Category: Research

A new $200m Leonardo discovery?

June 25 2011

Image of A new $200m Leonardo discovery?

Picture: ARTnews

In the June edition of ARTnews, Milton Esterow has what could be the discovery story of the decade (or even the century?).

Salvator Mundi, above, was discovered in an estate sale in the US. Now, it will be included in the forthcoming Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery in London. The only illustration so far available is the murky black and white photograph taken before conservation.

The picture belongs to a group of Old Master dealers, including Robert Simon, and reportedly has a $200m asking price.

It has long been known that there was a lost Leonardo of this subject. One, perhaps this one, belonged to Charles I. Here is a rival claimant to be the original. But, if right, what an astonishing thing Robert Simon has found. It proves what I have often said, that (like it or not) we art dealers are often at the coalface of art history, offering up new discoveries for discussion, acceptance or rejection. Such discoveries are the propellant by which art history advances. Full credit to Nicholas Penny and the staff at the National Gallery for including it in their exhibition. 

The picture was apparently discovered 'about six or seven years ago'. Now, I started working for Philip Mould in May 2005. So if it was bought before then, phew, that's fine. If after, I guess I missed the Sleeper to end all Sleepers. You can see why these sort of stories keep me awake at night...

Read the full fascinating details here. Doubtless it won't be long till this is picked up by the world's press...

Praise for PCF website

June 24 2011

Image of Praise for PCF website

Picture: Guardian

Yesterday's launch of the BBC/Public Catalogue Foundation website has gone down well in the press. The Guardian has illustrated Hogarth's Sealing of the Tomb triptych (above), which forms an unlikely if impressive office decoration for the staff of Bristol Region Archaeology department. Should it not be in a museum somewhere, or a church that is open, or a National Trust property?

The BBC also has video of the painting and its environment, here. Curiously enough, though, the picture is not yet listed on the Your Paintings website under Hogarth...

Over in The Independent, Tom Sutcliffe describes the PCF as 'a kind of Pevsner of fine art'.  

A Holy Family reunion

June 24 2011

Image of A Holy Family reunion

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Plug alert - here's a bit of news from our exhibition at Philip Mould Ltd, Finding Van Dyck (closes 13th July).

The small picture on the left is Van Dyck's study for the Head of St Joseph, which was used in his larger composition of The Holy Family, on the right. The study was previously unknown, and appeared in December 2009 in a London saleroom catalogued as 'Circle of Van Dyck/Head study of a Man'. But, having established that it related to a known Van Dyck, we were confident, despite layers of dirt and old varnish , that it was 'right' (as we say in the trade), and bought it.

The version of The Holy Family on display here is on loan from Manchester Art Gallery. Like many of Van Dyck's religious and classical compositions, it was painted partly by Van Dyck and partly by his studio assistants. For example, the cherubs upper right are finely executed, while the blue drapery around the Virgin is rather stiff and heavy.

The head of St Joseph in The Holy Family was also painted by a studio hand. While it follows Van Dyck's original study closely, it lacks the vitality of an original head by Van Dyck. Not a great deal is known about Van Dyck's use of studies, and for a long time they were disregarded by scholars. But as more and more are discovered, it becomes evident that, like his one-time master Rubens, Van Dyck made wide use of head studies, both for his own reference when composing large pictures, and for his assistants to follow.

The study and the finished Holy Family have now been reunited for (presumably) the first time since they were painted in Van Dyck's studio in Antwerp, in about 1630.

New PCF website goes live

June 23 2011

Image of New PCF website goes live

Picture: BBC

A new website created in partnership between the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation, has gone online. There's even a guided tour with Frank Skinner. The aim is for you to be able to look up every publicly owned painting in the UK - 80% of which are not usually on display.

The project is the brainchild of Dr. Fred Hohler, the tireless founder of the PCF. All together now - thanks Fred!

Vincent or Theo?

June 22 2011

Image of Vincent or Theo?

Picture: Telegraph

The Van Gogh Museum has decided that the above painting by Van Gogh thought to be a self-portrait instead depicts his brother, Theo. From the Telegraph:

"People have often thought it was funny that there were no portraits of Theo, given that they were so close," said museum spokeswoman Linda Snoek.

She said the portrait was made in 1887 while the pair lived together in Paris – a lesser-known period of Van Gogh's life, since the bulk of information about Vincent is derived from letters he sent to Theo.

The painting has long been in storage, but went on display at the museum in Amsterdam on Tuesday as part of an exhibition on new findings about the painter's time spent in Antwerp and Paris in 1885-1888.

The museum has also discovered that the bird in Van Gogh's 1887 painting Wheatfield with a Lark is in fact a partridge.  

New Caravaggio discovery

June 20 2011

Image of New Caravaggio discovery

Picture: Telegraph

A previously unknown painting by Caravaggio has been found in a private collection by art dealer Clovis Whitfield. The composition of Saint Augustine, dated to around 1600, has never before been linked to Caravaggio, but will be published in Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome next month by Yale. More details here

Tune in...

June 16 2011

Image of Tune in...

