Previous Posts: December 2011

Rijksmuseum images available for free

December 12 2011

Image of Rijksmuseum images available for free

Picture: Rijksmuseum, Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Portrait drawing of Charles I (detail)

Splendid news*: the Rijksmuseum have now joined the growing band of museums that allow people to use their images for free, even in publications. The only proviso is that the work must be correctly attributed and captioned. As you can see from the Rijksmuseum's excellent website, good high-resolution images are available online already. To celebrate, here is a detail from one of Van Dyck's finest drawings, of Charles I

*via art historian Hannah Williams

Anglo-French relations

December 10 2011

Image of Anglo-French relations

Picture: Royal Collection

Did David Cameron deliver a handbagging par excellence to the EU yesterday, or commit one of the biggest UK foreign policy blunders of the post-war period? It's too early to say. As a some-time historian of UK foreign policy, I suspect the latter.

Either way, here's a glimpse into how European summits used to be run, Tudor-style, with the scene from the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Staged in 1520, just outside Calais, the event saw the meeting of Henry VIII of England and Francis II of France to show off and thrash out their differences. They even had a wrestle. Like the Dave & Sarko show, it was all very macho.  

It won't be long till we reach the 500 year anniversary of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. I always thought it would be a good event to celebrate and re-create, as a milestone in Anglo-French relations. Now, I wonder if anyone will notice...

Friday Amusement

December 9 2011

Image of Friday Amusement

Picture: Cartoonstock/Alan Saunders

Apologies for the slow service this week - it's been rather busy with all the sales. Bon weekend!

Zurburan deal off

December 9 2011

Image of Zurburan deal off

Picture: CofE

The Church Commissioners, the body who oversee the Church's assets and estates, and whose decisions to sell off countless rectories have left the Church the amorphous rump it is today, have done it again. This time they have messed up the deal to save Auckland Castle and the set of 12 Zurburan paintings hanging there.

Jonathan Ruffer, the financier who had pledged to save the set, has pulled out of the deal. He had come forward to stop the paintings and castle being sold and broken up - but the Church Commissioners have put in place so many restrictions that he now cannot proceed. He will donate the money elsewhere. In his statement he makes it clear that the Commissioners have acted unreasonably, and by the look of it, meanly:

I have established that the First Estates Commissioner and the Chief Executive of the Church Commissioners have added conditions to the sale of the Zurbaráns, conditions which are insurmountable. These include the grant of planning consent for a new See House, (the plans for which have been abandoned by the Church Commissioners) and the satisfactory grant of planning consent on land which I understand is not even in a development area.

I have no option but to withdraw my offer. This is a great sadness and an embarrassment. I will make the following pledges. The entire £15 million which I have pledged will be used for the people of the North East of England within the Zurbarán Trust, which will continue to function. I further pledge that my wife Jane and I will base ourselves in Bishop Auckland and will remain committed to working to ameliorate the conditions of the people of County Durham. Lastly I will do everything that I can to ensure that the pictures remain at Auckland Castle.

Exclusive - Garrick Club buys 'Garrick' by Zoffany

December 8 2011

Image of Exclusive - Garrick Club buys 'Garrick' by Zoffany

Picture: Sotheby's

There was great speculation last night as to who bought the pair of Zoffanys showing the actor David Garrick at play. The pair sold at the lower estimate of £6 million, making £6.8m in all. The buyer was the Garrick Club, and the pictures will hang alongside their pre-eminent collection of theatrical portraits, including numerous Zoffanys. This is splendid news for the preservation of English heritage, for there was a risk the pictures could have been sold overseas. It seemed to me that the Garrick's was the only bid in the room - so it may be that they could have let them get bought in, and secured a lower price.

Sotheby's total last night was £20m, so a little less than Christie's £24m. Quite a few lots bought in, and the room was a little subdued. But they did set a new record for a work by Jan Steen, which sold for £4.3m hammer (£4.85m with premium) below its £4.5m-£6m estimate. 

UK government shafts the modern art market?

December 8 2011

The UK art market is a rare example of a British industry doing well. In 2010 we had a 22% share of the global art market. But now the government has potentially compromised our leading position with the full implementation of the Artist's Resale Right. This means that if a dealer or auctioneer sells a work by a living artist, or one who died less than 70 years ago, they have to pay the artist or his heirs a percentage of the sale price (4% up to EUR 50k, 3% up to EUR200k), even if that work has already been sold numerous times.

