Previous Posts: April 2012

Happy Easter everyone

April 8 2012

Archive throw out - questions for Tate

April 5 2012

Image of Archive throw out - questions for Tate

Picture: Guardian

And the bad news is, it seems Tate doesn't want to answer them. To recap, in February it was alleged in The Guardian that Tate was about to throw out a valuable photographic archive. It was only rescued after the director of the Paul Mellon Centre, Professor Brian Allen, hurriedly sent round a van. 

In response to the furore, Tate said that it had always planned to give the archive to the Paul Mellon Centre.

In 2008, Tate decided that it would be more useful to scholars if this photographic research material on British Art, which had not been augmented since the 1980s and much of which is available online, were to be located with equivalent material at the Paul Mellon Centre.

I can tell you that Tate had not planned to give the material to the PMC, and that the story in The Guardian of the PMC needing to rescue the archive is true. I therefore asked Tate the following question:

Can you please confirm how the PMC was told about the decision in 2008, and when.

Answer comes there none... 

Furthermore, I suggested at the time that Tate may have broken some quite strict rules on archive policy, as well as its own guidelines on archive handling. (Regular readers will know that I sit on the government's advisory council for archives.) In response, Tate contacted me thus:

We would like to make the clarification that the material which went to the Paul Mellon Centre was NOT from Tate Archive.

The key thing here is the capital letter. The Tate Archive is an official public record, for which there are rules about making disposals. Not all archives at the Tate are part of the Tate Archive - and this is a perfectly sensible policy. At the time of the disposal, Tate says, the photographic archive was not part of the Tate Archive. 

The central question, of course, is should it have been? Following discussions with various people involved, I therefore asked Tate:

Could you please let me know what material, if any, was subsequently returned from PMC to Tate, and where that material is stored now.

Again, answer comes there none. Why is this last question so important? Because if it transpires that material which was previously part of the disposed photographic archive is now part of Tate Archive, then it follows that the disposal was not only incorrectly handled, but that it should not have occurred in the first place.

There is more to come on this. And it may yet involve the words 'cover-up' and 'scandal'. 

'It's a very, very serious painting'

April 5 2012

Image of 'It's a very, very serious painting'

Picture: Sotheby's

So say Sotheby's of this Bacon, Figure Writing Reflected in a Mirror, to be sold at auction in May with a very serious estimate of $30-40m.

That early Titian

April 5 2012

Image of That early Titian

Picture: Hermitage

A reader writes:

It's a pity you (and The Guardian) displayed the photo of the painting before cleaning.

Above is the cleaned picture, via ArtDaily.

Until further notice...

April 4 2012

Image of Until further notice...

Picture: Newsweek

...this site is a Hirst-free zone.

Update: Brian Sewell's review is well worth a click. His conclusion:

I can sum it up as shiny shit.

Rembrandt goes to New York

April 4 2012

Image of Rembrandt goes to New York

Picture: English Heritage

How kind of us - English Heritage has leant Rembrandt's epic Kenwood House Self Portrait to the Met. It's the first time the picture has left Europe. On display till May 20th. Enjoy!

Early Titian at the National Gallery

April 4 2012

Image of Early Titian at the National Gallery

Picture: Guardian/Hermitage

One of Titian's earliest masterpieces is on display at the National Gallery for the first time. More here, and here


April 4 2012

Image of Optimism

Picture: Mail/

We've had a few cases lately where the press have picked up on 'discovery' stories, only for there to be absolutely no evidence to support the claims. For example, the stolen 'Van Dyck seized by police in Rome, which wasn't a Van Dyck. And now here's another example, a coloured in drawing bought for £3 in a junk sale from a drug addict, which is claimed as a £1.3m work by the ten year old Warhol. Despite there being nothing to back up the claim, the story has gone global.  

The one that got away

April 4 2012

Image of The one that got away

Picture: Christie's

Remember this? Last year, it was in a minor sale as 'follower of Saenredam' with an estimate of £3-5,000. At the last minute the picture was withdrawn. Then, Saenredam scholar Gary Schwartz saw the picture on this blog, and published a fascinating analysis showing how the picture was not only by Saenredam, but showed his house in Assendelft. And now it is to appear at Christie's in the summer, fully catalogued, and with an estimate of £400,000-£600,000. I wonder if AHN will get a credit!

Van Dyck discovery on show at Ashmolean

April 3 2012

Image of Van Dyck discovery on show at Ashmolean

Picture: Philip Mould

Shameless boast alert: a Van Dyck discovered here at Philip Mould has gone on display at the Ashmolean Museum. 

Google Art Project expands

April 3 2012

Image of Google Art Project expands

Picture: Gemaldegalerie Berlin

When Google first launched its Art Project, I expressed the hope that other UK galleries would quickly join up. Today, ten have done just that, including Dulwich, the Royal Collection, the V&A, and the National Galleries of Scotland. Splendid. More here.

