'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

October 30 2019

Video: BBC

Hello everyone. I'm very sorry the blog has gone into abeyance. The new series of Britain's Lost Masterpieces starts tonight on BBC4 at 9pm. Above is a trailer. There are three episodes, the first looking at a potential Batoni. We've found that more than three is quite difficult - these aren't like making usual programmes, as the conservation and research can take months, and can also be quite unpredictable. But this week we've started filming for the fifth series, which all being well will be shown about this time next year. I hope you enjoy them!

My regular Diary column in The Art Newspaper should keep you up to date with most things I'm doing. Or at least, most things I want to have a rant about. I've recently written about the National Gallery's treatment of its lecturers, the National Portrait Gallery's ill-advised Michael Jackson show, the fact that Scotland doesn't do very well out of 'the nation's' art collection, and of course the Salvator Mundi

You'll know that the latest on that picture is that it hasn't appeared in the Louvre's Leonardo exhibition. What a shame. First, it seems the Louvre really did want to borrow, contrary to all manner of false early reports. They even left a space for it on the walls, and it was shown in various exhibition plans. It seems negotiations with the owners went down to the wire. So we can deduce that the Louvre wanted the picture, and the owners were willing to lend it, but something happened. And of course we must suspect that this likely comes down to attribution. Did the Louvre refuse to commit to displaying it as 'a Leonardo' or did they reserve the right to call it 'Leonardo & Workshop'? The catalogue as published is unclear, and refers cryptically to the picture's attribution. Probably, politics got in the way. The new book on the painting by Robert Simon, Martin Kemp and Margaret Dalivalle is out, and available here

Other developing stories that have been featured on AHN include the Old Master fakes scandal, involving paintings said to be by Frans Hals and Parmigianino. The English High Court case between Sotheby's, the dealer Mark Weiss and the collector David Kowitz has ended, but there's been no judgement yet. It was suggested the judgement would have been given in the Summer. In Italy, an arrest has been made - of the artist Lino Frongia. A warrant has also been issued for the arrest of the collector Giulano Ruffini. Vincent Noce in The Art Newspaper has the most detail, here. Longstanding readers of AHN might remember Lino Frongia's name appearing on the blog, back in 2016.

London Art Week

July 5 2019

Image of London Art Week

Picture: Andrew Clayton-Payne

First, further apologies for the lack of AHN these last few weeks. I've been finishing both a series of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' for the BBC, and the catalogue for 'Bright Souls'. So there wasn't much time left for other things. Recently, I've tended to wake up in the morning and wonder anxiously where I am, or where I need to be going. When it comes to travelling, I like to follow Jared Diamond's advice of 'constructive paranoia', and this means being indecently early for trains and planes. If you need to know how maddening this is, talk to my poor wife.

But I'm now back home in the Scottish Borders, and I don't plan on moving further than a few miles in any direction for at least a month. Sitting at my desk, I can hear buzzards calling and wheeling in the warm air. Later, I will fire up my ancient tractor (that is, assuming it feels like starting), cut some grass, and wonder how I can manage a mid-life career change to smallhold farming.  

But before that, I wanted to write about London Art Week, the annual chance for dealers and auctioneers in 'classic art' to shine and show off their wares. I'm biased, in that I used to be an art dealer myself, but I was struck more than ever this year at how 'the market' can drive art history forward in a positive and exciting way.

Too often, there is a temptation in some quarters of the art world to sneer at the activities of dealers and auctioneers. The case of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi is an obvious example; supporters of the painting are derided by those who seek to criticise it as either sticking up for the art market, or having some kind of vested interest in it. The debate about the painting's authenticity is pitched as pure-minded scholarship on one side, and commerce driven speculation on the other.

But anybody who toured the pictures on offer during London Art Week will have seen how important the market is in unearthing new works. Sotheby’s, for example, had a newly discovered Velasquez portrait for sale (how often do you see one of those?) The dealer Andrew Clayton-Payne exhibited an album of previously unknown drawings by Johan Zoffany (above, and with a catalogue, available online here). In short, I saw enough new discoveries in one week to fill a whole year of The Burlington Magazine. To every specialist and dealer at work in London this week, down at the coal face of art history, a large AHN pat on the back; bravo, and keep going. 

'Bright Souls' (ctd.)

June 19 2019

Video: Lyon & Turnbull

Here's a short trailer for the exhibition I'm curating on the first British female artists. 

'Bright Souls'

June 14 2019

Image of 'Bright Souls'

Picture: Lyon & Turnbull

Please accept my further apologies for the lack of news. I've been tied up finishing the latest series of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces', and writing the catalogue for a new exhibition I'm curating on the first female British artists. They are Joan Carlile, Mary Beale and Anne Killigrew.

