Category: Discoveries

Finding Michaelina

August 15 2018

Image of Finding Michaelina

Picture: KHM, via Apollo

Here's a fascinating article in Apollo from the art historian Katlijne Van der Stighelen on her research into Michaelina Wautiers, the mid-17th Century Flemish artist, who is the star of a major exhibition now on in Antwerp:

I discovered Michaelina Wautier back in 1993, when attending a symposium at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. I’d wanted to view a portrait attributed to Van Dyck that was in storage. A curator led me down long corridors in which ‘second class’ Flemish paintings were stored. As I was leaving the stores, my eye fell upon a monumental piece I wasn’t familiar with. Looking closer, I saw that it was an enormous Triumph of Bacchus [above], executed in a style I didn’t immediately associate with the 17th-century Antwerp School. I learned that the work had been recorded in 1659 in an inventory commissioned by the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, of paintings he had acquired in Brussels, where Wautier lived. The curator noted that it had been painted by a woman: ‘Jungfrau Magdalena Wautier’. While the Triumph of Bacchus is Wautier’s greatest work, it is by no means her only one. Very soon a small body of work had been assembled – the 15 fully signed paintings that had survived served as the basis for attributing 10 more works to her.

It's all very well art historians like me claiming to make the occasional discovery of a painting. But to discover an actual artist, forgotten about for centuries, is a major undertaking, and an extraordinary contribution to art history. AHN hereby adds Prof. Katlijne Van der Stighelen to the list of 'heroes of art history'! 

Katlijne's exhibition is on until 2nd September.

Van Eyck's lost lamb

June 19 2018

Image of Van Eyck's lost lamb

Picture: via Codart

Restorers working on Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece have removed a layer of 16th Century overpaint which was covering the artist's original lamb (now seen above right). More here on Codart.

Meanwhile, the author of a new book claims that the missing panel, stolen in 1934, is buried somewhere in the city, but he's not saying exactly where. He's based his claim on a letter allegedly written by someone involved in the theft, which contains riddles and mysterious words. According to The Guardian, authorities in Ghent are taking the claim seriously. Although if there was any truth in the claim, why publish the book now? Why not wait until after the panel has been dug it up, and gloriously claim to have solved the mystery?  

Mantegna discovery in Italy

May 22 2018

Image of Mantegna discovery in Italy

Picture: Academia Carrara & Corriere.it

A painting by Mantegna has been discovered in Italy, at the Accademia Carrara. The painting (left, above) was in the museum's store rooms, and thought to be a copy. But sharp eyed curators noticed that it was actually the top part of another painting by Mantegna, the Descent into Limbo (above right), which was once part of the Barbara Piasecka Johson collection. The crucial detail was part of a cross on the top of a rod held in the Piasecka Johnson painting, of which the tip can just be seen at the bottom of the Carrara painting. More here (in Italian), and you can zoom into the painting here, on the Academia Carrara's excellent website.

'New Rembrandt discovery in Holland' (ctd.)

May 22 2018

Video: Reuters

Above is a short video by Reuters on Jan Six's Rembrandt discovery, including an interview with Jan himself. And here, on a Dutch TV chat show, you can see Jan unveiling the picture in front of a studio audience, and he gives a much longer and very revealing interview (with English subtitles). The host brandishes a copy of the Christie's catalogue in which the picture was described as 'Circle of Rembrandt' as Jan tells us how he went about researching the picture before the sale. He says two particularly interesting things: first, that he showed a photo to the leading Rembrandt scholar Ernst van der Wetering before the sale (I've always though that's cheating!); that van der Wetering had himself not been asked for an opinion by anyone else before the sale. Which is surprising.

Update - you can buy Jan's book on the discovery here. It sets out all the evidence behind the attribution. A wise move, for in this game there's no end of people determined to say you're wrong, merely on the basis of looking at a few photos on the internet. When it's a big discovery, the blinkers go on, and the knives come out.