Picture: BBC

...to BBC1 this Sunday at 7pm to see Fiona Bruce, Philip Mould and I (the bloke on the left) in a new series tracking down lost and mysterious paintings.

The series is called 'Fake or Fortune', which I'm told is a good BBC1 title. I just hope nobody thinks it's a game show...

It was quite an experience filming the series, and somewhat nerve-wracking. Fortunately, we had a brilliant production team from BBC Bristol. As a viewer, one doesn't really appreciate just how talented people who work in TV are, until you see how it's all done. Anyway, it's well worth watching. And don't just take my word for it; an advanced review from Time Out gave us 4/5 stars: 'it's captivating viewing', The Times calls it 'gripping' and 'fascinating', and the FT also gives it 4/5 stars.

More here

The Empire Strikes Back

June 16 2011

Image of The Empire Strikes Back

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

In The Times and on the BBC’s Today programme yesterday morning was news of one of the recent Van Dyck discoveries included in our exhibition ‘Finding Van Dyck’. The story was later picked up in a rather muddled piece by Channel 4 news.

The picture, Study of the Head of a Woman (above), was bought at the Chatsworth ‘Attic Sale’ handled by Sotheby’s. It was catalogued as ‘Circle of Rubens’. Briefly, here’s just three reasons why I think the study is by Van Dyck.

  1. The same head appears in two larger compositions by Van Dyck, both painted in about 1630; Achilles Among the Daughters of Lycomedes (Schonborn Collection), and Adoration of the Shepherds (Church of Our Lady, Dendermonde). 
  2. In the Achilles painting, the woman’s head is used in the lower centre, and has been rotated slightly for the figure looking up at Achilles. In the Adoration picture, the study has been inverted, and used for the shepherdess looking down at Christ. (I would illustrate both, but don't yet have permission to reproduce them online).
  3. In both of the above pictures, the heads follow the study closely, even down to details such as the highlight on the top lip, and the shadows in the cheek. 

We are left, therefore, with two plausible options – either it is a copy after the Achilles or Adoration pictures. Or it was made by Van Dyck in preparation for those pictures.

We can immediately rule out option 1, that it is a copy. Not only is it too impulsive, animated and well painted to be by a copyist (or even a studio assistant), it is also at a different angle and with different hair, thus ruling out the possibility that it was painted after either of the larger works.

In response to inquiries from the BBC and Channel 4, Sotheby’s issued the following statement:

Sotheby’s carefully considered the painting when cataloguing it for sale, and reject the recent attribution to Van Dyck. Six out of seven of the world’s leading specialists in this field whom Sotheby’s has consulted also categorically reject the attribution to Van Dyck (the only one supporting the Van Dyck attribution being the same specialist Philip Mould consulted).  The overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion – consistent with Sotheby’s original cataloguing – is that the painting is by an anonymous Flemish artist working in the 17th century, ultimately inspired by Peter Paul Rubens. 

But here’s three curious things: [more below]

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Is this by Monet?

June 14 2011

Image of Is this by Monet?

Picture: David Joel

This painting will feature in a new BBC1 series on art, Fake or Fortune. The picture is signed 'Claude Monet', and has provenance as a Monet going back to the artist's lifetime. Numerous Monet scholars also believe it to be by him - but the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, which controls the Monet catalogue, maintains it is a fake. Read more here

The series, which is presented by Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould (and even occasionally features me), goes out on Sundays at 7pm from June 19th, for four weeks. 

Van Dyck found

June 11 2011

Image of Van Dyck found

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Breaking news! I'll post more on this later, but here is a piece appearing in tomorrow's Observer on a few discoveries a certain blogger has been involved with...

British landscapes - new conference

June 8 2011

Image of British landscapes - new conference

Picture: Yale Center for British Art. 'Wollaton Hall' (detail) by Jan Siberechts, c.1697

This looks interesting - a new conference on early modern British landscapes, organised by the Paul Mellon Centre on 18th November. It will:

...explore the origins of British landscape as a pictorial genre, addressing developments in the two centuries that followed Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. It aims to re-examine landscape imagery in drawings, paintings and prints of the period, by exploring its relationship with other 'arts of prospect' employed to observe, record and moreover evaluate the country's transformations. Prospects assumed various forms, visual and verbal, and included maps, plans and elevations, as well as views and verse, pageantry and theatrical scenery, the collaborations of artists, architects and surveyors, patrons, poets and place-makers. A prospect was a far-reaching vision of the future as well as a survey of the present, if also oftentimes reflecting on the pasts that had shaped the national territory. Accordingly, a central theme of the conference will be to consider the relationship between landscape imagery and the making, unmaking and remaking of Britain as a nation state.

Speakers include Kevin Sharpe, Andrew McRae, Joseph Monteyne, Christine Stevenson, Paula Henderson, An Van Camp, and Julie Sanders. Sign up here for a very reasonable £20.

Zoffany - call for papers

June 8 2011

Image of Zoffany - call for papers

Picture: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. 'Self-Portrait as David' by Zoffany.

To coincide with the Royal Academy's new Zoffany exhibition (10th March-10th June 2012, and before that at the Yale Center for British Art, 27th October 2011-12th February 2012), a conference on Zoffany and his International Contexts will be held at the RA on 14th May 2012. 

