Previous Posts: November 2011

View from the Artist 6 - answer

November 13 2011

Image of View from the Artist 6 - answer

Picture: Sotheby's

This one was perhaps a little tricky - only three correct answers. The first came from the winner of the previous round - a mighty impressive feat. The view is from Giuseppe Zocchi's (d.1767) Florence, a View of the Arno taken from the Porta a San Niccolo. The clue of course was that this was a 'Leonardo special'; he worked in Florence and had a scheme for diverting the Arno.

Art History Futures: the £100k kid

November 13 2011

Image of Art History Futures: the £100k kid

Picture: Telegraph

Twelve pictures by nine year old Kieron Williamson (above) have sold for over £100,000 within ten minutes of his latest exhibition opening. Kieron, who lives in Norfolk and sounds rather like a young Tom Gainsborough, said:

I think these are my best paintings yet.

I don't know whether his work is a sound investment (yet), but it's nice to see people getting excited about a young artist who can actually paint. You can see more of his work, which is genuinely good, here.

Thank you

November 13 2011

For your kind and generous responses to my Leonardo review. I'm pleased to see that it has generated the most traffic this site has yet seen (you've read it in your thousands). It seems from the feedback so far that there will be a big appetite for some sort of post-exhibition conference, or even book, on the many questions raised by the show. National Gallery - please take note!

Graham-Dixon on Leonardo

November 12 2011

Image of Graham-Dixon on Leonardo

Picture: Hermitage

Andrew Graham-Dixon knows a thing or two about the Renaissance, so his review in The Telegraph of the Leonardo exhibition is worth a read. He likes the exhibition, but like many reviewers is not taken with Salvator Mundi:

The picture undeniably displays a number of the painter’s characteristic devices and mannerisms, but there are other aspects of it that seem foreign to Leonardo himself.

He was prized by his contemporaries as one of the most innovative and forceful painters of emotion, yet the face of this Christ seems peculiarly inert. Taken individually, its elements are convincing enough, but viewed as a whole its expression seems to lack a certain subtle Leonardo magic: the spark of inner life and feeling.

Graham-Dixon might have other reasons for doubting the attribution - but the one given above seems too subjective. When I saw it, I felt precisely the opposite - I felt the picture did have a spark of inner life. Either way, I prefer to focus on the more objective reasons for attributing it to Leonardo, such as the evidence of the technique, the quality visible in the undamaged areas, and the likely origin of the picture. 

On the other hand, Graham-Dixon shares my doubts about the Madonna Litta (above), on loan from the Hermitage. He goes as far as to say that it is certainly not by Leonardo, but by Boltraffio: 

The second questionable “Leonardo” on display is the Virgin and Child from the Hermitage in St Petersburg, long attributed to Leonardo and popularly known as The Madonna Litta. Close by hangs a drawing of The Head of a Woman, owned by the Louvre, which is most definitely by Leonardo and has often been regarded as a preparatory study for The Madonna Litta.

But both the features and the handling set it apart from the far clumsier head of the Virgin in the painting, who looks down at her greedily breastfeeding infant.

Yet more incriminatingly, the display also includes a close study for the head of that same suckling child by the hand of Leonardo’s follower, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio. Here the drawing and the painting seem virtually identical to one another. This would seem to be an open-and-shut case: the painting owned by the Hermitage was painted by Boltraffio, not by Leonardo.

Old Master Sales online

November 12 2011

Image of Old Master Sales online

Picture: Christie's

The Christie's and Sotheby's December Old Master Sales are online. Christie's here, and Sotheby's here. I'll post more on these once I've gone through them. Christie's are leading with the above Goya, a Portrait of Don Juan López de Robredo, who was embroiderer to King Carlos IV of Spain, estimated at £4,000,000 – 6,000,000

'Matt' on 'Leonardo'

November 12 2011

Image of 'Matt' on 'Leonardo'

Picture: Daily Telegraph

For overseas readers, Matt is the Telegraph's daily cartoonist, and one of the best in the business. Here's his take on the Leonardo exhibition. 

You know an exhibition is important when...

