Previous Posts: May 2011

11m views on You Tube

May 17 2011

Women In Art from Philip Scott Johnson on Vimeo.

That makes it the most popular history of art video on You Tube. Above is a better quality version on Vimeo. It's compiled by Philip Scott Johson, a very clever fellow. Test yourself on the artists, and check your score here.

New York Old Master sales

May 17 2011

Image of New York Old Master sales

Picture: Sotheby's

The catalogues for Sotheby's and Christie's June sales are now online. Included (at Sotheby's) is this rather fine sketch by the genius Thomas Lawrence at $40-60,000. 


May 17 2011

Image of Guff-watch

Picture: Christie's

Jonathan Jones on Andy Warhol's 1963 Self-Portrait, recently sold for $38.4m:

It is beautiful – one of his best works. Its cool blue hues lure the eye amid columns of newsprint and pictures in media reports of the sale. It looks spiritual, somehow – at once a piece of popular culture and something more private. The four photos he has used show him hiding behind dark glasses and trying out different poses that all seem a bit churlish, awkward, evasive. It is a self-portrait by someone who either does not want to look at himself, or does not want to truly show himself to others. And what makes it so powerful is the self-knowing explicitness with which it communicates this diffidence and unease.

Tracey Emin - Still a Tory

May 17 2011

Image of Tracey Emin - Still a Tory

Picture: Anita Zabludowicz

There's been an interesting media response to Tracey Emin's retrospective at the Hayward, and her promotion of it. The Guardian, normally Eminista No.1, finds itself in a pickle over her unabashed Toryism. She says that the 'Tories are the only hope for the arts':

There's no money, the country is bankrupt so the arts is going to be bottom of the list on everyone's agenda except that the Tories have an amazing arts minister in Ed Vaizey who is particularly protective and defensive of the arts.

Also the arts cuts, they are less than they were eight years ago with the Labour government. In the present climate its amazing that there's any money for the arts at all.

And remember, Tory people are massive collectors of the arts. For a lot of my friends, who think I'm crazy voting for the Tories - I want to know who buys their work? Who are the biggest philanthropists? I promise you, it's not Labour voters.

The Guardian arts cuts blog, normally the first to condemn any hint of cut-advocacy, merely asks meekly - 'Is she right?' The answer, I'm afraid, is a most emphatic yes.

Curiously enough, Emin was lunching with Vaizey at the very moment he heard he was going to be Culture Minister - as pictured above. That's way cooler than being summoned to No.10, don't you think?

Meanwhile, The Telegraph headlines her review with a predictably grumpy: "Tracey Emin is a minor talent for art but a mega-magnet for publicity" - but, perhaps mindful of her Tory charms, dares to conlude that her exhibition might actually be worth visiting...

Finally, the Daily Mail manages to combine two favourite targets in one - contemporary art and the BBC - by having a go at John Humphrys for his (I thought very good) interview with Emin. The Today interview is well worth a click - listen to it here. There's a slideshow too. 

Theatrical Portrait Collections

May 16 2011

Image of Theatrical Portrait Collections

Understanding British Portraits are organising a visit to London collections of theatrical portraits, including the Garrick Club and the Handel House Museum. 20th July, book here if you fancy it. 

National Gallery talks

May 16 2011

The Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in London is 20 years old. As part of the celebrations, the National is putting on a series of talks. They are to be held on Thursdays, 1–1.45pm, Sainsbury Wing Theatre, Free Admission.

