Previous Posts: March 2011

Better photo of that new Van Dyck

March 22 2011

Image of Better photo of that new Van Dyck

Picture: RASF, Madrid

A slightly better image of the newly discovered Van Dyck I mentioned earlier

Anne Boleyn needs YOU!

March 22 2011

Image of Anne Boleyn needs YOU!

Picture: The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery needs help to begin urgent conservation work on their portrait of Anne Boleyn. The wooden panel is buckling and cracking, causing damage to the paint layers. This is happening because the picture was long ago 'cradled', a conservation practice that was all the rage in the early twentieth century, and which is preventing the panel from moving naturally.

You can donate online here - they have so far raised £2,500, and need to hit £4,000 before work can begin. Please pass this round if you know anyone else who might bung in a few quid.

The picture is probably the most important extant painting of Anne, and consciously presents her as the dark witch-like figure she was portrayed as after her execution.

But it probably doesn't look anything like her. In 2007 David Starkey and I argued that she actually looked like this - and that the old inscription on Holbein's drawing labelled 'Anna Bollein Queen' was valid. Previously, the drawing had been called simply 'Portrait of a Lady'. I'm pleased to note that the Royal Collection now definitively catalogues it as 'Anne Boleyn' in full, and says 'This is a rare surviving portrait of Anne'. Hooray! [Bragging note: to see another royal portrait in a public collection I have re-identified, click here.]

Mothers at Maastricht

March 21 2011

Image of Mothers at Maastricht

The picture I most coveted at The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht was Thomas Lawrence's portrait of his mother (above left). I first saw it at Christie's, and was not in the least surprised when it soared above its estimate of £50-80,000 to make £373,000. Painted in 1797 shortly before she died, it is a dazzling display of Lawrence's genius in oil. I found it very moving.

I was surprised also to find in Maastricht Lucian Freud's similarly treated portrait of his mother (right), painted in 1972. I have no idea if Freud knew of Lawrence's portrait. But I was struck by the similarities between the two. Both are unfinished, and both show their sitters looking awkwardly to the side. Neither are painted with any obvious sign of affection. And yet in both it is the unusual intensity that reveals the deep bond between subject and sitter. 

British Museum Shakespeare Exhibition in 2012

March 21 2011

Image of British Museum Shakespeare Exhibition in 2012

Picture: National Portrait Gallery

The British Museum is to hold a major Shakespeare exhibition in 2012 as part of the Cultural Olympiad. There are few details at the moment, but I'm most interested in which portrait of him they will exhibit.

Above is the National Portrait Gallery's 'Chandos portrait' of Shakespeare - which for me is the best example. Quite a few newspapers, books and magazines these days illustrate the 'Cobbe portrait' which was recently proclaimed 'the only surviving portrait of William Shakespeare painted from life'. Alas, it is most definitely not him

PS - if you're really keen on the idea of the Shakespeare exhibition, you can apply here to be a project curator - £22,907 p.a. Entries close 1st April. 

An art dealer's Sunday afternoon

March 20 2011

Image of An art dealer's Sunday afternoon

After a smash and grab raid at a London auction house, I found that a framed 50x40 painting will just fit into my motor. And that it takes about half an hour just to get it out again. 

Vermeer will not be restituted

March 20 2011

Image of Vermeer will not be restituted

Picture: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (detail).

Authorities in Austria have ruled that the heirs of Jaromir Czernin cannot claim ownership of Vermeer's Art of Painting. The picture was bought in 1940 by Hitler for his Fuehrermuseum in Linz for 1.6m Reichsmarks, about $660,000 at the time. Despite the fact that Czernin was a member of the Nazi Party, and had written to Hitler after the sale saying, 'I ask that you accept my sincere thanks. Wishing that this picture may bring you, my Führer, joy always, I greet you, my Führer, with the German salute, as your devoted Count Jaromir Czernin-Morzin", Czernin's descendants claimed the sale was forced.

More on the latest developments here. A fuller history of the case is set out here

To sell or not to sell? Sewell vs. Deuchar on deaccessioning.

March 19 2011

The Guardian today had an interesting debate on deaccessioning between the art critic Brian Sewell and the director of the Art Fund, Stephan Deuchar. Deuchar was against, Sewell for. I'm broadly with Sewell, but would limit funds raised to collection care or acquisitions. 

The problem with the deaccessioning debate is that it is increasingly irrelevant. Museums up and down the country are already selling on a large scale. The question should instead be - what are we going to do about it? [More below]

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Van Dyck discovered in Spain

March 18 2011

Image of Van Dyck discovered in Spain

This is exciting - a lost painting by Van Dyck appears to have been found in the stores of a Spanish Museum. The Virgin and Child Adored by Penitent Sinners is in the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. 

The news reports are sketchy and describe the painting as 'previously unknown'. I see from the 2004 catalogue raisonne, however, that there was a reference to a similarly titled work in the Spanish Royal Collection in 1681, so perhaps this is it. There is another version in the Louvre (below), in which the central penitent figure holds a different position. In 2004, Horst Vey described the Louvre version as being in bad condition. Perhaps the newly discovered version is in better shape - certainly, the hands and face of the central figure are more compelling than in the Louvre version. 

I've asked the Academy of San Fernando for a better photo - I'll put it up here if I get it.

Gainsborough 'improved' by Reynolds?

March 18 2011

Image of Gainsborough 'improved' by Reynolds?

