Previous Posts: June 2011

Rembrandt at Dulwich

June 15 2011

Image of Rembrandt at Dulwich

Picture: Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery have instituted a new series called 'Masterpiece of the Month'. June's is Rembrandt's Portrait of Titus van Rijn in a Monk's Habit. Richard Dorment in the Telegraph is enthused, and sees in it a comparison with the Mona Lisa:

Painted in 1660 when Titus was 19, Rembrandt’s brush describes not the young man’s physical appearance but his interior life. It is a study not of surfaces or appearances but of thoughts and feelings.

By cloaking Titus in a brown monk’s habit and cowl against a rich brown background, Rembrandt isolates the sitter’s face, making it the whole focus of the picture’s visual interest. But even then not all of the face is shown, for light from an unseen source at the left illuminates the right side, leaving the left partly in shadow.

Titus tilts his head and lowers his eyes, lost in thought. An almost imperceptible smile plays on his lips, and, as in the Mona Lisa, it is this smile that makes the picture so mysterious. Because the sitter is wearing the Franciscan habit, our first thought is that this is not a portrait at all but a representation of St Francis at prayer. But that can’t be entirely true, since this is clearly a portrait. The monk’s habit could also be a studio prop, which Rembrandt gives Titus to wear in joking reference to the order’s vow of poverty, which the boy would have to embrace during the hard financial times the family was going through. Whatever the answer, every brush stroke speaks of the artist’s love for his son, who would die eight years later at the age of 27.

The picture is on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery until July 3.

Triptych re-united at last

June 15 2011

Image of Triptych re-united at last

Picture: Telegraph

An epic triptych by Jan van Belkamp showing Lady Anne Clifford and her family has gone on display at Abbot Hall in Kendal, Cumbria.

The Lakeland Trust bought the picture in 1981. But until now the central section has been in store because they couldn't get it through the door. Eventually, somebody worked out that they could get it through a window, so the three sections are now hanging together. More details here

Top of the Pops c.1630

June 14 2011

Image of Top of the Pops c.1630


How cool is this? My colleague Sara has found the perfect CD for our Van Dyck exhibition. Details here if you want to buy it.

Is this by Monet?

June 14 2011

Image of Is this by Monet?

Picture: David Joel

This painting will feature in a new BBC1 series on art, Fake or Fortune. The picture is signed 'Claude Monet', and has provenance as a Monet going back to the artist's lifetime. Numerous Monet scholars also believe it to be by him - but the Wildenstein Institute in Paris, which controls the Monet catalogue, maintains it is a fake. Read more here

The series, which is presented by Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould (and even occasionally features me), goes out on Sundays at 7pm from June 19th, for four weeks. 

India joins China in the Eastern art boom

June 14 2011

Image of India joins China in the Eastern art boom

Picture: Christie's

An untitled painting by the Indian artist Tyeb Mehta, which shows a figure resting in a rickshaw, has sold for $3.24m at Christie's. It's the second highest price paid for an Indian painting.

Don't panic

June 14 2011

Image of Don't panic


The pictures are hung, the catalogue is printed, and the champagne has arrived. But the lights have gone out. 

What to do? Our exhibition opening is tonight. Candles are hardly an option...

[fixed it in the end, dodgy fuse]

Christie's wins...

June 13 2011

Image of Christie's wins...

Picture: Christie's

...the race to get their Old Master July catalogues out first. 

It's about this time of the year that I nerdishly check Sotheby's and Christie's sites about twice a day, to see if the sales have been posted online.

Christie's have secured some remarkably fine pictures here, such as Robert Peake's Portrait of William Pope, 1st Earl of Downe (est. £1m-1.5m). I'll write more on these nearer the time of the sale (5th July). Now we await Sotheby's offerings...

How to pack a picture

June 13 2011

Image of How to pack a picture


This is The Holy Family, on loan to our exhibition Finding Van Dyck from Manchester Art Gallery. I have never seen a more expertly wrapped and crated painting.

In the photo here is Tony Gregg, our indispensable framing expert, while out of shot is Hannah Williamson, a curator from Manchester, who was there to supervise the installation. And thank goodness she was, for there are few things more nerve-wracking than hanging a valuable publicly-owned painting...

