Previous Posts: July 2011

Lucian Freud 1922-2011

July 22 2011

Image of Lucian Freud 1922-2011

Picture: Sotheby's. 'Self-Portrait' by Lucian Freud, 1952.

The Guardian has a good 'life in pictures' slideshow here.

The Daily Telegraph has '10 things you didn't know about his paintings' here.

A reader writes:

He stopped in the street once to admire my dog, but of course I was far too shy to say anything.

Art and war

July 21 2011

Image of Art and war

Picture: Museum of the Confederacy

Here's a strangely fascinating new online exhibition from the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. It shows 31 paintings all by Conrad Wise Chapman, a Confederate soldier during the American Civil War, and his father John Gadsby Chapman. Of this picture, showing one of the first submarines used in war, Conrad Chapman wrote:

The inventor of this boat, a mane named Hunley, can be seen... it was at first thought would [sic] be very effective; twice it went out on its mission of destruction, but on both occasions returned with all the crew dead. After this had happened the second time, someone painted on it the word 'Coffin'.

I must say, I hadn't heard of the Museum of the Confederacy before. It's interesting to read their founding statement on their website:

The clothes, the arms, the money, the belongings of the Confederate soldier, and the women whose loyal enthusiasm kept him in the field, are properly objects of historical interest. The glory, the hardships, the heroism of the war were a noble heritage for our children. To keep green such memories and to commemorate such virtues, it is our purpose to gather together and preserve in the Executive Mansion of the Confederacy the sacred relics of those glorious days. We appeal to our sisters throughout the South to help us secure these invaluable mementoes before it’s too late.

So nothing about slavery then...

Art and war criminals

July 21 2011

Image of Art and war criminals

Picture: Reuters

This allegedly nasty fellow is Goran Hadzic, long wanted for war crimes during the Balkan wars. He was arrested after apprently trying to raise cash by selling a stolen Modigliani. More details here

Young Tom?

July 20 2011

Image of Young Tom?

Picture: Keys Auctioneers

This curious drawing came up for auction last week in Norfolk. It was catalogued as 'attributed to Gainsborough'. It's a self-portrait, and relates to a larger painting of the 1750s in a private collection. It made a miserly £3,500.

If it is indeed by the young Tom, it is obviously worth a great deal more than that. Personally I thought it had an excellent chance of being 'right', and we had established some very compelling evidence to suggest that it was. But a well known Gainsborough author had already turned it down, so, sadly, for as long as that person holds sway it as good as worthless. It's an interesting example of the power of a single 'expert'. The drawing has been rather rubbed, so looks weaker than it once was.

Pillocks vs Security guards

July 19 2011

Image of Pillocks vs Security guards

Picture: BBC

The pillock who assaulted Rupert Murdoch today shows how difficult it is to stop such nutters. If someone can get a can of shaving foam past security at the Houses of Parliament, and hit Rupert Murdoch on the head with its contents, then the attack on the Poussin looks like childs play.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try and prevent such attacks. To that end, a reader who knows about these things suggests that searches at the National Gallery would be relatively easy to implement. These, he says, are the rules:

Enough staff to prevent queues. No-one likes being searched with an audience so if it gets busy throw more staff at it. Large desk for resting bags etc on and one member of staff doing metal detecting, good equipment needs only a quick sweep, this cuts out spray cans.

Options for paint become very difficult. Stand in front of a picture, heart racing and try to throw paint from a container. It can be very difficult.

Always have an extra staff member just watching and taking no part in the search, absolutely vital this.

Properly done this should cause minimal inconvenience and can be very strong deterrent. It need not cost the earth.

One last thing. Target art is invariable 'cased' in advance. This is when CCTV comes into it's own and a good operator knows his area.

There is tracking software available but I don't think it has ever been used in a museum context.

Top marks, incidentally, to Mrs Rupert Murdoch (in pink) for retaliating against today's pillock. Both the National Gallery and the Houses of Parliament should hire her to train their security guards.

PS - if you're wondering what the tapestry is, The Art Newspaper has the answer here.