If you fancy giving a paper, send your proposal to Martin Postle by 30th September - contact details at the bottom of the page here

New Burlington and British Art Journal

June 2 2011

Image of New Burlington and British Art Journal

Picture: National Gallery, London

Plop onto my desk at once come new issues of The Burlington Magazine and the British Art Journal.

Treats in the former include:

 

  • A rare document on Giorgione (an inventory of his goods found in Venice after his death - in which his name is given as Georgio, not Giorgione).
  • Discussion of an alterpiece by Bartolomeo Montagna.
  • A freshly cleaned painting by Andrea del Verrochio in the National Gallery, London (above, and more details here).

 

And in the BAJ:

 

  • A theory on the possible identity of Anne Clifford in a lost portrait.
  • Lucian Freud's 'Scottish interlude' by Sandra Boselli.
  • The Belton Conversation Piece by Philippe Mercier.
Both are subscription only, but you can read for free the Burlington's editorial on Vasari's 500th birthday, here.

 

Online Sir John Soane archive

May 31 2011

Image of Online Sir John Soane archive

Picture: Soane Museum

The Soane Museum has published online drawings from five of Soane's London projects: Pitzhanger Manor, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the Bank of England, and the Soane Monument in St Pancras Gardens.

The design for the latter inspired Gilbert Scott's prototype for the telephone box.

What are museums for?

May 31 2011

In the Art Newspaper, Maurice Davies tries to find the answer in three new books on museums and collections. They are:

  • Contesting Human Remains in Museum Collections: the Crisis of Cultural Authority, Tiffany Jenkins, Routledge, 174 pp, $95 (hb)
  • Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition, James Simpson, Oxford University Press, 204 pp, £25 (hb)
  • The Best Art You’ve Never Seen: 101 Hidden Treasures from Around the World, Julian Spalding, Rough Guides, 288 pp, £14, $22.99 (pb)
To be honest, the first two sound a bit of a yawn. There's a lot of navel-gazing in the museum world when it comes to deciding 'what we're for'. Nothing beats the British Museum's founding mission statement: 'for the entertainment of the curious'.

Nevertheless, Julian Spalding's book is a timely plea to his museum colleagues to stop bein so retentive, especially over things like climactic controls. He argues that: [More below]

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On the joys of being an art dealer

May 27 2011

Image of On the joys of being an art dealer

 

The recession may continue to throw up challenges for art dealers - some say that this year’s European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht was pretty gloomy - but there is still plenty of fun to be had 'in the trade'.

For me, the most exciting part of art dealing is that you never know where the fickle of finger of fate might point you, be it the pictures you encounter, or the people you meet.

Every week I look at hundreds of paintings for sale around the world, and though much of it is little better than the stuff you find on the railings outside Hyde Park, probably at least one will be worth buying. [More below]

Read More

Romney sketchbook published

May 24 2011

Image of Romney sketchbook published

 

The Romney Society has published a facsimile of George Romney's Kendal Sketchbook, 1763-71. There are 104 pages of Romney drawings, and a fine catalogue written by Dr Yvonne Romney Dixon.

It's a really impressive publication, and well worth having - order a copy here.

New Walpole Society Volume

May 19 2011

Image of New Walpole Society Volume

Picture: National Gallery

Splendid news - the latest Walpole Society publication contains the travel notebooks of Charles Eastlake (1793-1865), artist and the first 'Keeper' of the National Gallery. His notebooks contain details of the pictures he saw in Europe. You could say they are the 19th C equivalent of George Vertue's notebooks.

Happily, this publication comes equipped with a full index. The 2009 issue, with the account books of Joseph Wright of Derby, had no index - the art historical equivalent of a car with no steering wheel.  

Congratulations to Dr Susannah Avery-Quash, who has edited the notebooks and written detailed introductions. Buy a copy here.

Theatrical Portrait Collections

May 16 2011

Image of Theatrical Portrait Collections

Understanding British Portraits are organising a visit to London collections of theatrical portraits, including the Garrick Club and the Handel House Museum. 20th July, book here if you fancy it. 

Yale abolishes reproduction fees

May 11 2011

Image of Yale abolishes reproduction fees

Picture: Yale Center for British Art, 'Mr & Mrs John Gravenor and their daughters', by Thomas Gainsborough.

Hurrah! Yale University will abolish reproduction fees for everything in its museums and collections.  Amy Meyers, the director for the Yale Center for British Art, says:

'The ability to publish images directly from our online catalogues without charge will encourage the increased use of our collections for scholarship, a benefit to which we look forward with the greatest excitement.'

UK museums should really think hard about doing likewise. Our high reproduction fees are a great barrier to effective scholarship. And the small income museums earn from such rights (after the high administration costs) results in silly rules about not taking photos in museums, and secutiry guards jumping on you if you so much as reach for your phone.

So, let's all relax about copyright - it is never going to be the big earner people envisaged. Image reproduction should be viewed as part of a museum's core purpose of spreading knowledge - and be free.

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