Previous Posts: December 2011

104,000 down, 96,000 to go...

December 16 2011

Image of 104,000 down, 96,000 to go...

Picture: Your Paintings / National Trust

The fabulous folks at the Public Catalogue Foundation are over half way through putting the nation's oil paintings online for us to enjoy for free. They've just finished uploading another 40,000 since the project went live earlier this year, including the above landscape by Thomas Gainsborough in the collection of the National Trust.

When the project is completed, Britain will be the first nation in the world to have our entire publicly owned collection of oil paintings online. How cool is that? And how lucky are we? It's all been done for free, with no government support. We owe a debt of thanks to the PCF, its director Andrew Ellis, and the man who came up with the idea in the first place, Dr Fred Hohler. More details on the latest milestone here. There's still a way to go, however, and the PCF needs to raise the final funding for it - to do your bit, please donate here

More Tudor stuff

December 16 2011

Image of More Tudor stuff

Picture: Royal Collection

Thanks for all your feedback from the Anne Boleyn post yesterday. It's interesting that although we first published the research in 2006, it made little wider impact, mainly I suppose because it never went online (and because the news story publicising it is behind The Times paywall). These days, unless something is online, it doesn't really happen! 

So, now I'm going to publish some more of our Tudor research online. And this time we're going hardcore. Below the jump is the full transcribed inventory of Catherine Howard's jewels, from the manuscript in the British Library. It's a great resource for anyone interested in the period. We commissioned the transcription from Tudor historian extraordinaire Alasdair Hawkyard, and it was first published in our exhibition catalogue for 'Lost Faces: Identity & Discovery in Royal Tudor Portraiture'. It now goes online for the first time. The inventory was compiled by Nicholas Bristowe, who was clek of the King's wardrobes.

Why is the inventory useful for art historians? Because it may allow us to identify Catherine's portrait, long a source of contention. Above is a miniature by Holbein in the Royal Collection. Its early history is uncertain, but when it was first certainly recorded in the Royal Collection in c.1837, it was called Catherine. It was engraved by Houbraken as her in 1743. Earlier than that and we have no certain reference to it. In the later 20th Century the identity was questioned, and dropped. Then David Starkey, in his Six Wives of Henry VIII, resurrected the idea based on the inventory of Catherine's jewels. David was guest Curator of our Lost Faces exhibition, and so we decided to publish the full inventory.

Each of the jewels seen in the miniature can be found in the inventory. For example, on her head her French hood is trimmed with the 'upper habulyment of Goldesmytheswerke ennamuled and garneshed with vij ffeyr daimondes vij ffeir rubyes and vij ffeyr Perles' which is the first item listed in the inventory.  On her  bossom, over a translucent chemise, she wears a shaped necklace called a square 'conteynyng xxix rubyes and xxix clustres of Peerlles being iiij peerlles in every Clustre'  and an 'ooche [that is a pendant] of golde hauyng averey ffeir table diamond and a verey feir ruby with a long peerle hangyng at the same'.

Coincidence? The same argument has been used to identify the full-length portrait of Katherine Parr in the National Portrait Gallery, which had previously been called Jane Grey. All the jewels seen in that portrait are in the inventory of Katherine Parr's jewels. The Royal Collection online catalogue is still cautious about the attribution of the miniature, however, citing the uncertain early provenance of the work, and the possibility that royal jewels were lent to other ladies at court, who may have been painted by Holbein wearing them. Jewels were indeed lent, but I find it hard to accept that a lady-in-waiting, say, would scoop the jackpot with an entire outfit of royal loans of such importance and value - and then have the impertinence to be seen wearing the King's jewels. As you can see from the inventory below, those royal jewels that were sent out to ladies of the court tend to be the lesser ones. Also, there is something decidedly queenly about the miniature above - in fashion, jewels and approach it is far more sumptuous that any other Holbein miniature of a lady at court. So, for me, she's Catherine Howard. What do you think?  

[If on the homepage, click 'Read on' for the full inventory].

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Anne Boleyn regains her head

December 15 2011

Image of Anne Boleyn regains her head

Picture: Royal Collection

This isn't 'news' as such, but in a foray into the Tudor realms of Twitter last night I mentioned the drawing of Anne Boleyn by Holbein in the Royal Collection (above). I said that although in the past the identity was doubted by art historians, the sitter was now catalogued with certainty as 'Anne Boleyn', as you can see on the Royal Collection website. This prompted a flurry of curious tweets on the evidence behind the identity. So here it is.

