Category: Exhibitions

Rembrandt and Guardi on display at the Ashmolean

January 22 2014

Image of Rembrandt and Guardi on display at the Ashmolean

Picture: BBC News/Ashmolean

The Ashmolean museum in Oxford has acquired the above landscape byFrancesco Guardi, through the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. Says director Christopher Brown:

The picture is an enchanting early view painting which shows the Fondamenta Nuove busy with small boats and gondolas, the island of San Michele and beyond the snow-capped Dolomites. It was painted for a British Grand Tourist in 1758, and is now on display in the Britain and Italy Gallery. This Guardi work is marvellously fresh and instinctually responsive to the beauty of his native city.

The Guardi was worth more than the tax amount liable against the donating estate, so the acquisition had to be topped up by the Art Fund. So well done them.

Brown also, in his column for the Oxford Times, adds that the museum will be borrowing Rembrandt's Portrait of Catrina Hoogshaet (below):

[The] picture has been lent to the Ashmolean from a private collection and it is a particularly exciting event for me as a historian of Dutch and Flemish art. The Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet by Rembrandt van Rijn ranks amongst the finest Old Master paintings in this country. It has just been hung in the Mallet Gallery at the heart of our outstanding collection of great European paintings. Painted in 1657, it shows the 50-year-old Catrina Hooghsaet, who lived in Amsterdam. She was a member of a Mennonite — a radical Protestant community — and dressed in the restrained style they favoured. She was, however, a very wealthy woman and wears a rich silk dress with a lace collar and holds a tasselled lace handkerchief. She looks towards her pet parakeet, of which she was evidently very fond. The painting is one of the finest portraits ever made by Rembrandt. It is an enormous privilege to be able to show it at the Ashmolean where it can be seen by millions of visitors over the next few years.

Nazi 'degenerate art' inventory online

January 16 2014

Image of Nazi 'degenerate art' inventory online

Picture: TAN

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey reports that the V&A is to publish online the only surviving inventory of the Nazi's 'Degenerate Art' exhibitions. More in TAN here, and see the inventory at the V&A here

'A game changing gift'

January 13 2014

Image of 'A game changing gift'

Picture: Denver Post

Lucky Denver Art Museum, which has just announced the donation of its first Van Gogh, Cezanne (above), and Caillebotte as part of a 22 piece Impressionist donation from philanthropist Frederic C. Hamilton. More here

Crowdsourced curating

January 9 2014

Image of Crowdsourced curating

Picture: MFA Boston

Here's an interesting idea - at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, they're asking locals to vote on which pictures they'd like to see in an exhibition. The website for 'Boston Loves Impressionism' currently has (quelle surprise) Monet and Van Gogh in pole position, and will open on Valentines Day. So top marks to the PR persion who came up with that idea. All the pictures on offer are, as far as I can tell, from the MFA's own collection. So there's no chance of upsetting potential lenders if a picture gets voted out.

Wright of Derby - in Bath

January 9 2014

Image of Wright of Derby - in Bath

Picture: Holburne Museum

Poor Joseph Wright of Derby - a first rank British artist, deserving international status, unfairly stuck with a provincial appellation. A new exhibition at the Holburne museum in Bath (25th Jan-5th May) will soon examine the time when he was Joseph Wright of Bath (between 1775-77). From the Holburne website:

Wright came to Bath to paint portraits, hoping to build on the success of Thomas Gainsborough who had recently left for London. The exhibition will include the three remaining portraits that the artist certainly made in Bath, including his painting of the elderly Rev. Thomas Wilson with the young daughter of Catharine Macaulay, the radical historian.

Whilst in Bath Wright worked up landscape studies he had made in Italy, producing spectacular views of Vesuvius in Eruption and the dazzling firework displays of Rome, the highlight of a visit to the artist's studio in Brock Street. It was whilst in Bath that he first began to explore subjects from sentimental contemporary literature, which in turn have a strong impact on his portrait composition, and the exhibition will include some of his most beautiful depictions of figures alone in the landscape.

The Holburne will also have a Wright study day on Monday 24th February, which looks interesting:

The Holburne Museum will bring together speakers from a variety of disciplines including regional historian Peter Borsay, Joseph Wright expert Stephen Daniels and the conservator Rica Jones to examine in greater depth Wright's little-known Bath period and its contexts. The morning session will explore the cultural life of Bath in the 1770s through recent historical research and ask whether Wright's place in this complex and creative society has been misunderstood. In the afternoon the focus will turn to other places: Derbyshire, Liverpool, Italy and the London exhibition galleries, and their influence on the artist's life and work.

