Previous Posts: June 2011

Perks of being an art dealer no. 42

June 30 2011

Image of Perks of being an art dealer no. 42

Picture: BG

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately - it's been quite busy at the Masterpiece fair. 

Today was the sort of day where you think - 'how lucky I am to be an art dealer'. First, we saw an ultra-rare acquisition at the gallery. Then my colleague Emma Rutherford sold two pictures at the fair (so that's Emma 3 - Bendor & Philip, 0), and we had what we call in the trade 'meaningful conversations' with other potential clients. But really, if you're an art evangelist like me, it's just nice to talk about pictures with people, whether they buy them or not. And today there was plenty of talking.

Finally, in the evening we had a charity gala in aid of Clic Sargent. There were cocktails, celebrities, a band fronted by F1 team boss Eddie Jordan (he's in the funny shirt, above, playing the spoons), and a silent auction with various enticing lots. One of them was a ride in the two seater Spitfire seen in the photo. And the winning bidder was... me!

There are few things I'm more obsessed with than art, but Spitfires are one of them. So although it was (gulp) not cheap, I'm now rather tragically excited. I was so keen to secure the lot that, as the clock ticked down, I inadvertently bid against myself. Which was a bit stupid, but as the auctioneer said, it's all for a good cause...

Now I just need to sell every painting on our stand to help pay for it. And I also need to check the small print - I'm assuming that 'a ride in a two-seater Spitfire' means it actually takes off...

Sotheby's 2 -1 Christie's

June 29 2011

Image of Sotheby's 2 -1 Christie's

Picture: Christie's

That's the score for this week's contemporary and post-war evening sales. Christie's made the headlines this morning with the sale of Francis Bacon's Study for a Portrait (above) for £18m. But when it came to the totals raised, Sotheby's triumphed by a long way - £108.8m vs £78.8m.

Sotheby's Campbell's Soup picture by Andy Warhold failed to sell at £3.5-4.5m, however.

The Masterpiece fair

June 29 2011

...opens today, so please forgive light blogging... my colleague Emma has just sold our first picture...

Only in Sweden?

June 28 2011

Image of Only in Sweden?

Picture: National Museum Stockholm. 'Kneeling nun, recto', by Martin van Meytens (detail).

Whilst looking at the National Museum of Sweden's website for the Elizabeth I story below, I came across the page for an exhibition there called 'Lust & Vice'.

The exhibition:

...shows examples of how sexuality, virtue and sin have been depicted in art since the 16th century – from an age when the Church preached that sexual contact was only permitted within wedlock to today’s questioning of who erotic art is created for. A total of 200 works are on show from the museum’s own collections, a mix of paintings, drawings, sculptures and applied art. You can also see a genuine chastity belt!

The exhibition includes paintings of women showing their naked bottoms.


There's also a rather disturbing photo called 'Alone in a Brown Room', by Annika von Hausswolf. It depicts a bloke on a chair with his trousers lowered, and his hand in a naughty place. You could click here to see it, but I don't recommend you do. You will though, won't you... Who ever knew that wallpaper could be such a turn on?


Swedes acquire Elizabeth I

June 28 2011

Image of Swedes acquire Elizabeth I

Picture: Bonhams

The National Museum in Stockholm has acquired this portrait miniature of Elizabeth I by Hilliard. It surfaced last year at Bonhams in London, where it made £40,800 (inc. premium).

The Swedes' acquisition of Elizabeth I marks a historical irony. In the early 1560s, the very mad king Erik XIV of Sweden tried desperately to marry her. He sent her his portrait by Steven van Herwijck [Gripsholm Castle], and had his ambassadors shower the populace of London with gold coins in a bid to win popular support. That plan didn't work, because the coins turned out to be fake. Erik was later deposed, and poisoned by a bowl of pea soup.

Art? Dance? Or in-flight entertainment?

June 27 2011


You decide. From the US pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Check out the itchy bum routine about 1m30 in.

Those de Troy sketches...

June 27 2011

Image of Those de Troy sketches...

Picture: Sotheby's

...didn't exactly fly. Each one was estimated at EUR200-300,000 separately. But all seven sold for an identical EUR177,322. However, the good news is that they were bought by one person, and the set will remain intact.

I always think it's rather unseemly when auction houses break up a set of pictures into single lots, in the hope of getting a few more bids: art historical blackmail.

Google leads to restitution case

June 27 2011

Image of Google leads to restitution case

Picture: Boston Museum of Fine Arts

The heir of a Jewish art dealer killed at Auschwitz in 1943 has reached an agreement with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston over a painting by Eglon van der Neer. 

The heir, Fred Westfield, found out about the painting through Google in 2004. The painting had been seized from his uncle, Walter, in 1936. The MFA will keep Portrait of a Man and a Woman in an Interior, but has made an undisclosed payment to Mr Westfield.

More on the Van Dyck debate

June 27 2011

Image of More on the Van Dyck debate

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd (detail)

The Antiques Trade Gazette has a good summary of the debate over the Van Dyck study we bought at the Chatsworth Attic Sale.

