Previous Posts: October 2011

Guffwatch: How do you describe a photo of Crucifix in a bucket of piss?

October 26 2011

Image of Guffwatch: How do you describe a photo of Crucifix in a bucket of piss?

Picture: Christie's

If you're trying to sell it for $200-300,000, like this:

Title ignored, Andres Serrano's most seminal work to date portrays a monumental crucifix emerging majestically from enveloping fields of velvety blacks, heated reds and warm yellows. While the impressive form hovers solemnly over viewers it is also apparent that it is submerged, a fact indicated by tiny air bubbles that cling to Christ's body, a quality that affords the photograph a palpable quiet, like that experienced when under water or when alone with oneself in a hushed place of worship. As such, the work very successfully recalls the profound power of the imagery which has served to call the masses to concerted prayer for hundreds of years and which has been a primary source of artistic inspiration and creation throughout art history. [...]

Piss Christ (1987), the artist has said, was first and foremost a formal exercise, exploring the relationship between color and shape, two-dimensions and three-dimensions, centered about an instantly recognizable, almost Pop, visual icon. Its composition, created by placing a plastic souvenir crucifix in a vat of the artist's urine, was meant to humanize a super-human figure and belief, to explore the idea of religion as an extension of our day-to-day, of our common, base experience.

Fancy a National Gallery sit-in?

October 26 2011

Following on from the Occupy Wall Street (and other places of capitalist evil) movements, now I bring you - 'Occupy Museums'. From their Facebook page:

What is Occupy Museums?

We are artists, art lovers, and art workers! We live and love art and are committed to its growth. However, we see many museums in their current manifestations as key elements of a larger system whose funding structure and relationship to the market, disempowers artists, and alienates art from the 99%. Value is manufactured by false scarcity, propped up by the cult of celebrity and the parlor game of speculation. This undermines the potential power of art to be a much greater force in our society.

We believe that to Occupy is to claim space for dialog and transparency through the physical presence of our bodies. It is to hold space that was previously inaccessible. As Occupiers, we bring the General Assembly to the doors of the museum, to engage in a dialog about the relationships between the arts and capitalism.

This is only the beginning.

I'm not sure what any of this means. But if it involves spending a few nights wandering around a silent and uncrowded National Gallery, then count me in!

Normal service

October 26 2011

Image of Normal service


Will be resumed tomorrow - apologies. Landed at Heathrow a little late today, and I have a large pile on my desk. My thanks to Lawrence for babysitting the site. 

In the meantime, let's try a new competition - Test your Connoisseurship. Who painted this?

'Ruskin's view' yours for £200,000

October 26 2011

Image of 'Ruskin's view' yours for £200,000

Pic: Bonhams

Bonhams are to sell an important watercolour by JMW Turner in their 19th Century Paintings Sale in January.

Known as 'Ruskin's view', after a glowing review of the area by the critic in 1875, the scene depicts the churchyard at St Marys Church in Kirkby Lonsdale. Ruskin said:

"whatever moorland hill, and sweet river, and English forest foliage can be seen at their best is gathered there; and chiefly seen from the steep bank which falls to the stream side from the upper part of the town itself. ...I do not know in all my own country, still less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine, or a more priceless possession of true "Holy Land."

Interestingly, Turner decided to omit the church itself, instead focussing on the trees, river and valley landscape which he obviously considered more pertinent features of an atmospheric landscape.

The painting has not been seen at auction since 1884 and with its previous owner being Sir Donald Currie, a shipping magnate and big collector of Turner who also exhibited it at the Royal Academy in 2000, its provenance is tip top. 

The estimate is £200,000 - £300,000. Lets hope it finds a buyer as the market for works on paper has been looking quite gloomy up here recently...

Press release here.

By LH.

Restituted Klimt to make $25m

October 25 2011

Image of Restituted Klimt to make $25m

Pic: Sothebys

Kilmt's Litzlberg am Attersee (Litzlberg on the Attersee) is to be sold by Sothebys and is expected to fetch more than $25m after it was returned to the rightful heir George Jorisch earlier this year.

The landscape was looted by Nazis in 1941 from Jorisch's grandmother, along with the rest of her art collection after she was sent to Lodz Ghetto in Poland.

Quite in contrast to his tense portraits, these serene landscapes were painted for himself. This one in particular was painted in 1915 when Klimt was at Lake Attersee in the Salzkammergut area of Austria, and demonstrates a technique considered quite radical for the day.

Catalogue notes here.

By LH.

Christie's vs. Sothebys

October 25 2011


A few intersting statistics for this month in the Antiques Trade Gazette this morning:

Christie's Contemporary Art Evening Sale - £32.9m

Sothebys Contemporary Art Evening Sale - £15.1m


The results for the Italian sales however saw Sothebys emerge victorious with £18.4m hammer total against Christie's £15m.

By LH.