The exhibition is called 'Bright Souls; the Forgotten Story of Britain's First Female Artists', and will be at Lyon & Turnbull's London gallery (on Connaught Street) from 24th June to 6th July. It would be great to see some of you there. It's the first time anyone has shown works by these three artists together, and the first exhibition to look more broadly at Joan Carlile and Anne Killigrew. We'll have a catalogue, and some newly discovered paintings. More details here.

The title comes from John Dryden's Ode to Anne Killigrew after her death in 1685 at the age of 25;

Thus nothing to her Genius was deny'd,

But like a Ball of Fire the further thrown,

Still with a greater Blaze she shone,

And her bright Soul broke out on ev'ry side.

Apologies (ctd.)

May 21 2019

Sorry about the radio silence. I'm writing a catalogue for an exhibition I'm curating in London, opening next month. Should be quite exciting. More news soon.

Notre Dame de Paris

April 17 2019

Video: Guardian

You'll all have despaired at the terrible fire in Paris. While the restoration project ahead will be long and difficult, it seems we can be relieved that the damage was not worse. Thanks to an extraordinary feat of firefighting by the Paris Sapeurs-Pompiers, the structure of the building has survived. And pretty much the bulk of the interior and stained glass has survived too; the cathedral's stone vaulting prevented most of the burning roof from collapsing into the lower part of the building, and causing any further destruction. 

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

April 17 2019

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: via TAN

The Sotheby's/Weiss/Fairlight trial has concluded in London's High Court, but, reports Vincent Noce in TAN, we'll need to wait till the summer to get judgement. It appears that over the two weeks, there wasn't the contest over the attribution that we might have hoped for. Rather, argument focused on the contracts between the various parties. Lawyers for Fairlight (the art dealing vehicle of the collector and financier David Kowitz, which owned 50% of the Hals painting) argued that since Sotheby's contract was only signed with Weiss, Fairlight should not be pursued for any monies by Sotheby's, even if Fairlight ultimately benefited from the $11.75m sale of the picture.

Fairlight is also being pursued by Weiss for half of his $4.2m settlement with Sotheby's. On the face of it, there seems to be a competing logic here; Weiss's lawyers would appear to be of the view that his settlement with Sotheby's covered 100% of the transaction - in other words, that the Sotheby's contract was only with Weiss, and not partly with Fairlight - hence them seeking a sum from Fairlight commensurate with the initial shareholding in the picture. But Sotheby's appear to take the view that their $4.2m settlement with Weiss only represents half the transaction - or at least, as much of that half as they thought they were likely to achieve -and that Kowitz is liable for the remainder.

Whatever one thinks of the picture, or the legal issues involved, would it not be extremely unfortunate if Mr Kowitz ended up having to pay both Sotheby's and Weiss to the extent that has been claimed in court?

'Diary of an Art Historian' (ctd.)

April 17 2019

Image of 'Diary of an Art Historian' (ctd.)

Picture: ArtFund

My latest 'diary' piece for The Art Newspaper has gone online, with tales from filming in Italy, and another look at the Art Fund's sad decision to disband its volunteers. 

The Toulouse Caravaggio

April 17 2019

Video: Labarbe

The catalogue for the auction in France of the 'Toulouse Caravaggio' has gone online. In the video above, the Caravaggio expert Nicola Spinosa tells us why the picture is indeed by Caravaggio. The auction is in 71 days time, says a countdown on the site. The presentation is impressive. Will it sell?

The picture will be in New York from 10th - 17th May at the Adam Williams gallery. 

Elizabethan Miniatures

April 17 2019

Secrets and symbols part 1 from National Portrait Gallery on Vimeo.

Video: National Portrait Gallery

It's all go for Elizabethan portrait miniatures at the moment; an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London (till 19th May), and a new biography of Nicholas Hilliard by Elizabeth Goldring. In Apollo, Christina Faraday examines their purpose and appeal:

Above all else, it was limning’s ability to capture a likeness directly and vividly that made it ‘the perfection of art’ for so many Elizabethans. This derived partly from the way in which a miniature was made. Unlike large-scale oil paintings, which were often painted over the course of several months from preparatory sketches or face-patterns, limnings were made almost entirely in the presence of the sitter. In his Treatise, Hilliard suggests ways to make the sitting as enjoyable and comfortable as possible: ‘sweet odours comfort the brain and open the understanding, augmenting the delight in limning, discreet talk or reading, quiet mirth or music offend not, but shorten the time, and quicken the spirit both in the drawer, and he which is drawn’. Hilliard does not explicitly say how many sittings were needed, but the later miniaturist Edward Norgate, who knew Hilliard’s methods, recommends three sittings of several hours each, with jewels and costumes finished in between, in the artist’s own time. The presence of the sitter was vital to the finished miniature’s vividness, because it allowed the artist to ‘catch those lovely graces, witty smilings, and those stolen glances which suddenly like lightning pass and another Countenance takes place’, as Hilliard writes in the Treatise. He stresses the speed at which the artist had to work, to ‘catch’ an expression which passed ‘like lightning’, demonstrating the immediate transfer of the person’s appearance to vellum, carrying with it the power of their presence.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

