Category: Exhibitions

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.

A lost Leonardo sculpture in London?

March 11 2019

Video: via You Tube

Research for a new exhibition on Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence has raised the fascinating possibility that a small terracotta sculpture in the V&A previously attributed to Antonio Rossellino is in fact by Leonardo da Vinci. If so, it would be the only known, surviving sculpture by him. The attribution has been proposed by Francesco Caglioti, and is supported by Carmen Bambach of the Met.

A video preview of the exhibition is above, with the terracotta appearing about halfway through. More on the attribution here. A link to the exhibition is here. The V&A's online catalogue still gives the attribution as Rossellino (readers of my Art Newspaper column may know that the V&A doesn't always leap enthusiastically on new attributions, if they are proposed by outsiders - though to be fair this is common in major museums, which can get very territorial). If you click on the download button and promise not to be naughty with the V&A's images, you can access a number of high resolution photos. Let's hope that the V&A are preparing to capitalise on the news by putting the sculpture on display as soon as it gets back from Florence in July. 

Leonardo's UK tour

February 21 2019

Video: Royal Collection

Here's a video from the Royal Collection on their excellent nationwide drawing exhibition; most of us in the UK are within about 30 miles of a Leonardo drawing at the moment. For more details, see here

Van Dyck goes to Hungary

February 21 2019

Image of Van Dyck goes to Hungary

Picture: Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

The full-length portrait of Mary Stuart by Van Dyck sold at Christie's in London last year for £5.8m has been acquired by the Szépművészeti Múzeum, the Museum of Fine Arts, in Budapest. And look at this - they've not only put the acquisition on their website, but it's there with good images, with an explanatory note, and an English translation. Excellent museum practice from start to finish!

The Burlington and Brexit

February 18 2019

Image of The Burlington and Brexit

Picture: Burlington Magazine

In an editorial covering the National Portrait Gallery's new exhibition on Nicholas Hilliard (who, while of course British, spent many years in Europe), the Burlington Magazine offers some thoughts on Brexit - and sounds a bit Leave-y in the process:

His [Hilliard's0 anniversary could therefore hardly be timelier, coinciding as it does with the United Kingdom’s struggle to reshape its relationship with Europe. One reason why it is helpful to reflect on the way that art of the past might relate to ideas of British identity is that contemporary artists have played such a disappointing part in the debates that have followed the referendum. It is not surprising that artists overwhelmingly wish that the vote had gone the other way, but their response has tended to confirm a belief that ‘remainers’ are experiencing a prolonged period of post-traumatic stress, evident in anger and denial. It is perhaps unfair to single out Anish Kapoor, but his comments on last month’s crushing parliamentary defeat of Theresa May’s Brexit proposals sum up why this debate is so stuck. Brexit, he claims, ‘seems to have brought out the very worst in us – Britain is more intolerant, more xenophobic, more insular than I have known it to be since the 1970s’.5

The problem about such remarks is that there is no attempt to see the issue from the point of view of those who think differently. Those who voted in favour of leaving the European Union are likely to regard such an attitude by a wealthy and successful artist as just another example of entitlement and privilege. They might also reflect that the diversity that is constantly held up as an ideal in the spaces of contemporary art does not seem to include diversity of political opinion. But Kapoor is right to say also that ‘it is our duty as citizens to find ways to come together and overcome the deeply sad and disorienting effects of Brexit’. How this is to be done is a question that should be asked most forcefully of those who when asked why they voted leave, reply that they want to leave the European Union, not Europe. How do they propose to reinforce Britain’s European identity? If quiet reflection on how to advance beyond this impasse is wanted, two good places for the historically minded to start are the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition and Goldring’s book.

Salvator Mundi & the Louvre

February 17 2019

Image of Salvator Mundi & the Louvre

Picture: via Christie's

The latest story to say Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi isn't by Salvator Mundi has been doing the rounds on social media; this time with the headline (in The Sunday Telegraph) saying that the Louvre 'would not show the painting' in its forthcoming Leonardo exhibition. The story is based on the opinion of one Jacques Franck:

[...] who has been a consultant to the Louvre on Leonardo restoration projects, told the Sunday Telegraph that politicians at the highest levels and Louvre staff, “know that the Salvator Mundi isn’t a Leonardo”.

He spoke of the growing realisation that France cannot afford the “humiliation” of its world-class museum displaying a painting when there are serious questions about it. He is among those who believe that it was painted primarily by one of Leonardo’s studio assistants.