The UK art market has tried to lobby hard against the implementation. But it has always been on the back foot against a well-organised campaign from the Design and Artist's Copyright Society (DACS). DACS is the chief collecting body for the resale right, and of course takes a tidy commission. I remember encountering their paid lobbyists in Parliament when I was working their long ago - a very slick operation.

The resale right may sound lovely for the (already dead) struggling artist. But in practice it will mean many modern and contemporary art sales taking place in markets where the Resale Right is not implemented, such as Switzerland or Hong Kong. And so the UK art market, already under pressure from high Vat rates and overseas competition, will shrink. And consider it this way - if you live in a new home, do you think the architect should get something every time you sell it on? Or was his payment at the time he built it reward enough? Or what about that nice bit of 1960s furniture? What about your car - should you pay a commission to the daughter of the man who made it when you sell it?

I don't think DACS are yet arguing for Van Dyck's heirs to recieve a share of his sales, so my little corner of the market will be ok. The real winners in all this will be the mega artist estates, such as the Picasso foundation. In the end, however, all artists and their heirs will be losers, if there is no effective art market to sell and represent their works for the best price in the first place. 

Export of Manet portrait deferred - but for how long?

December 8 2011

Image of Export of Manet portrait deferred - but for how long?

Picture: DCMS

This unfinished Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus by Edouard Manet has been temporarily refused an export licence by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey. It was bought after Manet's death by John Singer Sargent in 1884, and has been in the UK ever since. If you haven't seen it before that's because it has only been exhibited publicly once, and has now been sold privately to an overseas buyer.

So, will the picture be saved for the nation? Not on your nelly. The asking price is £28.3 million, so there is not a hope in hell of any UK museum coming forward with a matching offer to keep the picture in the UK.

Why? Because there is precious little money around for acquisitions. The Heritage Lottery Fund is awash with money to save items of national heritage, but for some bizarre reason it does not like to fund the acquisition of paintings. The only substantial pot of public money available for acquisitions is the National Heritage Memorial Fund, but this has had its budget reduced from £10m to £5m. The Heritage Lottery Fund, on other hand, has had its budget increased by £25m, and, get this, is run by the same body of trustees as the National Heritage Memorial Fund. It's all completely bonkers, don't you think?

The end result is that now, when the recession has put unprecedented pressure on UK collections to sell prime works of art, they are all being sold overseas. And, aside from futile attempts to defer export licences for 6 months, nobody's doing anything about it.


December 8 2011

Image of Withdrawn

Picture: BG

This rather alluring canalside scene has been withdrawn from Christie's South Kensington Old Master sale. It was called 'Follower of Saenredam' and estimated at £3-5,000. The picture, which shone out at me at the viewing when I saw it, is oil on panel, 14 x 20 inches, and signed 'Ao.1634/P.Sanredam f'. It's not my area of expertise, so I don't know if it is 'right' or not, but the signature looked genuine to me. Perhaps the astonishing price made the last time a lowly estimated Saenredam was sold caused the auction house to have last-minute doubts. Or perhaps it was the sight of the world's old master dealers queueing up to take a closer look...

Velasquez knocked down at £2.6m

December 7 2011

Image of Velasquez knocked down at £2.6m

Picture: Bonhams

The newly discovered Velasquez at Bonhams sold for £2.6m hammer today. The estimate was £2-3m, and most observers thought that it would go way beyond that. It's strange how the market can sometimes get the jitters at the last moment.

The buyer, New York dealer Otto Naumann, is surprised with his bargain: 

I was amazed... I was prepared to pay double that. It was very dirty. Maybe people were worried how it would clean. It was bought for stock. I will do what dealers do, restore it and try to get more.

Guffwatch - Turner Prize Special

December 6 2011


You knew this was coming didn't you... Here's the blurb from the exhibition notice of prize-winner Martin Boyce's work:

Martin Boyce engages with the historical legacy of Modernist forms and ideals to create deeply atmospheric installations drawing upon text and elements of design. His investigations will often re-stage the outside within the gallery space, evoking the urban landscape through precisely explored sculptural details. Steeped in an understanding of the concepts of Modernist design, his work draws upon its visual language with a complex repertoire of forms. Noted for his engagement with how these objects are produced, Boyce is interested in how their original political or aesthetic ethos changes over time. His meticulous sculptures bear out his imaginings for the alternative lives these objects might lead if created at a different moment.

