Previous Posts: September 2011

Art & Politics: Churchill's bust back in Oval Office?

September 13 2011

Image of Art & Politics: Churchill's bust back in Oval Office?

Picture: AFP

Mitt Romney, the sanest of the Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential elections, has declared that if he won, he would put Winston Churchill's bust back in the Oval Office. The bust, by Jacob Epstein, was lent to the Bush administration by the UK Government after 9/11 - but returned by Barack Obama in 2008. Romney said:

You know, one of -- one of my heroes was a man who had an extraordinary turn of phrase. He once said about us, he said, you know, you can count on the Americans to get things right after they've exhausted all the alternatives. And now and then we've made a couple of mistakes. We're quite a nation. And this man, Winston Churchill, used to have his bust in the Oval Office. And if I'm president of the United States, it'll be there again.

Epstein's Churchill is not a nice image - in fact, it's positively ghoulish. I wasn't that surprised that Obama, a man of taste, sent it back. If the UK had sent one of Oscar Nemon's infinitely superior busts of Churchill, might it not have been thrown out? 

New portrait commissioned by the NPG

September 12 2011

Image of New portrait commissioned by the NPG


Can you guess who it is? Click 'Read on' to see the caption...

Read More

The Berlin Jewish Museum

September 12 2011

Image of The Berlin Jewish Museum

Picture: Centrum Judaicum

Here's one of history's cruel ironies: Berlin's first Jewish Museum opened in January 1933, one week before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. The museum's founder, Karl Schwarz, fled to Israel just months later, and though the museum staggered on until 1938, all its contents were seized by the Nazis.

Now, a new exhibition in Berlin's Centrum Judaicum, charts the reassembling of the museum's collection (open until December 30th). Catherine Hickley has the full details in Bloomberg here

Rodin vandalised

September 12 2011

Image of Rodin vandalised


This time the pillocks have struck in Buenos Aires. The graffiti has since been removed, hopefully without damaging the patina.

Wanted £64 million

September 12 2011

Image of Wanted £64 million

Picture: BBC

If you were building a house, wouldn't you make sure you had enough money to finish it, before you started? Building for the new extension at Tate Modern (above) is to be put on hold, because only 70% of the £215m necessary has been raised. From the BBC:

"We will raise this money," said Lord Browne, Chairman of the Tate Trustees.

He said that that work on the 11-storey structure was continuing "in bits and pieces... to make sure that we are sufficiently prudent".

"If we do not raise another penny, we can stop and wait," Lord Browne explained.

Friday amusement - Double-dip edition

September 9 2011

Image of Friday amusement - Double-dip edition

Picture: Cartoon Stock

Have you seen this roundel?

September 9 2011

Image of Have you seen this roundel?

Picture: Watts Gallery

The Watts Gallery is trying to track down this 15th Century della Robbia roundel of the Virgin and Child. It used to belong to George Frederic Watts, seated - but vanished after 1938, after Watts' wife died. 

Poussin goes to the Kimbell

September 9 2011

Image of Poussin goes to the Kimbell

Picture: Christie's

Nicolas Poussin's Sacrament of the Ordination, which was offered by the Duke of Rutland at Christie's last year, will now go on display at the Kimbell Museum in Texas. Carol Vogel in the New York Times has the story of what happened after it failed to sell:

What few people realized was that the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth was quietly keeping tabs on the painting. “We were watching it closely,” said Eric M. Lee, the Kimbell’s director. “But December was not the right time for us to buy it.”

When it didn’t sell, he added, he “felt it was too important a painting to pass up.” So Mr. Lee approached the museum’s trustees “to see if we could afford it.”

This summer the institution finally made a deal, paying $24.3 million — Christie’s low estimate — without the auction house’s steep buyer’s premium. Robert Holden, a fine-art agent based in London, and George Wachter, head of Sotheby’s old master painting department worldwide, represented the Kimbell.

I wonder how long it will take for the Duke's four remaining Sacrament paintings to end up at the Kimbell...

