Previous Posts: October 2011

Toledo Museum of Art acquires mega Hals

October 5 2011


The Toledo Museum of Art has acquired a large group portrait by Frans Hals. Painted in the early 1620s, Family Portrait in a Landscape is the earliest of only four known family portraits by Hals to have survived, and until now was the only example to have remained in private hands. The youngest child (botton left) was painted later by Saloman de Bray in 1628 (he signed it in the left shoe). The picture was once larger, but was at some point cut down. The smaller portion, now called Three Children and a Goat Cart, is in the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Brussels. Toledo hope to re-unite the two pictures at some point.

Toledo's gain is the UK's loss. The picture was bought from a private collection here, via a London dealer. An export licence was granted in July this year at a price of £7.75m. It had previously been on loan to the National Museum in Cardiff, but they did not try and raise a matching offer. 

It's worth a look at Toledo's website to see how museums should advertise their acquisitions. The Hals is on the front page, under the heading 'Good News!', and there's a video, and further comprehensive notes. By way of a contrast, there is still nothing on the Fitzwilliam's website about their latest acqusition...

Step back in time to Tudor London

October 5 2011

Image of Step back in time to Tudor London

Picture: TriStar

If, like me, you love old views of Tudor London, such as those by Wenceslaus Hollar, then a new Hollywood film has some zippy digital recreations of the old City. Anonymous explores the theory that Shakespeare's work was written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (which is a load of old phooey), and is set in Tudor London. You can watch the trailer here for views of London Bridge, The Globe, old St Paul's Cathedral etc.

Elizabeth Taylor: Actress, Star, Connoisseur?

October 4 2011

Image of Elizabeth Taylor: Actress, Star, Connoisseur?

Picture: LA Times

A portrait from Elizabeth Taylor's collection has been identified as a Frans Hals by Christie's. Previously, the picture was considered to be an imitation of Hals' work. From the LA Times:

The painting, "Portrait of a Man, Half-Length," was for decades thought to be by an imitator or student of Frans Hals, the great Dutch painter often compared to Rembrandt for his vigorous, sometimes humorous depictions of the growing merchant class. Now Ben Hall, the head of Christie's Old Masters department in New York, is making the case that Taylor's painting was the handiwork of Hals himself. An expert in Hals' work agrees.

With the change in attribution comes a change in projected value: a canvas that would have likely brought less than $100,000 could now bring $1 million in an Old Masters auction in January.

The re-attribution is an example of the importance of seeing a painting, long known through reproduction, in the flesh. In the 1970s, the painting appeared in scholar Seymour Slive's catalogue raisonné on Hals — the industry standard for what is and is not authentic — as "doubtful and wrongly attributed." But Slive only saw the work in a black-and-white reproduction.

Hall, on the other hand, saw the painting in person in July, when it arrived at Christie's Rockefeller Center warehouse with other material from Taylor's estate. He said it "packed a real punch — making a tremendous impact from even 20 feet away."

Zut alors - row over Versailles appointment

October 4 2011

Image of Zut alors - row over Versailles appointment

Picture: The Art Newspaper

The appointment of a new director of the Palace of Versailles has created an upset in France. Catherine Pegard (above) is a journalist appointed by Nicholas Sarkozy, for whom she has worked as an adviser. The curator-ati in France are appalled that the new director is not a museum insider. From The Art Newspaper:

“The fact that Sarkozy wants to reward his colleague is in the natural order of things, but not with Versailles,” Jean-Christophe Castelain, the editor of our sister paper Le Journal des Arts, says in an editorial. “Her appointment is a mistake; she is not the issue, but her CV is. Thirty years in political journalism and a stint in the presidential cabinet does not equip her to run a complex site which employs 1,000 staff, has visitor figures of 3.5 million and a budget of €80m.”

Having tried and failed to get into Versailles on more than one occasion, it seems to me that the place could do with some fresh direction. French state-run museums can sometimes be too introverted, and treat visitors as annoyances.  