  • 2 June 2011; The Italian Renaissance Altarpiece: From Polyptych to Pala. Join Professor David Ekserdjian to consider the consequences of the move from altarpieces constructed of multiple panels (polyptychs) to those created on a single panel (known by the Italian term pala).
  • 9 June 2011; Heaven on Earth: The Construction of Vision in the 15th-Century Altarpieces of the Sainsbury Wing. Join Dr Alison Wright to see how altarpieces can help us to understand how Renaissance painting expressed the relationship between the earthly and the heavenly.
  • 16 June 2011; The Rediscovery of Botticelli and Piero della Francesca. National Gallery Director Dr Nicholas Penny will explore how the reputations and appeal of these artists enjoyed a major revival in the 19th century, and take a closer look at their works in the collection
  • 30 June 2011; Transformations of the Altarpiece in Victorian Britain: Burne-Jones and Others. Elizabeth Prettejohn will examine what happened to the altarpiece in the Victorian era, demonstrating how artists such as Leighton, Rossetti and Burne-Jones developed new innovations for this artistic form.

The Cult of Leonardo

May 16 2011

Stephen Bayley has a good piece in the Telegraph on the cult of Leonardo: 

More than any other artist, Leonardo has a cult following. He is not merely a figure of prodigal creativity, he is a source of myths, legends, untruths, half-truths and baffling conspiracies, the inspiration for an ocean of pseudo-science and mumbo-jumbo. 

He also refers to the latest Leonardo fantasy, the attempt to dig up 'Mona Lisa'

Van Dyck & Rubens in Amsterdam

May 13 2011

Image of Van Dyck & Rubens in Amsterdam

Picture: Hermitage

This is worth a trip - an exhibition of some of the Hermitage's best works by Rubens, Van Dyck & Jordaens, at Hermitage Amsterdam. It runs from 17th September - 16th March. Included amongst the 75 paintings and 20 drawings will be Rubens' c.1614 Venus and Adonis.

People of Wales!

May 13 2011

Go back to bed! I shall not be addressing you at 8.30 am today, as advertised below. I've just been told (7am) that the item is to be 'stood down', so I guess Ivan Mcquisten (the editor of the Antiques Trade Gazzette, with whom I was to be on) and I needn't have got up extra early. Thanks BBC Radio Wales! Just as I was beginning to dream of the big time: Hollywood was next, I could feel it.

People of Wales!

May 12 2011

Image of People of Wales!

I shall be addressing you tomorrow morning, at about 8.30am, on BBC Radio Wales. I have been asked - quite why I don't know - to talk about investing in art. 

To sell or not to sell?

May 12 2011

Image of To sell or not to sell?

Here's a quick report on Tuesday's conference on deaccessioning at the National Gallery. The event was organised by Farrers. The conference was overall a success. The arguments for and against were well covered. One or two of the speakers went on for too long (one for far too long).

Simon Jenkins, the patron saint of common sense, spoke passionately for. He decried the acres of art left in storage in London whilst numerous National Trust properties (of which he is chairman) had bare walls. Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, argued against, from the specific point of view of the National: as the national collection, it had inevitably to be the repository of some bad art, as well as the best. The duds were part of the collection's history. Gary Tintorow of the Metropolitan Museum demonstrated the benefits of relentless 'trading up' - selling the bad to buy better - but also highlighted the American approach to not being obsessed with keeping everything. How all the British curators in the audience must have envied his ability to regularly buy masterpieces at auction.

I was on at the end of the day to give the view of the art trade. But since this can be summed up in one word - yippee - I mentioned my plan to have an informal advisory committee of experts to help regional curators decide what to sell, what to keep, and how to prevent mistakes. I am optimistic that we will be able to establish something - and it is needed urgently, for like it or not, deaccessioning is already with us.

The speakers had a posh dinner at the Athenaeum Club, which was jolly. There was some talk of a new Culture Secretary, following the rumours that Jeremy Hunt might have to replace the perpetually ineffective Andrew Lansley. 


May 12 2011

Image of Happiness three Van Dycks arriving in one day (for our forthcoming loan exhibition, 'Finding Van Dyck'). The catalogue is finished, the pictures are arriving... touch wood, everything is on plan for our opening on 15th June. 

Heads, no body

May 12 2011


Ai Wei Wei's absence is felt at the opening of his fantastic new installation of Zodiac heads at Somerset House. 

25% off*

May 12 2011

Image of 25% off*

Picture: Sotheby's

*at least.