Grave matters

July 19 2011

Image of Grave matters

Picture: BG

I was passing St Anne's Church in Kew over the weekend, and so looked in to see if any progress has been made on restoring Gainsborough's grave. The answer is not much - and if you're minded to send the church a few quid, please do. They need to raise £5k.

To my surprise I found next door to Gainsborough (and Gainsborough Dupont) the grave of Jeremiah Meyer, the miniature painter. And round the corner was Johann Zoffany, for whom someone had even left a bunch of flowers.

I don't know why so many important artists are there. I know that Gainsborough wanted to be buried next to his friend, Joshua Kirby, a painter of sorts, who died before him. That Gainsborough, Meyer and Zoffany all painted Queen Charlotte, who lived at Kew, might be relevant. 

Art, politics and history

July 19 2011


Here's a video of Barack Obama looking at Normal Rockwell's iconic painting, The Problem We All Live With, with its subject, Ruby Bridges. The picture shows Ruby Bridges' first day at school in 1960 in Louisiana, after the Supreme Court had ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. She is being escorted by guards as tomatoes are thrown at her. Above her is written the word 'n*gger' in graffiti. 

The painting is now hanging outside the Oval Office. The White House blog says:

The President likes pictures that tell a story and this painting fits that bill. Norman Rockwell was a longtime supporter of the goals of equality and tolerance. In his early career, editorial policies governed the placement of minorities in his illustrations (restricting them to service industry positions only).

However, in 1963 Rockwell confronted the issue of prejudice head-on with this, one of his most powerful paintings. Inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges and school integration, the image featured a young African-American girl being escorted to school by four U.S. marshals amidst signs of protest and fearful ignorance. The painting ushered in a new era in Rockwell's career and remains an important national symbol of the struggle for racial equality.

In the video Obama describes how much it means to him, the first black President, to have Rockwell's painting by his office in the White House. It's pretty powerful stuff.

It is also, on a purely art historical level, an important moment in the history of 20th Century American painting. I've always struggled to understand why American museums (indeed museums around the world) are so sniffy about Rockwell's work. The same museums that fall over themselves to have a vapid repetition of Jeff Koons' tediously boring souvenir-shop sculptures look with disdain on Rockwell's paintings, which on every conceivable level are more significant artistically, historically and politically. Will the situation will be reversed in fifty years time?  

Poussin attack - the security implications

July 18 2011

Image of Poussin attack - the security implications

Picture: National Gallery (detail of floorplan)

I went to see the scene of the crime today. The two Poussins are fine, no trace of damage. The vandal must have used a water-based paint that did not penetrate the varnish, or something similarly removable. The National Gallery will not give out any further details. Nevertheless, the punishment surely should reflect the potential damage, not just the actual damage, if it is to act as any meaningful deterrent. 

Having seen Room 19, where the pictures are, I think there are legitimate questions over security at the Gallery. The Golden Calf is a large picture, over two metres wide, and is hung at the end of the room (the red dot, above). The Adoration of the Shepherds, the other Poussin attacked, is to the right, some paces away (the blue dot). The room guard is placed at the end of the normally quite empty room, say some 20m away (the black dot), and stares straight at the Adoration of the Golden Calf. I wasn't there when it happened, of course, but one must wonder how the villain was able to comprehensively spray not one but two pictures before being stopped.

Jonathan Jones at The Guardian says we should step up security dramatically, and makes the comparison with the Louvre, where they x-ray all bags:

A painting like Poussin's Golden Calf is made by a great artist, cherished by owners, and miraculously preserved down the centuries. It is looked after in a museum, cleaned, studied, and silently enjoyed by thousands. And then in an instant someone can brutally attack this venerable human creation and make a vile mark on it.

That cannot be allowed, and modern society cannot be trusted – there is too much craziness out there. Museums should be more severe on visitors. No visitor gets into the Louvre without a security scan. It looks like no one should get into the National Gallery without such scrutiny either. If this is too expensive, museums should charge to cover the costs. Free museums are very fine. But what is the point if people just come in and desecrate the world's cultural heritage? Charge, search, protect.