April 8 2019

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: via TAN

The long-awaited trial at the High Court in London between Sotheby's and the art dealer Mark Weiss (and his former business partner David Kowitz) over an alleged fake Frans Hals has begun. We were expecting a battle royal over the authenticity of the picture, but at the last moment Weiss settled with Sotheby's, agreeing to pay over $4.2m. In a statement, Weiss said he still stands by the attribution to Hals. Sotheby's case against Kowitz and his Fairlight Arts Venture (which owned half the painting) continues. In turn, Weiss is seeking half of his settlement from Kowitz. It'll be interesting to see how ends up with the biggest bill, but at the moment it looks like Weiss has acted shrewdly, in terms of legal tactics. Not that there are any winners in this sad affair. Vincent Noce - the journalist who first broke the story of a string of Old Master fakes - has a full report on the case so far in The Art Newspaper.

The most important question is yet to be answered; who painted this extraordinary picture? Another week of the trial is scheduled, but we've yet to hear of any dramatic revelations, or indeed any hint as to whether the matter might be addressed. Also strangely silent are the museums who exhibited or authenticated suspect pictures from the same source; The Met, the National Gallery, and the Louvre. The museums - and the curators involved - have adopted an ostrich defence, and are hoping the whole question will simply go away. In a way, I think that's the most scandalous aspect of this whole affair. 

New Burlington website

April 8 2019

Image of New Burlington website

Picture: Burlington Magazine

The Burlington Magazine has a smart new website, and a new editorial about the magazine's previously somewhat tentative engagement with such things:

Almost nothing dates faster than a website. The magazine has been redesigned only twice in the past twenty years, but a website that is not transformed at least every four to five years soon seems as antediluvian as a cuneiform tablet. This speed of change means that it is surprisingly hard to reconstruct the digital past of an organisation, even one as conscious of its history as The Burlington Magazine.1 We launched our first website in the spring of 2000, which sounds quite late, but it was less than seven years after web browsers became widely available and less than two years after the introduction of web-development toolkits, which made website development a commercial reality for small organisations. In its initial form, our website did little more than provide information about the current issue of the magazine and where to buy it. In the following decade we were encouraged to be more ambitious by a major project: the creation of the magazine’s digital index. Instigated in 2005 with a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and completed in 2017 with a grant from the Monument Trust, this comprehensive searchable database of the magazine’s contents since its foundation in 1903 originally existed as a separate website. In 2014 this was integrated with the magazine’s main website, which was given other new functions, from offering access to free content from our archive to online purchasing of subscriptions, magazines and pdfs of articles.

I'm sorry to report that AHN has not refreshed its design since it began back in 2011. Hopefully a case of 'if it ain't broke...'

Botticelli discovery in Greenwich

April 8 2019

Video: BBC

A painting belonging to English Heritage at Rangers House in Greenwich has been found to come from Botticelli's workshop, rather than the later copy it was long thought to be. More here.  

Dan Robbins (1925-2019)

April 8 2019

Video: CBS

The inventor of paint-by-numbers kits, Dan Robbins, has died. His Times obituary here

Rembrandt on a football

April 8 2019

Video: Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum is launching a line of footballs with Rembrandt etchings on them. What a fun idea. And as ever the Rijksmuseum is light years ahead of other museums when it comes to promoting Old Masters to new audiences. 

Not Malevich, but Maria Dzhagubova

April 8 2019

Image of Not Malevich, but Maria Dzhagubova

Picture: Guardian

Here's a fascinating story from The Guardian; a portrait recently exhibited at Tate in London as by Malevich is in fact by his pupil, Maria Dzhagubova. Research by Andrey Vasiliev in Russia has shown that the above portrait of Elizaveta Yakovleva (above) is recorded in Soviet archives as a work by Dzhagubova, but at some point in recent decades it has acquired a 'Malevich' signature. 