A masterpiece a month

October 25 2011

Image of A masterpiece a month

Pic: Tate Britain

As part of a bicentenary celebration Dulwich Picture Gallery will be displaying a different masterpiece every month.

Between 5th November - 5th December lucky visitors will get the chance to gaze upon David Hockney's 'Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy'.

This double portrait was undertaken by Hockney in 1970-1 and depicts his close friends, designer of textiles Celia Birtwell and fashion designer Ossie Clark. It is an artistic icon of an age which saw fashion break new barriers and visually records the couple's easiness within it.

The painting is vast (212cm x 304cm) and I personally cannot wait to see it. Each masterpiece is also accompanied with a lecture, details found here..

By LH.

Michelangelo (?) makes it to Rome

October 25 2011

Image of Michelangelo (?) makes it to Rome

Pic: Google Images

The Kober family must be jumping for joy after their painting (which they believe to be) by Michelangelo is to be exhibited in Rome as part of an exhibition of the artist's work.

The painting affectionately known by the family as 'The Mike' was kept behind a sofa after a dusting incident knocked it off the wall. The painting is believed to date from c.1545 and depicts Mary with her arms open over the body of Jesus, whose arms are held by angels.

Although opinions on the painting are still contradictory, it marks an important stage in its acceptance since research by the owner begun back in 2002. Kober suggests that the painting was undertaken by the Italian master at the age of seventy and was painted for his friend Vittoria Colonna. It was eventually passed on to a cardinal, and archbishop and a family in Croatia where it hung in a castle for many years. The painting entered the Kober family through marriage from a German baroness who willed it to his great-great grandfather's sister in law.

Last year Michelangelo expert William E. Wallace didn't go as far as confirming its authenticity but didn't rule it out. The process of getting everyone to agree on attributions for paintings of this age is a long and tricky one, and no doubt this particular example will always be questioned. It is however a very interesting story well worth following...

More here.

By LH.

I'm out - Scottish Government on second Titian painting

October 25 2011

Image of I'm out - Scottish Government on second Titian painting

The Scottish government has announced that it will not be contributing any money for the acquisition of Titian's 'Diana and Callisto' from the Duke of Sutherland.

Some of you may be aware of the ongoing campaign to prevent the second of the two Titian masterpieces from leaving Scotland, where they have both have hung as part of The Bridgewater Collection since 1945. The funds for the first, 'Diana and Actaeon' were successfully raised in 2009 which included a sizable contribution of around £12m from the Scottish Government who now say;

“this government has made its contribution to the campaign”


'...with a 57 per cent cut to the culture portfolio capital budget over the next three years, there are no additional funds available for major purchases.'

This isn't to say however that the National Gallery will not still be able to acquire the work, but it certainly is a considerable set back...come on Duke, where's your Christmas spirit? £12m is neither here nor there...

More here.

By LH.


Preferring them dirty for $140,000

October 24 2011

Image of Preferring them dirty for $140,000

Some of you may recollect me blogging about an important discovery at Clarke Auctioneers recently, when a lost American post-impressionist masterpiece was found gathering dust in a box of old pictures. More here (including a nifty video).

Although they didn't post the result online i made a quick call...


Seeing double - Virgin of the Rocks

October 24 2011

Image of Seeing double - Virgin of the Rocks



Here's an interesting article written for the Telegraph by Andrew Graham-Dixon on Leonardo da Vinci's two versions of 'Virgin of the Rocks' - at the Louvre and  National Gallery

The two paintings will be hung next to each other for the first time at the forthcoming National Gallery exhibition 'Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan' - the most ambitious Leonardo exhibition ever staged. Exhibition details here.

By LH. 


On second thoughts...

October 24 2011

Construction on the 24,000 sq ft Guggenheim on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi has been halted.

The Guggenheim is one of four proposed institutions for the island which The Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) are hoping to transform into a cultural district.

The TDIC have stated that the project will still go ahead, postponing the target opening date from 2013 to 2015. 

The architect of the project is Frank Gehry, the man responsible for the Guggenheim Bilbao and The Experience Music Project in Seattle.

More here.

By LH.

I'm out - Scottish Government on second Titian

October 24 2011

Image of I'm out - Scottish Government on second Titian

Pic: National Galleries of Scotland

The Scottish Government has announced it will not be contributing towards the acquisition of the second Titian masterpiece 'Diana and Callisto' from the Duke of Sutherland.

The painting is part of The Bridgewater Collection belonging to the Duke which has been on permanent loan to the National Gallery of Scotland since 1945. The Duke announced their sale back in 2008 at a heavily reduced £50m each. The first painting 'Diana and Actaeon' was bought for the nation with a considerable donation of £12m from the Scottish Government who now say;

“this government has made its contribution to the campaign” 


'...with a 57 per cent cut to the culture portfolio capital budget over the next three years, there are no additional funds available for major purchases.'

There is still a chance the painting can be secured, although the Government's refusal is a sizeable setback. Lets hope the Duke is full of Christmas spirit this year, as it would be a terrible shame to see it leave the UK. 