New Rembrandt discovery in Holland

May 15 2018

Image of New Rembrandt discovery in Holland

Picture: NRC

Exciting news from Amsterdam; a newly attributed portrait by Rembrandt has been unveiled at the Hermitage museum. The painting was discovered by the art dealer, Jan Six, at auction in London in 2016. His hunch that it was by Rembrandt has been endorsed by subsequent research and conservation, and by a number of Rembrandt scholars, including Prof. Ernst van der Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project.

More here at NRC (in Dutch), and there's also an interview with Jan Six. Jan is, incidentally, a descendant of the Jan Six painted so memorably by Rembrandt. How wonderful that four centuries later, the name Jan Six can still be associated with heralding new paintings by Rembrandt.

The painting was offered in London as 'Circle of Rembrandt', with an estimate of £15,000-£20,000, and ultimately made £137,000. For what it's worth, I was one of the underbidders. Although I'm absolutely not a Rembrandt specialist, I thought on seeing the picture that it had an excellent chance of being by Rembrandt himself, painted in the early 1630s. The brilliantly painted collar in particular I thought was almost as good as a signature, and entirely consistent with the collar on the painting by Rembrandt of Philip Lucasz in the National Gallery, which was painted in 1635. What was interesting is that from the photos, the painting did not look that impressive. But in person, it was almost as one was looking at a different painting. That's a common connoisseurial challenge these days of course; photos so rarely do justice to good paintings.

As you can imagine, the days before the sale were rather tense ones in AHN towers. But when the sale came, we soon ran up against our limit. There's always a feeling in situations like this that if only you'd gone for one more bid, you might have got it. But in the NRC interview, Jan Six tells us he was able to bid significantly higher, so we'd never have got it. I am so pleased that the painting has now found its rightful status. Many congratulations on the excellent sleuthing Jan!

Re-discovered: Rubens' portrait of his daughter (ctd.)

May 1 2018

Image of Re-discovered: Rubens' portrait of his daughter (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

Rubens' portrait sketch of his daughter, Clara Serena, is to be offered by Christie's in London this July, with an estimate of £3m-£5m. Regular readers will remember that the painting was deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2013 as a copy, with an estimate of $20k-$30k (it eventually sold for $626k). James Pickford in the FT has the story, but what struck me most was the rather silly response from the Met, who said:

“The attribution of the picture has been debated in the past and we believe it will continue to be debated. Given the strength of our holdings in this area, we stand by the decision to deaccession the work.”

This is a classic example of how politics and egos get in the way in art history. The grown up thing to do would be to admit that the Met made a mistake, and that the picture was now recognised - after cleaning and further research - as a Rubens. But instead, in an attempt to justify their mistake, they attempt to cast doubt on the attribution, and suggest bizarrely that they would have been happy to let a Rubens go for just $20k (the lower estimate). Have a look at their collections site yourself, and judge if the Met is bursting with Rubens head studies (it isn't).

Update - a number of people have wondered if I am the owner of this picture; alas not! Nor am I connected to it or the owners in any way. I hope readers will know that if it were mine, I wouldn't comment on it publicly without saying so. I have championed the picture only because I think it deserved to be championed. For what it's worth, it belongs to private collectors, whom I only met once by chance, long after the picture was authenticated as a Rubens. They just liked the painting, and took a punt on it. 

New Artemisia self-portrait (ctd).

April 9 2018

Video: Drouot

Remember that previously unknown Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait which surfaced at auction in Paris last year, for €2.3m? On Twitter, one French art historians suggests that it was bought by the National Gallery in London. Bravo the National Gallery, if so.

