Collection of the late John Schaeffer

August 12 2020

Image of Collection of the late John Schaeffer

Picture: Leonard Joel Auctions

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Part of the collection of the late Australian art collector John Schaeffer AO (1941-2020) is coming up for sale this month. Schaeffer, who began life in Holland till he immigrated to Australia, became a passionate collector and enthusiast of nineteenth century art. He had supported part of the redecoration of Leighton House and loaned several pictures to the institution over the years.

His sale is filled with some interesting things, as one might expect. I found this copy of Frans Hal's Laughing Cavalier sans hat (pictured) particularly fun.

Museums to Turn Visitors into Environmental Activists

August 12 2020

Image of Museums to Turn Visitors into Environmental Activists


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Nick Merriman, chief executive of the Horniman Museum & Garden in South London (pictured), has penned an article for Artnet on what he thinks the role of museums should be in tackling the environmental crisis. The piece makes quite clear which camp Merriman might sit in during the recent 'What is a Museum' debate.

In his own words:

Museums are well practiced in developing exhibitions, events, and activities to engage audiences with key issues. The work of artists, in particular, brings the emotional perspective which psychological research shows is needed to prompt action. An acceleration in this work is necessary given the urgency of the climate and ecological breakdown.


No doubt we all have our own perspectives on what is likely to prompt change in the way we treat our shared environment. Yet, I can't say that notions of 'prompt[ing] action' and 'acceleration' have ever come to me whilst admiring exhibitions of landscapes by the likes of Gainsborough, Turner and Towne etc. They tend to have the opposite effect.

Sharing Questions of Attribution on Instagram

August 12 2020

Image of Sharing Questions of Attribution on Instagram

Picture: Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

As August is generally a rather quiet month for news in the world of old masters, I thought I'd share some interesting accounts that I've spotted on social media recently.

Bastian Eclercy (@bastianeclercy), Curator of Italian, French and Spanish paintings at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt has been sharing some geuinely interesting curatorial insights on his Instagram account.

His most recent post draws attention to the attribution of the painting of an unknown Lady pictured above. Acquired in 1850 as a portrait by Sebastiano del Piombo, the painting has since been given to no less than eight different artists over the past century. For the past twenty years it has been exhibited as a work by Peter de Kempeneer (c.1527-36), a Brussels born artist who spent some time in Italy. Eclercy points out that this artist's works from his later Spanish period are very difficult to match up to this painting. The particularly Flemish landscape, coupled with other elements that appear more Italian in style, has made pinning down a particular artist rather difficult.

Woburn Abbey Treasures in Greenwich

August 11 2020

Image of Woburn Abbey Treasures in Greenwich

Picture: RMG

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

My attention has been drawn to this very interesting exhibition that is happening now at the Queen's House in Greenwich. The Duke of Bedford has loaned several treasures from Woburn Abbey including family portraits and seventeenth century old masters.

Woburn Treasures runs until Easter 2021, is free to visit, and includes more pictures that the website seems to suggest.

What is a Museum?

August 10 2020

Image of What is a Museum?

Picture: ICOM

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The New York Times have published an article summarising a disagreement that is currently going on in the International Council of Museums (ICOM). The organisation is in disagreement with itself over the question 'What is a Museum?'.

Five proposals were drawn up, with one being picked out that consisted of 99 words and two paragraphs. It included the following statements:

“Museums are democratizing, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and futures,” it said, adding that museums work “with and for diverse communities” and aim “to contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality and planetary well-being.”

Several countries have rejected the proposals, with claims that it represents an political and ideological manifesto rather than a definition of what museums do. Arguments have been made that although such values are supported, they belong in an institution's individual mission statement. On the other hand, the statement is said to have had wide support from African institutions, who have made issues such as human rights a key element of their social function.

Charles Saumarez Smith, whose recent post on the subject drew me to the article, has summarised the two opposing views most succinctly:

[the article] encapsulates the generational divide between those who still feel that they are pre-eminently about a collection of objects or works of art however interpreted – what in the 1970s was described as ‘the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity’ – and those who feel their social mission should come first and be stated more radically.