Nazi picture seized in Florida

September 9 2011


A picture by Girolamo Romano, Christ Carrying the Cross, has been impounded in Florida after questions were raised over its provenance. The picture had been loaned to the Brogan Museum for an exhibition by the Pinacoteca di Brera. The heirs of collector Giuseppe Gentili, a Jew who owned the work in the 1940s, have now come forward to seek its restitution.  

A restoration too far?

September 8 2011

Image of A restoration too far?

Picture: Tate

If a third of a painting is missing, should you try and recreate it? Some time ago, I was kindly shown around the conservation studios at Tate Britain. There I saw the above enormous but damaged work by John Martin (1789-1854), The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  

The picture was damaged in 1928 when the Thames burst its banks at Millbank. But for the new exhibition, Apocalypse (see below) the Tate has decided not only to clean the surviving portion, but to paint in the missing section using photographs of the original, and another almost identical version. 

I saw the picture after it had been cleaned and re-lined. The stark contrast between the pristine white section of new canvas and the cleaned and brightly coloured remainder was indeed disturbing. But I can't help liking the romanticism of the dirty and damaged picture, above. Writing in the Guardian today, William Feaver argues that the picture should not have been restored:

Earlier this year, in the course of several meetings with Tate Britain curators and conservators, I urged them not to reconstitute the one large missing fragment as they had determined to do. [...]

Waving my arms like one of Martin's prophetic linesmen, I argued repeatedly that such a painting needs not patching up but respect for what it is: a picture of an act of God (or the gods) that happens to have been dealt a titanic whack. It deserves special consideration. The missing area may be considered actual loss visited on a graphic representation of catastrophic loss. Here, after nearly two centuries, Thames embankments and Pompeiian waterfront align. History encircles us. We the onlookers, toeing the touchline between here and then, should surrender to being tantalised. It's a jigsaw lacking a few pieces, a filmic image enlivened with unforeseen jump cuts. The losses jolt the narrative

I'm sure the Tate have done an excellent job - and what an effort for the poor restorer. But for an artist as interested in destruction as John Martin, there is something deliciously appropriate about Feaver's argument, don't you think? 

You can zoom in on the picture pre-conservation here

The best exhibition advert ever?

September 8 2011


I think so. It certainly beats this.

La Peregrina pearl to be sold

September 8 2011

Image of La Peregrina pearl to be sold


The famous pearl given to Mary I by Philip II, and worn by her in her portraits, will be sold in December at Christie's. Valued at $2-3m, it was until recently owned by Elizabeth Taylor. Interestingly, a portrait such as the above by Hans Eworth is worth at least twice that. 

More on the history of pearl, and Taylor's ownership of it, here.  

Art market futures

September 7 2011

Image of Art market futures

Picture: Sotheby's

Here's a first - and a sign of things to come. Next week, Sotheby's in New York will host their first ever Fine Classical Chinese Paintings sale. Above is an anonymous 17th/18th Century Seated Portrait of a Prince (detail), ink and colour on silk, estimated at $90-120,000.

Probably, it won't be long until Chinese Paintings sales are as important as the bi-annual Old Master sales. The only question is, will such sales take place in the West, in Europe and America - or will the world's art market gravitate permanently to Asia?

Freud vs Richter

September 7 2011

Image of Freud vs Richter

Picture: Guardian

Jonathan Jones looks forward to the Gerhard Richter exhibition at Tate Modern (opens 6th October), and decides Richter was a better artist than Freud.

Even as a portraitist, Richter is Freud's equal. And he does so much else besides: he paints landscapes, abstractions, histories. Where Freud can be seen as a painter who resisted photography, Richter is a painter who embraces the photograph. In this, he is scarcely novel. His ease with the photographic age echoes 19th-century artists such as Degas and Manet – artists he resembles in other ways, too, as an ironic observer of the modern scene.

Let's drop the parochial media mourning. Freud was not the only important painter of our time. Richter is actually the greater artist, I suspect – and his works appear more inspiring for younger painters, and photographers.

Think I'd rather have a Freud. Wouldn't you?

