Previous Posts: August 2012

Yes we can!

August 24 2012

Image of Yes we can!

Picture: Reddit/BunsenHoneydewsEyes*

Actually, no you can't.

* I think the genius designer of this, from what I can make out on Reddit, is cartoonist Sean Archer.

Meanwhile in France...

August 24 2012

Over on Tribune de l'Art, Didier Rykner sees ominous signs for the future of French museums and heritage sites under new President, Francois Hollande. Apparently, he doesn't much care for culture:

François Hollande, il est vrai, selon le témoignage direct de plusieurs personnes l'ayant côtoyé autrefois, ne s'intéresse aucunement à l'art ni au patrimoine, peut-être encore moins, si cela est possible que Nicolas Sarkozy. 

More here

A minor milestone?

August 24 2012

Regular readers will know that I'm not keen on self-congratulatory blogging (or worse, Tweeting). But the recent debate here on connoisseurship saw the highest traffic on the site ever. So thanks for dropping by. Google Analytics tells me we're now just over half a million 'page views' since the site began, 18 months ago. I don't actually know what a page view is, but the stats do tell me that the readership here is very loyal. So to new readers, welcome. And to my regular ones, thanks very much for coming back - I'm really very grateful.

A pretending Pretender

August 24 2012

Image of A pretending Pretender

Picture: BG

I was recently in Edinburgh to view an auction, so took the opportunity to visit the Palace of Holyrood again. Well worth a trip if you haven't been. Hanging in Mary, Queen of Scots' former bedchamber was the above portrait described as Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York, son of the Old Pretender James III, and to Jacobites King Henry IX. But sadly it isn't him. A fine portrait of James and his sister hangs close by in the same room. Poor James, dogged as he was by accusations that he was himself not begotten of, James II, I can't bear to think of him being forced to look at an interloper pretending to be his son.

If she had a go at the Mona Lisa...

August 24 2012

Image of If she had a go at the Mona Lisa...

Picture: @frescojesus

Yesterday, the Twitter account @frescojesus had 13 followers. Today it's at 2,000. Well done, whoever you are! See more examples here.

The relationship between dealers and academics

August 24 2012

Image of The relationship between dealers and academics


A reader sends in this gem:

I cannot resist --  by pure coincidence I was re-reading this evening one of Iain Pears's lovely mysteries ('The Immaculate Deception'), and on page 52 is this: "Confessing to being a dealer in academic circles is about as respectable as confessing to having academic interests at a gathering of dealers.  You get nods of understanding, and brave smiles, but the air of disdain that enters the conversation is quite unmistakable.  Neither entirely sympathizes with the other, so the scholar considers dealers to be interested only in money, while dealers hold that academics are vague and inefficient.  It is generally quite the other way around, but no matter."

And for those of us who strive to be both, it's sometimes grim looks all round!

Another plug - prepare to buy my new book!

August 23 2012

Image of Another plug - prepare to buy my new book!

Picture: Bodleian Library

Not art history this, but history. Any readers who happen also to be interested in 19th Century British foreign policy (that's all of you? great!) may like to know about a new book of mine coming out later this year. It will be published by Cambridge University Press for The Royal Historical Society, and focuses on the governments of the 14th Earl of Derby and Benjamin Disraeli (above). More details from the RHS website:

Forthcoming Fifth Series volumes in 2012-2013, Vol. 41.

Geoffrey Hicks, John Charmley, Bendor Grosvenor, eds., Documents on Conservative Foreign Policy, 1852-1878

This volume publishes extracts from over 500 primary documents, with detailed introduction and thorough editorial commentary, relating to the foreign policy of a succession of British Conservative governments in the nineteenth century. It examines the three minority administrations of the fourteenth Earl of Derby (1852; 1858-9; 1866-8) and the two governments led by Benjamin Disraeli (1868; 1874-80). It concludes with the resignation of the fifteenth Earl of Derby as Foreign Secretary in 1878.

It's real hardcore history, full of fascinating documents and a blizzard of footnotes. Ten years in the making - not to be missed!

Update - a reader writes:

I hope your new book follows the proper rules of history: who did or said what is far less important than broad movements and conditions. Actually an archival source book is 'exquisite' beyond the dreams of elitism. A blizzard of footnotes? À la lanterne!

Replace the word 'said' with 'painted', and you have modern art history.