November 12 2011

...Brian Sewell reviews it in two parts, over two days! Part one here, and part two here. Sewell is always at his best when he doesn't like something, which is often. So the review of 'Leonardo' is a little... loose. Obviously, he likes it, and for its curator, Luke Syson would:

...honour him with a life peerage; his impending departure for New York is a loss to the nation.

Hear hear to that. Inevitably, Sewell finds something not to like in the show, and it is, you guessed it, the Salvator Mundi:

In what is essentially a scholarly and didactic exhibition that encourages the visitor to make comparisons and study the relationship of paintings with preliminary drawings, I am not entirely happy to see included and supported the newly rediscovered and identified Salvator Mundi. The cracking of the panel with associated losses of paint, aggressive over-cleaning and abrasion over the whole surface are all acknowledged, and I must ask at what point does a ruined painting heavily restored cease to be original? This is a wreck now so ill-defined, so smudged and fudged that glutinous gravy seems to have been the medium of its restoration. The hand raised in blessing, the associated drapery and some residuary details of hair and clothing, all suggest that this may once have been by Leonardo, but what we see now was formerly subcutaneous. That there is no revision or reinvention of the iconography also rouses my suspicion.

Can this ghostly, ghastly and blind-eyed face really be the invention of the same aesthetic mind as the melancholy Christ of the Last Supper? It would have been extremely useful to have had at hand a severe technical examination of this panel so that we know precisely the extent of past damage and present restoration; without this, its gushing acceptance as genuine must seem gullible.

He's over-egging it here - the condition is not that bad. It's interesting to note that Salvator Mundi has found immeasurably less favour amongst journalists than art historians. Barely a review has been published in England in which a journalist has not cast doubt on the picture. What is it about the discovery that the hacks don't like?

An omission in the National Gallery...

November 12 2011

Image of An omission in the National Gallery...

Picture: Musee du Louvre

Following on from a recent acquisition at the Louvre, Art History Today (aka David Packwood) notes an omission in the National Gallery's collection:

Reading Art History News and the Tribune de l'Art posts about the Louvre's acquisition of a painter, hitherto unrepresented in that museum, Jean Le Clerc, got me thinking about a glaring 17th century French omission in our own National Gallery. This is a painter who may have influenced Le Clerc, Georges de La Tour. Though the gallery has a good collection of the French school, Poussin, Claude, Mignard, Le Sueur, the Le Nain, Champaigne, Vouet, it doesn’t posses a La Tour, though it had the chance when one was offered to the gallery for a low price under Kenneth Clark’s directorship. However, Clark with typical patrician scorn dismissed La Tour’s wonderful Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop [above] as too vulgar, even when Anthony Blunt and an influential aristocrat tried to sway Clark. It isn’t always the acquisition budget that counts in these matters.


November 12 2011

Apologies for the lack of service on Friday  - I was away.

To make up for it (and also because I am away on Monday at the Gainsborough Study Day) standby for a touch of weekend Art History News...

Sold for £646k, estimated at £3-5k

November 10 2011

Image of Sold for £646k, estimated at £3-5k

Picture: Christie's

I love it when these little Chinese things go through the roof. Here is the latest example, an ivory dragon seal catalogued at Christie's as 19th/20th Century and estimated at just £3-5,000. It sold for a massive £646,050 (or $1,035,628). I'm no expert on this area, but it looks pretty fine, and old, to me.

Imagine ringing the vendor to tell them the good news...

'Fake or Fortune?' returns...

November 10 2011

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' returns...

Picture: BBC

I'm delighted to announce that BBC1's art programme 'Fake or Fortune?' has been recommissioned (I'm the nerdy looking one above, with presenters Philip Mould and Fiona Bruce). We start filming in January - and are still keen to hear of your ideas for a programme. So if you've always wondered about that Leonardo-looking thing your Gran has hanging in her downstairs lav, then send me an email. You never know...

'And in the middle of a recession...'

November 10 2011

Image of 'And in the middle of a recession...'

Picture: Reuters

Sotheby's last night triumphed in the battle of the auction sales, with their contemporary art total of $316 million beating Christie's $247 million. This follows on from Sotheby's whooping Christie's... gavel in the impressionist sales last week. From Reuters:

The $315,837,000 total including commissions easily beat the presale estimate of $192 million to $270 million.

