Previous Posts: July 2011

New acquisition at the Louvre

July 12 2011

Image of New acquisition at the Louvre

Picture: Musee du Louvre

The Louvre has acquired this handsome Les Larmes de Saint Pierre by the Spanish Caravaggesque painter Juan Bautista Maino (1581-1614). More details here (in French).

Mark Fisher on deaccessioning

July 12 2011

The former Arts Minister has written a good piece on deaccessioning for the Art Newspaper. He concludes:

If we are to consider any variation in our present arrangements it is vital that we are clear about the criteria that would apply. Decisions should be made by directors and curators, on grounds of artistic quality. Proceeds should be ring-fenced. Tax incentives, such as proposed in the recent Goodison Report, should be introduced by the government. Museums and galleries should be encouraged to adopt far more open loans policies. The criteria in the Museums Associations code of ethics are slow (decisions can take two years), but not inflexible [...]

Such reforms would allow us to maintain the framework that has served us well in sustaining the integrity of our great collections, while enjoying some of the advantages of being more open, relaxed and flexible with regard to disposals and transfers. A British compromise, and a sensible one.

The 'fake aristo'?

July 12 2011

Image of The 'fake aristo'?

Picture: Bridgeman Art Library

The repeated airing of my funny name on 'Fake or Fortune?' continues to excite people in an odd way. Now the Daily Mail is on the case in its Ephraim Hardcastle column:

Here's TV's rising new star, shyly smiling Bendor Grosvenor, 34, pictured, described as an art historian, on BBC1's Fake Or Fortune? show, starring newsreader Fiona Bruce. 

The 2nd Duke of Westminster (1879-1953) was known as Bendor, called after the 1880 Derby winner, Bend'Or, because of his chestnut colouring. 

Is TV's Bendor a real, or faux, aristo? A spokeswoman for Grosvenor Estates – the 6th Duke's property company – says : 'He is a very, very distant relative – so distant you would barely say they were related.' 

Bendor himself tells me: 'I have no wish to be in Ephraim Hardcastle, normally the meanest part of a mean newspaper. I and a number of friends have had the misfortune of being in it before.' 

It amazes me how obsessed some people still are about this sort of trivia. But here's an art historical take on how distantly I'm related to the Duke of Westminster: some months ago, I asked him if I could borrow his Self-Portrait by Van Dyck (above) for our recent exhibition (we were also exhibiting Van Dyck's last Self-Portrait). I was expecting a 'no', of course, but was amused that it came in the form of a letter not from him, and not even from his assistant, but from his assistant's assistant. 

Sadly, my side of the family is the infinitely poorer half, and we certainly didn't end up with any nice pictures. I even have to buy my own furniture, as Alan Clark said so dismissively of Michael Heseltine. But if I had inherited some of the finest pictures in Britain, I would make a point of lending them to exhibitions. It's almost a moral duty, isn't it?

In case you were wondering why I think the Hardcastle column is 'mean', then look no further than the first story in it today, a tragically homophobic piece about Evan Davis. 

Thin end of the wedge

July 12 2011

Here's a bonkers de-accessioning story from the US, of the type that make people fear de-accessioning here in the UK:

The Port Huron Museum is asking the city council permission to sell four paintings by 19th-century French artists to raise money for operating costs.

Susan Bennett, the museum's director of administration and community relations, said the paintings range in value from about $4,000 to up to $50,000.

The paintings are "Peasant Girl Herding Ducks" by Jean Francois Millet; "Tree Trunks of a Forest" by Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet; "Landscape with Water" by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot; and "Woodland Scene" by Narcisse Virgilio Díaz de la Peña.

Of course, it's always wrong to flog a collection to pay for operating costs. But what I want to know is, where can I buy these ridiculously cheap pictures?

British Art at risk in Syria?

July 11 2011

Image of British Art at risk in Syria?

Picture: GAC, Claude Muncaster, 'A Souwester Over the Downs'.

This is a bit tenuous, but I always like to bring you an art historical take on current affairs...

Following reports that the US embassy in Damascus has been attacked by pro-Assad crowds, here's a list detailing the pictures on loan to the British Embassy from the Government Art Collection. Nothing too valuable, but it would be nice to avoid a repeat of the Tripoli debacle should anything nasty happen. There should be a policy in place to remove the art long before there's any chance of trouble.