If the study of international organisations over the past decades has suggested anything, it is that the search for universal values across such infinitely varying peoples, traditions and cultures is a slow and difficult process.

Art Lawsuit vs. Kingdom of Netherlands Thrown Out

August 10 2020

Image of Art Lawsuit vs. Kingdom of Netherlands Thrown Out


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

A lawsuit levelled against the Kingdom of the Netherlands was thrown out of court in the US District of South Carolina Charleston Division last week. The lawsuit revolves around the claim made by descendants of the Dutch art gallery Firma D. Katz (pictured) for 144 pictures sold to the Nazis and now owned by the Dutch State. Bruce Berg, grandson and nephew of the two gentlemen in the photograph above, asserts that the paintings were sold under duress in an effort to save the lives of 25 relatives.

As the article linked above points out:

The Dutch government argued that the art was sold fairly and that it now is part of the country’s national treasure trove and of terrific value to the Dutch people. Berg, in his suit, argued that fairness did not exist in Nazi Germany, that any transaction with Nazis, no matter its appearance on paper, must have been made under duress, and that the art rightfully belongs to his family.

The court determined the Netherlands and its state-run institutions are “entitled to sovereign immunity.”

It seems that the case has a long history. The RKD lists this Rembrandt portrait as having been returned to Katz by the Dutch State in 1946 after being purchased for the Fuhrer Museum in Linz.

Update - I just spotted that one of the paintings in the background of the above photograph is this Frans Hals that was offered for sale by the Portland Museum of Art at Sotheby's in 2019. The provenance makes clear that the picture was sold before WWII.

Update 2 - My attention has been drawn to this interesting report made by the Dutch Restitution Agency in 2017. A lot seems to hang on finding firm evidence that proves that works were sold under duress or not. The report highlights the many complexities involved in reviewing such cases.

Is this Raphael's Face (?)

August 7 2020

Image of Is this Raphael's Face (?)

Picture: The Guardian

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Scientists at Tor Vergata University in Rome have recreated the face of the Renaissance artist Raphael (right). This rather cartoon-like image was produced using a cast that was made in 1833 when the painter's body was exhumed from the Parthenon in Rome. 

Furthermore, they claim that their 3D reconstruction 'proves' that there is a clear match between contemporary likenesses of the artist and their image made from remains identified as Raphael's.

To me, this piece of scientific research makes clear that twenty-first century man's ability to make an convincing and artistic image of a human face has actually regressed since the sixteenth century.

Beirut Devastation

August 7 2020

Image of Beirut Devastation


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The world has been shocked by Tuesday's devastating explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, which has thus far claimed 137 lives, left thousands injured and many more homeless.

The ARCA Blog, which focuses on Art Crime, has posted pictures purporting to show the interiors of the Sursock Palace in Beirut after the blast. The Sursock Palace, still in private hands but connected to the Sursock Museum network, was built in the nineteenth century and contains a historic collection of art and furniture.

It seems that the blast has not only shattered windows spraying glass everywhere, but that some of the roofs and ceilings of the rooms have also caved in. There are some images of paintings that have perished in their frames. One in particular seems to show a painting which has been hit by so much glass that it has been sliced off of its relining canvas (?).

The Fitzwilliam Museum is Hiring!

August 7 2020

Image of The Fitzwilliam Museum is Hiring!

Picture: The Fitzwilliam Museum

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The University of Cambridge Museums is hiring a Research and Engagement Fellow. This fixed term contract will be specifically be engaged in researching the legacies of empire and colonialism in the University's museum's collections, which includes the Fitzwilliam Museum.

As their advert explains:

This post provides an opportunity for an early-career researcher with an interest in public engagement to work across the University of Cambridge Museums and (UCM) to deliver a programme exploring the legacies of empire and colonialism within our collections. Underpinning the programme is a commitment to opening the history of our collections to interrogation from a range of perspectives and using them as an opportunity for examining challenging topics, our existing collections and programming practice, and building dialogue and connections with our diverse stakeholders and audiences.