More on the Fitzwilliam acquisition

October 4 2011

Image of More on the Fitzwilliam acquisition

Picture: Fitzwilliam Museum

I'm grateful to a reader for alerting me to two interesting facts about the Fitzwilliam's latest acquisition, Marcantonio Bassetti's Lamentation of Christ

First, it cost the museum £225,000 (the Art Fund contributed £100,000). Second, it failed to sell at Christie's London for £150,000-£250,000 in December 2006. The picture previously sold at Christie's in New York in 2003 for $273,500.

One wonders why the Fitzwilliam didn't buy the picture in 2006. Still, it shows how dealers can help support the UK's antiquated acquisitions system. Museums can rarely raise funds in time to buy a picture at auction, so they have to hope a dealer buys it, giving them the time necessary to gather the funds. Of course, if a private collector buys the picture at auction, it's game over.

Still nothing about the acquisition on the Fitzwilliam website.

The perfect art history job?

October 4 2011

Image of The perfect art history job?

Picture: NTPL

Fancy being paid to drive around the UK visiting stately homes and looking at paintings? Then here's the job for you: Curator of Pictures and Sculptures at the National Trust. Covering the whole of the UK, the curator is responsible for 12,000 oil paintings, 42,000 works on paper, 1000 miniatures, and 3,000 sculptures. From the National Trust site:

A curatorial expert, and a specialist in British portraiture and/or Old Masters and European painting, you’ll be the Trust’s authority on pictures and sculpture. We want you to share your expertise with colleagues across the organisation, with the Trust’s supporters and with your peers in museums and galleries in this country and abroad. You’ll help the Trust to research, understand, catalogue, display and interpret its collections and celebrate their individual, distinctive history for public benefit. 

About you 

You’ll have an insatiable curiosity and a wide-ranging knowledge of art, history and the history of collecting and display, with a specialism in British portraiture and/or Old Masters and European painting. You will be confident and charismatic, and enjoy sharing your knowledge and insight with a variety of audiences, through lectures and publications. You’ll have established contacts and be influential with other scholars and institutions around the world. You should also hold a full driving licence. A car lease scheme or mileage allowance is available.

The salary is £40-43k. You need a full driving licence. Closing date 27th October.

Exclusive - Nazi loot extortion attempt foiled?

October 3 2011

Image of Exclusive - Nazi loot extortion attempt foiled?

Picture: The Art Newspaper

The Art Newspaper recently reported on an attempt to sell a painting by Jan van Huysum stolen from the Palazzo Pitti in 1943/4. The picture had been evacuated from Florence in 1943, but was 'acquired' by a German soldier in Italy in 1944 'in exchange for food'.

Now, the soldier's grandson wants a EUR2m 'finder's reward' for returning the picture. He is threatening to sell the painting if he doesn't get the money. The demand has come through Edgar Liebrucks, the German lawyer who represented those who handled the Tate's two stolen Turners in 2002-4, for which the museum paid a ransom fee for information of £3.5m.

Liebrucks has proposed that if the picture is worth EUR 10-12m, then it should be sold at auction with 80% of the proceeds going to the museum, and the balance to his client. Liebrucks says:

My client needs the money, and it is feared that he will sell the painting elsewhere. I hope this will never happen.

Well, Edgar, I hope it doesn't happen either. After The Art Newspaper reported the story, I contacted The Art Loss Register. Surely, if the picture was not lawfully disposed by the Palazzo Pitti, it cannot legally be sold now? And sure enough, it can't. The picture is now listed on the Art Loss Register's database, ruling out the auction option at least. So if Mr Liebrucks and his client still want to squeeze money out this shoddy deal, they'll have to think of a plan B.  

Caption competition - the winner is...

October 3 2011

Image of Caption competition - the winner is...

Picture: Sotheby's

Last week we had our first caption competition on AHN. The image shows the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire admiring Damien Hirst's Legend, recently installed at Chatsworth as part of Sotheby's selling exhibition of contemporary sculpture, Beyond Limits. There were quite a few naughty entries, but here's some of the more publishable ones: [More below]

Read More

Plug Alert - buy this new book!

October 3 2011

Image of Plug Alert - buy this new book!