Two Van Dyck stories for the price of one

June 13 2011

On BBC news.

The Top 10 Summer Paintings

June 13 2011

Image of The Top 10 Summer Paintings

Picture: Musee D'Orsay

The Observer's art critic Laura Cumming compiles her top ten. In at No.1 is Monet's Poppy Field (1873).

'I'm not sure what art is'

June 13 2011

Image of 'I'm not sure what art is'

Picture: Alan Cristea Gallery

I've always been a great admirer of Julian Opie's work. He is one of relatively few contemporary artists to embrace art history, and yet not be defined by it. Over the last few years I have been lucky enough to get to know him a little.

There's a good interview with him in The Guardian, in which he talks about art in his typically honest approach. The discussion moves to Opie's interest in silhouettes, which are part of his new exhibition at the Alan Cristea Gallery (closes 9th July):

We move to some silhouettes he made of himself. Before photography, silhouette profiles, cut from black card, were the cheapest way of recording a person's appearance. "It's a purportedly obsolete and vulgar art form. It surprises me that I care about it. I used to have a stricter idea of what art was. Now I feel much less sure. I'm not really sure what art is."

Its refreshing to see a contemporary artist discussing art in normal English and with candour. I recently had to read Damien Hirst's musings in On the Way to Work, but parts of it I simply couldn't understand. In fact, I challenge anyone to read that book, and not get a headache. 

Van Dyck found

June 11 2011

Image of Van Dyck found

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

Breaking news! I'll post more on this later, but here is a piece appearing in tomorrow's Observer on a few discoveries a certain blogger has been involved with...

Angelica Kauffman slips through the net in NY?

June 11 2011

Image of Angelica Kauffman slips through the net in NY?

Picture: Sotheby's

I was interested to see that up for auction a second time in New York was this pair of portraits called 'Circle of Benjamin West.' They were offered at Sotheby's in December, with an estimate of (if I recall correctly) $30-50,000, but failed to sell.

This time they comfortably exceeded their estimate of $10-15,000 to make $28,125 (inc. premium). Despite the obvious damage in the Lady, the condition is actually pretty good. I think the new owner has something of a bargain, for they are, in my opinion, by Angelica Kauffmann (Italian period). You read it here first...

Van Dyck - or Rubens?

June 11 2011

Image of Van Dyck - or Rubens?

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's announced today a highlight of their forthcoming July Old Master sales. Portrait of a Carmelite Monk (oil on panel, 62.3 x 48 cm) is being hailed as a new discovery of an early work by Van Dyck. The estimate is £600-800,000.

It is an exquisite painting, and looks to be in fine condition. Colours on panel tend to last better than when on canvas, and here one senses the freshness of the painting, as if it was made only recently. One also sees how the paint has been physically worked up with layers of impasto, in an almost sculptural manner. 

Traditionally, the painting has been attributed to Rubens. But Sotheby's has given it instead to Van Dyck, and dated it to c.1617-20. George Gordon, Sotheby's co-Chairman, observes:

...that while Rubens’ portraits are always formally composed, the current work, especially the way the young monk’s head is turned to one side, creates an impression of spontaneity. In addition, the brushwork in the present picture, which is painted in oil on oak panel, is clearly legible throughout most of the painting and is more reminiscent of Anthony Van Dyck when he worked in Rubens’ studio, than of his teacher. Specifically, the use of thick paint to denote highlights in the sitter’s habit is a characteristic of Van Dyck’s personal style at this date, and can be seen in a series of paintings the artist made of the Apostles.

It has become something of a fashion to re-attribute Rubens's made between c.1616-21 to Van Dyck, who was by far Ruben's best pupil. I haven't seen the painting myself, but to be honest my initial hunch from the image is that this leans more towards Rubens. 

Either way, it looks like a bargain at that estimate, and will surely sell for more. 

New York Old Master sales results

June 11 2011

Image of New York Old Master sales results

Picture: Christie's

There were some reassuringly solid prices at the main Old Master sales in New York this week. Christie's cover lot, an enticing Mary Magdalene by the Master of the Parrot (above), sold for $1,426,500, beating its estimate of $600-800,000.