More information here. The exhibition, which has been sponsored by the London-based dealer Lowell Libson, will travel to Derby Museum and Art Gallery after the Holburne. 

The world's greatest painting?

January 8 2014

Image of The world's greatest painting?

Picture: Wikipaintings

I'm very much looking forward to the National Gallery's new Veronese exhibition, which opens on 19th March. In The Guardian today there was an interesting piece on preparations for the show. Apparently one key loan has yet to be confirmed (from an Italian church). Many of Veronese's best works are monumental in size. It sounds like quite a challenge. So we must all sympathise with the show's curator, Xavier Salomon. 

I suppose it's forgivable when doing PR for an exhibition, but Salomon and Nick Penny make some bold claims for Veronese (who I accept is undeniably one of the greats). The artists' c.1564 Martyrdom of St George (San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, above), for example, is cited as 'arguably the world's greatest painting'. Then there's this quote from Salomon:

"Without Veronese there would be no Rubens, no Van Dyck,"

Which is over-egging things just a bit. As his Italian sketchbook shows, Van Dyck (at least) was far more beholden to Titian than he ever was to Veronese.

Spot the difference

January 7 2014

Image of Spot the difference

Picture: NPG, London (left), National Gallery, London/Executors of the late 9th Marquess of Londonderry (right)

A new loan has recently gone on show at the National Gallery in London - Sir Thomas Lawrence's magnificent and important portrait of Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (above right, and zoom in here). The picture, lent by the executors of the 9th Marquess, means that two Lawrences of the same subject are in adjacent museums, for next door in the National Portrait Gallery (image here) is another version of the same picture (above left).

The question is, which came first? Despite the NPG and NG websites dating the pictures 1812 and 1814 respectively, it's not entirely clear (according to Kenneth Garlick's Lawrence 1989 catalogue raisonne) which one Lawrence painted first.

The NPG version shows the sitter's star and sash of the Order of the Bath, which he was awarded in 1813, but these are in fact a later addition, and in any case,the portrait is clearly signed and dated '1812'. Interestingly, though, Lawrence's friend Joseph Farington called the NPG version Lawrence's 'second* portrait of the General', which complicates matters a little. It's possible that there is another, now lost, earlier portrait of the same sitter by Lawrence, which led Farington to call the NPG picture Lawrence's 'second' portrait, and it is true that an untraced portrait of Londonderry by Lawrence was exhibited at the RA in 1811. However, Garlick notes that the 1811 may in fact relate to the NG picture, which is not signed or dated. So it's all quite confusing.

A first hand inspection would doubtless reveal which version had the more spontaneous, and thus original handling, but - alas! - the NPG version is not currently on display  [a reader, below, assures me that - contrary to their website - the NPG picture is on display].

*this crucial word 'second' was unaccountably omitted from the NPG's catalogue entry on the picture in their 2011 Lawrence exhibition.

Update - a reader writes:

I visited both the NG & the NPG last week, both versions of the Lawrence portrait of the Marquess of Londonderry were on display. The version on loan to the NG in my opinion is the most spontaneous, it looks very fine, British Gallery.

Another reader reminds me that the below unfinished portrait by Lawrence of Londonderry was sold in New York in 2006 at Christie's (for $174,000). In the catalogue entry, Garlick speculates that this picture could be the portrait exhibited in 1811, but (rightly, I think) wonders if it is too unfinished to be an exhibited picture. Christie's dated it to c.1813-15. Farington tells us in any case that the picture exhibited in 1811 was a half-length.

Update II - I went to see both pictures today. There's not much doubt in my mind that the version now in the National Gallery was painted first. It is altogether more spontaneous, and more vigorous in the handling, with many 'wet in wet' passages where the paint has been melded seamlessly together. One gets a clear sense that Lawrence was exploring the canvas, colour and details with his brush, whereas in the NPG version it seems clear that he knew what was going where. The NPG version is all autograph, but it just feels as if Lawrence was painting something for the second time. For example, the handling in areas such as the red and gold braid around the sword is almost pedestrian in the NPG version, but in the NG picture the paint feels more alive. There is also what appears to be a pentimenti in the NG version, between the sitter's neck on the left hand side and the end of the sword.

It's possible that Lawrence, who very rarely signed pictures, put his name to the NPG version specifically to make sure that people knew he himself painted the second picture (rather than a studio assistant, as often happened with replicas). The fact that the NG picture came first makes sense of the Farington passage I quoted above, where he describes the NPG version as Lawrence's 'second' portrait (and remember, we know he had seen the first one before in 1811). Therefore, I suspect that Garlick's 1989 hunch was right, that the NG picture was that exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1811.