And yet the story ends with confirmation that the Louvre has in fact requested the picture's loan:

On Friday, the Louvre confirmed that it had requested a loan, but declined to comment on doubts about the attribution or concerns among politicians and art historians. On Sunday, the museum said that it is awaiting a response from the painting’s owner on a loan.

Asked whether it would display it as a Leonardo or as a workshop production, a spokeswoman said: “The answer will be given in October”.

The Mail has picked up the Telegraph's story, with the headline:

"Is the world's most expensive painting a FAKE? Louvre snubs 'Leonardo da Vinci' painting"

And yet the subsequent piece contradicts the headline entirely, with the Louvre's response to M. Franck:

But a Louvre spokeswoman told MailOnline: 'The Musée du Louvre has asked for the loan of the Salvator Mundi and wishes to present it in its October exhibition.

'We are waiting for the owner’s answer.

'M. Franck was part of the scholars who have been consulted 7 or 8 years ago for the restoration of the Saint Ann.

'He is not currently working on the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition and has never been curator for the Louvre.

'His opinion is his personal opinion, not the one of the Louvre.' 

Both stories show the power of Leonardo as clickbait. Add to that the suggestion that some hapless Saudi prince has wasted $450m and you have the makings of art history's equivalent of the dream tabloid headline they used to teach in journalism school; 'Bishop in sex dash to palace'. 

The current spate of stories about the Salvator Mundi must also reflect the fact that its whereabouts are unknown; if it was on display at the Louvre Abu Dahbi, as was the original intention, I don't think the stories would have such traction. 

Update - The Louvre has told The Art Newspaper that the claims are 'fake information'. 

Update II - M. Franck writes to say that the Louvre are mistaken, and that he was actually a consultant for them up to 2016.

Theodoor Van Loon exhibition

October 23 2018

Image of Theodoor Van Loon exhibition

Piccture: Bozar

The first exhibition devoted to the Flemish Caravaggist Theodoor Van Loon has opened at the Bozar centre for fine arts in Brussels. Says the blurb:

Theodoor van Loon was one of the first painters from the Southern Netherlands to be deeply influenced by the art of Caravaggio. Like his contemporary Rubens, Van Loon developed a powerful, original style and throughout the whole of his career he remains marked by the Italian masters.

For the very first time this exhibition brings you into contact with the work of this atypical artist. By placing his paintings alongside those of his contemporaries (Rubens, Barocci, Bloemaert) the show reveals the particular role Van Loon played in his era.

Until 13th January 2019. More " target="_blank">here

'Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill'

October 23 2018

Video: Strawberry Hill

There's a fascinating new exhibition at Strawberry Hill in Middlesex, the home of the famed 18th Century British art historian and collector, Horace Walpole. For the first time in over 170 years, the celebrated Gothic fantasy house can be seen as it was in Walpole's day, with many of his artworks in the positions that he designed for them. The show runs until 24th February, 2019. More here. The catalogue by Silvia Davoli, who has spent many years tracking down Walpole's collection, is available to buy here

Very sadly, the portrait of the Duke of Buckingham by Rubens, which we featured on Britain's Lost Masterpieces and which once belonged to Walpole, was not available for loan.  

Mantegna and Bellini at the National Gallery

October 2 2018

Video: National Gallery

The new Mantegna and Bellini exhibition at the National Gallery has opened, and looks to be fascinating. It's on until 27th January. The critics like it: Jackie Wullschlager calls it 'marvellous' in the FT; Ben Luke gives it five stars in the Evening Standard; and Nancy Durrant in The Times gives it four stars. Jonathan Jones in The Guardian is less keen, giving it three stars. 

I'm glad to see the National Gallery making another good video for the show, above. But as talking about Old Masters on film is dear to my heart, I can't avoid pointing out that it doesn't really deliver. This is a video made by art historians for art historians. It should be made for the more general audience of potential visitors, who might not know why Mantegna is worth getting excited about. It needs to get quickly to the point about what the exhibition is about, why these artists matter, and in an accessible way. It doesn't even say that Mantegna and Bellini were brothers-in-law, which is rather a key point in why the exhibition is looking at the two artists together.  

"Ribera: Art of Violence"

September 27 2018

Video: EFE

The new Ribera exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London looks good; above is a clip from Spanish TV from inside the show, which opened yesterday. It runs until 27th January. More here.  