There used to be an article online in The Times detailing how research by myself and David Starkey had helped confirm the identity. But it has now disappeared behind the paywall. So below the jump, and online for the first time, is the article I wrote for an exhibition at Philip Mould in 2006 called 'Lost Faces - Identity & Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture', which was guest curated by David. The article was in the context of a fine but posthumous portrait of Anne we had borrowed from Hever Castle, Anne's childhood home (below). The Royal Collection have found all the evidence compelling enough to change their cataloguing of the drawing (saying 'this is a rare surviving portrait of Anne'), which is very pleasing. Let me know if you agree (or disagree)!

The text is taken from the catalogue, so ignore figure numbers etc. I cannot reproduce all the supporting illustrations, but where possible I have included links to them. The footnote numbers are in bold.

Catalogue No. 12 English School, Sixteenth Century. Portrait of Anne Boleyn. Oil on Panel: 31 × 25 inches, 79 × 65 cm. Provenance: Mrs K Radclyffe; On loan from Hever Castle

There is only one of Henry VIII’s wives for whom we have no life portrait, and ironically she is the most famous of them all: Anne Boleyn. Instead, her identity is known to us only through a handful of later ‘corridor portraits’, of which this is the finest, and most probably the earliest. As with all posthumous portraits, however, they are subject to the historical, political, and visual prejudices of those who created and commissioned them. They cannot give us an accurate picture of what Anne really looked like.

[If on the homepage, click 'Read on' for the whole article]

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23 Gwen Johns found at Princeton

December 15 2011

Image of 23 Gwen Johns found at Princeton

Picture: BBC

An extraordinary cache of 23 watercolours by Gwen John has been found uncatalogued in the library at Princeton University. They were discovered by Professor Anna Robins of Reading University in an old box containing an accordian. From BBC Wales:

Prof Robins said her first reaction was to go to the librarian on the desk and tell him she thought it absurd that the university library had 23 Gwen John watercolours that it clearly knew nothing about.

"He said: 'There's a complaints form over there. If you are unhappy with the library you should make a complaint'."

Saved! £3.7m worth of treasures. Lost! £65m worth of treasures.

December 15 2011

Image of Saved! £3.7m worth of treasures. Lost! £65m worth of treasures.

Picture: Getty

The truly woeful state of the system devised to protect the UK's national treausres has been laid bare in the annual report of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. This is the body which decides which objects are of 'pre-eminent' national interest.

In the year up to 30th April 2011, the committee decided that paintings by Turner (above), Poussin and Hals, amongst others, were all items of outstanding importance to the UK. But they will all be exported anyway, because no UK institutions could afford to come forward with a matching offer to buy them.

If you look at the objects saved by value in the annual report, it is clear that the more expensive the object the more likely it is to be exported. In other words, the system designed to help keep national treasures in the UK is failing, because it is practically guaranteed that the very best stuff will be allowed to leave. So at the moment there is a bizarre incentive for wealthy overseas collectors and institutions to come to the UK and raid our national treasures, because they know we cannot keep them. It's fill-yer-boots time. I know this because I have spoken to the US curators who are coming over here with eyes wide at the objects potentially on offer. We are losing incredibly important objects at an alarming rate. 

The ultimate problem, of course, is the lack of any acquisition funds for UK museums to buy such works. And, as I have banged on about before, the one body which could afford to save such objects with ease, the awash-with-money Heritage Lottery Fund, does not like to fund the acquisition of objects. Go figure, as they say in the country where many of our national treasures end up these days. 

By the way, if you thought last year was bad, wait till you read next year's report...

Liverpool acquires a Banksy

December 15 2011

Image of Liverpool acquires a Banksy


Spray a squirt of white paint and an aeroplane stencil on an old building in Liverpool, and hey presto, instant publicity, and a valuable wall. Cue the debates about whether to preserve it or wash it off. 

Still not paid for...

December 14 2011

Image of Still not paid for...

Picture: Bainbridge's

The buyer of the $83m vase at Bainbridge's auction still has not paid up. Scott Reyburn in Bloomberg has an interesting article on why some Chinese collectors like to bid big, but pay late (if at all). He concludes with a witty poem doing the rounds at the moment in the trade:

The Chinese bid with verve and skill,

And hence rack up a mighty bill.

“The money’s coming soon” they cry

But oh, my friend, they lie, they lie. 