Some free image use from NPG

August 23 2012

Image of Some free image use from NPG

Picture: NPG, Van Dyck's portrait of Kenelm Digby, c.1640

Excellent news that the NPG has decided to relax its image charging policy for academic use. More details in the Museums Journal:

[...] more than 87,000 high-resolution images are available for free for academic use through the gallery’s own licence. Users will be invited to give a donation in return for the service. 

Tom Morgan, head of rights and reproductions at the NPG, said: “Image licensing is really important to the NPG and across the sector, and we’ve always been keen to carefully manage the balance between what we make available for free and what we charge for. 

“Obviously this is quite complex – on one hand, if people are making money from a museum’s content then it’s right the museum should share that profit but we also want to support academic and education activity. So we took the opportunity to look at the way in which we could deliver this service and automate it.”

The gallery previously charged for the use of high-resolution images. It reported £334,000 in revenue from reproduction rights in 2011/12. Following costs of £222,000, this left a profit of £112,000. 

Margins on licensing sales at the NPG have increased from 13% in 2009/10 to 34% in the last financial year.

£222,000 a year to police and process reproduction rights? That's a lot. I suspect that relaxing the rules further and allowing full access to high-resolution images on the NPG site (as they do at Yale) might, in the long-term, be worth more than £112,000 p.a. More people would use the site, more people would get enthused by portraits, and more people would go the gallery. The NPG could still make an income by adding the proviso that commercial publications should contact the gallery to pay for reproductions - I bet that almost all publishing houses would cough up. 

Close-ups of that dodgy restoration

August 23 2012


The lady filmed by the fountain is the 'restorer'. She says she needs more time to 'finish' her work. No!

Someone should do a Downfall-type spoof on this.

Here's my contribution to the story on BBC radio earlier today, 1 hr 57 minutes in here.

Update: apparently there's a petition to keep the fresco as it is. Great idea - it should become the town's new masterpiece. you can even follow the fresco on Twitter.

Connoisseurship - a brief demonstration

August 23 2012

Image of Connoisseurship - a brief demonstration

Picture: Philip Mould & Company

My piece yesterday on connoisseurship and art history has sparked a lively debate, which is excellent. Readers may have noted that I was careful not to overly define connoisseurship (and nor to say that it was the be all and end all of art history, far from it), so here I want to say a little more about what it means in practice. Connoisseurship today is a very different discipline to that practiced in Bernard Berenson's era, which to this day has left a bad taste thanks to his involvement with the dealer Joseph Duveen. Modern technology has also enlarged the connoisseur's armoury. Here's an excerpt from an article I wrote last year on how connoisseurship has changed, in the appropriately titled Fine Art Connoisseur magazine:

[...] modern technology is an increasingly useful tool for today’s ambitious connoisseur. High-resolution digital photography allows the close comparison of works many thousands of miles apart. New methods of scientific analysis are also an aid to connoisseurship. It is now possible to determine what type of pigment or canvas a particular artist favored. Before, connoisseurs relied too heavily on their “instinct” to attribute paintings, giving the practice a bad name. In 1939 the noted art historian Max Friedlander wrote, “The way in which an intuitive verdict is reached can, from the nature of things, only be described inadequately. A picture is shown to me. I glance at it, and declare it to be a work by Memling, without having proceeded to an examination of its full complexity of artistic form.” Unsurprisingly, only about half of Friedlander’s attributions have stood the test of time. Now, science can help us be far more accurate.

Often, those who claim to be connoisseurs can disagree dramatically over paintings. It is therefore easy to be sceptical of connoisseurs, and even to poke fun at ones like Friedlander. The ballooning Rembrandt oeuvre is a good example of the extremes of connoisseurs' views - over a thousand works were attributed to him in the 19th Century, but that fell to about 350 at one point in the 20th Century. However, we need to make a distinction between connoisseurship (a useful art historical tool) and connoisseurs (who are often self-appointed, and often wrong) - though I would point out that there are good connoisseurs and bad connoisseurs, just as there are good and bad doctors. One just has to find, and rely, on the good ones, those whose record can be proved over time. 

And it is still possible to make attributions based purely on looking at a painting - that is, connoisseurship in its most traditional and purest form. The portrait above is an interesting example. It came up for sale in a minor London auction last year, described as 'Circle of Joseph Highmore'. The sitter was unidentified. I had seen the picture in the catalogue but it was only a small thumbnail, and I paid little attention to the illustration. However, the moment I stood in front of the picture my reaction was; 'that's by Ramsay'.

