Previous Posts: August 2011

Renaissance coup in Australia

August 31 2011

Image of Renaissance coup in Australia

Picture: The Canberra Times

The National Gallery of Australia has pulled of a bit of a coup with a forthcoming exhibition. It will display over 70 exquisite Renaissance masterpieces from the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, which is undergoing renovation. The paintings, which include Titians, Raphaels and the above Bellini, have never been out of Europe before.

Apparently, this is the first time works by Raphael, Botticelli, Bellini and Perugino have been shown in Australia. The show runs from 9th December 2011 - 9th April 2012.

The Mona Lisa in Post-its

August 31 2011

Image of The Mona Lisa in Post-its

Picture: The Guardian

There's a new craze in Paris.

New works by Otto Dix found

August 31 2011

Image of New works by Otto Dix found


Four new watercolours painted between 1922-3 have been found in Bavaria. Schön.

Blog on

August 31 2011

Image of Blog on

Photo: BG

Well, that was nice. Two weeks in Switzerland doing not much. We went via Lake Como (overrated) and Paris (beautiful as ever, but, being hot and dry, more than usually smelly).

To avoid a busman's holiday, I consciously avoided looking at paintings. So I have nothing art historical to report. I did, however, try, for the first time, a spot of painting myself. Brimming with enthusiasm, we took with us paints, easels, brushes and all manner of gadgets. But I forgot the canvasses. So I had to paint on a rock instead (above). I can exclusively reveal to you that I am a crap painter.   

While I was away:

Blog off

August 13 2011

Image of Blog off

Picture: Cartoonstock

I'm afraid you'll have to get your art history kicks elsewhere for a while - I'm off on holiday. If I stumble across a lost Raphael in France, I'll let you know.

Here's a Friday amusement to keep you going. And in the meantime, have a nice summer. 

WW2 Portraits on display at RAF Museum

August 13 2011

Image of WW2 Portraits on display at RAF Museum

Picture: RAF Museum

I find the combination of war and art fascinating. So I recommend going to see a series of portraits by wartime artist Eric Kennington, which have gone on display at the RAF Museum in Hendon. Says the museum:

The exhibition will present about three dozen works covering all of the Armed Services, the Auxiliary Services, London Transport and some notable civilians.  Pictures have been loaned by the National Portrait Gallery, the Imperial War Museum, the National Army Museum, the Tate, the National Maritime Museum, the Ministry of Defence and by Kennington’s family and other private lenders and art dealers.

Kennington was among a handful of British artists who distinguished themselves as official war artists in both World Wars. His portraits were widely hailed not only as works of art, but also as capturing the indomitable spirit of British and Allied Servicemen in the struggle for victory.

It's well worth a visit. If you can't make it, there's a book on Kennington by Dr Jonathan Black, called The Face of Courage, which you can buy here. Pictured above is Kennington drawing General Ironside in 1940 - check out the General's visionary pose. 

New Ford Madox Brown exhibition

August 12 2011

Image of New Ford Madox Brown exhibition

Picture: Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art Gallery will hold a new exhibition on Ford Madox Brown in September. It will be the first major exhibition of his work since 1964, and will assemble his greatest paintings, such as Work and The Last of England

The show will also display this newly discovered work, The Seraph's Watch (A Reminiscence of the Old Master), found by the exhibition's curator, Julian Treuherz. Lost for many years, the composition was known only from a partial copy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which was sold recently at Sotheby's

This picture is apparently Madox Brown's second version of the subject - the first, painted in 1846, is also lost. The fact that it is a replica may explain some of the rather awkward aspects of the newly discovered work. The drapery and drawing of the hands looks a little unusual.

The exhibition runs from 24th Sept 2011 - 29th Jan 2012. Full details here

'Cuppa load of this'

August 12 2011

Image of 'Cuppa load of this'

Picture: The Sun

American artist Karen Eland paints exclusively in coffee. The Sun has published some examples of her work, along with some great puns: 'Cuppa load of this', and 'espressionist'.

Karen says:

I do love coffee. But I restrict myself to two cups while painting or I get too shaky.

Karen's pictures are for sale at up to £9,000.

New London Olympics Logo

August 12 2011

Image of New London Olympics Logo


I've been sent this. Couldn't resist putting it up. 

A slightly different View from the Artist

August 11 2011

Image of A slightly different View from the Artist

Picture: Uffizi Gallery

A reader has kindly sent me another drawing of Rye by Van Dyck, inscribed lower left and dated a year later in 1634. The date would seem rather problematic in terms of Van Dyck's chronology - he is not thought to have returned to England until 1635. But in those days the new year started in March. So it could have been drawn in 1635 new style.