The picture was praised as an important work by Malevich when it was exhibited in London:

So, though the portrait was praised during the Tate show by Nicholas Cullinan, now director of the National Portrait Gallery, as a work in which Malevich used colour to rebel by “tacitly alluding to the innovations he had pioneered”, it seems it can no longer be regarded as an exciting addition to the figurative output of Malevich, an artist best known for his minimalist 1913 work, Black Square. Cullinan told the Observer he remembers his praise for the work, but had no comment on doubts about its attribution.

Vasari rediscovered

April 8 2019

Video: Rome Reports

A lost work by Giorgio Vasari has been found in a US auction, and loaned to the Corsini Gallery in Rome. It was originally commissioned by Bindo Altoviti. More here

Christie's NY OMP sales

April 8 2019

Video: Christie's

Christie's New York Old Master sales take place on May 1st. In the above video, art critic Alastair Sooke and Christie’s specialist Jonquil O’Reilly discuss works being sold by Richard Feigen - the eminent Old Master dealer - including the only known still life by Guercino. There are three catalogues, the main sale here, works from the estate of of Lila and Herman Shickman here, and a 'day sale' here

'Salvator Mundi' located at last

April 1 2019

Image of 'Salvator Mundi' located at last

Picture: WH.Gov 

The whereabouts of Leonardo's Salvator Mundi - bought for $450m by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at Christies in 2017 - has been a mystery for over a year. It was due to go on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi last September, but at the last moment the loan was postponed, and there has been intense speculation as to what has happened to the painting.

AHN can now reveal that since February of this year, the painting has in fact been in President Trump's private quarters at the White House. The painting was gifted to Trump in January, as part of a deal to shore up US support for the Saudi government. A source tells me; 'Trump sees himself as saviour of the world, so it was a no-brainer for the Saudis to offer him the painting. He really loves Christ's hair in it too, and sometimes, when Trump is in the bathroom [where the painting is hung] late at night, he'll let his hair down to his shoulders just like Leonardo shows it. If things are going well with Melania, she'll offer to put some curls in his hair. It's quite sweet.'

I'm told there was a brief moment last month when Trump considered lending the painting to the PyongYang Museum of Art, as part of his talks with Kim Jong-Un. But at the last minute Vice-President Mike Pence successfully argued that the White House was the best place to keep such an important painting of the greatest American who ever lived. 

Update - I'm glad most of you enjoyed the joke. For other art world April Fools, see here

Update II - of course, if anybody wants to tell me where the picture really is, I'd be most grateful for the scoop.

The end of museum image fees?

March 28 2019

Image of The end of museum image fees?

Picture: via Tate Imates

The European Parliament has voted in favour of a new Copyright Directive. It seeks to create common law on copyright matters across the EU. Many aspects of it are controversial. But one element is extremely important for art historians; Article 14. It prevents new copyright being claimed in reproductions of artworks which are themselves out of copyright (also referred to as being in the public domain.) This new ruling effectively heralds the end of image reproduction fees, because copyright is the glue which holds the whole image fees system in place. The new directive therefore represents an important victory for art historians.

First, a bit of background. As AHN has reported before, there have been competing views as to whether taking a photograph of a public domain painting creates a new copyright. Under UK law (specifically the Copyright, Designs, Patents Act of 1988) copyright was created under a ‘sweat of the brow’ distinction; if your photo of a painting took some effort, it qualified as a copyright. But European law has tended to want a degree of creativity, or ‘intellectual input’ in the image. Thus, most lawyers and legal scholars have taken the view that a photograph which aspires to faithfully reproduce the Mona Lisa does not qualify for new copyright. (Take a photo of the Mona Lisa at a funny angle, with a cat in the shot, and it’s a different question). 

Copyright is important, because museums use it to control the circulation of images of works in their collection, even of historic works which long ago fell out of copyright (or were made before it was even a thing). Thus, if you want to publish a photo of a painting by Constable from Tate on your website, you need to sign a licence accepting that Tate owns the copyright of that photo, and that you will only reproduce it once. Furthermore, Tate’s claim of copyright - that little (C) which always appears alongside it (as below) - allows them to prevent others from copying the image from your website. Thus, Tate can keep charging a new fee for the image each time someone wants to use it.

Take that copyright away, however, and anyone can use the image as they like, whether they take it from Tate’s own site, or yours. Article 14 of the new Copyright Directive states:

Member States shall provide that, when the term of protection of a work of visual art has expired, any material resulting from an act of reproduction of that work is not subject to copyright or related rights, unless the material resulting from that act of reproduction is original in the sense that it is the author's own intellectual creation.

