Category: Exhibitions

'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

'Peaks and Glaciers'

January 22 2018

Image of 'Peaks and Glaciers'

Picture: John Mitchell Fine Paintings

It may be because I'm half Swiss, but I've always had a thing for snowy pictures. So allow me to plug an annual selling exhibition in London, Peaks and Glaciers, put on by my friends William and James Mitchell on Avery Row, just off Bond St. William is an intrepid climber. The exhibition opens on 25th Jan, and runs until 9th March. Catalogue and further details here

William Blake at Petworth (ctd.)

January 15 2018

Image of William Blake at Petworth (ctd.)

Picture: NPG

The William Blake exhibition at Petworth is now open; Maev Kennedy has had a preview in The Guardian.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

January 10 2018

Video: Palazzo Ducale, Genoa

Last year, an exhibition of works by Modigliani was put on with great fanfare at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice. Alas, all but one of them were (as the Telegraph reports) fake, and the exhibition was closed down.

I suspect most of you can tell from the exhibition video above that the pictures are not only fake, but are really bad fakes. How did they ever slip through the net?

The Telegraph adds:

Three people are now under investigation for the alleged fakes, including Rudy Chiappini, the curator of the art exhibition, and Joseph Guttmann, a Hungarian art dealer who owns 11 of the works.

You can see a video of Chiappini saying the works are not fake here.

Always nteresting to see what other exhibitions people have been involved with.

Zurburan in the US

January 8 2018

Video: Meadows Museum

The Auckland Castle Zurburans are on tour in the US. Their next stop will be at the Frick in New York (which doesn't allow children in) from 31st Jan to 22nd April. More here.

Until recently they've been at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, which made the above, excellent video (which I've only just seen - sorry).

'Charles II - Art & Power' review

December 15 2017

Image of 'Charles II - Art & Power' review

Picture: Her Majesty the Queen/Royal Collection Trust

Here's my Financial Times review of the new Royal Collection exhibition on Charles II. 

Have you seen this missing Freda Kahlo?

December 4 2017

Image of Have you seen this missing Freda Kahlo?

Picture: AFP

A new exhibition in Poland highlights the fact that the above painting by Freda Kahlo, The Wounded Table, has been missing since it was sent to Warsaw for an exhibition in 1955. More here

Bowes Museum show in London (ctd.)

October 18 2017

Video: Wallace Collection

Here's Wallace Collection director Xavier Bray on some highlights of the Wallace's new exhibition featuring loaned Spanish paintings from the Bowes Museum.

More museum directors should do this - five minutes and a iPhone is all you need!

New Rubens portrait exhibition

October 5 2017

Video: Grand Palais

I'll definitely be getting on a plane for this; a new exhibition on Rubens' royal portraits at the Musee du Luxembourg. Here's the blurb:

Rubens was, in all likelihood a little reluctantly, a prolific court portraitist. With portraits of Philippe IV, Louis XIII and Marie de’ Medici and other royal figures by the artist and some of his famous contemporaries (Pourbus, Champaigne, Velázquez, Van Dyck, etc.), the exhibition introduces visitors to the stately environment of 17th century Europe’s most illustrious courts.

It's open as of yesterday until the 14th January. Open daily till 7pm, and on Fridays till 10pm. UK museums keen on closing before 6pm take note!

More here.

Update - a reader writes:

And Italian museums used to be notorious for odd and restrictive opening hours; some still are; but others are on the wave of the future: the fabulous Museo del Opera del Duomo in Florence is open every day from 9:00 to 19:00 (closed only one Tuesday a month for necessary deep cleaning), and the Palazzo Strozzi’s exhibitions are open every day from 10:00 to 20:00 and on Thursdays to 23:00. 

Alma-Tadema in London

September 29 2017

Video: Leighton House Museum

There's just a month left to see the well-received Alma-Tadema exhibition at the Leighton House museum in London:

Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity (7 July - 29 October 2017) is the largest exhibition devoted to the celebrated Victorian artist held in London since 1913. The show explores Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s fascination with the representation of domestic life in antiquity and how this interest related to his own domestic circumstances expressed through the two remarkable studio-houses that he created in St John’s Wood together with his wife Laura and daughters.

New Joseph Highmore exhibition

September 28 2017

Image of New Joseph Highmore exhibition

Picture: Foundling Museum

This is interesting; the first exhibition on Joseph Highmore since 1963 will open tomorrow at the Foundling Museum in London. Says the blurb;

Curated by Dr Jacqueline Riding, Basic Instincts explores Georgian attitudes to love, desire and female respectability through the radical paintings of Joseph Highmore.

A highly successful artist and Governor of London’s Foundling Hospital, Joseph Highmore (1692-1780) is best known as a portrait painter of the Georgian middle class. However, during the 1740s his art radically shifted, reflecting his engagement with the work of the new Foundling Hospital and its mission to support desperate and abused women. Highmore’s involvement with the Hospital sparked engagement with issues around women’s vulnerability to sexual assault and society’s unwillingness to support them, culminating in a work of exceptional power, The Angel of Mercy.

Basic Instincts is the first major Highmore exhibition for 50 years and explores this decade of disruptive social commentary in his art. Amongst the works on display are four paintings from a series of twelve, inspired by Samuel Richardson’s international bestseller, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, explicitly making reference to the abuse and sexual violence at the core of the novel. On public display in the UK for the first time as part of Basic Instincts is a remarkable painting that still retains the power to shock. The Angel of Mercy (c.1746) depicts a desperate mother in the act of killing her baby, with the distant Foundling Hospital presented as the alternative. Set among Highmore’s tender portraits of mothers and children, family and friends, this show uniquely demonstrates the artist’s depth and variety.

More here in The Guardian, and details on opening times etc, here.  

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