Meanwhile, a reader with great experience of these things has kindly sent me this insightful view:

Your article [...] illustrates very well the almost impossible task of protecting public art and keeping works on view to that public. It is a delicate balance! As an ex Police officer, ex Christies Porter[...] I am, possibly in a unique position to see the argument on both sides.

[More below]

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Poussin - It's all going to be ok!

July 18 2011

Image of Poussin - It's all going to be ok!

Picture: Guardian

Here's a statement from the National Gallery:

At 5.08pm on Saturday 16 July 2011, a panic alarm was set off in Room 19 of the National Gallery. A Gallery Assistant acted promptly and triggered the alarm after observing a person appearing to spray two of the paintings in the room with an aerosol can.

The police were called at 5.10pm and arrived at the National Gallery at 5.19pm. A man has been arrested.

The two paintings involved are both by Nicholas Poussin, The Adoration of the Golden Calf (1633-4) and The Adoration of the Shepherds (1633-4). Both works are part of the National Gallery permanent collection.

Prompt action by Conservation staff has ensured very little damage was sustained by the two works.

They will be returned to display in Room 19 of the National Gallery on Monday 18 July 2011.

What a relief. And three cheers for the National Gallery's conservation staff for saving the day.

I wonder what paint the vandal used. If normal spray paint, of the type you use for your car, then one presumes it would have been very difficult to avoid serious damage to the original layers beneath. Perhaps (although I know it is dangerous to speculate) a far less harmful type of spray was used.

Either way, the culprit should be strongly punished as a deterrent. We cannot risk similar pranks in future, just for publicity. And of course, it is worth mentioning that vandalising old paintings is being done these days in the name of contemporary art, by the likes of Banksy. The problem is, if the 'damage' sustained was not serious, and amounts to less than £5000, then the maximum sentence is just three months and a fine of £2,500. It is conceivable, therefore, that whoever did this could get away with a very light punishment for his 15 minutes of fame.

Poussin attack - not the first time

July 18 2011

Image of Poussin attack - not the first time

Picture: Guardian

I'm grateful to two readers who have written to say that the Adoration of the Golden Calf has been attacked before, in 1978. Yesterday, I said wrongly that it had survived 'unmolested' until the most recent debacle.

The 1978 attack is chronicled in Adrienne Corri's engaging book, The Search for Gainsborough. Here is her fascinating diary entry for the day after the attack, when she happened to be going to the National Gallery to do some research on Gainsborough:

Everyone was in tears, even strong guards! [...]

Someone had slashed the Poussin Moses and the Children of Israel Worshipping the Golden Calf. It is one of the gallery's great treasures, one of the world's greatest pictures, or rather, was. They had closed the main galleries and the police were in charge. The only people not weeping were the science department. They were beside themselves with delight, sweeping up the tiny bits of paint which lay on the ground, and conserving them carefully. now they would know exactly what pigments Poussin used in his paints. It's an ill wind...!

[More below]

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Appalling vandalism at the National Gallery

July 17 2011

Image of Appalling vandalism at the National Gallery

Picture: Guardian

Nicolas Poussin's masterpiece, Adoration of the Golden Calf, has been vandalised and sprayed with red paint. The attack happened at the National Gallery, London, yesterday at about 5pm. Aparently another smaller picture was also attacked, but the details of this have not been released. The Guardian reports:

Witnesses reported seeing a man spraying the paintings with a canister as security guards rushed over before detaining him in the room and contacting police. Five officers later came to arrest the man, who is thought to be French.

This is an act of reprehensible stupidity, which I find almost impossible to comprehend. How could anybody do something so pointless and deranged? The picture has survived unmolested for nearly 400 years, and is now possibly damaged forever just because some nutter decided he wanted to make a point.

Obviously, he should be jailed for a long time. The maximum sentence for criminal damage in this respect is ten years. There is a special section of criminal damage for 'heritage items', but oddly enough this does not include paintings.

My immediate worry is obviously the damage to the picture. If regular spray-paint was used, then who knows how much damaged will have been done. Our best hope is that this French pillock used an easily removable type of paint. 

