Previous Posts: November 2011

The oldest restitution claim in history?

November 8 2011

Image of The oldest restitution claim in history?

Picture: BBC/AFP

The French government has placed an export ban on a painting it says was stolen almost 200 years ago. The Carrying of the Cross by Nicolas Tournier was being exhibited in a Paris art fair by London-based dealer Mark Weiss. But French officials have said the picture has been missing from a state museum since 1818. Mark Weiss, it seems, now cannot take the picture back to his London gallery.

The French Culture Ministry said:

This was the property of the French state that was deposited at the Augustins Museum in Toulouse and was stolen in 1818. It is a non-transferable work," [...] "We are claiming this painting as the property of the state and it will not leave the country."

The French government's action is a very strange one. How far back do we have to go before restitution cases become untenable? Surely a painting 'stolen' in 1818, if indeed it was, cannot now be reclaimed? What about the mass of art stolen by Napoleon and his forces from across Europe? There is an irony too in that the picture was itself stolen (or rather, 'confiscated') by the French state during the revolution, from the chapel of the Company of Black Penitents in Toulouse. The effect of this decision will doubtless be far reaching, not least for museum loans of items that do not have full provenance (which is most things).

Cleaning tests

November 8 2011

Image of Cleaning tests

Picture: BG

The first cleaning test on a picture is often the moment of revelation - is the picture beneath the grime and yellowed varnish a beauty, or a beast? Cleaning, we say in the trade, is the friend of a good picture, and the enemy of a bad one. The filtering effects of old varnish can not only hide the virtues of a masterpiece, but also the weaknesses of a copy.

Here are the remains of a little cleaning test we did on a picture last night. The various potions include acetone for removing the layers of old varnish, and white spirit, for 'wetting out' the surface. We occasionally also have to use scalpels for really stubborn areas of over-paint. The yellow gunk on the cotton wool swabs is the removed old varnish and surface dirt. 

View from the Artist no.6 - Leonardo special

November 7 2011

Image of View from the Artist no.6 - Leonardo special


There's a number of links from Leonardo's life to the answer of this one. Good luck!

(Newer readers - can you guess where the view is taken from? No prizes, just for fun - but a cornucopia of adulation and praise for the first correct answer, giving title, artist and date.)

New British Art Journal

November 7 2011

The latest issue of the BAJ is out. Articles include:

  • New evidence of Rossetti's admiration for Theodor von Holst (1810-144) by Max Browne
  • A contribution to the iconography of Maria Walpole (1736-1807) [ie, a newly attributed portrait of her, by Nathaniel Dance] by Corey Piper
  • George Wilson (1840-90) and late 19th Century watercolour painting, by Margaretta S Frederick
  • New Light on Nicholas Hilliard, by Graham Reynolds [this piece contains some distinctly, how shall I say, interesting new attributions to Hilliard. Accept with caution!]
  • Censored flesh: The wounded body as unprepresentable in the art of the First World War, by Debra Lennard [a fascinating piece]
  • Liotard at the Royal Academy, 1773, by William Hauptman
  • Jacques Laurent Agasse (1767-1849); An investigation of his painting practice and an overview of his career, by Jessica David
  • A New Portrait of Mary Rogers, Lady Harrington, by John Stephan Edwards
  • Fact or Fiction? Elizabeth Thompson's 'Balaclava' and the art of re-construction, by Rachel Anchor
As well as all their usual treats. More details here

Leonardo used assistants shock

November 7 2011

Image of Leonardo used assistants shock

Picture: Telegraph

There was a curious story in the papers recently about a 'new' theory that Leonardo used assistants. This, it is claimed, explains why both versions of the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, above, could be by Leonardo.

The findings were published by Leonardo scholar, Martin Kemp, ahead of publication of a new book on Leonardo. According to The Telegraph, Kemp announced that both pictures (called The Buccleuch Madonna and The Lansdowne Madonna):

"...are not iffy. They are not right up there with the Mona Lisa but they are certainly the next rung down."

He added that the research would challenge art experts' ideas on what makes an "original" artwork, showing similarities between da Vinci and modern artists such as Damien Hirst and Marc Quinn, who are known to have outsourced some of their work to assistants.

"The trade, the galleries and our own romantic idea of these artists as passionate creators working in a fire of creative genius works against our acknowledging that they were picture producers and that most of them were trying to make a good living," Professor Kemp told the newspaper.

He said da Vinci is unlikely to have been the only Italian Renaissance or Baroque painter who used apprentices to help speed up their commercial projects.

"Not iffy" is a good one - I love it when art historians get all technical. However, I find it hard to believe that anyone can claim the fact that artists, even great ones, used assistants is somehow 'new'. With the reference to Hirst et al, the story feels more like a press release than a piece of research. I'm sure the book, when it is published, will be more illuminating. In the meantime, the Buccleuch version of the Yarnwinder will be on display in the National Gallery's Leonardo exhibition. There it is called 'Leonardo and an unknown artist', presumably on account of the rather weak background. 

