Previous Posts: August 2012

In the US, up to 55 years jail for art fraud.

August 15 2012

Image of In the US, up to 55 years jail for art fraud.

Picture: LA Times

Tough sentences (rightly) for dodgy dealers in the US - last year I reported on a Los Angeles art dealer, Matthew Taylow, who was charged with fraud, theft and selling fakes. The fake charges were dropped by prosecutors, but Taylor has now been found guilty of possessing two stolen paintings, and not paying income tax on past dealing activities. The LA Times reports that he faces up to 55 years in a Federal jail. In the UK, you'd have to knock off several grannies to get a sentence like that.

Good website / Bad website

August 15 2012

Time for another entry in our new series. Named and shamed in the sin bin today are two sites with woeful collection search functions: Royal Museums Greenwich, and the Royal Collection. In both cases, these are new websites which are worse than the old ones. (This seems to happen a lot - anyone know why? Another example is Bonhams, whose new site is infinitely worse than the old one.)  

In the heavenly corner of praise are two model sites for collection searching, easy to use and with decent size images: The V&A, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

How corrupt is the Chinese art market?

August 14 2012

Unbelievably so, according to Abigail Esman in this must-read article at

The art world gets a reality TV series

August 14 2012

Video: Bravo

A reader alerts me to 'Gallery Girls', a new TV reality show based on the lives of a group of girls in the New York art world. Sadly, it's not available outside the US at the moment. But after watching the trailer you might not mind that.

'I glory in the name of Briton'*

August 13 2012

Video: BBC

I guess you know you're getting carried away with Olympic fever when you think Damien Hirst's Union Jack spin painting, seen on the floor of the closing ceremony, was actually quite good. But then these last few weeks have been extraordinary for us Brits, so forgive me the odd lapse of taste. Not only have we staged the Best Olympics Ever, we've also come third in the medal table, behind the USA and China. We thrashed Australia. And, better yet, we proved Mitt Romney wrong. It's the first time Britain has done something supremely well on an international scale, and to global applause, since winning the War. Even the Argentines had a good time.

The pre-Games pessimism (would our transport system work? could we afford it? would we win anything?) was a mark of how low our national self-esteem had fallen. I'm not just talking about our present double-dipping economic woes, but our longer-term national decline into gloomy, Daily Mail-inspired Little Englanders. But thanks to the Games (and their peerless transmission into our living rooms by the BBC, above) we seem to want to see ourselves afresh. I was lucky enough to go to the men's 100m final (TV doesn't do justice to how fast those guys run), and in the Olympic Park everyone was cheerful, strangers talked to each other, and, most unusually of all, people were proud to be British. Brilliantly, our new national hero was an immigrant from Africa, Mo Farah. We were unified, at ease with ourselves and the diverse nation we have become. It was a bit like living in America. We're gripped by the Olympic spirit. Not even Alex Salmond can stop us now. Long may it last. 

* as George III once said.

Update - a reader writes:

Much enjoyed your post on the Olympics - and we Brits have achieved great things.  But don't think that we have not been through a similar period of achievement but subsequent disappointment in relatively recent history.  I so well remember the atmosphere of achievement and optimism at the time of the Coronation in 1953...

On Coronation Day the newspapers were bought by us excited teenagers camping overnight on the Mall.  The Daily Mirror was printed in gold, with a huge headline: “The Crowning Glory – Everest is Climbed”… the first we knew of Hilary and Tensing’s momentous achievement.  There were other expressions of triumph lauding the ‘New Elizabethan Age’, the popular sentiment of the day.  Advertisements for Air France proudly proclaimed “The only airline flying the de Havilland Comet and jet-prop Vickers Viscount” – British-built and the first and only jet-powered aircraft in airline service... the envy of the Americans.  Britain ‘Led the World’ in so many ways:  Jaguar and Aston Martin were winning the Le Mans 24-hour races; the ‘Glorious Glosters’ had won fame and a VC in Korea; our motorcar, aircraft and shipbuilding industries were supreme… The Jodrell Bank radio-telescope and Calder Hall, Europe’s first nuclear power station, were further proof of our scientific achievement.  A year before, the Festival of Britain had launched a new era in domestic and industrial art, architecture and design. The Royal Ballet was the envy of the western theatre; Britten, Walton and Vaughan-Williams were our greatest living composers.  Cunard’s ‘Queen’ liners were unloading thousands of Americans at Southampton to attend the coronation of our beautiful young Queen.  Churchill was our Prime Minister, the most famous of all living international leaders, presiding over a Commonwealth of Nations that spanned the globe, as did the Royal Navy's Fleets and dockyards.  The whole world looked on in admiration, envying our outstanding achievements in trade, technology, industry, the arts and engineering - and our huge contribution to winning the second world war.