The problem is, I cannot entirely explain why. That is, beyond the fact that it reminded me of other portraits by Allan Ramsay that I have studied over the years. It was an instinctive reaction (though it rarely happens like that). And therein lies the connoisseur's Achilles Heel, for this is what makes critics of connoisseurship uncomfortable. Today's world demands instant proof and irrefutable verdicts. But explaining a judgement based on what we might call old-fashioned connoisseurship is exceedingly difficult, no matter how articulately one sets out comparisons of brushstrokes, colour and composition. Just saying, 'because it looks like a Ramsay', won't really do.

Still, I believed in my hunch and so did my employer, Philip Mould. We bought the picture. Cleaning further reinforced our belief that it was by Ramsay, and in time we found that other Ramsay experts agreed with us. The pleasingly irrefutable evidence, however, only emerged some time later, and indeed after we had sold it (to a US museum), in the form of a preparatory drawing by Ramsay for the head in the Yale Center for British Art (below), which Philip found online.    

And yet, had we not found the drawing, should we have laid claim to finding a lost work by Alan Ramsay (an early work, incidentally, dated to about 1750, and a rare case of an early painting with a related drawing)? Those who do not believe in connoisseurship would surely have to argue no - and in doing so not only falsely restrict Ramsay's oeuvre, but the evolution of art history itself. 


Update - a reader writes:

Interesting follow up. What you haven't explained it why it matters that's by Ramsay.

There's no pleasing some people...

When art history goes wrong

August 22 2012

Image of When art history goes wrong

Picture: OUP

Rant alert. I've recently come across a book called Art History: A Very Short Introduction by Dana Arnold, a Professor of History of Art at the University of Southampton. Sadly, it wasn't short enough. Just two pages in, when describing connoisseurship, it demonstrates what has gone wrong with modern art history:


Art appreciation and criticism are also linked to connoisseurship. By its very name this implies something far more elitist than just enjoying looking at art. A connoisseur is someone who has a specialist knowledge or training in a particular field of the fine or decorative arts. The specialist connoisseur may work for an auction house – we have all seen how on television programmes such as the Antiques Roadshow experts are able to identify and value all manner of objects, not just paintings, on the basis of looking at them closely and asking only very few questions of the owner. This kind of art appreciation is linked to the art market and involves being able to recognize the work of individual artists as this has a direct effect on the work’s monetary value.

Another aspect of connoisseurship is its relationship to our understanding of taste. A connoisseur’s taste in relation to art is considered to be refined and discriminating. Our concept of taste in relation to art is quite complicated, and inevitably it is bound up in our ideas about social class. Let me take a little time to explore this more fully. I have already discussed the practice of art appreciation – art available for all and seen and enjoyed by all. By contrast, connoisseurship imposes a kind of hierarchy of taste. The meaning of taste here is a combination of two definitions of the word: our faculty of making discerning judgements in aesthetic matters, and our sense of what is proper and socially acceptable. But by these definitions taste is both culturally and socially determined, so that what is considered aesthetically ‘good’ and socially ‘acceptable’ differs from one culture or society to another. The fact that our taste is culturally determined is something of which we have to be aware, and this crops up throughout this book. Here, though, it is important to think about the social dimension of taste as having more to do with art as a process of social exclusion – we are meant to feel intimidated if we don’t know who the artist is, or worse still if we don’t feel emotionally moved through the ‘exquisiteness’ of the work. We have all read or heard the unmistakable utterances of these connoisseurs. But luckily their world does not belong to art history. Instead, art history is an open subject available to everyone with an interest in looking at, thinking about, and understanding the visual. It is my intention in this book to describe how we can engage with art in these ways.

Now, Dana, I have a few questions for you. When you look at a painting, don't you want to know who painted it? Why is being a specialist in any field of study, even a branch of art history, 'elitist'? If a connoisseur is a specialist, then what has this got to do with taste? More importantly, what has it got to do with social class? Do you really think that knowing who painted a picture is a skill a) only related to the art market, and b) designed to intimidate those who don't know? When Leonardo's newly discovered Salvator Mundi was exhibited at the National Gallery last year, were you not able to enjoy it because it was the result of elitist intimidation, or did you think it was a significant advance in art history?

