Previous Posts: September 2011

The search for Leonardo's lost masterpiece

September 23 2011

Leonardo's greatest lost work is his Battle of Anghiari, painted in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Many scholars believe the painting survives, hidden beneath Giorgio Vasari's murals in the Hall of Five Hundred. Recently, it was discovered that behind Vasari's paintings is a gap, with a space 1 - 3cm deep before the main wall. Did Vasari deliberately create this gap to avoid painting over Leonardo's work? I've always thought it possible, given Vasari's interest in preservation.

Now, a group of experts is trying to use specialist scanning equipment to peer through Vasari's murals, in an attempt to solve the mystery. Fellow blogger Hasan Niyazi has posted an interview with one of the team behind the search, over at Three Pipe Problem.

Friday amusement

September 23 2011

Image of Friday amusement


Inny Polski restytucji

September 23 2011

Image of Inny Polski restytucji


That's 'another Polish restitution' (according to Google Translate). Two hunting pictures by Julian Falat stolen during the war have been returned to Poland. They were seized in New york when put up for sale at auction in 2006. More here.

'Art Boom 2.0'?

September 22 2011

Image of 'Art Boom 2.0'?

Picture: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jean-Baptiste Chardin, 'The Soap Bubble'.

That's what they're saying in New York:

The New York art world may be entering uncharted territory.

Why do we think so? Let’s look at the big picture: In June, dealers at the Art Basel fair reported that business was booming. Art, we were told in report after report, was selling as it had in the heady days of 2006 and 2007, when the housing crash and the worldwide economic crisis were merely theories in the heads of a few sharp-eyed economists and canny hedge fund managers.

Last month, the world’s two leading auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, announced record revenues for the first half of the year, having moved $3.4 billion and $3.2 billion worth of art and other goods, respectively.

Do say: Old Masters are still cheap.

Don't say: Is contemporary art the next bubble?

How not to protect your art collection

September 22 2011

Image of How not to protect your art collection

Picture: Art Market Monitor 

A little update on the Renoir stolen in Texas, from the Houston Chronicle:

Police said the robbery victim told investigators a man wearing a ski mask, gloves and carrying a black semi-automatic weapon came to the home demanding money and jewelry.

However, the victim pointed out a painting in the home and mentioned its value. The suspect grabbed the framed artwork and fled, police said.

'The Mona Lisa Code'

September 21 2011


You've got to watch this. Here, some fellow named Scott Lund unveils 'the 500 year mystery of the Mona Lisa' as 'the depiction of a soul shared between an expectant mother and her unborn male child'. If you can stand it, watch till the end for a demonstration in how not to unveil your great art historical discovery...

The dangers of over-interpretation

September 21 2011

Image of The dangers of over-interpretation

Picture: The National Gallery

Professor Michael Baum, a leading cancer expert, has given a lecture entitled Picture of Health: the Art of Medicine. He says that many paintings contain over-looked medical stories and clues. But is Baum in danger of over-interpreting art?

For example, take Piero di Cosimo's Satyr Mourning over a Nymph, above. The Observer takes up the story: [More below]

Read More

No breasts please, we're Methodists

September 21 2011

Image of No breasts please, we're Methodists

Picture: Phil Yeoman/BNPS

From The Guardian:

A statue of a bare-breasted woman whose torso was discreetly covered for centuries has been found in a Bristol church house where John Wesley worshipped. There is speculation that the half-clad figure was considered too much of a distraction for Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and his followers. The figure, holding a cornucopia of fruit, is suspected to be Abundantia – a Roman personification of abundance and prosperity.

A reader writes:

Of course the article doesn't tell us what we really want to know - who is sable between three scallop shells argent a chevron of the second.

Quite. Any heralds out there?

The Final Freud

September 21 2011

Image of The Final Freud

Picture: David Dawson/Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert Gallery

Lucien Freud's final, unfinished work, will be included in the new exhibition of the artist's work at the National Portrait Gallery (9th Feb-27th May 2012). The subject is Freud's assistant, David Dawson, with Dawson's whippet, Eli.

Goya X-ray revelation

September 20 2011

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Picture: Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum has discovered a partially completed portrait beneath its portrait of Don Ramon Satue. Full details here

Through a lens, darkly...

September 20 2011

Image of Through a lens, darkly...

Picture: Daily Mirror, Jan Mikulka, 'Jakub', (detail).

Further to my harumph about paintings of photographs, such as the above from the NPG's BP Portrait Award, a reader writes:

Re photographic portraits - I have not seen the portrait in question, but on the principle I heartily concur. It does, however, give rise to an interesting question which does not go away when we look at distortions in paintings from other eras. It can be difficult to determine where masterly virtuosity, taking advantage of available technology, gives way to a technical dependence on technological competence. There’s a fascinatingly fine line somewhere down the road to The Arnolfini Wedding.

Museum swap-shop

September 20 2011

Image of Museum swap-shop

Picture: MFA Boston

Would you swap Monet's The Fort of Antibes (above), plus seven other works, for Gustave Caillebotte's Man at His Bath (below)? The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston plans to sell eight pictures worth up to $24 million to fund their new naked acquisition. 

Alan Wirzbicki in the Boston Globe disagrees with the scheme:

Call me a philistine, but somehow this just doesn’t strike me as an astute trade. Why not? Well, let me count the ways.

This painting, “Man at His Bath,” is not an eye-catching celebration of the human form, a la Michelangelo’s "David." Rather, it’s an everyday view of… well, mostly of an everyday butt. Which is basically what George Shackelford, chairman of the museum’s Art of Europe Department, said in Monday’s Globe.