Tragic. What happened? He concludes:

Yet, what is the ‘legacy’ of all that heady optimism today?  Whatever the undoubted success of London 2012, we should beware of  complacency bred from success in sport alone.  There is far more urgent work to be done if we are to regain, in other fields, the international respect accorded to our athletes in the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, a reader from Canada gives another perspective:

You are right; the London games were a triumph for Britain. Hopefully the resulting positive triumphalism will sustain people in the face of quotidian reality. However, your comments reminded me of Canadian’s collective joy during the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, when heavy investment in a multi-year support program for athletes, rather embarrassingly called “Own the Podium,” translated into a pleasing medal haul (the most gold won by a country at a single winter games). 

It was a great party and probably most of us got fan fever to some degree for sixteen days. Indeed, there was absolute delirium when the Canadian team beat the Americans for gold in hockey (our self-proclaimed national sport). Lasting impact? The hockey final is mentioned occasionally. Also, periodically there is a news item about the difficulties encountered selling units in the Olympic Village (designed as a condominium complex). Otherwise, not much.

Perhaps such successes – the efforts of a few enjoyed by many – are not sufficient to remain with us as a touch point of lasting national pride. Nonetheless, you Brits have much to celebrate, everything that happened between the Queen’s dramatic arrival at the opening to the Spice Girls dancing on top of black cabs during the closing ceremony. We enjoyed it all!

If in doubt, rip off Leonardo

August 13 2012

Image of If in doubt, rip off Leonardo

Picture: Lionsgate

Art history books - the future?

August 13 2012

Image of Art history books - the future?

Picture: iTunes

If you think about it, art history is perfectly suited to take advantage of the digital publishing revolution - but few art historians are embracing it. So I'm intrigued to see of James Taylor-Forester's new interactive book for iPads, Monet: Colour in Impressionism, which is launched today. There are videos, high-resolution images and all sorts of interesting gizmos, presenting Monet as never before. More details here

Poussin appeal for Fitzwilliam

August 13 2012

Image of Poussin appeal for Fitzwilliam

Picture: Cambridge News

Hot on the heels of the Ashmolean's purchase of Manet's Mademoiselle Claus in Oxford, the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge has announced that it will try to acquire one of the Duke of Rutland's Poussins. Extreme Unction is on offer to the museum for a bargain £3.9m under the government's inheritance tax scheme, and is valued at £14 million. The museum has until November to raise the funds - which is not much time. It's perhaps not the sort of picture to ignite a large public campaign like the Manet, so here's hoping the Heritage Lottery Fund will come to the rescue again. 

If not, the picture will most likely end up in the US. Extreme Unction is one of the Duke's four remaining Seven Sacraments from Poussin's first series painted between 1637-40. One was lost in a fire at Belvoir Castle in 1816, one was sold to the National Gallery in Washington in 1939, and another was sold recently (for £15m) to the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas.

The second series of the Sacraments can be seen together at the National Gallery of Scotland, and belong to the Duke of Sutherland. The two sets make an interesting example of differing ducal fortunes. 

Civil Servant to head National Trust

August 13 2012

Image of Civil Servant to head National Trust

Picture: Home Office/BBC

Dame Helen Ghosh, permanent secretary at the Home Office, has been appointed the new director general of the National Trust.

Guffwatch - how it began

August 13 2012

Over on Artinfo, Kyle Chayka highlights an article by Alix Rule and David Levine on the origins of 'International Art English', known in this parish as Guff:

The hypnotizing argot of the art world is familiar to anyone who has ever tried to decipher a gallery press release or encountered a nebulous artist statement. It’s a vocabulary of modified adjectives and abstract nouns, of concepts that get deconstructed and ideas that get interrogated, distributed practices and embraced ambiguity. In a recent article for the innovative web publication Triple Canopy, Alix Rule and David Levine coin the term “International Art English” (shorthanded “IAE,” roughly equivalent to the popular nickname “artspeak”) to describe this language, tracing its history and divining its murky rules. IAE “always recommends using more rather than fewer words,” the authors write; it “sounds like inexpertly translated French;” is marked by an “uncanny stillness;” and has a heavy “dependence on lists” (guilty as charged).