The next question must be how was this allowed to happen? It does not look as if it was the work of a moment, especially if two pictures were damaged. Being a security guard can be a tedious job, but that doesn't excuse those at the National sitting there playing sudoku, as I've seen before.

Art dealing in numbers

July 15 2011

Today we finished taking down our Van Dyck exhibition, which was rather sad. The last two weeks have been unduly manic, with an exhibition, Master Paintings Week, the Masterpiece fair, the Old Master sales, and our television series, Fake or Fortune?. So here's a numerical rundown of what happened: 

  • Pictures transported around London: 39
  • 'Opening nights' attended: 3
  • Lectures given: 3
  • Auctions viewed: 5
  • Trips to the library: 3
  • Bids made: 3
  • Pictures bought: 0
  • Pictures sold: 14
  • Visits to our Van Dyck exhibition: over 1,000 (in total)
  • Visits to this site: over 2,000
  • Fake Renoirs shown to me after 'Fake or Fortune?': 3
  • No. of people who saw my mug on the telly: over 4m
  • Times recognised in the street: 1

Curious de-accessions no.26

July 15 2011

Image of Curious de-accessions no.26

Picture: Toledo Museum of Art

A reader writes:

In 1953 the Fitzwilliam Museum sold a painting at Sotheby's for £350.  This important Valentin de Boulogne - a rare artist in British collections as I know of only the one work in the National Gallery - is now in the Toledo Museum of Art.

Zoom in on it here, and shed a tear...

Earl's row over family pictures

July 15 2011

Image of Earl's row over family pictures

Picture: Daily Mail

In last week's Sotheby's Old Master Sales, there were a number of fine pictures from the Savernake Estate (above), home to the Earls of Cardigan. But they were suddenly withdrawn at the last minute. 

Today, the Daily Mail reports just why: the Earl of Cardigan had appealed to the Court of Appeal to stop the sale. The pictures had been consigned to sale by the trustees of his estate, which is apparently deep in debt. There will be a further hearing to decide what happens next. 

It always disappoints me to see family collections being broken up. Sometimes it is not the choice of the family, but of the trustees of the collections. Such trusts are usually set up to avoid death duties, and at first the trustees may be close friends of the family not minded to rock the boat. However, over time, the trustees become increasingly professional and distant from the family. They see ancestral portraits as nothing more than assets gathering dust. So they are sold. Then the empty house, denuded of character, staggers on for a few more years until that too is sold. It's all rather unromantic, don't you think? I hope the Earl wins.

The Bonnie Prince

July 14 2011

Image of The Bonnie Prince

Picture: BG

Not a great discovery this, but you'll have to indulge my Jacobite obsession: here is Bonnie Prince Charlie (or King Charles III if you prefer), just arrived from France. There, it was thought to be a portrait of Louis XV. It is a decent copy in oil of La Tour's lost pastel of the Prince, which was painted in Paris in 1747, shortly after the failure of Charles' 1745 uprising.

It is my favourite portrait type of Charles. He seems, despite his crushing defeat, to be confident and regal, and one can see just how he deluded himself, for the rest of his life, into thinking that he would one day return as King.

I often see portraits of the Jacobites renamed as French kings and princes. It is ironic that even in his portraits Charles' royal claims were eventually ignored.

Tudor portrait set at NPG

July 14 2011

Image of Tudor portrait set at NPG

Picture: NPG

A rare and important set of royal portraits will go on display for the first time in 36 years at the National Portrait Gallery, London from 19th July-4th December. The Hornby Castle set of portraits runs from William the Conqueror to Mary I, including this nicely hump-backed Richard III. They aren't masterpieces, but are a nice example of the Tudor fashion for 'corridor portraits'.

Bolton Council's loony de-accessioning

July 14 2011

Image of Bolton Council's loony de-accessioning

Picture: BBC

Bolton Council has been selling off a series of works from their museum to try and raise £500,000 for a new storage facility for the rest of their collection. The picture above, J E Millais' Somnambulist, was supposed to be the big gun of the disposal, with an estimate of £70,000-£100,000. But it only just sold at £74,400, including buyer's premium. This means that the bidding didn't make it to the lower estimate. 

