Previous Posts: December 2011

There's a Holbein in my fridge!

December 2 2011

Image of There's a Holbein in my fridge!

Picture: BG

Well, not quite. But I was delighted to see the above c.1540s portrait of Henry VIII on the back of an Innocent Smoothie carton in my fridge yesterday. The portrait, based on Holbein's lost 1537 mural, was found by us in a minor US auction, where it was thought to be a much later copy. The image was licensed by the Bridgeman Art Library, the place to go if you too want to advertise your product with a piece of English art.   

Getty acquires a Manet

December 2 2011

Image of Getty acquires a Manet

Picture: Los Angeles Times

The Getty museum in Los Angeles has bought, for an undisclosed amount, Edouard Manet's Portrait of Madame Brunet. From the LA Times:

Little is known about the woman in the portrait, as there were multiple Brunet families in the artist’s orbit. But according to an account published by Manet’s friend, the art critic Théodore Duret, the sitter burst into tears upon seeing the painting and never claimed the work. The canvas remained with the artist until his death.

Getty senior curator Scott Schaefer said he understands why the sitter rejected the work. “It’s not flattering; it’s a challenging picture,” he said, calling the mood “plaintive” and the image “confounding.” Still, he says, the Getty board of trustees was enthusiastic about the painting. “To be quite honest I thought this was a difficult picture, but the board was attracted to the sitter as well as the fact it was beautifully painted. It’s in extraordinary condition and the blacks are unbelievable.”

Update - a reader writes:

Per your posting today, the Madame Brunet last appeared at auction at Christies in New York in May 1984 when she fetched $2.2M.   This was just after the painting had been exhibited in the great Manet show at the Grand Palais in 1983.


Rosa Parks' dress

December 1 2011

Image of Rosa Parks' dress

Picture: Smithsonian Institute

Not exactly art history this, but arguably art, and certainly history. The dress above is in the Smithsonian Institute. It belonged to Rosa Parks, the Alabama civil rights activist who, on this day in 1955, was arrested on her bus journey home for refusing to give up her seat to a white man. Parks was a seamstress. And this is the dress she was working on at the time. Pretty cool object eh?

How a bunch of forgers fooled the art world

December 1 2011

Image of How a bunch of forgers fooled the art world

Picture: The City Review

German police have released the full list of those pictures sold by the recently-jailed gang of master forgers. It seems they had been fooling people for decades. The Art Newspaper has the (unillustrated) list here. I've had a dig around and can reveal some of the images that were offered by some of the top names in the art trade. 

La Ciotat by 'Emile Othon Friesz' (above) had an estimate of $1-1.5m at Christie's sale of 3rd November 2009 in New York, but didn't sell. Of this truly execrable painting, Christie's catalogue said that it was "among Friesz's most radical Fauve paintings - the artist has rendered nature in a supercharged, color-driven, ecstatically expressionist manner that goes beyond anything else that even his fauve colleagues were doing at this time." How's about that for a bit of total and utter art-world horse-shit? Excuse my language, but such drivel typifies what is wrong with the modern and contemporary art market. It's a phoney comment on a phoney picture, and typical of the hyperbolic nonsense used to justify rubbish paintings. 

[More examples below]

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How do you turn a copy of a Leonardo into 'a Leonardo'?

December 1 2011

Image of How do you turn a copy of a Leonardo into 'a Leonardo'?

Picture: Sotheby's

By asking an American jury... Click your way over to Art History Today for a fascinating post on the so-called 'Hahn Leonardo', the painting at the centre of a fascinating court case in New York in 1929. The Hahn's had sued art dealer Joseph Duveen for calling their picture 'a copy' of the original in the Louvre - they contended it was the original. Despite Duveen being manifestly right, and despite him having the support of a whole host of art historians including Bernard Berenson, he lost the case, and had to pay $60,000 in damages.

The case effectively boiled down to whether a US court believed the plucky US owner, or a bunch of snooty (mostly European) art 'experts'. But it also highlighted the debate on connoisseurship, and the science of establishing attribution. Although Duveen et al said, entirely rightly, that the picture was too poor to be an original, they found it hard to prove that empirically in court. As David Packwood says in his post:

...the presiding magistrate, Judge William Harman Black, dismissed all the expertise of the connoisseurs as inadmissible; and Black demanded much more rigorous methods to prove the ability to determine the authorship of paintings. Enter science, particularly x-rays to make connoisseurship transparent to a lay public. [...] 

[Connoisseurship] was seen as kind of “magic” by Judge Black. Berenson’s “magic”, which to use Brewer’s words was “a subjective technique dependant on the eye”,  could not be verified objectively; a way of scientizing attributions was therefore demanded. 

The Hahn picture sold at auction recently for $1.5m, a ridiculous price for a later copy. Compare it and the original for yourself. Which do you prefer? Check out the hard flesh tones, the slightly staring eyes, and especially the smooth and rounded folds in the drapery of the Hahn picture. Note also the unsubtle characterisation compared to the original. See what I mean? Then pass step 1 of the DIY Connoisseurship Course. 

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