There's an Oskar Kokoschka in Yemen too...

"convincingly re-attributed"

July 11 2011

Image of "convincingly re-attributed"

Picture: V&A

Self-congratulatory post alert: the V&A have agreed with me that their Portrait of an Unknown Woman and Child formerly attributed to Joseph Highmore is in fact by Andrea Soldi. I first made the suggestion here a few weeks ago. The V&A have even been kind enough to give me a generous credit on their online catalogue: 

Formerly attributed to Joseph Highmore (1692-1780), in 2011 the painting was convincingly re-attributed by Bendor Grosvenor (see History 2, curator's comments) to Andrea Soldi (ca. 1703-71), a Florentine painter who arrived in London in 1736. 

Read the full argument here. It's great that the V&A put full historiographical information on their website, and are happy to have discussions over attributions. It's also (sorry, I can't resist this) quite a contrast with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, who, despite eventually heeding my suggestion that they had the wrong Prince, only ever spoke to me to say I was wrong...

Old Master Sale results

July 11 2011

Christie's just shade it this time round, £49.9m vs Sotheby's £47.6m.

Do I really look like Michael Sheen?

July 11 2011

Image of Do I really look like Michael Sheen?


Poor him if I do - but that's the suggestion on Twitter for who would play me in 'Fake or Fortune - The Movie'. He's one of my favourite actors, so that's cool with me. (Tho' Charlie Sheen might be cooler...) Hugh Grant is apparently to be Philip, and Kate Beckinsale will be Fiona.

The final programme in the series drew 3.7m viewers, a little down on the first three programmes. 'The World's Most Expensive Paintings', which was also on BBC1 last night (and in the better slot of 9pm), got 2.8m.

I'm also vain enough to report that another Tweeter (a BBC producer natch) has kindly said I should have my own series! Given my forthcoming encounter with a Spitfire, I can see the opening sequence now:

'Opening Scene: Dr Whatsisname [as they also call me on Twitter] bids for a lost Holbein of Henry VIII in a minor German auction. The hammer goes down at 42,000 Euros. Cut to waiting Spitfire. The Dr takes off, waving the Holbein. He shouts 'Achtung Hans!' wildly. Cue title sequence/Music from 'Battle of Britain'.'

Wildenstein accused of fraud

July 11 2011

Image of Wildenstein accused of fraud

Picture: AFP/Getty

A French magistrate has formally accused art dealer Guy Wildenstein of fraud, after up to 30 unaccounted for paintings were found in his possession. From The Independent:


The case is part of a cat's cradle of interconnected lawsuits, on both sides of the Atlantic, which threatens one of the wealthiest and most powerful art-dealing families in the world. Mr Wildenstein is the son of Daniel Wildenstein, who made his reputation and fortune, from cataloguing and selling the works of French impressionists, including Claude Monet and Édouard Manet.

The missing works were first discovered during a police raid in Paris at the end of last year. The investigators were looking for priceless artworks belonging to Daniel Wildenstein, which his second wife, Sylvia, believed to have been hidden away by her two stepsons after his death in 2001.

Instead, officers from the French agency which tracks stolen art – L'Office Central de lutte contre le trafic des Biens Culturels – found 30 works from other large French family collections which had been missing for decades.

First image of newly found Leonardo

July 9 2011

Image of First image of newly found Leonardo

Picture: Robert Simon/Tim Nighswander

Here's the first post-conservation photo of Salvator Mundi, the newly discovered Leonardo painting. Lost for centuries, it was bought in the US in the mid-2000s by the art dealer Alex Parish.

The picture will be included in the National Gallery's new Leonardo exhibition. But after speculation over the $200m asking price, which would conflict with the National's strict rules on loaned paintings, the owners have said the picture is now not for sale. 

It's difficult to judge from the photo, but I can see no reason why it shouldn't be by Leonardo, as the scholars now say. The hand in particular seems very Leonardo like. The only question I suppose is the condition, given the thinness in the face. I can't wait to see it. What an incredible discovery by Alex Parish.