If you need help with this, here's my own interpretation of what it may actually mean:

Martin Boyce engages with the historical legacy of Modernist forms and ideals [he has some books on Modernism] to create deeply atmospheric installations drawing upon text and elements of design [he reads those books]. His investigations will often re-stage the outside within the gallery space, evoking the urban landscape through precisely explored sculptural details [he prefers working indoors]. Steeped in an understanding of the concepts of Modernist design [those books again], his work draws upon its visual language with a complex repertoire of forms [he can cut up bits of metal and wood]. Noted for his engagement with how these objects are produced [he makes them himself], Boyce is interested in how their original political or aesthetic ethos changes over time [they sometimes tarnish a bit]. His meticulous sculptures bear out his imaginings for the alternative lives these objects might lead if created at a different moment [you can recycle them].

The battle for the Battle of Anghiari

December 6 2011

Image of The battle for the Battle of Anghiari

Picture: Alinari Archives

Some art historians have got their knickers in a frightful twist over Maurizio Seracini's search for Leonardo's lost mural, The Battle of Anghiari (of which the drawing above by Rubens shows a small detail). The mural was painted by Leonardo in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, but, like The Last Supper, began to deteriorate so fast that it was covered over by another work by Giorgio Vasari.

Now Seracini believes Vasari, in an act of deference to Leonardo, didn't paint on top of the great man's work, but left a gap between it and his new mural. And by drilling a series of tiny holes through which to pass a microscopic camera, he hopes to see what is left of it. But, says The Guardian:

...150 art historians from museums including the New York Met and the National Gallery in London have signed a petition to stop the work, angry at the fact that holes are being drilled in the front wall bearing its own renown fresco, Giorgio Vasari's The Battle of Marciano in Val di Chiana, painted in 1563.

"We also believe that Da Vinci painted on the wall opposite, but Seracini just doesn't know his art history," said Tomaso Montanari, the art history professor who started the petition. Backing the experts, the heritage group Italia Nostra has complained to Florence magistrates, who have opened an investigation.

AHN says - chill out. Seracini's theory may be a bit Da Vinci Code. But his tiny holes are, well, tiny. And imagine how exciting it would be if he did find fragments of Leonardo's original...

Zippy new Louvre website

December 6 2011

Check it out

Christie's £24m Old Master evening sale

December 6 2011

Image of Christie's £24m Old Master evening sale

Picture: Christie's

There was a solid sale of Old Masters at Christie's tonight, with £24m coming in from just 36 lots. The highest price was £6.8 million (inc. premium) for Pieter Brueghel the Younger's The Battle between Carnival and Lent (above). The vendor made a handy profit, for he had bought it at auction in 2006 for £3.25 million. Brueghels, both Younger and Elder, have rocketed in the last few years, and are the closest thing the Old Master world has to currency. These universally understandable, easy to quantify images seem to be the place of choice for those looking park their cash in art in these uncertain times. 

Other strong sellers included a newly discovered Govaert Flinck, which had once belonged to Catherine the Great, and which made £2.3 million (inc. premium); a £5.9 million Willem van de Velde II naval scene; and a £2.17 million Gainsborough full-length. This last picture slightly disappointed against a £2.5-£3.5 million estimate, but was a handsome price nonetheless.

There were only a few failures, including a terrifying looking Pontormo with condition issues. There were a few intakes of breath when the cover lot, a finely executed Goya portrait of Don Juan Lopez de Robredo, bought in at £4-£6m. However, nice picture tho' it was, I felt the estimate was too high for a portrait of a portly and not overly engaging sitter. 

Finally, as an indication of where the money is coming from these days, the below portrait of a curious and unknown English merchant by Andrea Soldi, a good but not brilliant artist, smashed its estimate of £80-120,000 to make £825,000. Had the sitter not been wearing oriental dress - a real turn on for today's Middle Eastern buyers - the picture would have struggled to make more than £50,000...


December 6 2011

Rather busy today I'm afraid, with Old Master sales kicking off. Will try and post items when possible. In the meantime, the main news seems to be the Turner prize, which was won by someone.  

One I missed earlier...

December 5 2011

Image of One I missed earlier...

Picture: Nationalmuseum Stockholm

The enterprising staff at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm have snapped up this fine c.1780s Nymph & Satyr Embracing by Claude Michel, called 'Clodin' (1738-1814) for just EUR 7,200. The piece was spotted in a Swedish auction earlier this year, uncatalogued, despite it being signed. Full story over on Tribune De L'Art. 