"It was one of the best auctions I've ever seen in my life," said Nicolai Frahm, a leading London-based contemporary art adviser. "And in the middle of a recession," he added.

Sotheby's scored a coup by landing a group of four Stills [Clyfford Still, two works above], whose works virtually never come to market and which were being sold by the city of Denver to benefit a new Still museum opening there this month.

Led by "1949-A-No. 1," which soared to $61,682,500 against an estimate of $30 million and smashed the record for the artist, the group of abstracts took in $114 million, nearly twice the pre-sale estimate.

Is this the contemporary art market temporarily defying gravity? Or a sign that everything will be alright? Who knows. I'd like not to be reminded of the record breaking Damien Hirst sale on the day of the Lehman collapse...

More on that strange French restitution case

November 9 2011

Image of More on that strange French restitution case

Picture: AFP

More details have emerged about the French government's curious attempt to seize a painting by Nicolas Tournier it says was stolen almost two hundred years ago. The picture, above, was being offered by the London-based dealer, Mark Weiss, to the Musee des Augustines, in Toulouse, where it had hung until it vanished in 1818. But when the museum contacted the French culture ministry to raise funds for the work, a sharp witted official appears to have decided that instead of buying the picture, it would be far cheaper to simply seize it.

The picture had surfaced at a Sotheby's auction in Italy, as by a 'follower of Caravaggio', and sold for EUR 59,500. Mr Weiss has told The Independent that he had been asking considerably more for it:

Earlier this year, the Weiss gallery offered the Tournier for sale for €675,000. "That would have been a fair price to a private buyer," Mr Weiss said yesterday. "But we were ready to sell it to the Toulouse museum for less than that."

Normally we picture-hunters love to find a piece of museum provenance. But in this case it seems to have caused all manner of problems. Is it a case of the sleeper bites back?

And now for something completely different...

November 9 2011

Image of And now for something completely different...

Picture: Christie's

That's enough Leonardo stuff for the moment. At Christie's New York last night the contemporary art crowd ('Leonardo who?') breathed a collective sigh of relief at some strong prices. Headlining the sale was Roy Lichtenstein's 'I Can See the Whole Room! ... And There's Nobody in it!', which sold for $43.2 million, beating it's lower estimate of $35m. The picture was guaranteed, so Christie's will be relieved.

The sale of 91 works realised a total $247.6 million, and went some way to making up for Christie's poor showing last week with impressionist and modern works. Still, I'd happily trade those 91 for Leonardo's Salvator Mundi. Full details of the other sales here

Leonardo - footage from the opening day

November 9 2011


From AFP.

'Leonardo Live'

November 9 2011

Image of 'Leonardo Live'

Picture: National Gallery / Sky Arts

Did you watch it? Let me know what you thought if you did. I don't have Sky, and was too busy penning my review to get to a cinema (3,500 words in a few hours - I felt like a proper journalist). 

Over in The Telegraph, Mark Hudson was underwhelmed by the show, giving it two stars out of five:

It felt strange, at first, to be watching a presentation in a resolutely small-screen format in overwhelming widescreen; and to be honest it didn’t get any less strange. Seated in unnerving proximity to the base of the screen, I had Frostrup’s waxed calves looming over me like great chicken bones, while her irrepressibly chuckly smile was about as far as you could get from the enigmatic Giacondaesque. Marlow meanwhile bounded from room to room, discoursing on Leonardo’s early life, his arrival at the court of Milan and presumed homosexuality in rapid-fire addresses to camera designed to bring a breathless nowness to the remote 16th century. The format felt two parts ‘Election Night Special’ to one of ‘Grandstand’. If Marlow didn’t actually predict a great result for Leonardo and the National Gallery, his adenoidal eagerness and slight northern accent make his commitment to arts programmes a huge loss to sports broadcasting.

Hudson did however find that the audience seemed to like it more than he did:

The audience, who had paid £8 a head, appeared well pleased with the experience: a great introduction to the exhibition, was the general view in the foyer afterwards – "a great balance of expert opinions you’d never otherwise have the opportunity to hear", "better than straining to read the information panels". A trio of game Irish ladies in subdued leisure wear declared themselves particularly satisfied.