I pity anyone who has the misfortune to study art history under Dana. When I look at a painting, I like to know who painted it. And I bet that, secretly, quite a few of Dana's students do too. So let me remind them, and Dana, that just because connoisseurship is a long, foreign-sounding word, it has nothing to do with matters of taste or matters of class. The word connoisseurship derives from the Latin cognoscere, which means 'to get to know'. So a connoisseur of, say, Rembrandt, is someone who has got to know Rembrandt's work so well that he or she can begin to discern what is and isn't a Rembrandt. That's all there is to it. It isn't elitist. It isn't intimidating. Anyone can do it. In the past, some connoisseurs may have been intimidating, and even elitist. Many were just plain wrong. But that's just a reflection on the person, not the skill. In the same way, some art history professors can be wallies. It doesn't mean all of them are.

On his blog, the art historian and Poussin expert David Packwood gave a glimpse of how art history used to be taught when he wrote that a previous tutor of his had once said to him (I'm paraphrasing) 'before you say anything about this picture, prove to me that the artist painted it'. The tutor was asking him to be a connoisseur, and showing how the basic technique of being able to tell who painted what, and when, should be the first skill of any aspiring art historian. In that sense, some connoisseurial* ability should be the foundation of all art history.

But Dana Arnold says that 'luckily' the connoisseur's world 'does not belong to art history'. I say that, luckily, her form of art history does not belong to my world. In fact, one can increasingly draw a distinction between the history of art, and 'art history'. The former is what we talk about on this blog. The latter, in the context described above, is merely chippy sociology, with pictures. 

* I think I've made this word up, but you know what I mean.

Update - some lively responses to this, particularly on Twitter. One tweeter writes:

Critiques of connoisseurship don't argue that the name of the artist is not useful, just of limited use. 

...and AHN weeps. However, Tribune De L'Art tweets:

100% d'accord avec Bendor Grosvenor.


Another reader highlights the strange anxiety that many art historians have got themselves into over connoisseurship - many think that it is something seperate from art history, and to be treated with caution:

Connoisseurship is a basic tool for art history, but art history encompasses many more approaches. Connoisseurship is needed to define what we're talking about, but to interpret we need the 'sociological' etc. approach too.

Another reader, art historian Dr Matt Loder, writes in a similar vein:

Before you can start to work out who produced an artwork, you have to look at it. And in looking, you will react. And understanding that reaction is what you call "sociology with pictures". It logically must come before attribution. So, whilst I agree that Arnold is too blunt, you are too. There's useful middle ground most of us are trying to occupy.

All of which is self-evidently true. Examining the human reaction to art is a perfectly valid field of study (tho' surely the extremity of the reaction suggested above - that is, the first reaction before you know who painted a picture, or know in which context to place it - belongs more in the field of pyschology than the history of art). And of course there are more approaches to art history than just connoisseurship. Nowhere above did I say that connoisseurship was the only way to look at and understand art. That would be silly. My point is that some people, such as Dana Arnold, seem to think that connoisseurship is not the 'basic tool for art history' that it surely must be. For if we are not first sure of the basic facts of any work of art - who created it, when it was created, what condition it is in - no other analysis can be securely made. Obviously, in some cases we cannot know the artist's name, but it's always worth trying to find out.

Here's a true story to show what happens if art historians don't have the basic skill of connoisseurship: a friend of mine went to a lecture about how a certain seminal painting told us everything there was to know about artist X. The painting in question, however, was by another artist entirely.

Further updates - Three Pipe Problem, who should know better, choses to bring race into the debate:

In response to me posting the above, 3PP tweets back:

I think the less said the better, don't you? Meanwhile, an art historian writes:

I was called a connoisseur at a conference earlier this year, and I don't think it was meant as a compliment. Sometimes, in order not to startle or alarm anyone, I will refer to connoisseurship as 'comparative visual analysis'...

Great idea!

Another reader writes:

BTW, art history academics seem themselves to confuse two senses of the word "elite": one is a matter of power, of politics (including family and class politics); the other is a matter of quality.  They can overlap -- e.g. in the Soviet Union where taste in quality was imposed by crude power, even arguably in capitalist marketing although that seems more likely to go for the lowest common denominator with money to spend -- but they are not the same thing.  Otherwise, elitist is just a jargon insult, without useful meaning.