To recap, we bought the study catalogued as 'Circle of Rubens'. We, and a number of experts, say it is by Van Dyck. Sotheby's, and their own experts (who haven't seen the picture), say it isn't. 

Speaking to the ATG, Sotheby's said that the picture was 'short on quality and uncharacteristic for a Van Dyck.' The quality point is moot. Look for yourself at the face, see how animated it is, and remember that this was intended to be no more than a rapidly painted sketch, for later reference in a finished work. But I readily agree that it is uncharacteristic.

It is uncharacteristic because nobody has properly studied Van Dyck's use of studies before. According to the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne, only 3 studies are listed from between Van Dyck's departure to Italy in 1621 and his death in 1641. This is so patently an under-estimate that we cannot use the 'characteristic' argument when judging potential Van Dyck studies. Instead, we have to look at all the available evidence with open eyes...

Below is my fuller discussion of the picture.

Winslow Homer trumps Monet?

June 27 2011

Image of Winslow Homer trumps Monet?

Picture: BBC

On the sunniest evening of the year so far, the second programme of 'Fake or Fortune?' netted over 4m viewers last night. The figure beats the 3.9m from the previous programme on Monet. Given that not many people in England are familiar with Homer, that tells you something about how people are interested in paintings with good stories, no matter who the artist.

The peak viewing figure was 4.5m. We even beat The Royal over on ITV - and it's not often that an arts programme gets more viewers than a drama. 

Welcome to Art History News

June 26 2011

Image of Welcome to Art History News

Picture: BBC

It being Sunday, some of you may have watched 'Fake or Fortune?' and are now visiting the site for the first time. So, hello and welcome. Bummer about the ending eh? Poor Selina. I guess life can be tediously unpredictable sometimes.... does pretty much what it says on the tin. It's written by me, Bendor Grosvenor (the one on the left above), but I hope it will become more collaborative over time. So if you have anything you'd like to contribute, add or disagree with, please get in touch. And if you like what you see, do spread the word...


An art dealer's weekend

June 26 2011

Image of An art dealer's weekend


Museum conservators, look away now...

This weekend we're setting up for 'Masterpiece'. Millions of pounds worth of art is being shuffled hither thither, as the carpenters, painters, cleaners and dealers put the finishing touches to what promises to be a fine fair. It's dusty, nosiy and exceedingly hot. But I love installing exhibitions and displays, from hanging the pictures to setting the lights. I guess it's the frustrated curator in me.

In this photo you can see our full-length portrait of Lady Frances Montagu, waiting to be hung. Behind me a clock specialist is setting the time on his stock, producing a delightfully somnolent sound. At the end of the corridor a two seater Spitfire has been wheeled into position (it's yours for £2m...). 

A new $200m Leonardo discovery?

June 25 2011

Image of A new $200m Leonardo discovery?

Picture: ARTnews

In the June edition of ARTnews, Milton Esterow has what could be the discovery story of the decade (or even the century?).

Salvator Mundi, above, was discovered in an estate sale in the US. Now, it will be included in the forthcoming Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery in London. The only illustration so far available is the murky black and white photograph taken before conservation.

The picture belongs to a group of Old Master dealers, including Robert Simon, and reportedly has a $200m asking price.

It has long been known that there was a lost Leonardo of this subject. One, perhaps this one, belonged to Charles I. Here is a rival claimant to be the original. But, if right, what an astonishing thing Robert Simon has found. It proves what I have often said, that (like it or not) we art dealers are often at the coalface of art history, offering up new discoveries for discussion, acceptance or rejection. Such discoveries are the propellant by which art history advances. Full credit to Nicholas Penny and the staff at the National Gallery for including it in their exhibition. 

The picture was apparently discovered 'about six or seven years ago'. Now, I started working for Philip Mould in May 2005. So if it was bought before then, phew, that's fine. If after, I guess I missed the Sleeper to end all Sleepers. You can see why these sort of stories keep me awake at night...

Read the full fascinating details here. Doubtless it won't be long till this is picked up by the world's press...

'British School'

June 25 2011

Image of 'British School'

Picture: BBC

Fancy yourself as an art sleuth? The new PCF/BBC website Your Paintings includes loads of pictures that are anonymously catalogued.

Take the selection of works called 'British School', for example. Have a look through and see if you can attribute any of the works - let me know if you have a hunch...

Here's my starter for ten. The above portrait is called 'British School', and belongs to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Is it perhaps by Joseph Highmore...?

'Fake or Fortune?' programme 2

June 25 2011

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' programme 2

Picture: BBC

The second programme of our new series 'Fake or Fortune?' goes out this Sunday on BBC1 at 7pm. The picture this time is the above watercolour by Winslow Homer, which was found on a rubbish dump in Ireland. Or was it...?

More details here.

News 'in little'

June 25 2011

Image of News 'in little'

Picture: Bondu et Associes

Some miniature news for you. 

