Previous Posts: August 2011

NPG buys a Dyson

August 5 2011

Image of NPG buys a Dyson

Picture: Sir James Dyson, 2010 by Julian Opie © Julian Opie / National Portrait Gallery, London; commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery with the support of J.P. Morgan through the Fund for New Commissions. Inkjet on canvas, 1438 x 1082 (56 5/8 x 42 5/8)

The National Portrait Gallery, London, has acquired a newly commissioned portrait of the inventory James Dyson by Julian Opie. Here, Opie describes the process of making the portrait: [More below]

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View from the Artist

August 4 2011

Image of View from the Artist

Picture: Yale Center for British Art

I was impressed to get the correct answer yesterday within a few hours of posting the clue. Most of you had the right idea.

One reader asked:

Bruges, Belgium?

Nope. Another:

It should be in London somewhere?

Good. Another:

Is it Westminster, with Westminster Hall and the Henry VII Chapel of Westminster Abbey in view?

Yes! But the first correct answer (from Malta no less) also gave chapter and verse:

In response to your latest article ‘View from the Artist’, the location where the artist painted was known as the Westminster Stairs.

The artist who executed the painting is Claude de Jongh. I have yet to see the panel in the flesh, but I know it from a 1956 article by John Hayes (Burlington). The painting is signed and dated, 1637. At the time of the article’s publication, Hayes also mentions that the work was in the collection of Harald Peake, in London. Today the painting can be found at the Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven.

Indeed it can - full details here. Well done!

On the first Director of the National Gallery

August 4 2011

Image of On the first Director of the National Gallery

Picture: BBC

Here's a nifty slideshow about Sir Charles Eastlake, the first director of the National Gallery. It coincides with a new exhibition on Eastlake at the gallery, curated by Susanna Avery-Quash. She has just published Eastlake's travel diaries for the Walpole Society. 

PS - doesn't London look nicer with cobbles?

Distasteful 'sleeper' opportunity?

August 4 2011

Image of Distasteful 'sleeper' opportunity?

Picture: Gottlieb Auctions

I recently highlighted the large auction market for Nazi-related items. But for the Nazi collector who has everything, how about a pair of portraits of Hitler's parents? They are on offer at Gottlieb Auctions in the US:

This is a rare opportunity to own an important piece of history: a set of oil paintings liberated from Hitler's mountain retreat.  The two most important paintings in the group that was liberated are the original paintings that were commissioned by Adolf Hitler, depicting his parents Klara and Alois Hitler. [...]

Until recently, the whereabouts of these portraits were unknown. Currently owned by a family member of the French veteran who liberated them after the war, these paintings are  presented for the first time to the collecting public and students of history alike.  

The artist is unknown, but much as I like the challenge of finding the artist for unattributed paintings, I think I'll pass... These are expected to fetch as much as $100,000. The same auction house, incidentally, is also offering Hitler's desk set, used to sign the Munich Pact. Could there be a gloomier relic of history?

View from the Artist

August 3 2011

Image of View from the Artist


Not a great deal of art history news around at the moment, it being the holidays. So how about a competition for you.

Here, shamelessly ripped off from Andrew Sullivan's 'View from your Window' slot, is 'View from the Artist'. Shown is a detail of a larger work. Can you guess where the artist was painting? No prizes, it's just for fun, but kudos n' respect to the first correct answer. There are enough clues in this one to make it reasonably easy... If you like it, I'll make it a regular feature. 

Vicente Carducho series returns to Spanish monastery

August 3 2011

Image of Vicente Carducho series returns to Spanish monastery

Picture: Hoyesarte

A series of 54 paintings by the 17thC Italian artist Vicente Carducho has been reassembled in a Spanish monastery, the place of its original commission.

The pictures were first taken away from the monastery La Chartreuse del Paular in 1835, but have now been returned and restored. The pictures depict the life of St Bruno and other celebrated Carthusian monks. Full details here (in Spanish)

Freud - NOT the death of the portrait?

August 2 2011

Image of Freud - NOT the death of the portrait?

Picture: Thomas Struth/National Portrait Gallery

Last week Mark Lawson in the Guardian wrote that Lucian Freud's death signalled the death of the painted portrait. Now, Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, has hit back:

Rather than claiming, as Lawson does, that "the art of the portrait has passed from the canvas to the screen", I would argue that portrait painting has for the past decade been renewing itself. [...]

Several new commissions for the National Portrait Gallery have used new media very tellingly. Lawson himself refers positively to Sam Taylor-Wood's extraordinary portrait of David Beckham: the star shown intimately, sleeping sweetly for one hour and eight minutes. I would also compare Michael Craig-Martin's brilliant digital portrait of Zaha Hadid, in which the elements of her image slowly changes hue and tone in an ever-changing programme with no repetition, signalling her astonishing creativity. Equally, in perhaps more conventional terms, Thomas Struth's recent portrait of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh is a wonderful evocation of a senior figure of the highest worldwide status. These are important portraits: distinct from but equal with the greatest of painted works.