Another reader observes:

[It] strikes me connoisseurship is valuable for pricing so this commercial side of it would put academics off.

True, but surely sad as well.

Update III - this post sparked off a long debate on the site. To see more, put 'connoisseurship' into the search box.

When restoration goes wrong

August 22 2012

Image of When restoration goes wrong

Picture: Borjanos Studies Centre

Once upon a time, in a small town in Spain, a kindly pensioner saw that a painting of Christ in her local church was in bad condition. Fancying herself as something of an artist, and keen to perform her good deed of the day, she decided she would have a go at restoring the fresco herself. After all, how hard could it be? So she popped out to her local art shop and, when nobody was looking,* snuck into the church to begin her work. After much care and patching up, she stepped back to admire her divinely inspired conservation skills. Excelente! Christ was now complete again. He looked much nicer clean shaven, and not only altogether cheerier without that uncomfortable crown of thorns, but warmer too with a tasteful woolly balaclava.

I am a restoration genio, she thought. Perhaps when the Prado finds its next over-painted Mona Lisa, they'll let me have a go?

This is a true story, and a vivid example of how over-paint can get out of hand. I quite often come across pictures that have been over-painted to within an inch of their lives. What happens is this; the incompetent conservator fills in one area of damage and re-touches it. But then, because his or her over-paint doesn't match the surrounding area properly, they just carry on over-painting in ever-increasing circles until soon the whole painting is over-painted. One of our forthcoming episodes of 'Fake or Fortune?' (starts BBC1 16th Sept) will be about an over-painted picture. 

* Not so - apprently the vicar knew all about it!

Why war and history don't mix

August 21 2012

Video: National Geographic

A tank shells Roman ruins in Apamea, Syria.


August 20 2012

Slow service today I'm afraid. We're filming for the last day of the new series of 'Fake or Fortune?'. The series will start on BBC1 on Sunday 16th September (time to be confirmed, probably 7pm). We will be featuring paintings that may, or may not, be by Degas, Turner and Van Dyck.

Expect many more plugs for this over the next few weeks.

Picasso stopped for export

August 20 2012

Image of Picasso stopped for export

Picture: Tate

The sale of Picasso's Girl with a Dove (first revealed exclusively here on AHN) has gone ahead at £50m, and the government has put on the inevitable temporary export bar. The picture was sold privately by Christie's for £50m. Museums have until December to raise the moolah. It appears that, unlik the Manet recently, there is no tax remission. So don't hold your breath.

Meanwhile, let's see what some people made of the news, from The Guardian's comments section:

  • Art is in the eye of the beholder. If it didn't have Picasso's signature on it,would you buy it in an Oxfam shop.
  • If I painted that you wouldn't give me 50p for it and frankly I wouldn't want it free.
  • This painting is just a piece of sentimental kitsch. Only the signature has people stopping to look twice at it. If it was in a junk shop, everyone would walk past it.
  • many hospitals can we build, invest it sport, buy numerous other artworks, or support young artists.

Update - a reader sends more news on the tax situation:

The Picasso is listed among the Conditionally Exempt items on HMRC's website so, I would assume, there would deferred tax to pay on it.  This would accord with it's listing on the Arts Council site under notices of intention to sell which links to information on private treaty sales. Maybe the tax will be settled by surrendering other property from the same source; possibly the Manet of the banks of the Seine (currently on loan to the Courtauld I think).

 So a similar situation to the Rutland Poussins: the tax payable the sale of the painting to Texas and the one on offer to the Fitzwilliam allowing the latter institution to only look to a £4M purchase price - as opposed to the £15M each.

Topless art history

August 19 2012

Image of Topless art history

Picture: The Guardian

In Caracas, topless protesters have assembeled outside the Museum of Contemporary Art to demand the swift return of the museum's prized but missing Matisse. The painting, Odalisque in Red Trousers, was recently recovered by the FBI in the US. From The Guardian:

The women were photographed by the Venezuelan artist Violette Bule in poses reminiscent of the 1925 post-impressionist work that was replaced with a fake over a decade ago.

"My main goal is to have the original returned but I also want to call attention to the irony behind the way the art market works," said Bule, who masterminded the ensemble. "After this scandal, the Odalisque will surely be worth much more," she added.

Probably not. But it's an interesting way to protest, and has hopefully set a new precedent - if so one might almost wish that the Rokeby Venus be stolen. Imagine the scene in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, there are alarming reports that quite a few more pictures from the Caracas museum have gone missing.

