11 2016

Image of Errata!

Picture: RA

King of all things pastel, Neil Jeffares, has posted a list of errata for the new Royal Academy/Scottish National Galleries exhibition on Liotard. It's quite, er, long. Moral of the story: when writing a catalogue like this, make sure you share the text widely pre-publication.

Update - a reader writes:

Once again Mr. Jeffares has done a great service to art history.      I suggest that the extensive errata to the Liotard  exhibition catalogue be posted in several sites that might come up in future searches lest some well meaning but misguided student or writer consider this catalogue an authoritative source. 

The Errata could go to Google Books, Amazon in the form of a review stating that the volume contains numerous errors of fact, for publication in The Burlington Magazine or Apollo, and should be included with each future sale of the volume and to those who purchased it mail or online previously.   Any art bibliographies mentioning the catalogue should include a reference to the Errata list.    The list could be sent to all future purchasers of the R&L et al catalogue raisonne.     

Additionally, any articles or books regarding Liotard published subsequently should include in the text and in the bibliography a statement that this catalogue contains numerous inaccuracies and that an list of Errata list is available. 

Old Masters at Petworth

January 11 2016

Image of Old Masters at Petworth

Picture: National Trust

It's not all beanbags at the National Trust - there's what looks like an excellent new exhibition at Petworth on the Old Masters in their collection, which, for the first time, includes works from the collection of Lord and Lady Egremont, who live on the first floor of the house. More here.

$4.6m 'Van Dyck' seized in Turkey

January 11 2016

Image of $4.6m 'Van Dyck' seized in Turkey

Picture: via Art Daily

Every now and then there's a "police seize $Xm masterpiece" story where the picutre is neither a masterpiece nor worth $Xm. And it makes you wonder quite what's going on. Is somebody trying to establish value in a dodgy deal? 

The latest concerns an alleged Van Dyck seized in Turkey, and put out by the normally reputable AFP. Here's the story via Art Daily:

Turkish authorities have detained two people who were caught smuggling a painting which experts suspect is by the 17th century Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck, reports said Sunday. 

The Hurriyet newspaper said authorities had seized the artwork in Istanbul after two businessmen attempted to sell it to undercover Turkish police officers for 14 million lira ($4.6 million, 4.2 million euros).

The two men had reportedly bought the painting from a criminal gang for $200,000. They were arrested at the luxury hotel in Istanbul's historic Topkapi neighbourhood where they had tried to make the sale, Hurriyet said.

Turkish anti-smuggling authorities released a photograph of a seized painting -- depicting a topless woman with her arms raised and two other figures -- without giving details of its provenance.

But Hurriyet said that based on an analysis by Istanbul art experts, authorities believe the work is a lost original by Van Dyck, potentially worth millions of dollars. 

Russia's Interfax news agency reported Saturday that the painting had hung on the wall of a family in Georgia for 15 years but they had no idea that it may have been a missing work by an Old Master.

A woman named Eka Abashidze told Georgia's Imedi TV channel that her family decided to sell the painting in 2010 after falling into financial difficulties, according to Interfax.

Two men had promised to pay the family $37,000, but they tricked them and only ended up paying $7,000.

This picture is certainly not by Van Dyck. And if it was mine I might even be quite happy with $7,000.

'Bridgewater Seapiece' future in balance (ctd.)

January 11 2016

Image of 'Bridgewater Seapiece' future in balance (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Turner's 'Bridgewater Seapiece' had been 'saved for the nation' after its late owner Harry Hyams specified in his will that the picture should be left on display at the National Gallery. The story was picked up today by The Telegraph.

The Sunday Times (paywall) reports:

Harry Hyams, who died last month, is understood to have stipulated in his will that Dutch Boats in a Gale should remain on loan at the National Gallery, where it has hung since 1998, for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps though the story is more interesting for what it doesn't tell us. There's no mention of an Acceptance in Lieu offer (though Hyams' stipulation that the picture stays at the National could signal that), and we don't yet know who the picture has been bequeathed to (except that it evidently wasn't directly to the National Gallery). So it's good that the picture isn't going anywhere soon - but I'm not sure we can yet say it has been saved for the National for good. That's up to the new owner.

Update - in a short notice the Jewish Chronicle states that the picture has in fact been bequeathed to the National Gallery, though without stating its source.

Update II - should the picture be offered to the nation in lieu of tax, then it's worth noting that the current limit for tax foregone in this manner by the Treasury is £40m per year. The Bridgewater Seapiece is hard to value, but it must surely be more than one year's worth of AIL, and perhaps two. 

Saying goodbye to Goya

January 8 2016

Video: Arts Alliance/You Tube

There's a nice piece in The Guardian on the soon to finish Goya exhibition at the National Gallery in London, and how the show's curator - Xavier Bray - will face up to seeing the end of a decade-long project:

Xavier Bray is planning a private farewell for a collection of portraits he spent more than 10 years bringing together, before they are scattered and returned to their owners.

“I’m hoping I’ll get permission from the director to have a few hours on my own when the show closes,” he says of Goya: the Portraits, which ends at 6pm on Sunday. “It’s going to be quite important to say goodbye.”

Bray may even share a few private words with the painter’s spirit. “I’ll probably have a quick conversation with Goya up there and we’ll hopefully shake hands and thank each other, and walk off, and that will be it.”

For all you Goya enthusiasts, there will be a film out soon based on the exhibition, which opens in cinemas in February (curious timing perhaps). A trailer is above.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, and indeed even managed to revise my view of Goya. In the room which displayed portraits of his friends and fellow artists, I saw some of the best portraits I've ever seen. Other works, however, were so curiously variable you wondered how he got away with it. Doubtless, curmudgeons like me will say the same in centuries to come about some of the artistic megastars of today.

I've been meaning to link to Neil Jeffares excellent review of the Goya show, here.

Art History Ads (ctd.)

January 8 2016

Image of Art History Ads (ctd.)

Picture: via Flickr

I saw the above advert for Sixt car hire in Europe recently. Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring holds a set of car keys alluringly.

A quick word of consumer advice; don't use Enterprise car hire. We booked a car with them weeks in advance, but when we went to pick it up they'd cancelled the booking (for which they only give you a two hour pick up window) and wouldn't offer us a replacement car. In fact, they were militantly unhelpful. Happily, Sixt came to the rescue.

Rijksmuseum heads East

January 8 2016

Image of Rijksmuseum heads East

Picture: Weibo

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has started its own Weibo page [Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter], as part of a move to widen audiences in China. Very clever, easy to do, and I'd hope other museums soon follow suit.

Update - of course, if anyone wants to help AHN set up a Weibo page, that would be great...

Job Opportunity

January 7 2016

Image of Job Opportunity

Picture: NPG

The National Portrait Gallery in London is looking for a Curatorial Assistant. This is an ideal entry level job for anyone wanting a career in the museum world, and there can be few nicer places to work. More here.

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