The collective art history wisdom of some Daily Telegraph readers

December 5 2011

Image of The collective art history wisdom of some Daily Telegraph readers

Picture: Princess Czartoryski Foundation

You may remember a while ago the correspondence in the Telegraph over Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine, especially the apparently too large hand. A reader has sent me the latest from the Telegraph's letters page. First we had a rebuttal to the 'it's not by Leonardo' letter. From Mr W. of Goring-on-Thames:

Sir, Maybe the right hand of Leonardo's Lady with an Ermine appears larger than is normal because Leonardo sat too close to his subject... she is very attractive.

Then from Mrs L. from Dogmersfield:

Sir, I recall a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery where school children were being given a talk on the paintings. It was explained to them that, in one portrait, the disproportionately large hands would have been painted by a pupil while the master would have painted the more important parts of the body and, of course, the face. Could this have been the case with Lady with an Ermine?

Then the President of the Society of Mammals stepped in to ask if perhaps the Ermine was indeed a ferret:

They [ferrets] were domesticated in Spain and carried around medieval Europe, along with rabbits, which they were used to harvest. They were used to catch rabbits on Lundy in 1272, and there is an illustration of one doing this in the Luttrell Psalter of about 1343. Mind you, Lady with a Ferret does not have such a romantic ring to it.

So there you have it; Leonardo sat too close to the hand holding a ferret which his pupil painted anyway. 

Fakes, fakes everywhere

December 5 2011

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere

Picture: NY Times - a disputed Jackson Pollock.

At last the scandal that has been waiting to hit the modern and contemporary art world is gathering momentum. Recently we've had the news of the German fakers, and now the NY times has broken news of another possible forgery ring, this time in the US:

Federal authorities are investigating whether a parade of paintings and drawings, sold for years by some of New York’s most elite art dealers as the work of Modernist masters like Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, actually consists of expert forgeries, according to people who have been interviewed or briefed by the investigators.

Most of the works, which have sold individually for as much as $17 million, came to market though a little-known art dealer from Long Island, Glafira Rosales, who said she had what every gallery dreams of: exclusive access to a mystery collector’s cache of undiscovered work by some of the postwar world’s great talents, including Mark Rothko and Richard Diebenkorn.

The story may be related to the sudden closure of the legendary New York gallery Knoedler last week, after 165 years in business. Knoedler has been hit with a lawsuit from client Pierre Lagrange, who alleges that a Jackson Pollock he bought from the gallery in 2007 for $17m is a fake. Tests conducted by Mr Lagrange have established that two pigments found inthe picture were not invented till after Pollock's death.

British art destroyed in Tehran - another failure by the GAC?

December 3 2011

Image of British art destroyed in Tehran - another failure by the GAC?

Pictures: ITV

It seems my hope that our art at the British embassy in Tehran could be protected was in vain. The pictures, on loan from the Government Art Collection (GAC), have been destroyed by a mob of rampaging Iranian pillocks. A portrait of Queen Victoria by George Hayter (above), and a portrait of Edward VII after George Fildes (below), have been damaged beyond repair (unless someone can find the missing fragments). The Hayter would have been worth anything between £50,000 - £100,000, depending on which of the versions it was. We do not know the fate of the much more valuable eighteenth century Persian portrait of Fath 'Ali Shah.

After the damage to British embassies in both Damascus and Tripoli, where several works of art were destroyed, I suggested that:

There should be a policy in place to remove the art long before there's any chance of trouble.

The threat to these works on loan from the GAC in Tehran was entirely predictable. It's a shame the GAC, who have a woeful track record of looking after their art, did nothing to prevent it. Shouldn't there be a policy of replacing valuable works with copies in embassies where there is a potential for trouble? I doubt most visitors to the Iranian embassy would be able to tell the difference between the real thing and a copy anyway...

Friday amusement

December 2 2011

Image of Friday amusement

Picture: Cartoonstock

New Rembrandt discovered

December 2 2011

Image of New Rembrandt discovered

Picture: BBC News

Professor Ernst van de Wetering and his team at the Rembrandt Research Project have unveiled a newly discovered work by Rembrandt. It belongs to a private owner, and will go on display in Antwerp between in May and June next year. Looks like a nice picture, full of pathos. 

Apparently an unfinished self-portrait by Rembrandt can be detected beneath the painting, outlined in red below. That self-portrait is only known through a copy, below left. But, personally, I'll need to see better photos to be convinced of this... 

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