More context to what Article 14 means comes in paragraph 53 of the explanatory text:

The expiry of the term of protection of a work entails the entry of that work into the public domain and the expiry of the rights that Union copyright law provides in relation to that work. In the field of visual arts, the circulation of faithful reproductions of works in the public domain contributes to the access to and promotion of culture, and the access to cultural heritage. In the digital environment, the protection of such reproductions through copyright or related rights is inconsistent with the expiry of the copyright protection of works. In addition, differences between the national copyright laws governing the protection of such reproductions give rise to legal uncertainty and affect the cross-border dissemination of works of visual arts in the public domain. Certain reproductions of works of visual arts in the public domain should, therefore, not be protected by copyright or related rights. All of that should not prevent cultural heritage institutions from selling reproductions, such as postcards.

This makes it clear that photographs of historic artworks taken with the intention of faithfully reproducing them will not be covered by copyright across the EU. Member states have two years to implement the directive into domestic law.

There then follow a number of questions. First, is there any chance that the line in Article 14 “unless the material resulting from that act of reproduction is original in the sense that it is the author's own intellectual creation” could ever apply to photographs that seek to faithfully reproduce works of art?Some supporters of image fees say that photographing paintings is a real skill and requires great effort. I agree that it is certainly a skill, but I disagree that it’s ever enough to qualify as a work of intellectual creation, that is, a creative work. I would have more sympathy with their argument if museums didn’t always insist on taking the copyright away from photographers, so that they could exploit it themselves. Also, if we're honest photographing a painting can be pretty routine - if you set your lights up correctly, you can do a large number of paintings in one session without much trouble (I used to be a photographer). And we're now even at the stage where such reproductions are largely automated; The Watercolour World has a scanner which makes fantastic high-res photos at literally the touch of a button. It takes seconds.  

For a legal opinion on this aspect, it’s worth reading the view of Simon Stokes of the law firm Blake Morgan. Simon specialises in IP law, and writes:

The effect of this provision is to ensure that across the EU fine art images of works of art in the public domain will only be protected if they are the photographer’s “own intellectual creation.”  Whilst in one sense this is merely a restatement of the existing EU copyright law in this area in another it goes beyond it by requiring all member state laws comply.  Also most importantly in light of the recital and the intent of the Directive any future argument in the EU that fine art images which seek to be faithful reproductions of the original work underlying them should be protected by copyright seems doomed to failure. 

In light of the Directive and the clear line of European cases those operating in the EU fine art picture libraries (including in museums/art galleries) of “faithful reproductions” of fine art works are going to have to revisit how they licence and control reproductions of their images given that copyright protection will now clearly be removed from them under the Directive, even assuming in light of current law there was any copyright in them in the first place.  Those using such images are in the happy position of having copyright law effectively removed – the European Commission in its February 2019 Press Release on the new provisions noted that users "will be completely free to share copies of paintings, sculptures and other works of art in the public domain with full legal certainty.”

I think that's pretty emphatic.

Second, will this new EU directive apply to the UK, after Brexit? In short, it’s too early to say. If our ultimate deal with the EU adopts close alignment with the Single Market, then the new directive will have an impact on UK law. If we leave with no deal, all bets are off. But if the Directive doesn’t end up applying to UK law, then the UK will be alone in allowing a copyright regime which severely limits the circulation, study and enjoyment of public domain artworks. In a future where European visual art is all Open Access, but UK art is not, you can imagine how the study of British collections and art history will fare.

Third, will museums stop trying to charge image fees once this Directive comes into effect? Alas not. The Directive marks an important battle won in the fight against image fees, but it’s not the end of the war. Museums who want to charge will still doubtless try and sell images on the basis of a contract, rather than a copyright licence (of course, any attempt to continue claiming copyright in such images will be an act of copyfraud). But it is extremely hard to see how, without the protection of copyright, the practice can ever really be profitable. And as more and more museums adopt, or are forced to adopt, Open Access, then those museums who charge will be subject to the law of diminishing returns. Certainly, they may still find people willing to pay for an image from their collection, but it’s worth asking who that person will be? Will it be a commercial tea towel manufacturer? No. It’ll be a scholar who absolutely has to reproduce a little known Giotto. So we’ll end up with museums commercialising their public collections purely to penalise non-commercial users (which, let’s face it is broadly the situation now anyway). 

Finally, is there a risk that museums will now stop putting high resolution photographs on their website, in order to try and protect their ability to sell images? Perhaps, but of course they do this already; the resolution of images on Tate's collection site is a joke, and among the worst in the world (see for example here). It's got to the point now where Tate's collection site is effectively unusable; the public cannot properly see the paintings they own. Ultimately, there must come a point where a publicly funded museum has to decide, which is more important; attempting to raise money in a legally questionable way from image fees, or fulfilling their public mission?

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