View from the Artist no.7 - Winter edition

December 14 2011

Image of View from the Artist no.7 - Winter edition


We haven't had one of these for a while. Can you guess where the view is taken from? Just for fun - but the first correct artist, title and date gets a festive superabundance of praise and adulation. 

'La Peregrina' sells for $11.8m

December 14 2011

Image of 'La Peregrina' sells for $11.8m

Picture: NPG (left)

Elizabeth Taylor's 'Peregrina' pearl, one of the most famous in the world, sold in New York last night for $11.8m. The pearl can be seen in most portraits of Mary Tudor, for whom it was a gift from her husband Philip II of Spain.

There's a nice art history post-script about Taylor and the pearl. The portrait above, by Hans Eworth, came up at auction in 1971, two years after Richard Burton bought 'La Peregrina' for Taylor. The NPG were short of cash, and so asked the famous couple for help. They duly obliged, and if you look the picture up on the NPG site today, you will find their names still credited. Cool eh?

Incidentally, the Eworth now is probably worth about the same as the pearl. For more details on this story, go to Hope Walker's Hans Eworth blog.

Monet's water lilies go to Liverpool

December 14 2011

Image of Monet's water lilies go to Liverpool

Picture: Fondation Beyeler

A new exhibition next year at Tate Liverpool will bring together five Monet water lily paintings for the first time in the UK. The show will open 22nd June till 28th October. From the Tate's press release:

The Water-Lily Pond c1917-19 lent by the Albertina, Vienna, and Water Lilies 1916-19, lent by Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Basel are the works which will go on show for the first time in the UK. They will join three other Monet water-lily paintings in the exhibition: Water Lilies 1916 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Water Lilies 1907 from Göteborgs Konstmuseum; and Water Lilies after 1916, on loan from the National Gallery to the Tate Collection. This will be the first time that five of Monet’s water lilies have been brought together in the UK for over a decade.

Tate Liverpool has gone for a blockbuster here, for the exhibition will be called Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings. The justification for assembling three fairly randomly connected big names runs thus:

Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings will examine the art historical links and affinities between three artists who were all considered radical painters in their time, suggesting common characteristics and motivations underlying their late style. The exhibition will explore their shared fascination with light, landscape, the sublime and mythology as well as the painterly qualities of their work, whether as makers of figurative or abstract images.  Displaying over sixty works, the exhibition will treat each artist in considerable depth, with rooms juxtaposing the works of two, or all three, of the artists.  Works by Monet and Twombly will be drawn from museums and private collections across the world, while works from Tate’s Turner Bequest will be supplemented by loans from American museums.

Winter exhibition in Zurich

December 14 2011

Image of Winter exhibition in Zurich

Picture: Musee d'Orsay (C) RMN

Here's an enjoyable idea for an exhibition, 'Winter Tales', which will look at winter landscapes in art. The exhibition will take place at the Kunsthaus Zurich from 10th February to 29th April 2012. Monet's The Magpie (1868/9) will be one of the loans. To see others, there's an excellent preview website here

Tate hang - I'm not the only one...

December 13 2011

Image of Tate hang - I'm not the only one...

Picture: BG

Curiously, my little rant on Monday about the Tate's apparent marginalisation of pictures from its 'historic' collection generated the most traffic this site has ever seen. I don't know if all the thousand plus people who read the post agree with me. But here's a couple of snippets from readers:

Thank-you for bringing attention to the awful situation at Tate Britain. I had to give a private tour there a few months ago for two hours and it was lucky I went on a recce beforehand otherwise I would have had quite the shock!

And another:

I was interested to see your piece about this today - I felt exactly the same way when I went in October.

And the above note, displayed on the Tate's comments board, speaks volumes. 

New Raphael acquisition at Staedel

December 13 2011

Image of New Raphael acquisition at Staedel

Picture: Staedel Museum, Frankfurt, [called] Raphael & Workshop, 'Portrait of Pope Julius II', 1511/12, Oil on poplar panel, 105.6 x 78.5cm.

The Staedel Museum in Frankfurt has acquired what it says is a newly discovered version of Raphael's portrait of Pope Julius II. The original is in the National Gallery, London. The Staedel says their new version is painted by Raphael and his workshop. Full details available in the press release here.

