Category: Conservation

Don't drop it, John

April 18 2011

Image of Don't drop it, John

Picture: Press TV

John Curtis, Keeper, Department of the Middle East at the British Museum, carries the Cyrus Cylinder back to London. More here.  

Leonardo loan to London still at risk?

April 13 2011

Image of Leonardo loan to London still at risk?

Picture: AP

In Poland, some conservation experts are still advising against letting Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine travel to London for the National Gallery's Leonardo exhibition. They believe it is too fragile to be moved. They don't seem to be bothered about the flimsy case they carry it about it, however.

A final decision on whether it can also travel to Berlin and Madrid is expected soon. 

Peering beneath the Frick's Bellini

April 8 2011

A complete image of the underdrawing in the Frick Collection's St Francis in the Desert by Giovanni Bellini has been captured for the first time, after the picture was subjected to exhaustive technical analysis by the Metropolitan Museum. See the full fascinating results in the video above, with more images and text here

Happy Birthday, Mr President

April 5 2011

Image of Happy Birthday, Mr President

A painting by Gerrit van Honthorst that belonged to James Madison has been restored in time to hang back in its original place in his home, Montpelier, in time for the 4th President's 260th birthday. More here.

Restoring Gainsborough's Grave

April 4 2011

Image of Restoring Gainsborough's Grave

Graves aren't really my thing, but here's a deserving cause: Gainsborough's grave in St Anne's, Kew is seriously in need of restoration. The sum needed is £15,000. Here's a rather wobbly but charming video on the project.

A number of you kindly responded to my plug for the Anne Boleyn restoration fund - and if anyone wants to spread the word about this, the friends of St Anne's would be most grateful.

If you're so minded, cheques should be sent to:

'The Friends of St. Anne’s Church, Kew', The Treasurer, The Friends’, C/O The Parish Office, St. Anne’s Church, Kew Green, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AA

Van Gogh's 'weave maps'

March 31 2011

Image of Van Gogh's 'weave maps'

An electrical engineering professor, Richard Johnson Jr., has developed an algorithmic programme to help authenticate Van Gogh paintings. The programme analyses the 'weave maps' of Van Gogh's canvasses. Johnson, who has been working at the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands, said;

'This is pretty extraordinary... What's happening is some doubted paintings are being authenticated, and some that had been placed at a funny date are now being moved.'

More here.

Restoring Matisse's 'Joy of Life'

March 30 2011

Image of Restoring Matisse's 'Joy of Life'

Picture: The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.

Following the recent analysis of Van Gogh's faded sunflowers, scientists are now examining a 1906 work by Matisse, The Joy of Life.

Like Van Gogh, Matisse used a range of bright yellow pigments invented in the industrial revolution. These are now slowly fading, but by a combination of conservation and the right lighting levels it is hoped the process can be checked. 

Once the painting is in its own gallery in Philadelphia, the museum may use lights of a specific wavelength to minimize further oxidation [said Jennifer Mass, the scientist leading the project]. In the future, some chemical treatments might be considered to reverse the color changes, but that would be considered an invasive treatment and would be undertaken only with extreme care, she said.

"I think Matisse is not getting a fair deal at the moment," Mass said. "What art historians are looking at is not his original vision."

More here.

Anne Boleyn needs YOU!

March 22 2011

Image of Anne Boleyn needs YOU!

Picture: The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery needs help to begin urgent conservation work on their portrait of Anne Boleyn. The wooden panel is buckling and cracking, causing damage to the paint layers. This is happening because the picture was long ago 'cradled', a conservation practice that was all the rage in the early twentieth century, and which is preventing the panel from moving naturally.

You can donate online here - they have so far raised £2,500, and need to hit £4,000 before work can begin. Please pass this round if you know anyone else who might bung in a few quid.

The picture is probably the most important extant painting of Anne, and consciously presents her as the dark witch-like figure she was portrayed as after her execution.

