Previous Posts: October 2011

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October 20 2011

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Leonardo as homosexual

October 20 2011

Image of Leonardo as homosexual

Picture: Wikipedia

It's started - just when you thought the art world had covered every Leonardo angle in the run up to the National Gallery show, now the 'he was gay' headlines. From Jonathan Jones in The Guardian:

The idea that Leonardo could be aroused by a woman at all is a bit of a surprise. This is not the image of him that has come down to us. Ever since Renaissance witnesses recorded that he loved to surround himself with beautiful young men, his homosexuality has been an open secret. As a youth, he was twice accused of sodomy, though never prosecuted (apparently because the young men who were charged with him came from powerful and wealthy families). Yet Leonardo, as Vasari's account of his life and the artist's own notebooks confirm, went on to live openly with a household of youths led by Salai, his handsome, thieving apprentice – to whom he eventually left the Mona Lisa.

Jones makes much of Sigmund Freud's analysis of Leonardo's sexuality. Since Freud's theory was built partly on the nutty notion of finding hidden symbols (a vulture, above) in Leonardo's Virgin and Child with St Anne, I can't give it much time. Jones goes onto identify the central problem with the gay Leonardo theory - why is his (known) output dominated by so many portraits of beautiful women? Indeed:

The artist had a theory about art and sex [...] In his notebooks, he argues that painting is the greatest of all the arts because it can set a picture of your lover before you. A pastoral painting can remind you, in winter, of summer in the country with your beloved. He goes further, into blasphemy. He boasts that he once painted a Madonna so beautiful that the man who bought it was haunted by unseemly thoughts. Even after it was altered, perhaps with the addition of crosses and saintly symbols (as was done in Leonardo's second version of The Virgin of the Rocks), it still gave him an erection when he tried to pray. So in the end he returned the painting to Leonardo, who delighted in this pornographic triumph.

In which case, where are the similarly erotic paintings of boys? Now, I'm not at all trying to argue that Leonardo either was or wasn't gay. He probably liked a little of both, so to speak, and, well, why not? But it will be a shame if the coming crescendo of Leonardo coverage is dominated by ill-informed speculation over his sexuality. He was a genius first, and epic artist second. Shagger probably comes some way down the list.

Update: It's spreading - check out the 'phallic animal' caption here

Warhol authentication board shuts down

October 20 2011

Image of Warhol authentication board shuts down

Picture: Nick Rhodes/Wall Street Journal. Collector Joe Simon with his 'double denied' Self-Portrait. 

The body that authenticated Andy Warhol's work is to shut down - because it kept getting sued. From the Wall Street Journal:

How can you tell if an Andy Warhol silkscreen is the real thing or a fake? Even the Pop master's own art foundation has given up trying to tell the difference.

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts said Wednesday that in coming months it plans to shut down its authentication board—the only independent arbiter of the legitimacy of Warhol works that turn up on the art market. [...]

Mr. Straus said a recent string of costly legal disputes with collectors contesting the board's findings influenced the board's decision to give up its role as the "final word" on the late artist's creative output.

One of the highest-profile disputes involved a London filmmaker, Joe Simon, who sued the board four years ago after it refused to vouch for his purported Warhol "Self-Portrait." [above]

I've never entirely understood the concept of the Warhol authentication board. How can you authenticate something the artist admitted never making in the first place?

Artist exposes fake at auction in China

October 20 2011

Image of Artist exposes fake at auction in China

Picture: China Daily

One of China's hottest contemporary artists, Zhang Xiaogang, has exposed a fake of his work that was about to be sold at auction. From China Daily:

The portrait of a young girl was among the modern and contemporary artworks that Beijing Tranthy International Auction Co Ltd had gathered for its autumn auction.

On Tuesday, a Sina micro blogger asked Zhang to authenticate the painting. He replied on the website: "It's a bad fake at first sight. Poorly done. How dare someone put it up for auction." [...]

Tranthy Auction has withdrawn the piece Zhang identified as fake from the auction and apologized to him. A source with Tranthy who refused to be named said that on June 2 the painting sold for 1.8 million yuan (then almost $278,000) at Beijing Yinqianshan International Auction House.

I suspect this happens all the time. I'm often told that one of the reasons people prefer to buy contemporay art instead of old masters is that they can be certain about the attribution. But these days that just isn't the case. There are fakes everywhere (and of course, some might say that many of these contemporary works aren't hard to fake). The added problem in China is that the country's auction houses are exempted, by law, from giving any guarantee or authentification of the works they sell.

Finally, I love the defence put up by one of the auctioneers:

He went on to challenge the painter: "Does Zhang remember clearly how many paintings he has done through his life?"