'Fleming at 50'

August 15 2018

Image of 'Fleming at 50'

Picture: Fleming Wyfold Foundation

We went last night to the opening of a new exhibition at the Edinburgh Fine Art Society, celebrating 50 years of the Fleming Collection. The collection, focused on Scottish art of all periods, was begun in the 1960s by Flemings bank. The exhibition is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, and includes well known works such as John Watson Nicol's Lochaber No More (above), about the Highland Clearances. Until 3rd September. More here.  

'Rembrandt: Britain's discovery of the master' (ctd.)

July 31 2018

Video: National Gallery of Scotland

I've written about the excellent new Rembrandt show at the National Gallery of Scotland; here's a short video on his self-portraits. The first exhibit in the show is a self-portrait on loan from the Walker Art Gallery, which was the first self-portrait to arrive in Britain, having been acquired by Charles I in the early 1630s. In the exhibition, it is labelled as 'attributed to Rembrandt', even though the Walker describes it when on display in Liverpool as 'Rembrandt'.

For me, no painting highlights the idiosyncracies of the Rembrandt Research Project more than the Walker self-portrait. Despite its early history, the RRP rejected the attribution. Indeed, it is still doubted by Ernst van der Wetering, who re-organised the RRP after its effective failure (at least in terms of connoisseurship) in the 1990s. (Another of the RRP's rejections is also on display in the Edinburgh show, The Mill from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, though this is a picture Ernst quite rightly now accepts).

To not accept Rembrandt's authorship of the Walker self-portrait means we must believe that in his own lifetime, and before he reached the heights of his international fame, people were making imitations of Rembrandt self-portraits, which in turn entered the most significant art collections in the world. I find this simply impossible to believe. Nor can I imagine a fake David Hockney hanging on the walls of Buckingham Palace for decades, and nobody noticing.

Anyway, there's another short video on the Rembrandt show here

'Rembrandt: Britain's discovery of the master' (ctd.)

July 19 2018

Image of 'Rembrandt: Britain's discovery of the master' (ctd.)

Picture: BG

There’s an excellent new exhibition on Rembrandt in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh; ‘Rembrandt: Britain’s discovery of the master'. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. It explores the history of collecting and admiring Rembrandt in Britain, from within his lifetime right up to the present day (even here, the now ubiquitous contemporary tack-on works well, and leaves us Rembrandt lovers with a rather triumphant demonstration of how his work still influences great artists, like Auerbach, today).

The exhibition covers everything from Rembrandt’s paintings, to his drawings, to his prints. The assembly of paintings is first class, and they look tremendous hung in the rooms of the Royal Scottish Academy on the Mound. The choice of drawings is really fascinating, and includes works with intriguing attributional issues, such as four drawings of scenes in Britain which have long been connected to Rembrandt, even though he very likely never came here. And the section on prints is equally interesting; it not only includes some of Rembrandt’s own best prints (including the famous ‘100 guilders print’ showing Christ Preaching) but also those by other artists who either admired him, or in some cases made forgeries in imitation. 

One such example was by Benjamin Wilson, who forged a Rembrandt landscape print in order to fool the artist Thomas Hudson. Hudson had outbid Wilson for a number of Rembrandt etchings in a London auction, and had also insulted him. So, to get his revenge, and to mock Hudson’s connoisseurship, Wilson made up a print and sold it to Hudson as a Rembrandt. He triumphantly inscribed a second state of the print; ‘A proof print from this plate, designed and etched by B Wilson, was sold as a very fine Rembrandt to one of the Greatest connoisseurs for Six Shillings, the 17 April 1751’.

What I liked most about the show was its unapologetic celebration of one person's artistic genius. In an age when many academic art historians tell us that 'value judgements' are the discipline's cardinal sin, to say nothing of the belief that attribution doesn't matter, this is refreshing. Because the focus was on why collectors in Britain admired Rembrandt, the exhibition consisted of excellent examples of Rembrandt’s work, told us why they were excellent, and how people acted on that excellence. Nor was there any hint of the pretentious art history guff we sometimes see in major Old Master exhibitions. AHN cannot praise the show's curator, Dr Tico Seifert, enough.

As an evangelist for both Old Masters and Scotland, I was of course keen to tell AHNers and others about the show, in the hope of enticing some of you to Edinburgh (the show runs until 14th October). So, as we so often do these days, I wanted to take some photos in the show, both as an aide-memoir, but also to post images on here, and also on Twitter. But alas. No sooner had I taken out my phone, to take a snap of The Holy Family at Night (’The Cradle’) attributed to the workshop of Rembrandt (more on this soon), than an energetic room warden marched over, saying photography was not allowed, and waving his arms in front of the camera (see above). He then said I had to delete the photos I’d just taken. I agreed to stop taking photos, but declined to delete anything. A lady with a radio then appeared and kept a watchful eye on me. Dr Bendor Grosvenor; famous threat to the safety of Old Masters. 