Connoisseurs will note that the attributions are a little off in some cases. It seems that there is no room for riders such as 'Circle of' or 'After', and so everything gets a full attribution. Like this 'Van Dyck'.   

3PP on the Prado Mona Lisa

April 3 2012

Image of 3PP on the Prado Mona Lisa

Picture: Prado/3PP

Three Pipe Problem commends the Prado for their comprehensive publication of their analysis of the Mona Lisa copy:

Commendably, the Prado has now released a significant deal of technical information, free to access online. Previously such details would be reserved for gallery technical bulletins or journal publications. It is a wonderful step forward for transparent reporting of findings that this information was made available relatively quickly after the public announcement a few weeks ago. Those particularly interested in the technical details are directed towards the video presentation by Ana González Mozo, researcher in the Museum’s Technical Documentation Section and Almudena Sánchez Martín, a restorer at the Prado.

New lighting at the Wallace

April 3 2012

Image of New lighting at the Wallace

Picture: BG

I went to see the new Dutch galleries at the Wallace Collection on the weekend. They look very well, as old fashioned art types used to say. I particularly liked the new daylight-balanced lighting. It takes a while to get used to, as one's eye is so conditioned to the yellow glow of tungsten lighting in museums. But goodness what a difference. The colours are so much more subtle, particularly in the blues, reds and darks. Museums everywhere - more please!

History strikes back

April 3 2012

Image of History strikes back

Picture: Christie's

The sale of the Raglan collection at Christie's has been halted by a last minute injunction. I viewed the sale on Friday, but by Saturday the shutters had come down, and the catalogue taken off the website. The sale was to include an impressive array of items from the 1st Lord Raglan (above), who fought at Waterloo and later commanded British forces in the Crimea. From the Independent:

An 11th-hour injunction has brought a dramatic halt to an auction by Christie's in London of a treasure trove of hundreds of artefacts relating to Waterloo, Wellington and the Crimea.

Heirs of the 1st Lord Raglan, who commanded troops at the Charge of the Light Brigade, are embroiled in a bitter battle over the ownership of military memorabilia. Legal action by one member of the family has cancelled plans by another to sell more than 300 objects, including arms and armour, furniture and works of art, tomorrow.

The treasures, which had been estimated to fetch £750,000, were to have been sold on behalf of the executors of Fitzroy John Somerset, 5th Lord Raglan, great-great-grandson of the 1st Baron (1788-1855), whose military career was at the right hand of Britain's greatest soldier, the first Duke of Wellington, for almost 40 years, during the Peninsular War, at Waterloo, and as private secretary, through to his command of British forces in the Crimean War.

I can't help thinking that the sale's cancellation is a Good Thing. The disputed will also covers the family seat, Cefntilla Court, which was donated to the first Lord Raglan and his heirs by public subscription as a gesture of thanks for his military service. So, on many levels, both collection and house should remain intact. And I'm enough of a romantic to want to see the Raglan family carry on living there (death tax allowing). Personally, I can't quite believe that the late Lord Raglan would not have wished it so.

Although the Christie's sale had some interesting things, it was quite obvious at the viewing that there were few really stellar items. After all, the sale was to be held at the South Kensington saleroom, and not King Street. There were lots of copies, oddities and items of sentimental value. It seemed clear to me that the value of the collection as a whole, both financial and historical, far outweighed that of the individual items.

There is, seperately from the family dispute, a campaign to save the collection. Knight Frank, who were marketing the house, have now removed it from their website.

ps - news of the injunction was revealed by me on Saturday over on Twitter. If you would like to know the latest art history titbits as they happen, you can sign up here

Van Gogh's Chinese takeaway?

April 2 2012

Image of Van Gogh's Chinese takeaway?

Picture: Savills

A reader writes:

There was a line in the Home section of The Sunday Times yesterday that Van Gogh’s house had been bought unseen by a Chinese buyer.

Hirst at Tate; 4/5 from Dorment

April 2 2012

Image of Hirst at Tate; 4/5 from Dorment

Picture: Tate/Dacs/Damien Hirst & Science Ltd

Richard Dorment in The Telegraph gives the new show at Tate four stars out of five:

For more than 20 years pretty much everything Damien Hirst he has made, done or said has received media attention. But attention is different from respect, and if you ask the man in the street he’ll tell you that Hirst became a billionaire by cynically exploiting our collective greed and stupidity.

For reasons that I don’t understand, he insists on presenting himself as a fraud who is somehow pulling the wool over the eyes of the public. And that’s a pity, because in Tate Modern’s full-scale retrospective he comes across as a serious - if wildly uneven - artist.