Picture: Ashgate Publishing

Nothing to do with art history, but plenty of history: I've contributed to a new book on 19th Century British Foreign Policy. The book, edited by my friend and co-author Dr. Geoffrey Hicks, looks at a previously neglected aspect of British foreign policy, and focuses on the political legacy of the Earls of Derby.

The 14th Earl of Derby (left on the cover) was Prime Minister three times, while his son, the 15th Earl (right), was Foreign Secretary twice and the only man to serve in the Cabinets of both Disraeli and Gladstone. My chapter deals with the 15th Earl's foreign policy, and the question of whether foreign interventionism is ever worthwhile. You can buy the book here!

Renovation at the Musée d'Orsay

October 3 2011

Image of Renovation at the Musée d'Orsay

Picture: The Guardian

There's warm approval in most quarters for the Musée d'Orsay's renovation programme, now nearing completion. Bravely, they're moving away from the tediousness of hanging everything on white walls. From The Guardian:

Since 2008 the Musée d'Orsay has been gradually abandoning the concept, popularised by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, of hanging paintings on white walls. "Outside 20th-century and contemporary art, white kills all paintings," said Cogéval. "When you place an academic or impressionist painting on a white background, the light from the white creates an indeterminate halo around the work, preventing the sometimes subtle contrasts and details being revealed."

Fresh batch of Lowrys at auction

October 3 2011

Image of Fresh batch of Lowrys at auction

Picture: Christie's

It says something of Lowry's popularity (despite the museum world's sniffiness) that auction houses can guarantee a blast of publicity for sales of his work. This time, the excitement is about Lowry's view of Piccadilly Circus, above, which will be sold at Christie's on 17th November. The estimate is £4-6m.

The biter bit

October 3 2011

Image of The biter bit

Picture: BBC

From BBC Bristol:

An artwork by street artist Banksy in Bristol has been painted over in an incident described by residents as an "act of vandalism".

The painting, opposite Bristol Children's Hospital, is of a crouched armed police officer, with a child about to burst a paper bag behind him.

The picture first appeared on Upper Maudlin Street four years ago. It has now been covered in black. It is not yet known if the black paint can be removed.

View from the Artist no.4 - answer

October 3 2011

Image of View from the Artist no.4 - answer

Picture: Philip Mould

This one proved a little tricky I fear, with the correct answer taking a whole day to come in. Many of you were way out:

I suppose the darkness might suggest something unseasonably Christmassy - is there a nativity going on? It looks a bit Flemish

Wrong continent alas. But right about the night-time setting:

A bit late but I didn't read your blog yesterday.  I think it's Wright of Derby's Arkwright's Cotton Mills by Night, isn't it?

Yes! The picture is Arkwright's Mill at Cromford by Joseph Wright of Derby, painted c.1790. There are two versions, both in private collections. One is sadly in rather bad condition. The other, above, belonged to Wright's friend, Thomas Haden. So to this reader (a regional auctioneer, in fact) the previously promised trumpet blast of adulation - well done!

Arthistorynews 2.0

October 3 2011

Thanks so much to all of you who have been in touch about this. Most of you think Twitter, Facebook etc need to be embraced, and I think you're right. My favourite response so far, from a post-grad art history student:

I don't know a single student who doesn't have a Facebook or Twitter account! There are plenty of students/professionals who I would recommend your site to, and its a great deal easier to do on social networking sites when you can 'recommend' a page at the click of a button.

[...] Your articles on conservation and restoration are of great interest to me and in fact, gave me the idea for my dissertation! 

Splendid. Another mentioned having a comments section:

As for AHN 2.0. I do like twitter, but it can be timesink  if you like to interact with people - best if you have a phone to do it with or spend much time around a computer anyway - otherwise I think the only thing missing from AHN is a commenting facility. It all depends if you want to hear what your readers think! There is always the danger that Damien Hirst will arrive to harangue other commenters... like he [BG -allegedly] did at poor Jonathan Jones blog!!

I'm always keen to hear what readers think. But the problem with comments is that I'd need to moderate them all, and this takes time. Libel laws in the UK (of which I have some experience) mean that I am responsible for any comments published on this site, even if I don't write them. Twitter and Facebook may be a way around this.

So, with some trepidation, Art History News will shortly join the future... 

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