The role carries a salary of £32,816 - £40,322. Applications must be in by 4th September 2020.

Good luck if you're applying!

British Museum Reopening

August 7 2020

Image of British Museum Reopening

Picture: The British Museum

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The British Museum in London is set to reopen on 27th August 2020. This had been the museum's longest peace time closure in its 281 year history.

Visitors who wish to visit will need to pre-book one of the 2,000 tickets available for each day. This must be drastically less than the amount that usually visit this important London cultural institution. One wonders what sort of social distancing will be in place around the museum's most famous treasures, including the Rosetta Stone etc.

It's not entirely clear if the museum's Prints and Drawings Department will be reopening in due course either.

MET Lays Off 79 Employees

August 7 2020

Image of MET Lays Off 79 Employees

Picture: The Art Newspaper

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

More grim news from the museum sector in the US. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has laid off 79 employees due to the virus crisis. It had already let 81 employees go from its visitor service and retails departments in April. 93 employees have also taken early retirement packages. These drastic cuts are due to the fact that the museum is reported to be facing a budget deficit of $150m.

The museum is hoping to reopen to the public on 29th August. However, this may be pushed back if the state does not lift its prohibition on museums reopening.

Chatsworth Archives wins Digitising Grant

August 6 2020

Image of Chatsworth Archives wins Digitising Grant

Picture: Chatsworth

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Good news that the Devonshire Archives at Chatsworth have won a Cataloguing Grant from the National Archives and Pilgrim Trust to work on creating online catalogues for six of their most important collections.

The project will digitise sixteenth century accounts relating to Bess of Hardwick and other eighteenth and nineteenth century materials. The announcement seems to suggest documents relating to the famous Devonshire Art Collection will also be digitised (pictured), which is exciting news for picture researchers.

Keep Your Distance

August 5 2020

Image of Keep Your Distance

Picture: Twitter via. @anjdunning

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Medieval manuscripts scholar Andrew Dunning posted these pictures showing how the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is finding new ways to make the drudgery of signage more amusing. I've spotted a few other examples in Germany too, which shows that Old Masters can be a source for continual good humour during these uncertain times.

If any readers of AHN have snaps of other museums doing this, do get in touch.

Black Presence at the Uffizi

August 5 2020

Ritratto di quattro servitori della corte medicea

Il dipinto di Anton Domenico Gabbiani, conservato alla Galleria Palatina a Palazzo Pitti, rappresenta "varj Ritratti di alcuni giovani di barbare nazioni, che stavano alla corte del Gran Duca Cosimo III., cioè Mori, Tartari, Cosacchi, ecc. vari Cortigiani di basso servizio, e tra gli altri vedesi un Nano, che tiene nelle mani un piatto con alcune foglie fresche di Spinaci, per così denotare l’inclinazione particolare in riferire gli altrui fatti, nel che fare spiccava sopra d’ogni altro”. Così veniva descritta l'opera dal biografo del pittore. Justin Randolph Thompson, Direttore del Black History Month Florence, ci spiega il ruolo di queste figure all'interno della corte medicea e sopratutto del personaggio africano presente nel dipinto. #BlackPresence In collaborazione con Black History Month Florence BHMF Sottotitoli in italiano disponibili attivando l'opzione dalle Impostazioni.

Posted by Gallerie degli Uffizi on Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Video: Uffizi Gallery

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence has begun a weekly series entitled 'Black Presence' on its Facebook channel. Each week viewers will get the chance to watch a short video explaining more behind the black figures that appear in various paintings. It is very encouraging to see that the Uffizi is branching out into digital media platforms, especially as they are one of the last major museums in Europe without a good online collections database.

The Wall Street Journal has recently published an article on the mixed reactions the feature is receiving. Alas, I cannot read it due to the paywall!