This view is taken from the opposite side of the town as that below, and may even have be done off shore. Perhaps it was done on ship, as he waited to disembark? Van Dyck had returned to England from Brussels without permission - forcing Charles I to apologise to Archduke Ferdinand for his bad behaviour. 

New British Art Journal

August 11 2011

Image of New British Art Journal

Picture: Telegraph

Plop onto my desk comes the new British Art Journal, just in time to make it into my holiday reading bag. This looks to be an excellent issue, it even - gasp - has some new features. As ever, there's a zippy editorial from Robin Simon. He makes a plea for UK museums to make all their images free for use, as Yale has done. He is of course right, as I have said before

Included in this issue are the following:

  • Katherine Hudson on Edward Burra
  • AP Duffy on Paul Nash
  • Helen Wyld on Paul Sandby
  • Alan Davidson on the artist and engraver Thomas Hardy
  • Stephen Conrad on Gainsborough's first Self-portrait
  • Thomas Tuoby on aspects of British art in Barodo, India
  • Juliet McMaster on a possible new watercolour by Samuel Palmer
The article on the newly discovered 'Gainsborough Self-portrait' (detail, above), penned by its owner Stephen Conrad, is engaging. The picture surfaced at an auction in 2005, and has not previously been known. It is inscribed on the back 'Gainsboro'.

Conrad makes a concerted and believable attempt to prove that his picture is indeed by the young 'Tom', and makes a number of points: we know Gainsborough painted portrait 'heads' as a child; the inscription is similar to the manner in which Gainsborough may have written his name when young; there could be a resemblance to Gainsborough at about ten; the costume is right for a picture of the 1730s/40s; the paint is appropriate for the period; and there may be some elements similar to Gainsborough's later technique.

So - is it by Gainsborough? Ultimately, it will always be one of those 'leap of faith' pictures. There is no really compelling evidence that it is by Tom, and of Tom. Making connoisseurial judgements on juvenalia is next to impossible. One just has to ask 'could it be by Gainsborough?' And happily there is enough evidence to suggest that it could be... 

View from the Artist no.2 - answer

August 11 2011

Image of View from the Artist no.2 - answer

Picture: Morgan Library and Museum

Sorry if this one was a little tricky. One reader asked:

Anything to do with Cantagallina? The landscape itself reminded me of a drawing by Peter Hammann of Worms (St. Martin’s Church and its surroundings). The Church depicted in Hammann’s drawing (of 1692) was destroyed in 1689. Does the drawing depict Worms too?

Am I close?

Alas not. Another:

Hollar? St. Paul's Cathedral before the fire?

Nope. Right country though.


Is your view a detail from Van Dyck's drawing of Rye?

Yes! Well done indeed. The correct answer came from the Art department at the University of Kent, so perhaps a little local knowledge helped (Rye is in Sussex).

You can zoom into the picture in glorious detail here. Select 'full screen'. There are very few surviving landscape drawings by Van Dyck, and this one is my favourite. It was probably done while he was waiting for a ship to the continent, and is dated 27th August 1633. I love the idea of a bored Van Dyck, his artistic fingers itching, ambling up to the top of a hill and drawing the little town before him.


The mother of all pentiments?

August 10 2011

Image of The mother of all pentiments?

Picture: MFA Boston

As I was idly browsing Van Dycks today, I came across this Portrait of Peeter Symons at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Check out the ghostly, pointing hand lower left.

The hand was painted out by Van Dyck after he changed his mind. Usually, such changes, or pentiments (or more correctly pentimenti), are relatively small, such as an altered finger. But here the whole hand seems to have been finished, and then completely changed. Over time, the pentiment has become visible as the layer of paint on top becomes more transparent. Van Dyck always took great care over his hands. When asked why, he is supposed to have said, 'because the hands pay the bills'.

Interestingly, the portrait was rejected as a Van Dyck by Horst Vey in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue. In the late 19th/early 20th century it had been called a copy, and he assumed it was one too. But it's clearly 'right' - and the pentiment proves it. A copyist would never do something like that.

(And that is why we are dealers love a good pentiment...)

Recovering stolen art

August 10 2011

Image of Recovering stolen art

Picture: TAN

In The Art Newspaper, Martin Bailey has an interesting interview with Sandy Nairne. Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, has published a fascinating book detailing his intimate involvement in the recovery of two Turners stolen in 1994, when he worked for Tate. In a nutshell, here are the details of the case:

  • The pictures, Shade and Darkness and Light and Colour (both 1843), were stolen in Frankfurt, where they were on loan.
  • The Tate received a £24m insurance payout. 
  • In 1998, the Tate paid the insurers £8m to buy back title to the pictures, should they ever be recovered.
  • Between 2000 and 2002, Tate paid £3.5m in fees and monies via a German lawyer, Edgar Liebrucks, This was 'a fee for information leading to the recovery' of the pictures. Nairne handled the tense negotiations.
  • Both pictures were returned. The Tate made a profit of £12.5m, not including the interest on the £24m capital, which it was allowed to keep. [More below]

Read More

View from the Artist

August 9 2011

Image of View from the Artist


Time for another round I think - can you tell where this is? Just for fun - but praise and respect for the first correct answer...