But it probably doesn't look anything like her. In 2007 David Starkey and I argued that she actually looked like this - and that the old inscription on Holbein's drawing labelled 'Anna Bollein Queen' was valid. Previously, the drawing had been called simply 'Portrait of a Lady'. I'm pleased to note that the Royal Collection now definitively catalogues it as 'Anne Boleyn' in full, and says 'This is a rare surviving portrait of Anne'. Hooray! [Bragging note: to see another royal portrait in a public collection I have re-identified, click here.]

Van Dyck discovered in Spain

March 18 2011

Image of Van Dyck discovered in Spain

This is exciting - a lost painting by Van Dyck appears to have been found in the stores of a Spanish Museum. The Virgin and Child Adored by Penitent Sinners is in the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. 

The news reports are sketchy and describe the painting as 'previously unknown'. I see from the 2004 catalogue raisonne, however, that there was a reference to a similarly titled work in the Spanish Royal Collection in 1681, so perhaps this is it. There is another version in the Louvre (below), in which the central penitent figure holds a different position. In 2004, Horst Vey described the Louvre version as being in bad condition. Perhaps the newly discovered version is in better shape - certainly, the hands and face of the central figure are more compelling than in the Louvre version. 

I've asked the Academy of San Fernando for a better photo - I'll put it up here if I get it.

Goliath's Revenge?

March 8 2011

Image of Goliath's Revenge?

Like the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's David is always good for a few column inches on a slow news day, no matter how far-fetched the story. I've watched this story grow from an obscure press release to, now, the world's media. Apparently the statue is in danger of collapse, because the new Roman metro system will pass over half a kilometre from it. Fernando De Simone wants the city to build a special underground viewing room for David. He says:

'The tunnel will pass about 600 meters (2,000ft) from the statue of David, the ankles of which, it is well known, are riddled with micro-fissures. If it’s not moved before digging begins, there is a serious risk that it will collapse.'

By the way - Fernando de Simone is an architect specialising in... underground construction.

Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' cannot travel

March 1 2011

Image of Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' cannot travel

Poland's chief arts conservator has refused permission for Leonardo's 'Lady with an Ermine' to travel to Berlin for an exhibition in August.

Earlier, concerned polish art historians had hoped to prevent the picture going to London for the National Gallery's Leonardo show, which opens in November. However, it appears that the London journey is still on. 

Soane Museum Restoration

February 15 2011

Image of Soane Museum Restoration

The director of the Soane Museum, Tim Knox, has launched a £500,000 public appeal to raise the final funds needed for the museum's restoration. He has already raised a whopping £6.5m. More here, and at the museum's website here

Tim Knox said;

"Rest assured that it will all be done in the best possible taste... no brash new labels or burbling audioguides."

Van Gogh's Dying Sunflowers

February 15 2011


An international team of scientists has analysed the fading pigments used by Van Gogh, most notably his yellow. The findings confirm that over time his yellows have become brown, and will continue to get browner. 

Van Gogh's original use of ultra-bright colours was dependent on the limited type of pigments available at the time. Inevitably, they will not last as well as pigments available later on, when paint companies had to cater for the very style that Van Gogh and his like had created. 

Of course, Van Gogh was not the only artist who had trouble with his 'fugitive pigments'. Joshua Reynolds mixed his own experimental pigments, usually not very well. He had a particular problem with his reds and pinks. As a result, many of his portraits look like ghosts today. 

Will future generations wonder why Van Gogh was so interested in dead flowers?

Museums at risk in Cairo

January 31 2011

Image of Museums at risk in Cairo

Picture: CNN. Troops guard the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

There are reports of mass lootings and tomb openings during the revolution. 

Friday night, a group of 'criminals' entered the Cairo Museum using a fire department staircase, Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, told CNN early Sunday.

Once inside the museum, they went to the Late Period gallery, Hawass wrote. 'When they found no gold, they broke 13 vitrines (glass showcases) and threw the antiquities on the floor'.

'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:

Read More

"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…

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.