A 'rare opportunity'

August 17 2012

This sounds like fun, a job opportunity at the Royal Academy*:

An exciting and rare opportunity for an exceptional individual has arisen to join the Academy’s Exhibitions team as a Curator.

The successful candidate will have extensive and varied curatorial experience, gained ideally within a prominent arts institution. Drawing upon an established network of contacts, they will be a skilled operator, experienced with all aspects of the exhibition’s life cycle from idea generation, financial viability, working with external guest curators, and sourcing and negotiating loan arrangements through to its implementation and the provision of lectures and seminars, so realising the ambitions of the Academy’s exhibitions programme. 

They will have a solid History of Art background, ideally knowledgeable in the Old Master period, with fluency in an additional European language. Specialists are welcome to apply but will be expected to work on a wide variety of exhibitions. Well presented, articulate and confident with a creative flair, they will possess well-honed organisational and communications skills to build effective working relationships with internal colleagues and external stakeholders. A strong and experienced people manager, who is able to delegate effectively, they will supervise the work of junior curatorial staff and volunteers, and identify personal development opportunities for the team.

*via the Association of Art Historians

Headbanger of the Day

August 17 2012

Image of Headbanger of the Day

Picture: World News 

Indeed, let's upgrade him to Headbanger of the Month. This morning my shower was ruined by the sound of David Ruffley MP suggesting, on the Today programme, that we should cut government spending by abolishing the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Now, having worked for the Conservative Party I'm used to the occasional headbanging Tory MP making loony suggestions. Normally, they are kept safely on the backbenches and nobody takes much notice. But Ruffley is quite well regarded amongst his colleagues. So to hear him calling for the cessation of state support for the arts and heritage is alarming - especially if you've worked hard, as I and former colleagues have (and as people like Ed Vaizey continue to) to overturn the notion that the Conservative party doesn't care about the arts and heritage. Ruffley says we should axe DCMS because it wastes 'unproductive' government spending. That is, it doesn't generate growth or jobs. Well, Ruffers, pop along to the British Museum and see how many overseas tourists are thronging its galleries. Or the National Gallery - I could go on. Plus there's the awkward question of who's going to pay to conserve all those dusty bits of our national heritage that aren't appealing to the private sector. That's what government spending is for, Ruffers; to pick up the cost of things nobody else will pay for. Like the military, that other famously productive arm of government spending.

Ruffley also said that it was only thanks to the Liberal Democrats that George Osborne didn't cut government spending even more in 2010. In which case, and I never thought I'd say this, thank God for Nick Clegg. There have for some time been rumours that DCMS will be abolished, with the excuse that the Olympics are over and there's not much for it to do. It could also be seen as a useful way to deal with the Jeremy Hunt problem, which is sure to flare up again when Lord Leveson reports in the Autumn. But I hear that Culture will retain its own department and seat at the Cabinet table, but will leave its swanky offices in Trafalgar Square (actually, I've been there and they're pretty dull), and be re-housed within the Treasury. However, this curious form of government hot desking probably means that the department will soon cease to be.

Update - an academic writes:

I am often asked by parents of applicants to my university department what 'the point' of art history is, and I find that people are often surprised and impressed by how a strong economic argument can be made for the subject's importance.

According to the Visit Britain website the value of tourism to the UK economy is approximately £115bn or 8.8% of GDP. Much of that tourism - probably most of it - is heritage and arts related. Museums and galleries are regularly in the list of top visitor attractions.

The big 3 in London - British Museum, National Gallery and Tate - are among the most visited art destinations in the world and top the league table of UK visitor destinations:

In addition to tourism, we can add in the economic activity generated by the art market (large and small), and the economic growth stimulated by publicly funded arts projects - Turner Contemporary, for example, in Margate has had a real stimulus on the local economy. Both private and public sectors play their parts therefore.

It would be nice to have a less impressionistic analysis and some solid figures to back this up but I bet art history can be closely linked to a sizeable percentage of GDP - perhaps even equivalent to the contribution of the City?

History of Art A-Level

August 16 2012

Today is A-level results day in the UK (the last exams before you go to college/university). For some it will be a moment of joyous celebration, but for many others it won't. To the former, well done and congratulations. To the latter, fret not. As an occasional employer, I have never once judged anyone on their A-level results. It's what you do next which really marks you out.