Constable discovery at London auction

March 30 2018

Image of Constable discovery at London auction

Picture: Rosebery's

A delightful and unknown oil sketch by Constable has ben sold at a minor auction in London. The picture wasn't a sleeper, and was fully researched and catalogued by Roseberys in London - but it made a hefty price of £305k against an estimate of £20k-£30k. More here

Guercino discovery in the UK

January 31 2018

Image of Guercino discovery in the UK

Picture: Cheffins

A previously unknown depiction of an Italian Mastiff has been attributed to Guercino, after it was discovered by a regional UK auction house. Colin Gleadell in The Telegraph reports:

The owners, whose forbears made the Grand Tour of Italy in 1850, were completely unaware who the painting was by until a routine valuation visit by Cheffins auctioneers from Cambridge started an investigative ball rolling.

Cheffins called in their Old Master paintings consultant, John Somerville, a former specialist at Sotheby’s, who recognised the painting as ‘Bolognese School’ Baroque, but needed corroboration for an attribution to Guercino as only one dog portrait by the artist is known.

That painting, a brindle mastiff with the Aldrovandi family coat of arms on its collar, was sold in 1972 for the then princely sum of £110,000  to the Norton Simon Museum in America where it hangs today. The Cheffins painting is of a bull mastiff, or, more correctly in Italian, a Cane Corso.

The picture will be offered on 7th March, with an estimate of £80k-£120k.

Two new Van Gogh discoveries

January 18 2018

Image of Two new Van Gogh discoveries

Pictures: via TAN

When the Van Gogh museum was asked to give a view on the authenticity of a previously unknown Van Gogh drawing (above) it prompted them to reassess a work in its own collection. Now, the museum has declared that both works are indeed by Van Gogh. The picture above is The Hill of Montmartre with Stone Quarry, and is in the collection of the Van Vlissingen Art Foundation. The picture below is The Hill of Montmartre, and belongs to the Van Gogh Museum, but had been rejected by curators there as a pastiche. Both works were drawn in 1886. More here from Martin Bailey (himself a Van Gogh scholar) in The Art Newspaper

New Jordaens discovery by JVDPPP

December 24 2017

Image of New Jordaens discovery by JVDPPP

Picture: JVDPPP/Museo Civici de Venezia

Excellent festive news from the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project; the team there have found a previously ignored version of Jordaens' Adoration of the Shepherds in the Museo Civici in Venice. The painting had been considered a copy of a painting by Jordaens in the Mayer Van Den Bergh Museum in Antwerp, but new analysis by the Project has found not only numerous pentimenti in the picture but also the panel makers' mark of Guilliam Aertsen of Antwerp on the back. Dendrochronology has revealed that the panel was made from a tree felled between 1612 and 1625, and intriguingly that the data was a close match to panels used by Van Dyck in some of his early Apostles series; the trees probably grew together in the same Baltic forest before being cut down and shipped to Antwerp. The Project believes the Venice Adoration to have been painted in about 1618. Incidentally, the shepherd bottom left is a model we frequently see in Rubens' paintings of the period. I would love to know who he was, this original hipster.

Lost Murillo found in Wales

November 23 2017

Image of Lost Murillo found in Wales

Picture: Sotheby's

A previously lost portrait by Murillo, of Don Diego Ortiz de Zúñiga, has been found at Penrhyn Castle in Wales. The painting is now in the Frick's Murillo exhibition - but as a last minute addition. It is published in the catalogue as a copy, because, as The Guardian reports:

One of the US exhibition’s curators, Xavier F Salomon, said [...] that he regretted relying on previous judgments by other art historians. “Most scholars have written that there are two versions [of the portrait], both copies after a lost original. One copy was in Seville, which I’ve seen and is clearly a copy,” he said.

Painted around 1751, the copy is thought to have been commissioned by the sitter’s family when the original Murillo was sold. Now attributed to the 18th-century Sevillian painter Domingo Martínez, it hangs in Seville town hall.

When it came to the Welsh example, Salomon said the literature featured “terrible old black and white photos”. He requested a colour image for his exhibition catalogue and featured it as a “copy”, even though he recalled his first impression was that “this looks really good”.

“I thought ‘people have always said it’s a copy, it’s got to be a copy’. Which is, of course, a mistake art historians should never make. Go with your gut feeling and you should follow up. I didn’t.