Leonardo as natural scientist and philosopher?

October 19 2011

Image of Leonardo as natural scientist and philosopher?

Picture: Royal Collection

Amble on over to Art History Today for a splendidly informative post on Leonardo's fascination with nature: should never be forgotten that Leonardo was primarily a painter; it would therefore be wrong to regard him as a dry scientist recording the natural world with cold detachment. Kenneth Clark puts it best: “the direction of his scientific researches was established by his aesthetic attitudes. He loved certain forms, he wanted to draw them, and while drawing them he began to ask questions, why were they that shape and what were the laws of their growth?” Out of Leonardo’s delight in drawing and painting natural things emerged his scientific urge and insatiable curiosity which powered it. 

Feast your eyes on...

October 19 2011

Image of Feast your eyes on...

Picture: Christie's

...this, at $25-35m, a cast of Petite danseuse de quatorze ans by Degas in the 1st Nov Impressionist sale in New York. From Christie's catalogue:

Petite danseuse de quatorze ans is widely regarded as one of the most innovative and important sculptures of the modern era. A candid depiction of a young dancer at two-thirds life-size, the Petite danseuse is the largest, most technically ambitious, and most iconographically complex of Degas's sculptures, and the only one that he ever exhibited during his lifetime. It therefore stands apart from the remainder of Degas's sculptural output, which numbered more than a hundred and fifty extant figures or fragments at his death, and represents the pinnacle of his achievement in this medium, to which he devoted a great deal of time and energy over the course of his career.

This is one of 38 casts. The ex-Sir John Madejski cast sold at Sotheby's in 2009 for £13.25m.

Banned 'Bloody Sunday' painting back in Belfast

October 19 2011

Image of Banned 'Bloody Sunday' painting back in Belfast

Picture: Conrad Atkinson (b.1940) 'Silver Liberties', 1978.

The above painting by Conrad Atkinson will go on display for the first time in Northern Ireland since it was refused to be hung by porters at Ulster Museum back in 1978. The first panel shows photos of the 13 people killed on Bloody Sunday and a blood-stained banner carried on the day of the march. The work was originally commissioned by Nicholas Serota, former curator of the Tate. The artist says:

"I wanted to tell the English about the situation in Northern Ireland, and how civil liberties were being eroded in Great Britain as a whole"

The curator of the exhibition titled 'Tears in Rain' is the politician and publisher Mairtin O Muilleoir. He says:

I hope they'll appreciate it as a show about peace rather than politics"

The exhibition, which features other important works by well-known Irish artists, is being held at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast and will there until the 3rd December. Details here.


An Auctioneer's Dream

October 19 2011

Image of An Auctioneer's Dream

Picture: Clarke NY

An important work by the American post-impressionist painter Maurice Prendergast (1858 – 1924) has recently been discovered in a box of dusty oil paintings consigned to Clarke Auctioneers in New York. 

After being confirmed by the experts it has been given pride of place in the artist's catalogue raisonne and will be auctioned 'as seen' on 23rd October with an estimate of $40,000- $60,000. 

I reckon it will triple that, everyone loves a lost'n found.

More details here.


Fortune Favours the Cold

October 19 2011

Image of Fortune Favours the Cold

Picture: National Portrait Gallery. Simon Verelst, 'Portrait of Nell Gwyn', Private Collection.

The National Portrait Gallery's new exhibition The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons is to feature a newly discovered portrait of actress and royal mistress Nell Gwyn (some of you Londoners may have seen it advertised on the tube this morning).

The portrait has been in the ownership of the same family since the 1940's when it was purchased for its decorative frame, the sitter's identity only realized after it was cleaned. 

Gwyn's seductive appearance was clearly too much for the kill-joy Victorian viewer and at some point during the nineteenth century her open blouse and bare chest were painted over and replaced by something more 'acceptable'. Unfortunately no images exist of its previous appearance. At the gallery we have encountered these censoring campaigns on a number of occasions, including another of Gwyn here.

Professor Gill Perry, curator of the exhibition says:

'Images such as this rarely seen portrait have contributed to the idea of Nell Gwyn as an early celebrity, whose life story and appearance are known through biographies and salacious gossip. But she was a shrewd manipulator of her own public image, known not just for her affairs and outspoken views, but also for her acting abilities and famous wit'. 

Her wit was indeed observed by social commentators of the day including Samuel Pepys who first encountered 'Pretty Witty Nell' at the Dukes Theatre in Lincolns Inn Fields in April 1665. 