Rule and Levine have arrived at their findings by sorting through the past 13 years of press releases from e-flux, an online art project and distribution platform founded by artists Anton Vidokle, Julieta Aranda, Adriana Arenas, Josh Welber, and Terence Gower in 1999 that sends out paid-for announcements to its 90,000-plus-member email list. Rule and Levine loaded the collected press releases into Sketch Engine, a piece of software that analyzes linguistic behavior and trends from bodies of text. The tendencies that they discovered are obvious in retrospect — an overreliance on adverbs, repetition of adjectives, and a preponderance of subordinate clauses — but more striking is their outlining of the past and possible future of IAE. 

Rule and Levine peg the origin of IAE to the critical journal October, founded in 1976 by art historians Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson. October introduced French post-structuralist philosophers to American audiences, translating the writing for the new publication. So begins IAE’s departure from standard English. The approximations, vagaries, and quirks of those French-to-English translations, as Rule and Levine describe, took on the status of art-writing tropes and were widely emulated by less scholarly magazines, then galleries, institutions, and artists, in a process of semantic entropy. A language originally invented by and for the elite of the art world that “allowed some writers to sound more authoritative than others” trickled down and became destabilized in the process, eventually morphing into the pidgin we know (and don’t love) today.

Here's a reminder of how they write IAE at the auction houses.

Berger Prize winner

August 10 2012

Image of Berger Prize winner

Picture: Yale Books

Congratulations to Terry Friedman, who has won the annual £5,000 Berger Prize for British Art History with his book 'The Eighteenth Century Church in Britain'. You can buy a copy of hte book - described as 'quite simply definitive' - here

When the system works

August 10 2012

Image of When the system works

Picture: Ashmolean

The Ashmolean's acquisition of Manet's Mademoisselle Claus has been most impressive. Normally a picture worth £28.4 million could never be afforded by a British institution (in fact, is it the most expensive acquisition to date?). However, the case has shown how the government system to help museums acquire paintings can work, if it is matched by a museum's enthusiasm and can-do attitude.

The bulk of the price is of course tax foregone by the Treasury (£20.6m), thanks to the Inheritance Tax Act of 1984, while the time to raise the necessary funds came courtesy of an export licence deferral of six months. A surprisingly large contribution of £5.9m for the remainder came from the Heritage Lottery Fund (well done them, keep it up please). Effectively, therefore, the picture was bought with £26.5m of state sourced funding, with the balance of £1.95m coming from the private sector; £850,000 from the Art Fund, and £1.1m from other donors. Many congratulations to all involved.

Meanwhile, in the LA Times report of the good news is this most curious sentence:

The halting of the painting's export caused some ruckus in the art world, with some people questioning why Britain should have a cultural claim to a work created by a French Impressionist painter.

Berlin Gemaldegalerie update

August 10 2012

Image of Berlin Gemaldegalerie update


The mad plan to put half of the Gemaldegalerie's Old Masters into long-term storage - to make way for a gift of modern and contemporary art - has drawn more criticism. The Art Newspaper reports:

Conservators in Germany have joined the protest over plans to relocate the world-famous collection of Old Masters in Berlin's Gemäldegalerie. Under the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz's (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) plan, the estimated 3,000 works will move into the much smaller Bode Museum to make way for modern art including the collection of Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch. Any Old Master that cannot be displayed in the smaller space will go into storage for an estimated six years until a new space is found for the collection on the capital's Museum Island.

The move, which was announced at the beginning of July, poses a “significant conservation risk”, said a statement released by the Bonn-based Verband der Restauratoren (Association of Restorers) on 19 July. The association, which has around 2,500 members, argues that the Pietzsch collection should move into the Gemäldegalerie only when a suitable location has been found to accommodate the Old Masters. “Only then can transport be reduced and the possibility that large parts of the collection will disappear into stores for years be avoided,” the statement said. “Any handling, packaging and transportation—even within the building—means mechanical stress and climatic changes to the works, which weakens their substance.”

If you haven't already, sign the online petition against the plan here.

Beach Volleyball in London c.1752

August 9 2012

Image of Beach Volleyball in London c.1752

Picture: Dorotheum

Dorotheum have announced that they will auction the above Canaletto of Horse Guards Parade (where today we're hosting the Olympic Small Bikini Wearing Competition Beach Volleyball games) on 17th October. It is apparently one of only three Canalettos painted on panel. More details and a better image here.

A hair to prove a Van Gogh?

August 9 2012

Image of A hair to prove a Van Gogh?