"But then", said one, "we are drawn to all aspects of Christ and the spiritual." And why was that? "We’re nuns."

'Only a few people got tetchy...'

November 9 2011

Image of 'Only a few people got tetchy...'

Picture: Guardian

So far so good in terms of crowds at the National on day one of Leonardo. From Mark Brown in The Guardian:

Day one of an unprecedented exhibition that has already been called the "greatest show on earth" and the National Gallery's Leonardo da Vinci show is certainly busy. Packed even, with a civilised huddle of around a dozen people silently taking in the newly discovered masterpiece Christ as Salvator Mundi.

But there's busy and then there's busy. "There wasn't a problem at all for the paintings because you can just queue and take your time," said Sue Salsbury from Putney, west London. "It was more difficult for the drawings but I have to say people were remarkably good natured. Only a few people got tetchy. I'd say if you're going to come, just give yourself enough time to be able to stand back and enjoy it."

A jolly lady from Kew – "just call me Anonymous from Kew!" – agreed. "I think the crowds were predictable but they weren't that bad. I could see everything."

That will be music to the ears of managers at the National Gallery who say they are doing everything they can to make the Leonardo experience as enjoyable and comfortable as possible.

'Leonardo' exhibition - an in depth review

November 8 2011

Image of 'Leonardo' exhibition - an in depth review

Picture: National Gallery

Giorgio Vasari once described how Leonardo:

...made a cartoon wherein Our Lady and St Anne and a Christ, which not only filled all artists with wonder, but, when it was finished men and women, young and old, continued for two days to crowd into the room where it was exhibited, as if attending a solemn festival: and all were astonished at its excellence.

As in 1500, so in 2011 – though fortunately this exhibition runs for more than two days. In fact, depending on your reading of Vasari’s dating, it is possible that the cartoon he describes above is the Burlington Cartoon, which is now part of this incredible exhibition [Cat.86]. 

Today was the press preview for Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan. And, courtesy of this blog and you readers, I was able to go. What a treat. I stayed till the bitter end, by which time the rooms were empty, making four hours in all. I’ve read the labels, had the guided tour, sampled the audio guide, and bought the catalogue. Rarely have I left an exhibition with such a sense of elation. It may be hard to write this review without overdosing on superlatives, but here goes…

First, the essentials. Does it live up to the hype? Undoubtedly. Should you go? Yes. Should you go if you live in the Outer Hebrides, with a difficult bus connection? Of course. Is the newly discovered Salvator Mundi ‘right’? Unquestionably. Is this the best exhibition the National Gallery has put on in modern times? Yes. Is it the best art exhibition ever? Quite possibly. 

To answer why, we have to look no further than Leonardo’s own genius. As the weight of Leonardo books, posters and conspiracy theories show, the man was one of the most fascinating that ever lived. An exhibition on his toenails would be worth a visit. So in a sense the National Gallery could not go wrong when they decided to look at Leonardo’s most productive period, the 18 years he spent working in Milan under Ludovico Sforza. 

[If on the home page, click 'Read on' for more]

Read More

Leonardo - where the loans have come from

November 8 2011

Image of Leonardo - where the loans have come from

Picture: BBC

The BBC have put together an interesting map of where the Leonardo exhibits have come from. As you can see, we're fortunate in the UK to have so many Leonardos - chiefly drawings admittedly, but still some of the best examples of his work in the world.  

Salvator Mundi, dude

November 8 2011

Image of Salvator Mundi, dude

Picture: Robert Simon/National Gallery

In The Guardian, Adrian Searle looks at Leonardo's Salvator Mundi, and sees a hippie:

New research published this summer has now identified this as an authentic Leonardo. Or at least some of it. Maybe. What a difficult painting this is to like, let alone to be affected by. Jesus has the glazed look of someone stoned. You can imagine the raised fingers holding a spliff. Once imagined, the image won't go away. In the same way that it is hard to forget the moustache Marcel Duchamp supplied the Mona Lisa with, making her a cartoonish drag king (and amplifying the idea that the Mona Lisa is a sort of transvestite self-portrait of the artist), I can no longer see the Salvator Mundi on its own terms. It is difficult enough, in any case.

Check back later today for my review of the show.

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