NG London acquires rare Van Gogh

January 7 2014

Image of NG London acquires rare Van Gogh

Picture: National Gallery

Here's a story I (and practically everyone else it seems) missed from December - the National Gallery has acquired the above portrait by Van Gogh. You might expect a Van Gogh acquisition to be big news. But probably just a few days before Christmas isn't a good time to issue a museum press release. More details on the picture here, and a zoomable image here. Strangely, the story was picked up by the Chinese government press agency Xinhua.

The picture was acquired through the government's new Cultural Giving Scheme, which gives tax concessions for donations of cultural objects. In the past, you could only get such concessions if you were dead, through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. (This was one of the recommendations of the Arts Taskforce I served on in 2008/9. Just sayin'.)

Update - a reader writes:

I wonder if one of the reasons it may have been missed is that the painting was on loan to the NG from late 2011 and the label was then changed to record it as an acquisition on 20 December 2013.

Another adds:

Probably worth noting that works from this period are not THAT rare – van Gogh was really quite prolific – as there’s another Nuenen portrait in Edinburgh and two other pictures from this period in other collections in the UK.  

Nonetheless It is good to see the National get a portrait by him at last: they were offered a major late one in the early 1980s and there’s a complaint somewhere in their Annual Reports at the time that they didn’t receive enough Grant-in-Aid for acquisitions to be able to afford it.  And this when they did have a discrete acquisitions grant from government and, indeed, in that remarkable period when, following an agreement under the Labour administration up to 1979, they were allocated sums up to £3.3 million (in 1983-1984) for just this purpose.  

One other point about van Gogh portraits in the National Gallery’s collection – they did have one before, for a short period of time.  See the provenance record [of this work now in the US].

The value of art history

January 6 2014

Image of The value of art history

Picture: El Pais

Here's a maddening comparison for you, one that tells us a great deal about the museum world's skewed priorities. Below, I posted the news that an Assistant Curator at Tate Britain (PhD preferable) gets paid just £23,360. And here, in the New York Times, is a report that a US museum is paying about the same ($31,000) to transport a single painting to an exhibition from Europe. The picture in question is probably not even worth as much as the transport bill - it's a fake Vermeer, by Han Van Meegeren, 'The Head of Christ' (above). 

The fake belongs to the Museum Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, which is insisting, as it does with all loans, that the picture be flown with a personal escort who must travel first class.

What a load of phooey. It's stories like this which prompted one former leading museum director to confide in me recently how the 'conservation mafia' sometimes made his job completely impossible with their inflexibility. Ridiculous (but entirely routine) 'conservation' demands like the Van Beuningen's (why must the escort go first, or even business class?) are driving up museum and exhibition costs, which, in turn, are (at least partly) forcing museum salaries down. With a bit of common sense, the picture in question could be shipped for one tenth of the cost. And hey presto, there's your Curatorial Assistant salary for the year.

Update - a reader writes:

This curatorial First Class travel is a racket; if the courier does not carry the paintings within the cabin, there can be no justification for a more expensive seat.  In the UK, this could be interpreted by HM Revenue & Customs as a benefit in kind, and taxable. Also, years ago, company executives would trade in a First Class ticket for a combination of one Business & one Economy, thus allowing them to fly with a spouse or 'secretary'.

Last chance to see Samuel Cooper

December 5 2013

Image of Last chance to see Samuel Cooper

Picture: BG

The Samuel Cooper exhibition here at Philip Mould ends this Saturday at 4pm. You'll probably never see such a good collection of his work together for a few decades. Unmissable!

What's the greatest painting in Britain?

November 22 2013

Image of What's the greatest painting in Britain?

Picture: English Heritage

In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones makes the case for Rembrandt's self-portrait at Kenwood, which is now open again after restoration:

This majestic work of art is about to go back on permanent public view when Kenwood House in north London reopens its doors on 28 November. It has been closed for repairs and restoration by English Heritage, and if you have been missing it, or have never been, an artistic feast awaits. Kenwood has a staggering art collection, including Gainsborough's Countess Howe and Turner's Iveagh Sea-Piece.

But the Rembrandt is something else. You don't have to take my word for it: when Kenwood was closed, this painting was excitedly borrowed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which showed it as one of Rembrandt's ultimate achievements alongside its own masterpieces by him.