I admire Nairne's chutzpah. And few people have done more to encourage the re-invention of the portrait (and by extension the National Portrait Gallery) than he has. But, personally, I could not equate the above admittedly fine photograph to 'the greatest of painted works' - in which category one has to include not only Freud but presumably the likes of Reynolds, Lawrence, and hey even Van Dyck, Rubens and Titian. Not in a million years.

The Walpole Society hits 100

August 2 2011

Image of The Walpole Society hits 100

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

There was a pleasant do at the National Gallery last week to celebrate the Walpole Society's 100th birthday. The Society publishes, in weighty annual volumes, essential evidence on British art history (most famously the notebooks of George Vertue). If you're not a member, do consider joining. For just £45 a year you get their handsome volumes, and much else besides. 

To underline how useful the Society's work is to someone like me, the most recent publication (of Charles Eastlake's travel journals) came in handy for our recent Van Dyck exhibition. Eastlake (1793-1865) was the first director of the National Gallery, and a great connoisseur. Plop onto my desk two days before the catalogue went to press fell Eastlake's notebooks - which revealed that he had seen our newly discovered portrait (above) in Paris on 25th August 1860 in the Rothschild's collection: "Van Dyck - A Girl - whole length - holding her white gown (dark under sleeves) in left hand - fan in rt - [[about]] 2 - 8 w - 3 - 5h." Good timing, eh?

There is a new small exhibition at the National showing how Eastlake used to go on shopping trips in Europe, and how difficult it was to be sure in those days that the 'Giotto' on offer really was a Giotto. Worth a visit. 

Do you have a 'Cheerful and positive approach to life'?

August 1 2011

Image of Do you have a 'Cheerful and positive approach to life'?

Picture: Wallace Collection

Then get a job in a museum! There are some plum vacancies in the art world, including three positions at the Wallace Collection. They are Curator of Old Master Pictures, Curator of French Decorative Arts, (both at £31-37k), and the post of Library Cataloguer (at £21-25k). 

The qualifications needed for the curatorships includes the usual - PhD, knowledge of languages, teaching experience etc. But listed under 'Other desirable qualities' is a;

'Cheerful and positive approach to life'

So good luck - and smile! Alternatively, if you're a grumpy sod then go for the Cataloguer position - there's nothing about being cheery in the job spec for that... The closing date is 12th August. Full details here

Other vacancies at the moment include:

  • At the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art: Director of Studies, closing date 23rd September. Details here
  • At the Burlington Magazine: Managing Director, closing date 20th September. Details here

Screw magnate buys Holbein

August 1 2011

Image of Screw magnate buys Holbein

Picture: Staedel Museum

Holbein's Darmstadt Madonna has been sold in Germany for a sum in excess of $70m. The buyer was, Reinhold Wuerth, the German industrialist whose family business makes screws (amongst other things). The seller was the Prince of Hesse, who faced a large bill for death tax. The picture is barred from export outside Germany, hence the apparent bargain price. 

The picture is in quite amazing condition (you can zoom in on it here), and probably the best surviving guide to Holbein's technique. If you ever get half a chance to see it, do. I saw it about a year ago, and was so amazed at the level of finish and realism in areas such as the carpet that my brain for a moment could not compute that I was looking at a painting, and not an actual carpet. My eyes were literally deceived. It reminded me of Samuel Pepys when he first saw one of Simon Verelst's flower paintings (on 11th April 1669):

...a Dutchman newly come over, one Everelst, who took us to his lodging close by and did show us a little flowerpott of his doing, the finest thing that I ever think I saw in my life – the drops of dew hanging on the leaves, so as I was forced again and again to put my finger to it to see whether my eyes were deceived or no. He doth ask 70l for it; I had the vanity to bid him 20l – but a better picture I never saw in my whole life, and it is worth going twenty miles too see.

Is this by Turner?

August 1 2011

Image of Is this by Turner?

Picture: Museum of Wales

Off Margate was bought by the Museum of Wales in 1908 as a Turner. But since the 1950s its attribution has been questioned. Now, however, the Tate has pronounced that it is a genuine late work. 

Beth McIntyre, curator at the Museum of Wales, told Wales Online:

“This painting was part of a large bequest to the museum in 1951 and shortly after it arrived, an expert questioned its authenticity. In those days, working out authorship wasn’t a question of science as it can be today, it was a question of ‘this doesn’t quite feel right’."

“This Turner – along with six others in the same bequest – is quite small and while it was identified as a Turner, the ‘late’ style was questioned at the time.”

Ms McIntyre felt the paintings should be seen by the Tate experts, and the decision paid off.

“We knew this painting had good historic provenance – we could trace its ownership back a long way,” she said. "However, Turner’s work was copied in his own lifetime so it was very difficult to be certain. So now we have confirmation from today’s experts that it is a Turner which is great news.”

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