More here.

By LH.


AHN goes to America

October 24 2011

I'm in the US for a couple of days, so I'll have to leave you in the capable hands of my colleague Lawrence Hendra (and his naughty headlines). Random art historical thoughts will continue from me over on Twitter.

Friday amusement

October 21 2011

Image of Friday amusement

Picture: Cartoon Stock

Some of my very first readers will recognise this. But it's so good that I'm recycling it.

Rejuvenating Jouvenet

October 21 2011

Image of Rejuvenating Jouvenet

Picture: The Louvre

The Louvre has restored Jean Jouvenet's 1699 L'Hiver. Full story here (in French).

Another reason to go to the Gainsborough Study Day

October 21 2011

Image of Another reason to go to the Gainsborough Study Day

Picture: Holburne Museum

The organisers have been in touch to say that Rica Jones will also be speaking at the Study Day (14th Nov), on 'Insights into the production of Gainsborough's landscapes in the Sudbury-Ipswich period'. Jones, of the Tate conservation department, has made a hugely valuable conribution to Gainsborough studies with her technical analysis of Gainsborough's work, in particular his use of glazes. 

See you all there!

Going to Ottawa?

October 21 2011

Image of Going to Ottawa?

Picture: National Gallery of Canada

Then the above exhibition looks like it's worth a visit. For those that can't go, here's a selection of the exhibits.

Why you shouldn't trust an auction house condition report

October 21 2011

This was the condition report on a head and shoulders portrait of a gentleman, which we recently bought from a prominent regional UK auctioneer:

Fine craqueleure in areas, several deep scratches to lower half that require retouching, some old restoration, would benefit from a clean.

You wouldn't guess from this that the scratches (actually rips in the canvas) were in the face, the most important part of any portrait. And not least because the face was in the top half of the painting! 

'The First Actresses' exhibition

October 20 2011

Image of 'The First Actresses' exhibition

Picture: National Portrait Gallery, London

I saw the National Portrait Gallery's new 'First Actresses' exhibition yesterday. It's well worth a visit; a nicely set out show of celebrated actresses from the 17th and 18th Centuries, from Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons. The exhibition's curators have selected some fine works. The highlights for me were two of Gainsborough's finest full-lengths, Madame Baccelli (Tate) and Elizabeth Linley, on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The NPG have also rebuilt their temporary exhibition space, with great success.

The catalogue has some informative contributions, and sets out actress's (sometimes precarious) place in society with clarity and panache. However, if you're interested in the portraits themselves - say, their provenance or the circumstances surrounding their creation - then you'll be disappointed. I looked in vain for any information on the newly discovered portrait of Nell Gwyn. Both catalogue and exhibition are devoid of any meaningful research on the artist's role in the portraits. And surely it was thanks in part to the artists that the actresses achieved their fame (not least when it came to popular engravings). Some might say this is worrying in the National Portrait Gallery, and perhaps tellingly two portraits are exhibited with tentative attributions (and there's at least one attribution I have great trouble believing). Where have all the portrait experts gone?  

Before I start ranting about connoisseurship again (and it really doesn't detract from this splendid exhibition), let me turn to condition. The two Gainsborough full-lengths here are in excellent preservation, and hung low so you can really look into them - a great treat. Likewise, George Romney's Emma Hamilton on loan from Kenwood House is, in its uncleaned but readable state, a glowing endorsement of what is called 'country house condition'. Sadly, the same can't be said of Verelst's daring and beautiful portrait of the naked Nell Gwyn. This has been cleaned for the exhibition, and, as can be glimpsed from the photo above, has lost something of its original delicacy. Verelst is known for his porcelaineous finish and crisp drawing, as can be seen in Nell's hand. But while the picture may have been succesfully cleaned, its restoration, the process of repairing the damaged and missing areas of original paint, leaves something to be desired. For example, there are too many missing glazes, such that the curls in her hair and the shadows around her face don't read as they should. Even the purple drapery looks overly bruised and damaged. 

Succesful conservation is about so much more than technical skill - it requires a degree of artistry, and a sense of art history, that not all conservators are blessed with. Those restorers who lack that artistic feel often make a conscious decision to leave damage exposed - and call this approach 'minimal intervention'. But, while nobody likes an over-restored picture, there is a middle ground, which involves the careful re-introduction of retouching medium in the manner the artist would have intended.

The most succesful conservation is often a collaboration between restorer and expert, rather like a talented violinist under the guidance of a veteran conductor. The conductor may not be able to play the violin themselves, but in having spent their whole life studying, say, Beethoven, knows better than the violinist how the bare notes on a page should translate into a characterful performance. In Nell Gwyn's case, therefore, a quick refresher course in Verelst might reveal where the picture would benefit from judicious intervention - a retouch here, and a glaze there, and suddenly a picture can be transformed.  

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