[update: judging from your responses so far, I might have made this one a bit too hard... Clue - it's in England.]

Lawless London

August 9 2011

Image of Lawless London

Picture: BG

[Warning: This is a nothing-to-do-with-art-history post]. Late last night, this over-anxious art dealer arrived at our gallery in Mayfair, in central London. I switched off the window lights, pulled the blinds down, and locked away our most valuable pictures. I told myself it was a pointless exercise – the riots were taking place in the suburbs. But at least I would sleep better. 

Then on my way home I saw a gang smash into Hugo Boss in Sloane Square (above). And I thought maybe my trip wasn’t so pointless after all. 

[More below

Read More

'Christ's True Face found in Tennessee thief's closet'

August 8 2011


Here's a curious case of how art historical ignorance mixed with religious fervour can lead to a ridiculous story. A thief who stole a 19th C print in Tennessee is being charged with the 'felony theft' of a 'rare painting depicting the face of Christ' valued at up to $60,000. The newsreader at the end of the clip says it may be valuable because it compares with 'similar black and white items priced on Ebay'.

Guff watch

August 8 2011

Image of Guff watch

Picture: AP Photo/Max Nash (Art Daily)

A press release from the Gagosian Gallery:

Imagine a world of spots. Every time I do a painting a square is cut out. They regenerate. They’re all connected.

--Damien Hirst

Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present “The Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011” by Damien Hirst. 

The exhibition has been conceived to take place simultaneously across each of Gagosian Gallery’s eleven locations in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Athens, Geneva, and Hong Kong. It will include loans from public institutions and private collections as well as from the artist. The exhibition will open in every city on January 12th and continue through February 18th, 2012. This is the first time Gagosian Gallery has dedicated all locations at once to a body of work by one artist.

Hirst’s spot paintings are among the most distinctive in contemporary art, a symbol that is recognized universally, cutting across boundaries of culture and language. Beginning with the first spot painting created in 1986, to monumental canvases where no single color is ever repeated, to the most recent works, some of which comprise spots of just 1 millimeter in diameter, this exhibition will present Hirst’s “world of spots” in a truly global context. 

Friday Amusement

August 5 2011

Image of Friday Amusement

Picture: Cartoonstock

'To every other portrait my reaction was indifference.'

August 5 2011

Image of 'To every other portrait my reaction was indifference.'

Picture: BG

Brian Sewell has written a stinger of a review on the BP Portrait Award (National Portrait Gallery, London). He questions the validity of the competition, now that it is filled with 'bilge':

I am inclined to say that, like the Turner Prize, the Portrait Award is now so stale that it should be garrotted. In its early days it achieved something of what it set out to do, but now, in spite of becoming international and attracting 2,372 submissions, these 55 exhibited pictures suggest that portraiture has returned to its deathbed and is now beyond recovery. This award is no longer, as Alison Weir asserts in her superfluous introduction to the catalogue, "acknowledged to be the ultimate showcase of the talents of aspiring artists and developments in portraiture" - indeed, it never was. It is no longer "an example of outstanding arts sponsorship making a real difference..." as the director of the NPG insists - indeed it brings not credit but ridicule to its sponsors, who are deluded by the NPG and its minions into believing this to be "inspiring work (and) ... a truly exciting public exhibition". Ultimate, outstanding and inspiring? Hooey, phooey and bilge.

Though Sewell is as extreme as ever, I fear he is (at least partly) right. The standard of portraits is often poor - and getting worse.

But I don't blame the competition itself (which I love), rather, the judges. I sometimes wonder if they have they lost the ability to objectively and qualitatively assess works of art, a common problem these days. For too long the judges have rewarded insipid work of little technical merit, and seem unduly keen on portraits based entirely on photographs (such that you can even see flash bulbs reflected in the sitters' pupils). So it's no surprise to see so many photo-like works entered for the BP competition. They should be banned, and the entry bar raised. 

Interestingly, the only portrait Sewell commends in his article is by Nathan Ford, whose portrait Abi was my pick of the bunch when I went to the opening - so much so that I took the rubbish photo on my phone, above (see a better one here). It won no prizes. 

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