We emerge from this strange, flawed, but hugely ambitious show with a sense of Hirst as complex and troubled personality. As an artist his work is indeed difficult to take - not because it is dumb, but because no one in his right mind wants to think about the painful subjects it deals with.

Burlington dedicated to John House

April 2 2012

The latest edition of the Burlington Magazine features French 19th Century art, and has been dedicated to the late Professor John House. You can read the editorial, to which he contributed, here

Important new conference for UK collections

April 2 2012

Image of Important new conference for UK collections

Picture: Philip Mould

Regular readers will know that I occasionally bang on about the need to establish a panel of experts to advise regional galleries on their art collections. This is particularly necessary now that deaccessioning is increasingly taking place in the UK, for we must avoid the situation in the US, where good pictures are sometimes deaccessioned by mistake (as copies for example, like the above Romney). As a dealer, I've profited from such mistakes - but I don't want to see the same happen here. So I've been making the case for a panel of experts for some time, not only on the site here, but also at a conference last year on deaccessioning at the National Gallery, in The Art Newspaper, and in a chapter in the new Museums Etc book, Museums and the Disposals Debate, edited by Peter Davies.

So I'm delighted to report that this is actually going to happen, and all thanks to the Public Catalogue Foundation. The PCF is perfectly placed to be the lead body on this, not least because they have put together the invaluable photographic database of every publicly owned oil painting in the UK. On 25th April, the PCF is organising a conference at the National Gallery to look into the various issues. The project is to be called OPEN - the Oil Painting Expert Network. Here's what the PCF says: 

Over the last nine years the PCF’s team of researchers has had unparalleled access to the nation’s oil painting collection. This has provided valuable insights into the state of painting catalogue records and the guardianship of these paintings. Unsurprisingly, it has found that the state of records varies greatly between collections and that there are significant gaps in knowledge about paintings’ artists, subjects and execution dates.

There are a few reasons for this. Only a fraction of the participating collections have staff with fine art expertise or other relevant knowledge. This is because many of the institutions involved in the project are small museums with limited resources or non-art specialisms and others are not museums at all. Furthermore, many of the museums – both large and small – have lost fine art expertise due to financial cutbacks.

The PCF has also found that those collections without expertise often do not know where to turn for help. 

There will be a number of speakers, including Peter Funnell of the National Portrait Gallery, Nigel Llewellyn of Tate, Francis Russell of Christie's, Matthew Hargreaves from the Yale Center for British Art, Val Boa of the McLean Museum, and, er, me. If you would like to attend the conference, or would like to contribute to OPEN in any way, please contact the PCF: open[at] And if you know of anyone else who may be interested, or whom OPEN could do with hearing from, please spread the word.

Bonhams' new website

April 2 2012

Image of Bonhams' new website

Picture: Bonhams

A new website for Bonhams, which looks nice. But no improvement on the lot images though, which is curious...


A reader writes:

Re: the new Bonhams website, they seem to have got rid of their facility to search through past lots, although, weirdly, you can still search past auction titles. For example, I am interested in the landscape artist Francis Towne, so a search for "Towne" in past auctions brings up one result: a 2005 'Collections from Town & Country Houses' sale in Edinburgh that has, er, nothing to do with Towne.

Update II:

Another reader writes, in an email meant for someone else but copied to me by mistake:

There has been a posting about the new website at Art History News.

Can I suggest that you correct the comment on the site by emailing something on the lines of 

"The reader of your posting about Bonhams' new website clearly didn't try very hard.

You can search for any lot sold by Bonhams since 2003 and yes, you can still see the images of these lots.

I'm guessing, but I think he might have had something to do with the design of the new site...

The Duke's not-so-new Rembrandt?

April 2 2012

Image of The Duke's not-so-new Rembrandt?

Picture: Guardian

Following the exciting news from Woburn Abbey last week of a Rembrandt 'discovery', a reader has alerted me to a must-read post by the leading art historian Gary Schwartz. Here's the nub of his argument:

The “discovery” is in fact nothing of the kind. The painting in Woburn Abbey is included in every single catalogue I know of the paintings of Rembrandt, from John Smith in 1836 to Leonard Slatkes in 1992. Only one colleague, Christian Tümpel, ever assigned it to a pupil of Rembrandt’s rather than the master. When the painting was exhibited in 1950 in Edinburgh, Jan van Gelder, one of the greatest art historians and connoisseurs of the 20th century, wrote this about it: “... always wrongly placed within the chronology of Rembrandt’s work is the portrait of an Old Jew. After cleaning we find it signed and dated 1643, not 1633 (see Bredius 185). There can be no doubt about its authenticity.” (J.G. van Gelder, “The Rembrandt exhibition at Edinburgh,” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 92, nr. 572, November 1950, p. 328.) Although this may be phrased a bit defensively, I know of no printed record of doubt concerning the authenticity of the painting.

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