Rembrandt, at the age of about 59, looks at us from the depth of his years, and with the authority of his craft. He has portrayed himself holding his brushes, maulstick and palette, in front of two circles drawn on a wall. Why the circles? Do they represent a sketch for a map of the world? Or is Rembrandt alluding, with this drawing on a brown surface, to stories that say the first picture was a drawing made with a stick in sand?

His eyes contain so much knowledge and melancholy that even looking at this painting on a computer screen, I get the eerie feeling that Rembrandt is looking back and weighing up my failures. You can deduce the power of the original.

Leaky roof closes museum

November 22 2013

Image of Leaky roof closes museum

Picture: KMSKB

Maaike Dirkx alerts me to the closure of the new Rogier van der Weyden exhibition at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels (above), due to a leaky roof. The museum says:

[...] it is no longer possible to guarantee that the roof of the building housing the exhibition The Heritage of Rogier van der Weyden  is watertight. In order to prevent any eventual problems and as a precaution, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels have decided to close the exhibition permanently.

Please rest assured that this difficult and painful decision for our institution is dictated by concern with the preventative conservation of this exceptional cultural heritage, and that our team will make every effort to ensure optimal management of the situation.

The exhibition had opened on 12th October, and was due to run until 26th January. I'm sure visitors wouldn't have minded the odd bucket on the floor.

The show had a good and informative website, which you can still see here.

Update - a reader writes:

I am shocked to read about the museum in Brussels having to close the Heritage of Rogier van der Weyden exhibition. I visited the exhibition on Tuesday when it reopened after having closed down for the previous week, apparently due to leaking water. I had booked my ticket well in advance and took a day trip on Eurostar. It was an excellent exhibition, really well displayed in the spacious basement galleries, with numerous works of art by anonymous Brussels painters gathered together from as far away as Australia and plenty of interesting new research. I was very lucky and it's a shame for all those who will be disappointed.

The gratuitous girl in white gloves shot (ctd.)

November 22 2013

Image of The gratuitous girl in white gloves shot (ctd.)

Picture: The Times

It's the unwritten rule of saleroom and museum photo-calls: when the photographers arrive, you have to have a young, female, and preferably good-looking member of staff on hand to pretend to 'hang' a painting, or look at an object. And that person always has to wear white gloves (despite the fact that nobody really uses them anymore).

Above is a great example of the genre in today's Times, where a member of staff at the Royal Collection 'observes' a screen of works by Thomas Rowlandson.

The Rowlandson exhibition is now on at the Queen's Gallery in Holyroodhouse. More details here

Update - a reader writes, and asks:

Yes, but isn't this at least a funny riff on the hackneyed motif? and one that, as a caricature itself of the good-looking-girl-pretending-to-hang-a-painting, refers cleverly to subject of the exhibition, the Rowlandson cartoon caricatures?  The "gratuitous girl"'s magnified teeth even resemble one of the ways Rowlandson caricatured his targets.... So this particular photo isn't really "gratuitous" at all, is it?

BTW, a question from ignorance: if white gloves aren't worn any more, why not? is something else worn, or don't paintings need the supposed protection?

The problem with white gloves is that they make it harder to handle things, because you can't grip, and your fingers become clumsy. You're more likely to drop a painting, or rip a piece of paper (try reading a book in gloves). The best thing is to just wash your hands. Sometimes, latex gloves are used.

The only time archivists ever use white gloves is when they're being filmed - otherwise they get a deluge of people writing in, saying 'why don't you use white gloves?' 

Update II - a reader notes:

most print rooms do insist on white gloves when handling mounted drawings, because it avoids sweaty hands staining the mounts at no risk to the drawing itself. Counterintuitively - but sensibly - gloves are not used when handling unmounted material.

Curate your own contemporary art show!

November 20 2013

Image of Curate your own contemporary art show!


Ever fancied curating your own exhibition of contemporary art? Well, the Hayward Gallery is inviting everyone to have a try:

Hayward Touring invites proposals for an exhibition of contemporary art to be shown in four UK galleries in 2014/15. You don’t have to be a professional curator or exhibition-maker to submit an idea. We welcome suggestions for innovative projects from artists, writers and imaginative thinkers in all walks of life, as well as from people working in galleries and museums. Your proposal might be for an exhibition that re-invents the way we think about art; it might be a new and surprising take on a well-worn subject; there may be a theme or tendency in contemporary art and visual culture that you think deserves to be explored in new ways; or a theme that you have always thought would make a great exhibition.

Go on, have a go. How hard can it be? A recent Hayward exhibition was their 'invisible art' show (above), so the bar will be set very low.

