Category: Conservation

'Lot 31 - The Stolen Degas'

January 21 2011

Image of 'Lot 31 - The Stolen Degas'

A c.1870 painting by Edgar Degas stolen in 1973 has been returned to the French Government by US authorities after it was spotted in an auction catalogue. The picture, estimated by Sotheby's at $350,000 to $450,000, had slipped through a check on the Art Loss Register. 

U.S. customs officials, working with authorities from Interpol, said the painting was consigned to French art collector Ronald Grelsamer. 

Grelsamer said his father gave him the painting as a gift, but was unaware it was stolen, the statement said.

Velasquez Upgraded

December 22 2010

Image of Velasquez Upgraded

Picture: New York Times/Metropolitan Museum

After a long campaign of conservation, curators at the Met in New York believe that their ‘workshop’ portrait of Philip IV is in fact an autograph work by Velasquez.  It had been downgraded in 1973. The New York Times has a fascinating article, where you can see the picture before and after conservation. 

Philip’s left eye had been totally obliterated, and has had to be recreated (very well I think) from other versions of the portrait. Despite appearances, the picture is actually in a relatively good state. The story is yet another example of how a picture’s condition can throw people off the scent – ‘dirty’ paintings, obscured by old varnish and over-paint, are often hard to read.

The Met’s attribution of Philip IV follows on from their earlier upgrading of Portrait of a Man from workshop to autograph.

Courtauld defeats Jewish heirs to keep Rubens

December 20 2010

Image of Courtauld defeats Jewish heirs to keep Rubens

In a strange ruling, the UK’s Spoliation Advisory Panel has concluded that the heirs of a Jewish banker cannot claim ownership of a Rubens sketch sold under the Nazis. Herbert Gutmann sold the picture at Graupe auction house in 1934, a year after Hitler assumed full control of Germany. Austrian authorities, on the other hand, have previously decided that Gutmann’s paintings sold at Graupe should be returned to his heirs.

The case revolved around whether Gutmann sold the Rubens at its market value because of debts he was obliged to repay legitimately, or whether he was forced to sell the picture because of anti-semitism.

The basic facts of the case are these:

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"Moving the Lady with an Ermine is absolutely crazy."

December 13 2010

Image of "Moving the Lady with an Ermine is absolutely crazy."

So says Michael Daley of ArtWatchUK, ahead of the picture’s loan to the National Gallery’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in London, scheduled for November 2011 – February 2012. A group of Polish art historians is also anxious about moving the picture.

There's been a growing neurosis about moving, or occasionally even looking at, old paintings over the last decade. But the Lady will be fine. As long as the National Gallery doesn’t drop any more pictures, that is…

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