First, an exceedingly rare portrait of Peter the Great by the court artist Grigory Musikiysky (1678-1739), sold for EUR 27,000 in Paris today. The estimate was just 5-6,000. As you can see, it isn't a particularly accomplished work, but such is the demand for Russian Tsarist portraits that the quality seems not to have mattered. Musikiysky normally painted enamels (see an example in the Hermitage here), and this was an unusual watercolour example. It was dated 1719.

And second, if you're in Washington DC, there's a fine looking exhibition of important American miniatures just opened at the National Portrait Gallery (closes May 13th 2012). You can view the exhibits online here.   

If you're really keen on miniatures, then why not come and buy one at the Masterpiece fair in London next week (30th June - 5th July). We will be unveiling some of the stellar works we have amassed over the last few months for the launch of Philip Mould Miniatures. 

On the Monet - Waldemar writes

June 24 2011

Image of On the Monet - Waldemar writes


Further to his tweeted attribution of the Monet featured on Fake or Fortune (he said it wasn't by Monet), Waldemar Januszczak has also written a letter to the Guardian. He says:

In his review of Fake or Fortune (Last night's TV, G2, 20 June), Sam Wollaston accepts too wholeheartedly the argument presented in the programme that the painting under discussion is a genuine Monet. He also joins a long line of people keen to attack the Wildenstein Institute, the official arbiter in these matters, for continuing to insist that it is not. What no one seems prepared to countenance is that the Wildenstein Institute is right. Having just made a series about Monet and the impressionists, I completely agree with their view that the picture featured in the programme was not painted by Monet. Plenty of fake Monets were already in circulation while Monet was alive. And, unfortunately, his unscrupulous dealer, Georges Petit, was perfectly capable of selling pretend Monets to visiting Egyptians. All this episode of Fake or Fortune actually proved is that the art world hasn't changed a bit.

Now, I'm not aware of any evidence that Georges Petit sold fake Monets. But let's just imagine that he did, that he actually employed or found someone to sit in a boat on the Seine and paint a fake Monet in the style in which Monet painted in the 1870s (long before he reached his greatest fame). Then let's imagine that the forger was good enough to paint a work that would convince a large number of Monet scholars, and was clever enough to source all the appropriate canvas supplier's marks on the back. And finally, let's imagine that Petit was then able, as one of Monet's main dealers and someone who knew the artist well, to sell this cunning fake as a 'Monet' while Monet was alive. That's pretty ingenious, don't you think? And probably a more expensive operation than just buying a real Monet.  

There's also a further problem with Waldemar's argument. If Petit was clever enough to do all that, why would he, as one of Paris' leading art dealers, then risk his reputation by illustrating the said fake Monet in Monet's obituary in Le Figaro newspaper (which he did on December 16th 1926)? Just for a laugh?  

A Holy Family reunion

June 24 2011

Image of A Holy Family reunion

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Plug alert - here's a bit of news from our exhibition at Philip Mould Ltd, Finding Van Dyck (closes 13th July).

The small picture on the left is Van Dyck's study for the Head of St Joseph, which was used in his larger composition of The Holy Family, on the right. The study was previously unknown, and appeared in December 2009 in a London saleroom catalogued as 'Circle of Van Dyck/Head study of a Man'. But, having established that it related to a known Van Dyck, we were confident, despite layers of dirt and old varnish , that it was 'right' (as we say in the trade), and bought it.

The version of The Holy Family on display here is on loan from Manchester Art Gallery. Like many of Van Dyck's religious and classical compositions, it was painted partly by Van Dyck and partly by his studio assistants. For example, the cherubs upper right are finely executed, while the blue drapery around the Virgin is rather stiff and heavy.

The head of St Joseph in The Holy Family was also painted by a studio hand. While it follows Van Dyck's original study closely, it lacks the vitality of an original head by Van Dyck. Not a great deal is known about Van Dyck's use of studies, and for a long time they were disregarded by scholars. But as more and more are discovered, it becomes evident that, like his one-time master Rubens, Van Dyck made wide use of head studies, both for his own reference when composing large pictures, and for his assistants to follow.

The study and the finished Holy Family have now been reunited for (presumably) the first time since they were painted in Van Dyck's studio in Antwerp, in about 1630.

Gainsborough goes to Holland?

June 24 2011

Image of Gainsborough goes to Holland?

Picture: De Telegraaf

A museum in Holland is trying to buy this exquisite landscape by the young Thomas Gainsborough. They need to raise EUR 378,000, and have 90% of the funds already. If you're so minded, donate to the Rijksmueum Twenthe here. 

Praise for PCF website

June 24 2011

Image of Praise for PCF website

Picture: Guardian

Yesterday's launch of the BBC/Public Catalogue Foundation website has gone down well in the press. The Guardian has illustrated Hogarth's Sealing of the Tomb triptych (above), which forms an unlikely if impressive office decoration for the staff of Bristol Region Archaeology department. Should it not be in a museum somewhere, or a church that is open, or a National Trust property?

The BBC also has video of the painting and its environment, here. Curiously enough, though, the picture is not yet listed on the Your Paintings website under Hogarth...

Over in The Independent, Tom Sutcliffe describes the PCF as 'a kind of Pevsner of fine art'.  

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