De Vries sculpture withdrawn from Christie's sale

July 8 2011

Image of De Vries sculpture withdrawn from Christie's sale

Picture: Christie's

Bit of a scandal at Christie's this week over the auction of a £5-8m sculpture by Adrian de Vries. The statue, A Bronze Mythological Figure Supporting the Globe, came from an Austrian private collection, and was to be the centrepiece of 'The Exceptional Sale' yesterday. But it was withdrawn at the last moment.

There appear to have been serious errors with the export procedures from Austria, and at the last moment Austrian cultural officials demanded the sculpture's repatriation.

The only stories about the saga so far are in German, so I don't want to risk getting any details wrong (or be sued). But it doesn't look good at the moment for the auction house. Der Standard describes it as 'a bitter defeat' ('Eine bittere Niederlage fur das Expertenteam'.

The sculpture has disappeared from the Christie's online catalogue, but you can see it on Google's cached page here. More as I get it...

Sleeper alert?

July 8 2011

Image of Sleeper alert?

Picture: Sotheby's

This picture sold yesterday for £718,850 (inc. premium), against an estimate of just £15-20,000. It was catalogued as 'Studio of Gaspar van Wittel (called Vanvitelli)', but evidently two or more people thought it was better than that...

The record for a van Wittel/Vanvitelli is £2m in 2003. A similar scene to the picture sold yesterday made £827k in 1995 at Christie's New York (image below).

Sotheby's set new record for Guardi

July 7 2011

As I hinted yesterday, the Guardi sold strongly at Sotheby's, selling for £26.7m (including premium). It tops Christie's Stubbs as the highest selling lot of the London Old Masters week.

I was way out on the Portrait of a Carmelite Monk, which sold at the lower estimate of £600,000 (making £713k all in). I thought it would do far better. It seems the picture suffered from over-speculation. The latest theory doing the rounds was that it was by Jacob Jordaens, which is a bonkers idea. The buyer, I think, has a bargain...

There were some perhaps suprising failures, such as this Santi di Tito portrait (est.£150-200k), and the Cranach the Elder portrait of Martin Luther (est.£150-200k). The latter had been shown in the catalogue 'stripped down', showing large losses in the background. Perhaps that wasn't such a good idea... Also buying-in was an early self-portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (est.£80-120k). It had recently been included in the National Portrait Gallery's Lawrence exhibition.

It has been a patchy week at the sales. At the Christie's day sale yesterday the buy-in rate was almost 50%.

Losing your shirt on Lely

July 7 2011

Image of Losing your shirt on Lely

Picture: Sotheby's

Well, that's a million quid down the toilet. Lely's full-length portrait of Nell Gwyn (above) failed to sell last night at Sotheby's, where it had an estimate of £600-800,000. It had previously sold for over £1.5m in 2007 at Christie's, where it had solicited just one offer.

The picture is perhaps a salutary lesson in buying at auction. Auction estimates do not necessarily reflect an item's value. Some auction houses like to place high estimates on a picture with the express intention of selling it only to a single bidder at the lower estimate. But if you ever find yourself the only bidder on a picture, be very careful... 

Bargain of the week?

July 6 2011

Image of Bargain of the week?

Picture: Bonhams

This large and impressive Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist was on offer at Bonhams today. Catalogued as 'Workshop of del Sarto', I thought it had areas of quality underneath the obvious dirt and old varnish. Since there's a history of 'Workshop' productions being found to be actual del Sartos, I expected it to fetch a decent price. But it sold for just £10,800. We might yet see it again...

Sotheby's Old Master evening sale preview

July 6 2011

Image of Sotheby's Old Master evening sale preview

Picture: Sotheby's

The headline lot tonight at Sotheby's will be the £15-20m Guardi, View of the Rialto Bridge. It must surely sell, and may even beat the estimate, for it is one of the finest Venetian views ever painted. I hear that Christie's first had it in their grasp, but Sotheby's seem to have trumped them. It is the last lot of the evening, so doubtless people will stay to see what it makes. Will it beat Christie's triumphant price last night for the £22.4m Stubbs? Perhaps...

Other highlights include a newly discovered Correggio, Madonna and Child with the Infant St John the Baptist. This has an estimate of £2-3m. I'm slightly puzzled by the condition: the features have all been re-inforced by an old campaign of re-touching, hence the strange look in the faces. Doubtless it will improve dramatically with cleaning. Or maybe not.