For any readers wanting to bring back those dreadful exam memories - the final all-night revision session, the anxiety, the sweating, the last-minute dash to the lav (or was that just me?) - here are some questions from the 2011 history of art A-level:

[1 hr 30 mins] Answer three questions.

Question 1 Materials, techniques and processes - Discuss how the use of different media has an effect on the appearance of two paintings.

Question 2 Form and style - Analyse the formal features of two sculptures which are stylistically different.

Question 3 Form and function - Discuss the formal aspects of two buildings, each of which fulfils a different function.

Question 4 Historical and social contexts - Select two works of art, each by a different artist, and comment on how each artist has responded to the time in which they lived.

Question 5 Patronage - How are the motives of the patron(s) reflected in two works of art and/or architecture?

Question 6 Gender, nationality and ethnicity - Show how national identity is evident in the appearance of two buildings.

They seem to me impossibly vague, hardly designed to test a broad knowledge of art history. 

Update - a reader writes:

Are you not too strict on the Art A Level?  I've had a look at the 2009 paper and the 'analysis' section asks you to talk about Wright's Experiment with an air pump, Rodin's Balzac and Smythson's Hardwick Hall. Not a mode-of-alienation or a functionality in sight, just 'imagine you're Kenneth Clark talking about...' I thought that was quite encouraging.

All you need now is a bonus 'connoisseurship' paper ('distinguish the autograph painting from the studio copies, giving reasons for your answer') and the future looks rosy.

Excelent idea. Meanwhile, over on Twitter, reader Holly Howe points us to a history of art 'Higher Level' in Ireland - now this looks hard. First, it's two and half hours long, plus the paper says; 'Sketches and diagrams should be used to illustrate the points you make.' There's a section first on specifically Irish art history, of which there's no equivalent in the English paper, and then these fiendish questions on European Art:

8. The Christian church influenced the development of art and architecture during the Romanesque period. Discuss this statement making detailed reference to the structure, layout and decoration of one named church from the period.

Name and discuss briefly one example of Romanesque sculpture that you have studied. Illustrate your answer.

9. Describe and discuss “The Flagellation of Christ” by Piero della Francesca (1420-1492), which is illustrated on the accompanying sheet. Make reference to the period in which it was produced, composition, style, and the use of light and colour in the painting.

Name and discuss briefly one other work by this artist. Illustrate your answer.

10. Describe and discuss the work of Raphael (1483-1520) referring in detail to subject matter, composition, the depiction of space and treatment of the human figure in one named work by him.

Discuss briefly his overall contribution to the High Renaissance. Illustrate your answer.

11. Describe and discuss “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein (1497-1543), which is illustrated on the accompanying sheet, making detailed reference to the subject matter, composition, style, technique and the symbolism in the painting.

Discuss briefly Holbein’s contribution to the art of portraiture. Illustrate your answer.

12. Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was a major innovator in the history of painting. Discuss this statement with reference to his painting, “Le Mont St Victoire” which is illustrated on the accompanying sheet.

Name and discuss briefly one other named work by Cézanne. Illustrate your answer.

I can't really draw, so probably wouldn't even get an F in this. But I think I'd rather answer these questions than the more interpretive ones in the English paper. As Inspector Clouseau nearly said, 'Facts... nothing matters but the facts, without them art history is nothing more than a guessing game'.

Selling second hand paintings, US style

August 15 2012

Image of Selling second hand paintings, US style

Picture: Christie's

You thought Christie's Interior Sales were a place to buy cheap-ish antiques and paintings? Think again. In New York, Christie's 'style and beauty expert' Mary Alice Stephenson says it's all about the experience of 'self-curating':

“Speaking of curated experiences, that’s really what Christie’s Interiors sales are. You can find incredible pieces that fit into different aspects of your life. Right now, the DIY movement informs how so many people approach style and décor, and a big part of that overall philosophy is taking objects that had another use or lived in someone else’s world and incorporating them into your own in a thoughtful, sophisticated way. Many of the works you’ll find here have stories—or are the perfect start to a new story that’s all your own.”

I've looked to see if Christie's has a 'style and beauty expert' in London, but it seems they don't. I guess some things don't translate across the Atlantic. As George Bernard Shaw said, we're 'two nations seperated by a common language'. 

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