Don't be too hard on yourself Xavier - at least your initial reaction was right!

Rubens' Clara Serena comes to Scotland

November 21 2017

Image of Rubens' Clara Serena comes to Scotland

Picture: Rubenshuis

Regular readers may remember the story of the discovery of Rubens' portrait of his daughter Clara Serena, mistakenly deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum as a copy. The picture has now gone on display at the National Gallery of Scotland up here in Edinburgh, until 28th January. More here

Off with his head!

November 21 2017

Image of Off with his head!

Picture: James Mulraine

When the art historian James Mulraine was visiting Hampton Court recently, he noticed that the in the famous painting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, someone had once cut off Henry VIII's head. It turns out (James is one of the best at finding out these things) that some bored Spanish courtiers had done it in the early 17th Century, as one contemporary recorded:

’The last weeke the Sp Ambr had long audience in the Gallerie at Whitehall with [The King] … that tyme his followers were in the next roome, where are many good pieces as your Lordship knoweth amongst others the siege of Kinsale and K:H8 his going into Bolloigne (wch is one of the best there) out of theise were many peeces cutt where the Spaniards received any disgrace in the first where a Spaniard is hanged at Kinsale and in the other the kings head cutt off… this is much spoken off.’

More here

'Salvator Mundi' - the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction

November 16 2017

Image of 'Salvator Mundi' - the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art

It's 1am here in the UK and I've just witnessed the most extraordinary moment of auction drama at Christie's New York (via Facebook live). Leonardo's Salvator Mundi has sold for £400m hammer, or $450m with fees.

The lot was first announced as 'selling' at $80m, which I presume represents the level of the guarantee. Bidding was then brisk to the high $100ms, before, to audible gasps in the room, the picture broke through the $200m mark. Thereafter it was a battle between two phone bidders. The winning bidder kept making unilateral bids way above the usual bidding increments. Their final gambit was to announce, with the bidding at $370m, that their next bid was $400m. This finally knocked the competition out, and - after 19 minutes - the hammer came down. Whoever it was evidently has some serious cash to burn.

And so an Old Master painting has become the most expensive artwork ever sold. It will have completely overshadowed everything else in the sale. The next lot, a Basquiat (usually a high point for contemporary sales) bought in as the room buzzed with Leonardo chatter. Will the sale prompt people to now look anew at Old Masters? Maybe. It will surely end for good now the tired clicheé that the Old Master market is dead. 

Some immediate thoughts. First, the guarantor has made a few quid, and deserves it - guaranteeing that picture at this stage in its history (post rediscovery, and in the midst of an ugly legal battle between the vendor and his agent) was quite a risk. Second, the vendor - Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev - has made about $180m. He's in the midst of a legal battle with the person he bought the picture from, an art agent called Yves Bouvier, alleging that he was over-charged (it has been reported that Bouvier bought it from Sotheby's for about $80m, and sold it to Rybolovlev for about $125m - allegedly). I'm not sure how that over-charging allegation plays out now.

Third, Christie's just did something that re-writes the history of auctioneering. They took a big gamble with their brand, their strategy to sell the picture, and not to mention the reputations of their leadership team, and they pulled it off. They marketed the picture brilliantly - the best piece of art marketing I've ever seen. Above all, they had absolute faith in the picture. AHN congratulates them all. 

Finally, despite the fact that this picture enjoyed near universal endorsement from Leonardo scholars, and had a weight of other technical and historical evidence behind it, there was a tendency in many quarters to be sniffy about it. I found this puzzling - not just because (for what it's worth) I believed in the picture myself - since the determination amongst some to criticise the picture was in inverse proportion to their art historical expertise. It sometimes seems that the more famous the artist, the more people assume they are an expert in them. And with Leonardo being the most famous of them all, the armchair connoisseurs have been having a field day these last few weeks.