Sotheby's star price was the  $872,500 realised for Jacob van Ruisdael's Ruined Castle Gateway. This was estimated at just $100-150,000.

There were strong prices in all areas. The sudden craze for Napoleon portraits continues, with a full-length by Alexandre Dufay sellling for $236,500, against an estimate of $60-80,000. It is of middling quality. Not so long ago, portraits of Napoleon (which abound) where not stellar sellers. I wonder who is buying them now?

Stolen Pissarro will go back to France

June 11 2011

Image of Stolen Pissarro will go back to France

Picture: Sotheby's

A US court has ruled that a painting by Camille Pissarro stolen from the Faure Museum in France must be returned. The picture, Le Marche de Poissons, was stolen in the 1980s, and only surfaced when it appeared at auction at Sotheby's in 2003. It has taken since then to resolve various legal disputes.

Museum Charging - the view from New York

June 10 2011

The Metropolitan Museum's decision to increase its 'suggested' entry fee from $20 to $25 has provoked soul-searching even in the US over the question of museum charging. Randy Kenedy in the NY Times writes:

Do sizable admission prices, even suggested ones, discourage lower-income visitorship? (Of course.) Should museums that receive taxpayer money charge for admission? (A lot of people say no, even though many museums receive relatively little in the way of public subsidies.) Do museums have a kind of moral obligation, like libraries, to be free? (Museum directors are divided on the subject. Some, like Philippe de Montebello, the former director of the Met, point out that almost all cultural goods come with a price. “Philosophically, what is it about a work of art that makes it mandatory that it should be available for nothing?” he has asked.)

Sewell on the RA's Summer Exhibition

June 10 2011

As ever, Brian Sewell's review is worth a read. He begins:

Last week, on entering the Royal Academy's courtyard to see its annual Summer Exhibition, I chanced upon a column of Academicians, their doxies, catamites and hangers-on (no 11,000 virgins there) embarking on their yearly pilgrimage to St James's Piccadilly, there to pray for a pox on hostile critics.

It was once a charming and colourful ritual but now even dour members of a Bible Readers' Union might make a gayer occasion of it, for the sense that these pilgrims still think of themselves as smocked Augustus Johns with their polka-dot Dorelias of a century ago has entirely gone. The fedoras were far fewer, the motley drab, and in this shabby crocodile not one woman shone with artifice and no man played the aesthete exquisite.

Sewell goes onto to highlight some of the works he likes, and indeed there are many fine ones. But the wider point, surely, is that the RA is in danger of losing its relevance when it comes to contemporary art.

What is the RA for? Most people, I suspect, think of it as one of the best places in the world for mounting authoritative exhibitions, such as the current one of Watteau's drawings. In my view, the RA's exhibitions of what we might call historic art are unsurpassable. Arguably, it should build on this role and project itself as a guardian of all things art historical in Britain.

But as some of the second-rate offerings in the Summer Exhibition show, it struggles to fulfil its original purpose of promoting the arts in Britain, first by training artists and secondly by exhibiting the best contemporary works.

Instead, its offerings feel like the massed collection of a few humdrum regional art fairs, uncertain of their own meaning, and openly bewildered by their lack of skill. For an institution which was once headed by Reynolds and is decorated by Kauffman, one has to feel that the decline in standards is worrying. 

M F Hussain, 'the Picasso of India'

June 10 2011

The celebrated Indian artist M F Hussain has died at the age of 95. See a brief biography here, and a selection of his paintings here

The last exhibit...

June 9 2011

Image of The last exhibit...

... for our exhibition 'Finding Van Dyck' has just arrived. We open next Wednesday, 15th June.

Every time we do an exhibition I somehow manage to forget just how much work is involved in organising the loans. In this case, I'm enormously grateful to the staff at Manchester Art Gallery for their help.

Now, before we can hang the painting, I need to go and find my light meter. There are strict museum standards for light levels, usually 250 lux max. For comparison, the average office is lit at between 320-500 lux. 

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