National Trust curators are investigating evidence that a portrait by Gainsborough of Susannah Trevelyan (x-rayed above) was repainted by Joshua Reynolds. More here

Some gems amongst the crowds at Maastricht

March 18 2011

Image of Some gems amongst the crowds at Maastricht

It was a mistake to go to the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht on the opening day - too many people. If you happened upon a swarm of freeloaders around a canape tray, it actually became impossible to move. 

Still, there were some fine pictures on display. Jack Kilgore had what I thought was the discovery of the fair, a work by the young Rubens. [More below]

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Get out the jet - it's Maastricht

March 16 2011

Image of Get out the jet - it's Maastricht

Excitement is building ahead of The European Fine Art Fair, which opens tomorrow in Maastricht. Last year, 171 private jets landed at the local airport. The event is a major showcase for Old Master dealers - but can they withstand the pressure from major auction houses? 

Scott Reyburn of Bloomberg has highlighted the growing battle between dealers and auction houses: [More below]

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Things to look forward to in New York

March 16 2011

The Metropolitan Museum has released dates of their forthcoming exhibitions.

Highlights include: 'Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century' (5 April-4 July); 'Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th Century Europe' (17 May-14 August); and 'Frans Hals in the Metropolitan Museum' (26 July-10 October). More here

Recession? What recession?

March 15 2011

Image of Recession? What recession?

Picture: Cleveland Museum of Art

Hats off to the Cleveland Museum of Art for a really impressive piece of acquisitioning; they've just bought the above cabinet miniature by Isaac Oliver. Possibly painted for Anne of Denmark, it is one of very few large scale miniatures by Oliver to survive. 

It's not only a good buy, but a canny one. The picture was offered at Sotheby's in New York in January with an estimate of $200 - 300,000, which I felt was too high. However, it failed to sell, and presumably the museum were able to secure it for a good price post-sale. [More below]

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Five Star Watteau

March 15 2011

Image of Five Star Watteau

Picture: Royal Academy. Detail of Nude Man Kneeling, c.1715/16, Louvre.

The Royal Academy's new exhibition of Watteau's drawings has been given five stars by Alastair Sooke in the Daily Telegraph.

The RA has a selection of the drawings in high-res here

The one third acquisition policy

March 15 2011

Image of The one third acquisition policy

A legal dispute between the contemporary art dealer Larry Gagosian and one of his clients has revealed a potentially novel approach to museum acquisitions. The collector Robert Wylde thought he was buying all of Mark Tansey's 1981 painitng The Innocent Eye Test in 2009, for $2.5m, only to find out later that the Met Museum in New York owns 1/3 of it. 

More here


March 14 2011

Here's a strange one - a full-length portrait has gone on display at a museum in Florida because;

'...the owners have spent more than 20 frustrating years unable to sell it for what they think it is worth. By placing it at the Lightner [Museum], they hope to inspire new interest.'

The owners, one of whom is Mr Paul Partel, believe their portrait of Louis XVIII by Antoine-Francois Callet is 'worth millions'. However, it was offered at auction by Christie's in 1991 with an estimate of $60-80,000, before being withdrawn by Mr Partel because; [More below]

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Museum of London new exhibition

March 14 2011

Image of Museum of London new exhibition

Picture: Museum of London. Detail from 'Buy a Rat or a Mouse Trap?' by Rowlandson.

This looks like it's worth a visit; a new exhibition at the Museum of London of rarely seen paintings, drawings and prints showing how London's poor were depicted from the 17th to the 19th century. Exhibition curator Francis Marshall said;

'The Museum of London’s extensive art collection contains many items which are rarely displayed for conservation reasons.  This show offers the chance to see some of our gems: delicate watercolours and prints depicting gritty London subject matter.'

Entry is free, and the show runs from 25th March to 31st July 2011.

Koons to set new record?

March 14 2011

Image of Koons to set new record?

Picture: Sotheby's

A sculpture by Jeff Koons, Pink Panther, is set to sell for up to $30m at Sotheby's Spring Contemporary auction in New York. Sotheby's press release said:

'Representing the highest tier of Jeff Koons' artistic achievement, Pink Panther is immediately identifiable as a masterpiece not only of the artist's historical canon, but also of the epoch of recent Contemporary Art...

In Pink Panther, the display of the woman's semi-naked body is sensual. However, with the bizarrely incongruous cuddly Pink Panther toy clinging to the literal embodiment of carnal desire, Koons strikes an outrageous contrast between the competing powers of adult and childhood associations. 

The artist's painstaking selection of media is central to the conceptual project, contributing directly to the importance of the work. The terms of its execution are flawless: the contrasting textures of the porcelain surfaces are rendered in dazzlingly vivid colours that reinforce the object's artificiality, while the transparent glazes simultaneously evoke the fragility of thin glass and the ethereal nature of a reflective liquid.'

I rather like it. But if it's still worth $30m in 50 years time, I'll eat my trousers.

Friday amusement

March 11 2011

Image of Friday amusement

Picture: Spike Milligan

More Caravaggio in Rome

March 11 2011

Image of More Caravaggio in Rome

If you're a Caravaggio fan, it's a good time to go to Rome. Not only is there the exhibition of Caravaggio documents in the State Archives, but now a new exhibition at the Museo Diocesano brings together sixty masterpieces by Caravaggio and his contemporaries. It opens today, until 3rd July.

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