Anyway, I'm going to bed. What a ride. I was sure the picture would sell, but never imagined it would make this much. We must all now wonder where the picture is going to end up next. 

Re-discovered Lawrence portrait in Edinburgh

November 15 2017

Video: Lyon & Turnbull

The Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull have an unfinished portrait of a young girl by Sir Thomas Lawrence in their next sale. It's an early work, and can be dated to c.1790. The estimate is £30k-£50k, and the catalogue entry is here. [Disclaimer, I'm on the board of L&T!]

New discoveries at the JVDPPP

November 5 2017

Image of New discoveries at the JVDPPP

Picture: JVDPPP

The new Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project unveiled some more exciting discoveries at a press conference last week, including a previously unknown Jordaens panel above left. The picture is called The Penitent Peter and John the Evangelist Approaching the Tomb of Christ. From the JVDPPP website:

We had found a reference to it and a small black and white photograph, taken in 1971, in the database of the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (IRPA-KIK) as belonging to the Church of Our Lady of La Cambre and Saint Philippus Nerius in Brussels. We visited the church but to no avail. Eventually Joost tracked it down within the Church fabric. Our research discovered that it was gifted to the church by Hortense Hannet (1855 – 1940) in memory of her husband, François Hannet (1837 – 1918), a Professor of Design in Brussels, and in whose collection it had resided. It had been exhibited at the 1905 Jordaens exhibition in Antwerp and it was listed by the art historian Max Rooses in his 1908 monograph on the artist but trace of it had been lost for over a hundred years and no image of it had been published.

Peter is a portrait of Abraham Grapheus, the Steward of the artists’ Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp. He was well-known to both young artists, Jordaens and Van Dyck. They were inscribed as apprentices in the Guild in the years 1607-8 and 1610-11 and became masters in the Guild in 1615-6 and 1618-9 respectively. Both used Grapheus’ distinctive face for depictions as an Apostle in their early religious paintings. We showed the museum’s Bust of an Apostle by Jordaens as a comparative example (oil on canvas, 59 x 48 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, inv. no. 121 – when it was first listed in 1806, and for many years afterwards, it was believed to be by Van Dyck). Further information on Grapheus, Jordaens and Van Dyck can be found in the recent exhibition catalogue, Abraham Grapheus, model van Jacob Jordaens, Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent, 2012, including an image of a similar painting in the Kunsthalle, Hamburg (inv. no. 82) but with major differences.

New Zoffany discovery

October 30 2017

Image of New Zoffany discovery

Picture: Lowell Libson

The London-based dealer Lowell Libson has discovered a sketch by Zoffany for one of his most famous pictures, Colonal Mordaunt's Cock Match (c.1784-6). The original is in the Tate, and the newly found sketch (above) was painted in preparation for an engraving. Lowell's new catalogue, available online here, has an essay about the discovery by the art historian Martin Postle. Another newly discovered work is this exquisite Macbeth and the Three Witches by John Martin. Bravo!

Newly discovered £2m-£3m Constable at Sotheby's

October 29 2017

Image of Newly discovered £2m-£3m Constable at Sotheby's

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's will sell in their London Old Master sale this December a newly discovered painting by John Constable, with an estimate of £2m-£3m. The picture, Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood, was painting between 1814-17. Says Sotheby's specialist Julian Gascoigne:

Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood was long mistakenly thought to be by Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775–1862), a friend and contemporary of Constable’s, but recent scientific analysis and up-to-date connoisseurship has unanimously returned the work to its rightful place among the canon of the great master’s work and established beyond doubt its true authorship. It is without question one of the most exciting and important additions to Constable’s oeuvre to have emerged in the last 50 years.”

More here

Queueing for Leonardo (Ctd.)

October 26 2017

Image of Queueing for Leonardo (Ctd.)

Picture: TAN 

Back in 2011 I often reported on the queues to get into the National Gallery's Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Now there are Leonardo queues in London again (reports The Art Newspaper) to see Salvator Mundi at Christie's. 

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