“This guy is no Arcadian bather,” he noted. “It’s perfectly mundane — and expressly so.” One would think that self-evidently accurate appraisal would lead to this equally obvious notion: It’s probably not worth selling scenes by Monet, Gauguin, Sisley, Pissarro, and Renoir to acquire that perfectly mundane scene. Look, I’m not saying I wouldn’t trade one of those Jean Baptiste Camille Corot’s more-milky-March-sky-over-the-river scenes, but that’s about as far this guy would go. And I expect most museum-goers would agree with me.

Caption competition - win a prize!

September 20 2011

Image of Caption competition - win a prize!

Picture: Reuters

A new work by Damien Hirst, Legend, has been installed at Chatsworth House. The piece forms part of Sotheby's selling exhibition, Beyond Limits. The Duke of Devonshire, seen above admiring the work with the Duchess, is Deputy Chairman of Sotheby's.

This week is the 50th anniversary of Private Eye's first publication - and as the above photo seems tailor made for a caption, I'm going to risk a caption competition. And let's give a prize to the best entry: a copy of Kenneth Clark's classic and brilliant television series, Civilisation on DVD (or Blu-ray if you prefer). If you can think of something amusing, and printable, email me...

Before and after

September 20 2011

Image of Before and after

Picture: Tate

The Tate has unveiled their newly restored painting by John Martin, The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. For more on the story, see here

They don't buy art in Scotland

September 19 2011

Image of They don't buy art in Scotland

Picture: Sorcha Dallas

A contemporary art gallery in Glasgow, Sorcha Dallas, is closing - and the owner says it is because nobody in Scotland buys art. From Scotland on Sunday:

Dallas said: "The gallery is closing because it seems running a contemporary commercial gallery is unsustainable within Scotland.

"This is due to no local collector base and little public support meaning heavy personal financial investment from the start in order to establish international markets and networks.

"The small amount of support I normally get was withdrawn this year by Creative Scotland and this, coupled with the dire present economic situation, makes continuing untenable." 

Can anybody tell me why a commercial contemporary art gallery, in the midst of a contemporary art boom, should be awarded any public money? And if public money is available for commercial art dealers, then can I have some, please?

Have you heard of William Dobson?

September 19 2011

Image of Have you heard of William Dobson?

Picture: Tate, 'Portrait of the Artist's Wife' by William Dobson.

It's the fashion these days, when making a historical TV programme or writing a book, to say that your subject is 'forgotten' or 'secret', allowing you to 'reveal' or 'uncover' their hidden story. Waldemar Januszczak is doing just this to William Dobson (1611-46).

Dobson has been rebranded as 'The Lost Genius of British Art' for Waldemar's new programme on BBC4 (Thursday 22nd Sept, 9pm). But I suspect most of you will know something about William Dobson, or at least have heard of him. Dobson was the first truly great English artist. If he's forgotten, it's because most people don't know much about British art. So hats off to Waldemar and the BBC for commissioning the programme. Waldemar has even set up a Dobson website, where you can see where his pictures now hang. 

Waldemar wrote a peculiar but engaging article about Dobson in the Sunday Times recently, in which he speculated on Dobson's artistic origins: [more below]

Read More

The world's most expensive fake?

September 19 2011

Image of The world's most expensive fake?

Picture: People's Daily

The above picture sold in June last year for $11.25 million in Beijing as a work by Chinese artist Xu Beihong (1895-1953). It had been authenticated by his son, above. However, a group of students has now come forward to say that it was painted by a classmate, in 1983. 

Given the stratospheric prices for Chinese art at the moment, I wouldn't be surprised if the market is riddled with similar fakes. But the most interesting fact seems to be that in China, the auction house faces no liability should it sell a fake:

Zhao Li, director of Chinese Modern & Contemporary Art Document Research Center, told the Global Times that mistakes can be made when identifying and evaluating art works, but that the crucial problem was the lack of an official authority to certify the authenticity of any artwork. 

"There is no strict and standardized assessment mechanism for art appraisal in China. Once a work is discovered to be fake, there is no regulation to stipulate which party should shoulder the responsibility and face punishment," Zhao said. 

According to the country's Auction Law, auctioneers are not allowed to promise the authenticity or the quality of the products, which is believed to exempt auction companies from taking the blame.

Caveat emptor...

Desmond Fitzgerald, Knight of Glin 1937-2011

September 19 2011

Image of Desmond Fitzgerald, Knight of Glin 1937-2011

Picture: Telegraph

The leading Irish art historian, Desmond Fitzgerald, has died. He was a great connoisseur, published widely, and was President of the Irish Georgian Society. He was the 29th and last Knight of Glin, one of only three hereditary titles recognised by Irish governments. The Telegraph has his obituary, and a brief family history, here

Photo painting voted NPG favourite

September 19 2011

Image of Photo painting voted NPG favourite

Picture: Daily Mirror

Jan Mikulka's portrait Jakub (detail, above) has won the Visitor's Choice Award at the National Portrait Gallery's BP Portrait Award. I'm not surprised the portrait proved popular - I remember hearing admiring noises from people when I went to the exhibition: 'ooh, it's just like a photograph...' they would say. Sure enough, that's what the newspaper's have said too: 'oil painting so life-like it looks like a photo'.

Regular readers will know my dim view of photographs rendered in paint. Here, the artist has even copied the distortion caused by the lens, and the short focus from the wide aperture. Wouldn't it be better if the headline said: 'oil painting so life-like it looks like a human'? Or are we now so conditioned to looking at the world through a lens, be it on our phones or on the web, that we expect even art to be a mere mechanical photo-like reproduction?

Strong Indian art sales

September 16 2011

Image of Strong Indian art sales

Picture: Christie's via Bloomberg

More high prices for anything painted east of the Suez this week. The above painting by Maqbool Fida Husain, Yatra, sold for $932,500 in New York, beating its high estimate of $500,000 by some way. Details at Bloomberg here

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