Regular readers will know that I’m a champion of both photography in galleries, and the abolition of museum image reproduction fees. So I decided to tweet the photo of the guard’s hand in front of ‘The Cradle’. It seems to have caught on, and by the end of the day I was on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme (which you can listen to here, I'm on at 12 minutes in). The next morning, the photo appeared in The Telegraph, as part of a long story on the rights and wrongs of taking photographs in museums.

It seems hard to believe now that it was only in 2014 that the National Gallery in London allowed photography in its main galleries. But still the norm is for temporary exhibitions to ban photography. I think it’s time this changed. First, the problem is that most museum visitors now understand that photography is allowed, and we snap away avidly at things we want to share, or record. So it comes as something of a shock when we reach for our camera in a different part of the museum, but are immediately shouted at. 

Why is there a photography ban in temporary exhibitions still? In the Telegraph, the Scottish National Gallery gave the following statement:

“Photography is usually not permitted in special exhibitions which include works that do not belong to NGS. This is primarily because many lenders (private and public) understandably require us to restrict or ban photography of the works that they have entrusted to our care. 

Why ‘understandably’? If as a lender you take the decision to lend a work of art to an exhibition, you are clearly happy for it to be viewed by the public. I don’t really see why you should then want to ban people from taking a photo of it. In fact, the reason photography is banned is largely to do with the pernicious business of image reproduction fees. Museums who try to make money from selling images of their artworks need above all to restrict people’s ability to take their own photos of those artworks. And because an exhibition like the Rembrandt show in Edinburgh contains works from galleries with varying rules on photography and image reproductions, a lowest common denominator approach is enforced. If one lender wants to ban photography, then it’s banned in the whole exhibition. (The irony is that in my case, the painting I was trying to photograph belonged to the Rijksmuseum, who are entirely relaxed about photography and image use.)

The end result is unsettled visitors, room guards who spend much of their time shouting at visitors, and, most seriously of all, a dramatic limitation on museums’ ability to market their exhibitions. These days, because almost all exhibition visitors have a smartphone in their pocket, each of us has the potential to be a mini marketing machine on behalf the museum. Every time we share a photo of an exhibition, we can encourage people to visit that show. This is particularly important for engaging new audiences. A recent survey by Tate found that for young people, the top two drivers for getting them to visit an art exhibition was ‘word of mouth’ at 37% and social media at 25%. The more traditional ways of exhibition marketing, such as adverts, barely even registered with young people. 

And it’s not as if museums aren’t beginning to accept this. Just before the Rembrandt exhibition, I was contacted by the Scottish National Gallery’s new ‘Digital Content and Social Coordinator’. They wanted 'to meet with people such as yourself who engage across a wide network on social media.’ I responded that I was glad to meet and to help do my bit to spread the word. But I literally cannot do that if photography is banned. Of course, if I’d gone to the press preview of the exhibition, or even the private view (though they don’t invite me to the those), I would have been allowed to snap away to my heart’s content. But for ordinary exhibition-going folk it’s a different story. Even though the likes of AHNers would be the best kind of word of mouth marketers for the exhibition. 

I think it’s time for those organising exhibitions to be more muscular with potential lenders, especially when it comes to putting on shows in museums which already allow photography. They need to say, we’re a public gallery, putting on a public exhibition in the 21st Century, and if you don’t want to allow people to take photos, then we’ll borrow a work from elsewhere. Museums need to stop being paranoid that those taking photos of paintings are going to make a fortune by launching their own range of tea towels. I said on Radio 4 that there was a touch of the Gollum about too many museums these days; they view their artworks as ‘their precious’, even though they’re public institutions. This whole way of thinking needs to change if museums are going to be able to thrive with new audiences in the digital age.

But that’s enough about marketing. There are many other reasons we might want to take photos in an exhibition like the Rembrandt show. In the Telegraph article, Sir Simon Schama told us why he needs to take photos:

“They can be fantastic research tools if you want to see how the paint lies on the painting. I do that all the time. Then you have a photo archive to work with. You can see it in much more detail than on an online picture.”