Leonardo - the movie

November 7 2011

Image of Leonardo - the movie

Picture: National Gallery

There's a good film here on the Leonardo exhibition, with curator Luke Syson.

Leonardo reviews

November 7 2011

Image of Leonardo reviews

Picture: Louvre/National Gallery

Critics from some of the major publications have been given sneak previews of the Leonardo show, ahead of its opening on Wednesday. In The Times (paywall), Rachel Campbell-Johnston said that it was the best show she had ever seen, so good it made her cry. Adrian Hamilton, in The Independent, calls it 'unmissable'. Over in The Telegraph, Richard Dorment is a little less enthusiastic, and gives it four stars out of five. He complains about there being too many pictures by Leonardo's followers and pupils. He's also a little wary of the newly discovered Salvator Mundi (tho' less wary than he was of La Bella Principessa, the 'Leonardo' drawing sold by his ex-wife for $21,000). The Guardian seems not to have been invited yet, while The Daily Mail, predictably, manages to find a negative angle, and focuses on the £1.5 billion insurance bill for the taxpayer if all the pictures are stolen. 

Dorment also reveals that the two versions of the Madonna of the Rocks are not hanging side by side, but opposite each other. I was looking forward to making a close comparison of the various details. So I expect to be practising my pirouette tomorrow when I see the show. Check back soon for the first in-depth review of the exhibition. 

Stolen Hals and van Ruysdael recovered

November 4 2011

Image of Stolen Hals and van Ruysdael recovered

Picture: AP

Two works by Frans Hals and Jacob van Ruysdael stolen from a Dutch museum in May this year have been recovered following a tip off. Hals' Two Boys Laughing and Rusydael's Wooded Landscape were taken from the Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden Museum. Three villains have been apprehended by Dutch Police. See a photo of the Ruysdael here

A lecture on Elizabethan miniatures, I think...

November 4 2011

Here's an interesting sounding paper being given at the V&A next week:

A Work of Face rather than Sense:  The Elizabethan Miniature as an Ostensorium of Early Modern Artistic, Alchemistic and Theological Production

Chistiane Hille (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität)

I wonder if Google Translate has been involved somewhere here...

New Acquisition at the Met

November 4 2011

Image of New Acquisition at the Met

Picture: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A panel by Hans Schaufelein, a pupil of Albrecht Durer, has been bought by the Met in New York. The picture was a last minute spot by Keith Christiansen, Chairman of European Paintings at the Met, when viewing Sotheby's summer Old Master sales in London. It was bought with the help of New York dealer Otto Naumann. At auction the picture fetched $4.38 million. More details here

New Acquisitions at Scottish NG

November 4 2011

Image of New Acquisitions at Scottish NG

Picture: Art Daily/Scottish National Gallery

Fundraising for the Duke of Sutherland's Titians may have stopped the National Gallery in London from acquiring other new works - but not in Edinburgh. Recently added to the collection are Entrance to the Cuiraing, 1873, by Waller Hugh Paton (1828-1895), and Portrait of Jean Francois Regnault, 1815, by Jean-Baptiste, Baron Regnault (1754-1829), above. The latter is apparently the first work by Regnault to enter a UK public collection, and has been given to the gallery by a private donor. Good for them - thanks! More details here. 

'None such like it'

November 3 2011

Image of 'None such like it'

Picture: Daily Mail

A model maker and an Oxford academic have combined forces to recreate Nonsuch Palace, Henry VIII's modest hunting lodge. the model looks most impressive, but the sculpted panels on the outside would surely have been painted, as seen in Joris Hoefnagel's 1568 watercolour.

According to Samuel Pepys, who visited the palace in 1665 during the Plague (when his office was temporarily moved from London), the palace was covered with paintings by Holbein and Rubens on the outside. He describes the house in his diary, but of course it wasn't long until he was distracted by a female, so the description is frustratingly brief:

...a fine place it hath heretofore been, and a fine prospect about the house. A great walk of an elme and a walnutt set one after another in order. And all the house on the outside filled with figures of stories, and good painting of Rubens’ or Holben’s doing. And one great thing is, that most of the house is covered, I mean the posts, and quarters in the walls; covered with lead, and gilded. I walked into the ruined garden, and there found a plain little girle, kinswoman of Mr. Falconbridge, to sing very finely by the eare only, but a fine way of singing, and if I come ever to lacke a girle again I shall think of getting her.

If only Pepys and George Vertue had been one and the same person... More pictures of the model here. The best are in this week's Country Life magazine. 

Restitution case over Modigliani

November 3 2011

Image of Restitution case over Modigliani

Picture: Courthouse News Service

The heir of a Jewish art dealer is suing a New York dealer for the return of the above Modigliani, Seated Man with a Cane. The picture was sold by the Nazi-appointed administrator of Oscar Stettiner's inventory in 1944, a sale which, in international law, was declared void after the war. However, the alleged holders of the picture, the Helly Nahmad Gallery, are refusing to return the work, hence the lawsuit. I'm a little puzzled, as I understood (from experience!) that in the state of New York, any picture stolen or sold under duress by the Nazis could automatically be seized by the police. More details here

Sotheby's rides to the rescue...