The Independent reports that it sold to an American private collector, and will now leave the country. So that's Bargain Hunting Foreign Collectors 1 - Guardians of our Cultural Heritage 0.

As I've said before, I have no problem with well-managed deaccessioning, if it raises funds for worthwhile projects. But real questions have to be asked as to whether Bolton Council have made the correct decisions when it comes to placing their works on the market. The Millais was one of 36 works being sold. A Picasso lithograph failed to sell last week at £10,000.

All the sales were made by Bonhams. Bonhams can sometimes get excellent prices - but should all the pictures have been consigned to one auction house? Or could certain pictures have been better placed with different auctioneers at different dates? Might the Millais have done better if offered at Christie's or Sotheby's in their major sales in the winter?

There is a real lack of transparency when it comes to deaccessioning, and this risks undermining the whole process. As I have suggested before, we need to have some sort of structure to help manage the process. The Museums Association has now been contacted by another council with regard to a major disposal. And there will be many others...

A lost Michelangelo in Oxford?

July 13 2011

Image of A lost Michelangelo in Oxford?

Picture: Campion Hall, Oxford

This picture belongs to Campion Hall, part of Oxford University. It has long been attributed to Marcello Venusti, a contemporary of Michelangelo. Now, however, an Italian art historian has said it is by Michelangelo himself. Mindful of the potential increase in value from £200,000 to many millions, Campion Hall will now send it to the Ashmolean Museum for safekeeping.

The art historian who has re-attributed the work has a track record of finding lost Michelangelos. He is Antonio Forcellino, perhaps best known for the '$300m Brooklyn Michelangelo' discovery in October 2010. That picture had also previously been associated with Venusti. Forcellino's findings on the Brooklyn picture were published in his book, 'La Pieta Perduta', in which it seemed to me that the picture was of such poor quality it could never have been painted by Michelangelo.

It is difficult to judge the Oxford case from the photos available, but I wouldn't be surprised if Forcellino's fellow scholars disagree with the latest attribution.

Last chance to see 'Finding Van Dyck'

July 13 2011

Image of Last chance to see 'Finding Van Dyck'

Picture: Bowes Museum

Our exhibition 'Finding Van Dyck' closes today, so now is your last chance to come and see a number of potential Van Dyck discoveries. One of them is this dirty and over-painted Portrait of a Lady in a White Dress, which belongs to the Bowes Museum. It was long thought to be a copy, even perhaps a 19thC one. But is it in fact an original by Van Dyck?

I think it could be. The picture shows how condition issues can lead to an attribution being questioned. We've been asked to help restore the painting, so I guess we'll soon know for sure whether it is by Van Dyck or not...

Salvator Mundi - National Gallery statement

July 13 2011

Image of Salvator Mundi - National Gallery statement

Picture: Robert Simon/Tim Nighswander

Here's the statement from the National Gallery on the Salvator Mundi:

The painting Salvator Mundi will be shown at The National Gallery, London, exhibition: Leonardo da Vinci: Painter of the Court of Milan from 9 November 2011 – 5 February 2012. 

Leonardo is known to have painted the Salvator Mundi – an image of Christ holding a globe, with his right hand raised in blessing. The version in a private collection in New York was shown after cleaning to the Director of the National Gallery and to the Curator of the exhibition as well as to other scholars in the field. We felt that it would be of great interest to include this painting in the exhibition as a new discovery. It will be presented as the work of Leonardo, and this will obviously be an important opportunity to test this new attribution by direct comparison with works universally accepted as Leonardo’s. A separate press release on the Salvator Mundi is issued by the owner.

I can't immediately think of another major gallery that has included a newly discovered work found by a dealer in a blockbuster exhibition. It is a bold step by the National and its director, Nicholas Penny. Museums in some other countries, such as France, would probably recoil in horror. Personally, I cannot applaud the National enough for including the picture in the exhibition. It is a fitting recognition of the role that we dealers, and their discoveries, can play in advancing art history. 

Jonathan Jones in the Guardian has, typically, the best piece on the story here

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