Picture: Telegraph

A hair found on a disputed Van Gogh is going to be DNA tested to see if it is Van Gogh's. From The Telegraph:

In a bid to settle one of the mysteries of the art world, the three inch long, red hair was lifted from "Still Life with Peonies" and DNA samples taken from it will be compared with those from Van Gogh's living relatives.

If confirmed a Van Gogh, the painting could fetch a value of £39 million and make Cologne art collector Markus Roubrocks, its owner, a multi millionaire.

The bright painting of a vase of multicoloured peonies resting on a wooden floor was discovered in a Belgian attic in 1977, and since then debate has raged in the art world whether it is the work of the Dutch master.

Mr Roubrocks, who inherited the painting from his father, has always argued it is an original Van Gogh dating from the spring of 1889 just a year before the artist took his own life. Two independent art experts who examined the picture independently backed his claim, but the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam contests this, saying the brush strokes are inconsistent with Van Gogh's style, and therefore the painting is nothing more than an expert piece of forgery.

Pity the article doesn't tell us what type of hair it is. Attribution by pube - now that's a story.

Optimism update

August 8 2012

Image of Optimism update

Picture: Daily Mail

More on that loony Leonardo 'discovery'; here's the official website, and apparently The Daily Mail has 'won serialisation rights' to the book. This says a lot about the Mail.

Cranach returned to Poland

August 8 2012

Image of Cranach returned to Poland

Picture: Art Newspaper

The Art Newspaper reports on one of the strangest restitution cases I've ever seen:

According to Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the painting was taken from the cathedral in Wroclaw, then known as Breslau and part of German territory, to protect it from Allied air raids. Cranach was known to be one of Hitler’s favourite artists and it is possible that it was ear marked for inclusion in the planned Führermuseum, Linz. 

After the war, the picture was returned to the Diocesan Museum, Wroclaw rather than the war-damaged cathedral. It had been broken in two and officials decided to have it restored. Siegfried Zimmer, a German priest and amateur art collector and painter, was commissioned to take care of the restoration work, but he instead had a copied made between 1946 to 1947 and stole away to Berlin with the actual Cranach. The hoax was not uncovered until 1961, when a Polish conservator examined the picture and found it to be a modern copy. The original passed through private hands until it made its way to an unnamed Swiss collector who held it until his recent death, when it was left to the Diocese of St Gallen.

Update - a reader writes:

Surely the photo is of the forgery, or much overpainted if it's the original. The Madonna's face looks very 'South Pacific' and the whole thing is like those murals in Greek hotels when I was young.

The painting in the photo is certainly the one handed over to the Poles - see more photos here and a high-res here. But that would be a great way to steal a painting; persuade some faraway museum that they have a copy by inventing a tale of post-war duplicity, and then present them with the 'real' picture while you take away the copy. I feel a novel coming on...

I hear of good news...

August 8 2012

Image of I hear of good news...

Picture: Guardian

Update - it's official, from The Independent:

Museum director Christopher Brown said: "The public's response to the campaign for the Manet has been overwhelming.

"The museum is enormously grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, other foundations and many individuals who contributed so generously and helped us save Manet for the public.

"To have succeeded in acquiring the portrait this year, when the UK is in the international spotlight, is something of which the museum and the entire country can be proud.

"This is one of the most important pictures of the 19th century, which has been in Britain since its sale following the artist's death in 1884. Its acquisition has transformed the Ashmolean's collection and has at a stroke made Oxford into a leading centre for the study of Impressionist painting."

You heard it here first...

Be an intern at the NPG

August 7 2012

From the NPG website:

18th Century Collections Curatorial Department Internship Opportunity

The National Portrait Gallery is seeking to appoint an intern for six months [one day a week] with a proven interest in portraiture to gain experience in general curatorial work and research across a number of projects.  The main focus of the internship will be on the 18th-Century Collections but an interest in the portraiture of other periods is desirable.  Tasks may include answering public enquiries, scoping out ideas for the annual redisplay of Regency miniatures, research towards a forthcoming display on World War Two and the RAF at Beningbrough Hall, Yorkshire and research support towards an academic study of portrait print collecting and extra-illustration in eighteenth-century Britain. As a large part of the internship will involve research in libraries and archives in London, it would be an advantage to have completed an MA or be engaged in a programme of PhD study.

It's a shame the NPG doesn't want to pay for such a highly qualified candidate.

Hughes and Hockney

August 7 2012


I want that sketchbook.

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