I spent a while looking at the exceptional Portrait of a Carmelite Monk on offer at Sotheby's with an estimate of £600-800,000. What a picture. Despite some damage to the left, it is in excellent state, and, being on panel, the colours seem as fresh as the day it was painted. Whoever it is by, it will surely fly above the rather conservative estimate. 

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"The research geek"

July 6 2011

So says the Radio Times of me in a review of the final instalment of 'Fake or Fortune?':

I also love the way Mould's research geek, the wonderfully named Dr Bendor Grosvenor, lurks in a darkened room poring over laptops and catalogues, hunting for 'sleepers' - paintings that aren't what they seem. He finds a cracker this week, a painting on sale in Cape Town for £800 that might, just might, be a lost Rembrandt.

All will be revealed this Sunday at 7pm on BBC1...

Rubens was British?

July 6 2011

So says The Independent, when reporting last night's sale at Christie's of the spectacular Stubbs. Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath made £22m (including premium). Rob Hastings writes:

Even by the standards of the formidable horse that it celebrates, it would have had to go some way to surpass the record for the most expensive painting by a British artist – the near £50m accrued in 2002 for The Massacre of the Innocents by another of the Old Masters, Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

Never mind...

My little prediction below wasn't too far out - I said £18m, and it sold at the lower estimate of £20m. Bloomberg reports that it sold for a single bid in the room to Piers Davies Fine Art (Piers is newly established in New York and used to work for Christie's). They also say that the picture was guaranteed. An earlier edition of the Bloomberg story said that the guarantor was Irish horse-owner John Magner, but this fact has now been deleted. 


July 6 2011

Image of Phew...

Picture: BG

Now that the Masterpiece fair is over, I should be able to resume normal service. Apologies for the lack of posts lately...

We sold some more pictures in the end (tho' only one of them was sold by me). I think Masterpiece is a good fair, and superbly organised. It will take another year or two to reach its potential, but there's no reason it shouldn't become the world's pre-eminent fine art fair. It might even topple TEFAF from its perch - after all, wouldn't you rather go to a fair in London than Maastricht? For unless you've got a private jet (or indeed a Spitfire), Maastricht is a pain to get to...

Christie's Old Master evening sale preview

July 4 2011

Image of Christie's Old Master evening sale preview

Picture: Christie's/Telegraph

It's hard to know where to begin with Christie's almost epic evening sale (Tuesday 5th July). What a stellar collection of pictures they have assembled. 

Let's start with the £20-30m Stubbs, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath (above). Will it sell? If it does, it will double the existing record for a Stubbs, set recently by Sotheby's. I hope it sells, for the price will put old British art into the bracket usually reserved for contemporary and post-war works.

But, I wonder... It's a lot of money for (whisper it) a not particularly exciting composition. Perhaps it's because I find equestrian pictures rather dull in general (odd, I know, for someone named after a sodding horse), but is the picture really more enticing than, say, the beautiful Poussin that failed to sell recently at £15m-£20m? That said, click here to listen to Christie's John Stainton make a persuasive case for the picture. It is also in superb condition. Christie's seem confident it will sell, and I doubt they would want to risk another high-profile buy-in. So here's a daring prediction for you: I reckon it will sell, perhaps at about the £18m mark (and possibly to someone more interested in horses than art...). 

Christie's also have not one but two of the best Gainsboroughs to come on the market for at least the last ten years. Mrs William Villebois is the sort of picture one usually finds only in the Frick or Huntington collections. £4-6m may seem a bit high, but it might well do even better. Colonel John Bullock is hardly any less magnificent, and estimated at £3.5-5m. The question is, are there enough Gainsborough buyers out there to sustain two full-lengths at that sort of price?   

Other highlights include a del Sarto at £2.5-3.5m, a fine Henry VIII at £300-500k (disclaimer, formerly owned by Philip Mould Ltd), and a flamboyant Robert Peake full-length at £1-1.5m. The latter may be over-priced. Perhaps the most interesting lot will be the Michelangelo drawing at £3-5m. It's nice, but that's a lot of money to shell out for what is little more than a fragment in less than ideal condition. 

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