Jeff Koons' Pink Panther didn't live up to the hype at Sotheby's. The estimate was $20-30m, but it sold to one bidder for $16.8m with premium. This means the hammer went down at $15m. Sotheby's had an irrevocable bid going into the sale.

Still, that's a hefty price, and it was a clever move to lower the reserve by 25% - a failure to sell would have been disastrous. 

Christie's $301m vs Sotheby's $128m

May 12 2011

Image of Christie's $301m vs Sotheby's $128m

Picture: Christie's

Ouch - Christie's trounced Sotheby's last night in the New York post-war and contemporary evening sales.

Bloomberg has a video about the Sotheby's sale, which they call 'tepid'. It had the lowest total for two years. Contributor Katya Kazakina said that 'the estimates were too aggressive for the quality of works Sotheby's had'.  

The patchy results indicate continuing uncertainty at the top end of the contemporary market. At Christie's, some of the big ticket things went at around, or less, than the lower estimate. Warhol's 1986 self-portrait, above, made $27.5m, including premium, which means that bidding in the room didn't exceed the $30m lower estimate. On the other hand, the newly 'discovered' Rothko sold very well at $33.7m, against an estimate of $18-22m. I'd have a Rothko over a Warhol any day.

The Wall Street Journal has a good summary here, but as ever, some reading between the lines is necessary.

Poussin & Hals stopped for export - total £22.75 million

May 11 2011

Image of Poussin & Hals stopped for export - total £22.75 million

Picture: Christie's

The government has issued two temporary export bars in two days; one on a Poussin (Ordination, above, one of the seven sacrament series) at £15m, and the other on a Hals (Family Portrait in a Landscape) at £7.75m.

Who are they kidding? How is any museum in this climate supposed to try and buy the pictures when there are no acquisition funds to speak of? The one body that could help, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, has been cut to just £5m - or one third of a Poussin.

We really are facing a potential crisis over the loss of such paintings - more and more are being sold, and museums have less and less money. There is still time to do something about it, but only if the government directs the Heritage Lottery Fund to look more kindly on acquisitions, a move which would cost nothing. 

The Poussin belongs to the Duke of Rutland, and was offered at auction in December 2010 at Christie's for £15-20m. It failed to sell on the night, but it seems has been sold since at the reserve.

Yale abolishes reproduction fees

May 11 2011

Image of Yale abolishes reproduction fees

Picture: Yale Center for British Art, 'Mr & Mrs John Gravenor and their daughters', by Thomas Gainsborough.

Hurrah! Yale University will abolish reproduction fees for everything in its museums and collections.  Amy Meyers, the director for the Yale Center for British Art, says:

'The ability to publish images directly from our online catalogues without charge will encourage the increased use of our collections for scholarship, a benefit to which we look forward with the greatest excitement.'

UK museums should really think hard about doing likewise. Our high reproduction fees are a great barrier to effective scholarship. And the small income museums earn from such rights (after the high administration costs) results in silly rules about not taking photos in museums, and secutiry guards jumping on you if you so much as reach for your phone.

So, let's all relax about copyright - it is never going to be the big earner people envisaged. Image reproduction should be viewed as part of a museum's core purpose of spreading knowledge - and be free.

Size isn't everything

May 11 2011

Image of Size isn't everything

Pictures: Sotheby's

A miniature by Frida Kahlo is to be sold at auction for £800k-1.2m.


May 11 2011

Colin Gleadell asks if the recent faltering sales in New York signal a double dip in the art market. He concludes 'no'.


A new Lowry record?

May 9 2011

Image of A new Lowry record?

Picture: Christie's

Christie's are aiming for a new record price for a painting by L S Lowry later this month. The Football Match (1949) is estimated at £3.5-4.5m. The current record is £3.7m, paid in 2007 for Good Friday, Daisy Nook

The Football Match was bought by Lord Walston for £250 in 1951. It was sold from his estate in 1992 for £132,000. Full catalogue details here.  

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