I find it’s also useful to be able to make a record of things like frames, and picture hangs in exhibitions, none of which we find in exhibition catalogues. I also find it really useful to take photos of accompanying wall labels. In the Rembrandt exhibition, the wall labels are superb. In fact, because the exhibition catalogue in this case is (very sadly) not a traditional one with each artwork getting an entry, and is instead a series of essays, there is far more information available on the wall labels than in the catalogue. For example, the full story of the Benjamin Wilson forgery I mentioned at the top of this post is only very briefly mentioned in the catalogue. And then there is the quality of the reproductions in the catalogue, which are very poor. Finally, although some art historians might sniff at it, it is actually possible to trigger new debates and research leads through sharing images online. We don't have to do everything through peer reviewed articles that hardly anybody reads. Let's take our subject online, and make it accessible to all.

I’ll write more about some of the exhibits in the exhibition soon. But in the meantime, do go and see it if you can. 

Update - a reader writes:

I briefly wanted to react to your post of July 19th on the taking of pictures in special exhibitions. I worked on a major exhibition that was on show earlier this year, and we had a discussion on this topic as well. Previously, in our museum taking pictures was forbidden in special exhibitions, precisely due to the external loans. Because we were not satisfied with this solution, we decided to ask our 40+ lenders whether they would be comfortable with allowing photography by visitors. We would make clear on the labels whether the work in question could be photographed (which is, admittedly, also not a perfect solution). The result was that, of the ca. 115 exhibitits, 47 received a "No Picture"-Pictogram. Notably, many of these were works on paper. We were rather surprised by how many lenders, of whom many were major, internationally renowned institutions, were perfectly fine with the idea - eventhough some of their loan contracts featured a "No photography"-clause. 

All we had to do was ask.

Rembrandt & Britain

July 15 2018

Video: National Gallery of Scotland

If you haven't already booked your tickets to Edinburgh for the incomparable Festival and Fringe, then yet another reason to visit the world's finest city is a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland, 'Rembrandt - Britain's Discovery of the Master'. It's open now until 14th October, and looks to be a fascinating exhibition. Unusually, this isn't a travelling show, so you'll need to come to Scotland to see it. I'm hoping to go this week. More details here

Lorenzo Lotto at the Prado

June 18 2018

Video: Prado

There's what looks to be a fantastic new exhibition on Lorenzo Lotto's portraits at the Prado in Madrid. It opens tomorrow, on 19th June, till 30th September, then travels to London's National Gallery, where it opens on 5th November. What an underrated artist he is. More here

'Aftermath' at Tate Britain

June 5 2018

Video: Tate

This looks like a must-see show - 'Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One' at Tate Britain. Says the Tate site:

Marking the 100 years since the end of World War One, Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One looks at how artists responded to the physical and psychological scars left on Europe.

Art was used in many ways in the tumultuous period after the end of the war, from documenting its destructive impact, to the building of public memorials and as a social critique.

This fascinating and moving exhibition shows how artists reacted to memories of war in many ways. George Grosz and Otto Dix exposed the unequal treatment of disabled veterans in post-war society, Hannah Höch and André Masson were instrumental in the birth of new art forms dada and surrealism, Pablo Picasso and Winifred Knights returned to tradition and classicism, whilst others including Fernand Léger and C.R.W Nevinson produced visions of the city of the future as society began to rebuild itself.

The show runs from 5th June until 23rd September. What an excellent trailer Tate has made, above. 

'Rubens, Painter of Sketches'

April 23 2018

Video: Museo del Prado

This looks good - an exhibition at the Prado on Rubens' oil sketches. The show contains 73 works by Rubens, and runs until 5th August. More here

Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India

April 2 2018

Video: Getty Museum

This looks like a fascinating show; Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India at the Getty Museum (till June 24th). The Getty always does good online exhibitions too, so there's lots of info and slideshow here

Charles I exhibition conference

February 5 2018

Image of Charles I exhibition conference

Picture: BG

A one day conference on the new Charles I exhibition at the RA will be held on April 12th 2018. Organised in partnership with the Paul Mellon Centre, the day will be at the Society of Antiquaries. Tickets are £32 (less for concessions). More here. I might see some of you there!

'Rubens: Power of Transformation' at the Staedel

January 25 2018

Image of 'Rubens: Power of Transformation' at the Staedel

Picture: Staedel Museum

This'll be a good show: 'Rubens - The Power of Transformation' at the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt (8th February - 21st May) will comprise:

[...] about one hundred items—including thirty-one paintings and twenty-three drawings by the master—and explores a hitherto little-regarded aspect in his creative process. The presentation reveals how profound the dialogue was into which Rubens entered with his predecessors’ and contemporaries’ achievements and fathoms the scope of their impact on the five decades of his production.

More here

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