The portrait was painted by Simon Verelst (1644-c.1721) between 1680-5. Verelst came to England in 1669 already having an established reputation as a flower painter - an element he frequently incorporated into his portraiture. Gwyn was a consistent patron of Verelst and the NPG already has on display a more formal half-length on display in the Wolfson Gallery.

Information and tickets for the exhibiton can be seen here.


View from the Artist no.5 - answer

October 19 2011

Image of View from the Artist no.5 - answer

Well done to those who got the correct answer, it was of course Canaletto's view of Northumberland House painted in 1752.

After sales to British tourists nosedived in the 1740's following the War of the Austrian Succession, Canaletto decided to move closer to his market, arriving in London in 1746 and remaining here until 1755. 

AHN points to the lucky few.


October 19 2011

I'm off to deliver a painting. So today's dose of AHN will be brought to you by our first guest editor, my colleague Lawrence Hendra. Enjoy!

View from the Artist no.5

October 18 2011

Image of View from the Artist no.5


Time for another round of your favourite art history quiz, 'View from the Artist'. Can you guess the location? No prizes, it's just for fun. Immense AHN respec' to the first correct answer (giving artist, location, date).

Update - got the first correct answer within half an hour! Very impressive. Tho' I fear it might have been a little too easy. I'll leave it up a while longer for the rest of you to test yourself...

Note to 'Borgias' picture researchers

October 18 2011

Image of Note to 'Borgias' picture researchers

Picture: Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti

We loved the opening credits to 'The Borgias', and even had a go at naming the pictures. But a reader writes:

From your story on the Borgias film it appears that Hollywood has left out the most striking image of Cesare Borgia by the unjustly forgotten Altobello Melone [above] in the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo.

It does seem, though, that there is some uncertainty over the sitter. Anybody have further views on this?


The V&A goes to India

October 18 2011

Image of The V&A goes to India

Picture: V&A

Interesting to see that one of the first major acts of the V&A's new director, Martin Roth, is to open a loan exhibition of the museum's paintings in India. His personal presence at the opening is an excellent move, and further proof that the UK's heritage can act as an unbeatable diplomatic, cultural and economic asset. The museum has also created a new India 'hub' on its website. From ZeeNews:

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London is carrying the cultural pact signed between India and Britain in July 2010 to the next level, with a series of art initiatives involving Indian cultural heritage. "The V&A Museum has a collection of 45,000 Indian art and objects of arts and it is natural that we should work on the collections together," Martin Roth, director of Victoria & Albert Museum, said here.

"We have also created a new India website to attract tourists and art lovers to the museum. India is a such a huge country and the tourism is growing," the director of the museum said. The museum, which opened a showcase of 100 Kalighat paintings at the Victoria Museum in Kolkata Saturday, has two more exhibitions on its roster to promote Indian heritage.

Kalighat paintings were devotional works offered at the Kalighat Temple in Kolkata, and depict Hindu religious figures. They were first painted in the 19th Century, and were a by-product of the European style of painting introduced to India by the British. you can see more examples from the V&A's collection here.

Later this year, another Indian exhibition will open at the V&A: 'Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter' will assemble some fifty works by the artist (1861-1941) to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. Opens December 11th till March 4th.

The 450ft long Warhol

October 18 2011

Image of The 450ft long Warhol

Picture: Sally Holland/CNN

Well, actually 102 Warhols stuck together. For the first time ever, Andy Warhol's entire series of 102 'Shadows' paintings have been hung together, as the artist intended. The Smithsonian's Hirshorn Museum in Washington is one of few galleries with enough space to mount the show. From CNN:

The canvases, each measuring four by six feet are hung edge-to-edge as the artist intended covering a continuous 451 linear feet on the gallery wall making it longer than a football field. [...]

Only 83 canvases of the work were shown at the first displayed in 1979 at the Heiner Friedrich gallery in New York. They took up several galleries, the continuity broken every time the work came to a corner or a door. [...]

"It's a silk screen that I mop over with paint," said Warhol about the Shadows when it was first displayed. And the curators believe that Warhol, or perhaps one of his assistants, did use an actual mop when creating some of the backgrounds.

The February 1979 issue of New York Magazine quotes Warhol saying, "Someone asked me if I though they were art and I said no. You see, the opening party had a disco. I guess that makes them disco décor."

I shall think of this next time I (or my assistant) mop the kitchen floor.

London's latest arts venue

October 18 2011

Image of London's latest arts venue

Picture: Two Temple Place

This is a must visit - a new exhibition space in central London. Two Temple Place was built as the home of Viscount Astor in 1895, and is on the Embankment between The Temple and Somerset House. Now, it has an exciting new role as a venue to display the best publicly owned art from UK regional collections. 