November 3 2011

Image of Sotheby's rides to the rescue...

Picture: Sotheby's

After the very poor showing at Christie's Impressionist and Modern art sale on Tuesday (a sale even Reuters called 'dismal'), Sotheby's came to the rescue of the modern art market last night with a solid sale totalling $200 million.

The Klimt sold well for $40m (inc. premium), beating its estimate of $25-35m, as I expected. Other strong performers included a Caillebotte Le Pont d'Argenteuil et la Seine (above), which sold for £18 million. Just three years ago it made $8m. Caillebotte seems to be all the rage these days. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will be pleased that their Monet, Antibes, Le Fort, which was being deaccessioned to raise funds for a new acquisition, went well above its $5-7 million estimate to make $9.2 million (inc. premium). Presmuably they'll have to insure their other version for more...

Sotheby's were delighted with the sale, using the usual trick of including the buyer's premium to say the final total was 'well within' the pre-sale estimate (which does not include any premiums) of $167 million-230 million. Tobias Meyer, the auctioneer, said:

You could really see the market rallying. If ever there was a turnaround, I think it happened tonight.

Now we wait to see what happens next week with the contemporary sales...

New article on connoisseurship

November 3 2011

Image of New article on connoisseurship

Picture: Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine

I have a new article on connoisseurship out this month in, appropriately, Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine. The magazine content is not online, but you can buy a copy here. I may post the article here once next month's issue is out. 

Sorry for the slow service today...

November 2 2011

...I was in Birmingham valuing a picture. Nice thing - worth about as much as a comfortable house in, say, Fulham. Think I'd rather have the picture though.

The lure of the new

November 2 2011

Arts Council England announced their new £440m spending plans today. The headlines have sounded bad: 'Arts Council to halt new galleries'. But in fact, the decision to not fund new capital projects, but to concentrate on supporting existing strategies and institutions, is good news.

Too often, museums are lured by the thrill of a huge new extension, and succesfully raise millions to build it (with the bulk of funding usually coming from the Lottery). But amid the excitement, these museums sometimes ignore their existing collections and infrastructure.

A classic example is the British Museum, which recently hoped to build a new wing, but still cannot afford to keep all its galleries open all the time. And today I went to Birmingham, where I visited its fine Museum & Art Gallery. The Museum is building a new £10m gallery on the history of Birmingham. But meanwhile its decent collection of old masters sweats in hot rooms cooled only by portable fans and temporary humidifiers. I was uncomfortably hot just looking at a Bellini Madonna on panel - I dread to think how the picture felt.

Invariably, these new extensions end up costing more money than expected, and can sometimes act as a drain on future resources. For while it may be relatively easy to raise money for the shiny new building, the extra running costs are another matter. So in these times of austerity, it may well be better not to over-reach, and put much needed funds back into existing collections. 

After Degas failure at Christie's, all eyes on Sotheby's NY tonight

November 2 2011

Image of After Degas failure at Christie's, all eyes on Sotheby's NY tonight

Picture: Sotheby's 

The prized Degas bronze failed to sell at Christie's New York last night, so nervous market watchers will be looking at the recently restituted Klimt coming up for sale tonight in New York. It should make its lower estimate of $25m. Also in the sale is one of the Monets being sold by Boston Museum of Fine Arts to raise money for their newly acquired Caillebotte

Lure of the historical portrait

November 2 2011

Image of Lure of the historical portrait

Picture: Lyon & Turnbull

A portrait of John Brown and Queen Victoria fetched £120,000 (hammer) at the Forbes collection sale in Edinburgh yesterday. The picture was by Charles Burton Barber and based on a photograph, so looked rather wooden. But it nonetheless comfortably beat its estimate of £20-30,000. It had originally been a gift to Brown's family from Victoria. 

To see my view of the nature of the relationship between Brown and Victoria (ie, did they get it on?), see here

Elsewhere in the sale, some of the high profile 19th Century lots failed to set the pulses racing. In particular, J E Millais' For the Squire, the epitome of Victorian 'sentimentalia', sold for £450,000 hammer, against a £500-800,000 reserve. The price reflects the changing taste for some 19th Century art - 15 years ago, at the height of the pre-Raphaelite fever, it might have made double that...

Newly discovered work by Evelyn Dunbar

November 1 2011

Image of Newly discovered work by Evelyn Dunbar

Picture: Sim Fine Art

As a keen fan of wartime art, I'm grateful to Andrew Sim of Sim Fine Art for alerting me to a fine work by Evelyn Dunbar (1906-60), Britain's only salaried female war artist during the Second World War. The picture is called Girls Learning to Stook and Men Stooking, 1940, and was a commission to record Women's Land Army subjects. What a great picture.

To celebrate the rediscovery of this and other works by Dunbar, her biographer Dr Gill Clarke will be speaking at Persephone Books on 8th November at 6pm. Tickets, at £20, from 020 7242 9292. 

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