Guffwatch - Waldemar wades in

November 18 2013

Image of Guffwatch - Waldemar wades in

Picture: Tate

Good news. Momentum continues to build in the battle against art-world Guff. Now, Waldemar has launched a sharp attack on the latest salvo of Guff to emerge from Tate, in its new 'Painting Now' show. In his review, he writes that:

The five painters have been chosen by no less than three curators (1.666 artists each?), whose ramblings in the catalogue are a disgrace to the English language and an insult to the few poor souls wandering through Tate Britain on the day I visited. No wonder there was hardly anyone there. Why should anyone visit an institution so insensitive to the needs of communication that its catalogues contain sentences that proceed “As painting is no longer in a position of autonomy — alone and apart — this also entails a move away from an idea of medium specificity, defining a practice as ‘painting’ or ‘film’, and towards a post-medium age, what a recent conference at Harvard examined as the ‘medium under the condition of its de-specification’ ”?

Update - a reader writes:

It's interesting that the Tate is showing five contemporary painters with such a fanfare. Ten years ago painters were meant to be extinct and even five years ago they were an oddity. Now painting is everywhere and it's the installations that look old hat.

I wondered if you could thank Damien Hirst for this, for overdosing everyone on rotting animals and chemist's shops and for hard-pedalling painting again.

Plug! Our Samuel Cooper exhibition (ctd.)

November 18 2013

Image of Plug! Our Samuel Cooper exhibition (ctd.)

Picture: BG

What - you haven't been yet? Tut tut. In case you needed persuading, even the Grumpy Art Historian likes the show. Thanks GAH!

Watch a Turner being cleaned

November 14 2013

Image of Watch a Turner being cleaned

Picture: Bowes Museum

This looks like fun - the Bowes Museum is cleaning their 'Lowther Castle - Evening' by Turner, and all in public. You can go along and watch if you like. The picture was recently acquired through the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. More details here on the museum's blog. 

Plug! Samuel Cooper exhibition

November 12 2013

Image of Plug! Samuel Cooper exhibition

Picture: BG

We've finally finished installing our Samuel Cooper portrait miniatures exhibition, and the catalogues have arrived. So my work is done. But yours, dear loyal readers, is only just beginning - you have between tomorrow at 10am and 5pm on December 7th to visit. We are also open Saturdays from 12-4pm. Despite working on such a small scale, Cooper was not only the first internationally recognised British artist, but also one of the best portraitists this country has ever produced. 

The show is the first on Cooper for 40 years, and features loans from, among others, the Royal Collection, the V&A, the Fitzwilliam, the Ashmolean, and the National Portrait Gallery. The title, 'Warts and All', comes from Oliver Cromwell's famous instruction to Cooper, when the Protector sat for his portrait in about 1653.

New 'Raphael' of Julius II on display at the Staedel Museum

November 8 2013

Image of New 'Raphael' of Julius II on display at the Staedel Museum

Picture: Art Daily

Regular readers may remember that a couple of years ago the Staedel Museum in Germany announced that it had bought a newly discovered 'Raphael and Studio' portrait of Pope Julius II. At the time, I was more than a little sceptical, as you can read here (check out the woeful hands and the crude under-drawing). Now (Art Daily reports), the Staedel has put on a new exhibition explaining their logic, and comparing the new discovery to other versions of the painting. Happily, the National Gallery original has not been lent, and is represented in the photo above by a life size reproduction. 

I still think the Staedel picture is most likely just a copy, and not by Raphael. But the compiler of the new Raphael catalogue raisonne thinks Raphael had a hand it in.

Update - the Grumpy Art Historian has been to see the exhibition, and is also unconvinced.

Update II - a reader writes:

The Gallery deserves credit for a responsible, careful effort, though, don't you think?

Installing Samuel Cooper

November 4 2013

Image of Installing Samuel Cooper

Picture: BG

Great excitement here at Philip Mould & Co. as we begin to install our Samuel Cooper exhibition

The photo above shows the first completed case. In case you're interested, installing five miniatures takes well over an hour. Each one has to be carefully checked, and then pinned into place with special plastic covered pins. The fabric on which they will rest has been 'Oddy tested' to make sure it isn't toxic for any aspect of the miniature or its frame, and the board behind the fabric, made of Plastazote, is also free of any harmful chemicals. The base of the specially constructed, reinforced glass and steel case has been filled with Artsorb to keep the humidity at a steady 50%. Things you can't see in the photo include humidifiers, light meters, and two ex-army security guards. These are just some of the things you need to think of when exhibiting museum items like this.

The exhibition opens on 13th November, and runs till 7th December. Attendance is of course compulsory for all AHN readers.

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