The Public Catalogue Foundation has recently highlighted just how rich and varied the UK's 'national collection' of art is. But so much of it is hidden away, either in storage or the attic offices of local authority offices. So this new venue, housing temporary themed exhibitions, will be a great treat for us perpetual gallleryists.

The inaugural exhibition is William Morris: Story, Memory, Myth, with exhibits drawn from the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, and opens on 28th October till 29th January. 

Guardi blocked for export - but for how long?

October 17 2011

Image of Guardi blocked for export - but for how long?

Picture: Sotheby's

The vain attempt to stop some of the greatest paintings in England being exported continued today when Francesco Guardi's epic View of the Rialto Bridge was deferred for six months. A UK museum now has six months to try and raise the £26.7m needed to match the price paid for it at auction earlier this year.

A quick look at the value of paintings temporarily refused export shows that the more expensive the picture, the more likely it is to end up being exported (usually to a US museum). The plain fact is that due to the slashing of acquisition funds over the last fifteen years or so, no British museum can afford to compete with international institutions. And, because the recession is creating more selling pressures for the owners of these great works, we have a 'perfect storm' situation for the UK to lose forever some of its greatest treasures.

There is of course one quick and simple way this situation could be avoided - and that is the restoration of a proper acquisition fund. When I was helping to write Conservative arts and heritage policy before the 2005 election (with Hugo Swire MP and John Whittingdale MP) we suggested the creation of a National Acquisition Fund, to be supported by funding from the National Lottery.

David Cameron, who was then in charge of policy and with whom I drafted the arts and heritage manifesto, thought it was a good idea. But so far we've not seen anything similar under the present administration. But the Lottery, or specifically the Heritage Lottery Fund is the one funding stream which has had an increase in revenue, thanks to the Conservative policy (copyright, Whittingdale, Swire & Grosvenor) to increase its share of the Lottery pie. The only problem is, the HLF does not like to fund the acquisition of paintings. It would, via a statutory instrument, be the work of a moment for the government to overturn the HLF's reluctance - so what are we waiting for?

Pietro Psaier - new evidence?

October 17 2011

Image of Pietro Psaier - new evidence?


This is meant to be a photo of Pietro Psaeir, an artist who was friends with Warhol and whose works fetch thousands at auction. The problem is, nobody really knows if he existed. The regional English auctioneer John Nicholson has held a number of sales of his (frankly, very poor) paintings, chiefly collages, along with occasional sales by the likes of Sotheby's and Christie's. But there have been perpetual reports that the whole Psaier industry is a scam.

Psaier's advocates have a website which claims to have proof of his existence and work, including the above photo. But there is hardly any evidence to go on, not least because Psaeir was apparently killed in the 2004 Tsunami, and both his beach house and body were never found. 

Now, writing in the Guardian, Tim Williams has published some further evidence to claim that the whole Psaier industry is nothing more than a cynical fraud. And I think I believe him.  

Over on another art history blog...

October 17 2011'll find an article featuring - me! Three Pipe Problem is a fascinating site offering in depth analysis on all aspects of art history, with a particular emphasis on science and technical analysis.

The writer behind 3PP is Hasan Niyazi, who has a background in clinical sciences. Niyazi's scientific training gives his views on art the sort of analytical edge you don't often find amongst art historians. In this piece, he looks at connoisseurship - an issue readers of this site will know I often bang on about - and proposes an ingenious system of reporting for art historical discoveries.

Niyazi has often been baffled by the huge differences in reporting findings in his two disciplines of science and art history. For example, any scientific discovery should be reported in a weighty peer-reviewed journal, with all the available data published for analysis and debate, and opposing views given equal weight. Whereas in art history, the evidence for a discovery can often be nothing more than the pronouncement of a single expert. So Niyazi suggests (and I'm paraphrasing) what should be an industry-accepted system based on: (1) stylistic, thematic and iconographic evidence; (2) documentary evidence; (3) visual and technical evidence; and (4) consensus - critical response and peer review. 

Art History Futures - cremation edition

October 17 2011

Image of Art History Futures - cremation edition

Picture: Memories From Ashes

I bet not even Leonardo thought of this: a company in the US is offering portraits of the deceased made with their own cremated remains. Yes, mixed in with the yellow ochre and prussian blue will be 'one ounce of your loved one's ashes... the ashes will not be visible. However, they will turn your painting into that extraordinary rememberance piece.'

Or, you can have the ashes incorporated into a painting such as the above, with the deceased meeting Jesus. Pet paintings are also available. 

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