Roll up for the Cowdray Sale

September 7 2011

Image of Roll up for the Cowdray Sale

Picture: Mail

I love a good house sale, and there hasn't been one for a long time. Viewing for Christie's sale of the contents of Cowdray Park and Dunnecht House, properties of Viscount Cowdray and family, begins this week, on Friday, and continues over the weekend (10 till 6, if you're going). The sale takes place over three days from Tuesday 13th Sept. Everything must go - including literally their own grandmother, in portrait form, at just £10-15,000 (why bother?).

It promises to be quite an event, judging by the doorstopping catalogue. As ever, many of the lots have laughably low estimates, designed to tempt in as many people as possible. Check out the six early 18th Century Dutch ivory inlaid walnut chairs at just £4-6,000. Look out for those inevitable 'sale exceeds estimates' headlines...

Catalogue on-line here.

New work by Jean–Léon Gérôme discovered

September 6 2011

Image of New work by Jean–Léon Gérôme discovered

Picture: The Staedel Museum, Frankfurt. 'St Jerome and the Holy Aerobie' 1874 (detail).

The Staedel Museum in Frankfurt has found a lost work by Jean–Léon Gérôme, the French 19th Century artist. It was given to the museum in 1935, but was lost until rediscovered during renovation works. More details here

Ford Madox Brown puzzle

September 6 2011

Image of Ford Madox Brown puzzle

Picture: Manchester Art Gallery

I recently mentioned the new Ford Madox Brown exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery and the inclusion of the newly discovered Seraph's Watch. Julian Treuherz, who is curating the exhibition, has been in touch to see if anyone can help solve the apparent puzzle on the figure's shirt. He writes:

There is a puzzle in the painting, maybe some of your readers may be able to help. I cannot find out why Brown used the strange quincunx design on the seraph's tunic; he must have put it there for a reason, also the overlapping circles of the haloes and the little ones at the intersections of the haloes. Someone suggested Swedenborgian associations, but the Swedenborg Society looked into it for me but found nothing to confirm this.

Well, I'm stumped. But if anybody has any bright ideas, pray, let us know...

Sotheby's Institute conference

September 6 2011

Ping into my inbox comes an email flyer from Sotheby's Institute:

Sotheby's Institute of Art is pleased to invite you to a one-day conference entitled Exploring Risk and Uncertainty: Metaphors from the Art World, taking place on Friday 23 September 2011: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm followed by a drinks reception.

In association with Cambridge University’s Centre for Risk Studies at the Judge Business School, this research-based conference will investigate the nature of risk and uncertainty using metaphors from the art market with an aim to draw novel inferences and develop insights relevant to both the art world and other fields. 

I've no idea what any of this actually means, but if you want to go, details here

Fine Zoffany pair to be auctioned

September 6 2011

Image of Fine Zoffany pair to be auctioned

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's are first out of the blocks with their December Old Master sale highlights. They have secured an impressive pair of paintings by Johann Zoffany, both showing David Garrick, the celebrated actor. Above is The Garden at Hampton House, with Mr & Mrs Garrick taking tea (1762). The other is Mr & Mrs by the Shakespeare Temple at Hampton (also 1762).

The pictures will be sold together with an estimate of £6-8m at Sotheby's December sales. The full Sotheby's press release is here

The pictures were both part of the important Zoffany exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 1976. Then they were listed as being part of the collection of the Earls of Durham, and as far as I know they still are. The late Earl of Durham was the infamous government minister, Lord Lambton, who scandalised society in the '60s by frequenting prostitutes. He was caught because he insisted on paying by cheque. The current Earl, the 7th, lives at Lambton Castle and Biddick Hall. He used to be play in a band called 'The Frozen Turkeys'.

A dastardly deaccession?

September 5 2011

Image of A dastardly deaccession?

Picture: Bristol 24/7

These deaccessioning stories seem to be coming thick and fast... Here's a novel one though: a whole load of museum exhibits are sold privately to a dealer by the museum's director - who is then sacked by the trustees, and the police called in.

The items were sold from the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. The Museum opened in 2002 in Bristol, but had to close in 2008 due to financial difficulties. The museum is now looking to relocate to London (Bristol was always a loony idea). Tens of thousands of pounds worth of goods were seemingly sold without proper approval. Some of the items didn't even belong to the museum.

The Art Newspaper has the full intriguing story here, and it's worth a read. It seems rather disturbing...

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