Key to their conclusions are the apparent changes visible in the picture, as revealed in the x-rays and infra-red photographs: [more below]

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Biro sues more people

December 13 2011

Image of Biro sues more people

Picture: Steve Pyke

The art investigator Peter Biro (above) has widened his attempt to sue The New Yorker for defamation. In July 2010 David Grann published an article in the magazine (which is still online) about Biro's work finding fingerprints in artworks from across the centuries, from Leonardo to Jackson Pollock. To save me from being sued, I shal just say it didn't make for happy reading for Mr Biro. He sued, and has now added a host of other publications to the roster for repeating Grann's conclusions. 

Damien Hirst - there's much, much more to come

December 13 2011

Image of Damien Hirst - there's much, much more to come

Picture: Prudence Cuming Associates

Artinfo has an amusing article about Damien Hirst's forthcoming 'Spot' exhibitions. In it, Hirst is quoted on the subject of how many works he produces:

[Hirst] gave a bizarre but intriguing anecdote to the L.A. Times about working with Larry [Gagosian]: “I remember Larry once phoned me up, and he said he was worried about my production,” Hirst told the paper. “He said: You are making too many paintings. And then, at the end of the conversation, he said: We need more paintings.”

Hirst's tale does touch on an important question about the upcoming show: what effect will this flood of spot paintings have on Hirst’s market? The artist doesn’t seem too concerned. “I've looked at the amount of artworks I've made in my life: 4,800, not including prints,” he told the Times. “I know Warhol did 10,000 not including prints, and Picasso did 40,000. So I have a way to go.”


Want $750 for your research on British art?

December 12 2011

Then apply for the Historians of British Art annual award (by Jan. 15).

For art lovers, a smidgen of good news

December 12 2011

You may remember a while ago the UK government began consulting on proposals to encourage the donation of works of art. The idea was to allow you to offset a certain amount of income or capital gains tax if you gave your Poussin to the local museum. At the moment, you can enjoy a tax deduction for doing so only if you are dead, under the Acceptance-in-lieu scheme. Under the proposed new rules, you could do so while alive - but the government was proposing to retain the current overall tax allowance ceiling of £20m pa, thus providing no new money. However, hidden in George Osborne's otherwise gloomy Autumn Statement (p.51) was the excellent news that the limit will now be raised to £30m pa.  

What's going on at Tate Britain?

December 12 2011

Image of What's going on at Tate Britain?

Picture: BG

I don't usually like to start Monday with a rant, but yesterday I went to Tate Britain - and left scratching my art historical head. What a curious hang. Acres of wall space devoted to 20th Century works, and precious little to anything pre-1800. Tate Britain is meant to be the home of British art from 1500 onwards. But at the moment it feels more like Tate Modern Lite. To take two random artists; there are 3 works by Hogarth on display (out of 20 paintings in the collection), but 8 by Graham Sutherland. 

Of 29 rooms open for viewing, only 3 can meaningfully be said to focus on works from pre-1800. Of these three, one room is a sparsely hung 'theme' room on 'Atlantic Britain', one is split into two small temporary exhibitions (good ones, on Rubens & Britain and the Protestant Church post 1660), while the final room, admittedly the largest in the gallery, also includes works up to 1850 and is so badly lit you can't see many of the pictures. (As you can see from the photo above, it's a bad idea to hang glazed works up high...) 

It is true that a number of rooms at Tate Britain are closed for renovation, and this has led to the current re-hang. But the new spaces won't be open till 2013, and the current marginalisation of British art from pre-1800 may be seen as a worrying indicator of the direction of travel. In the meantime, it might be an idea to hang some works in the central Duveen galleries (above), currently empty. To see how such a space might work, the best example is the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (below). 

Record price for a medieval work of art

December 12 2011

Image of Record price for a medieval work of art

Picture: ATG

The Antiques Trade Gazette has news of of this c.1250-80 Virgin & Child making £5.05m in Paris recently. It was bought by London-based dealer Sam Fogg

That newly discovered Brueghel

December 12 2011

Image of That newly discovered Brueghel

Picture: Museo Prado

Goes on display today. A reader writes:

I just wanted to send a quick e-mail to let you know about a conference that took place today at the Courtauld... One of twenty art historians who gave brief talks about their research was Gabriele Finaldi from the Prado Museum who spoke about Pieter Bruegel the Elder's The Wine Feast of Saint Martin. In a fantastic talk, Finaldi discussed the cleaning of this painting (begun in Spring 2010 and lasting over two years) and showed findings resulting from it, such as the newly discovered signature.  Anyway, as I saw that you'd posted the Burlington articles of this month (one of which includes recent findings of this very painting) I thought I'd share the news that the newly cleaned Bruegel is going on display at the Prado this Monday.

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