Update - Due to a very kind reader, I've now had the opportunity to read the above article. It explains more behind the media initiative, and highlights that the videos have drawn a small protest from a local far-right group.

Finnish National Collection Digitised

August 4 2020

Image of Finnish National Collection Digitised

Picture: Finnish National Gallery

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Just a quick note to say that the Finnish National Gallery have done a rather good job of their digitised online collections database. I came across it earlier whilst doing some research and was pleasantly surprised how easy it is to use. The images available are very zoomable too. There are lots of interesting pictures to be found within, absolute catnip to art lovers who enjoy scrolling through such things.

The above portrait caught my attention. This unidentified and unattributed portrait of a young girl reminds me of the work of the Nuremberg painter Lorenz Strauch. But, I may be misguided.

Reynolds Letter Up For Auction

August 4 2020

Image of Reynolds Letter Up For Auction

Picture: LiveAuctioneers

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

A letter written by Sir Joshua Reynolds is coming up for auction in Boston later this month. Written to an unknown recipient, it describes there the whereabouts of his portrait of Nancy Reynolds and a Pieta by Palma Giovanne for which he asks 20 guineas. As William Boothby is described as the owner of the Nancy Reynolds picture, it may well related to this fine portrait that sold for £62,500 at Sotheby's in 2013.

The letter carries an estimate of $2,000 - $3,000. If it makes the top estimate, then this might be a third of the way towards purchasing a low-end Reynolds. Alternatively, much closer to purchasing this handsome studio piece which made $5,000 two years ago.

MFA Boston Lays Off 57 Employees

August 4 2020

Image of MFA Boston Lays Off 57 Employees

Picture: MFA Boston

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has announced that it has laid-off 57 employees with an additional 56 employees taking voluntary retirement. The gallery has projected a $12m - $14m loss due to the covid crisis.

The American Alliance of Museums has suggested that one out of three museums in the USA might not reopen after the crisis.

San Pier Maggiore Project

August 4 2020

Video: University of Cambridge

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Here's a fascinating digital art and architectural project. The University of Cambridge and partners have been undertaking a fascinating digital reconstruction of the lost church of San Pier Maggiore in Florence. Built in the years around 1300, the Church was once home to many important fourteenth century Italian artworks now dispersed around the globe. Visitors to Florence will be able to use their smart phone or tablet to enter a 3D visualisation app called Hidden Florence 3D: San Pier Maggiore.

$2.5 bn Revenue - 25% Down on 2019 - at Sotheby's

August 3 2020

Image of $2.5 bn Revenue - 25% Down on 2019 - at Sotheby's

Picture: ArtMarketMonitor

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Art Market have published an interesting article exploring the recently published figures from the auction house Sotheby's.

Some of the headline figures:

- The sales volume to date (1st Jan - 31st July 2020) was $2.5 bn.

- The above figure is down 25% on 2019's figures of $3.3 bn. This fall is blamed on the covid crisis.

- Online sales increased by 540% in the first seven months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

- E-Commerce Retail is up 48% in transaction volume on the same period in 2019.

- Average lot value was over $20,000 on live and digital platforms, a figure that is double the average of those in 2019.

- 'Millennial buyers' (under age of 40) now account for 30% of total clients, with 30% of clients being new buyers.

- Strong results from the Asia Market with results totalling $450 m.

Art History Socks

August 3 2020

Image of Art History Socks


Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

AHN has a long history of bringing readers only the best art history related ephemera.

Curator Socks are "socks inspired by masterpieces".

In their own words:

Curator Socks draws its inspiration from the beauty and emotion of some of the greatest masterpieces ever created. We reinterpret strokes, color, and styles to transform iconic works of art into a beautifully knitted canvas that you can wear and take with you everywhere.

Artists on offer include Caravaggio (pictured), Klimt, Van Gogh, Manet, Leonardo, Bruegel, and the list goes on... The Turner set, which pushes the boundary of the term 'inspired by' to the limit, are my favourite.

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