Previous Posts: December 2012

Boom (ctd.)?

December 31 2012

Image of Boom (ctd.)?

Picture: Getty/FT, Sotheby's sells Munch's 'The Scream' for $120m

In the FT, Georgina Adam looks back over the art market's stellar prices this year:

Well. What a year that was

Economically speaking, 2012 was dismal in many parts of the world, but the art market again demonstrated astonishing resilience, racking up records at the top end and maintaining some momentum at the bottom end, even if the middle market found the going tough.

Overall, according to the art site, sales of fine art at auction until just before Christmas were more than $9bn, and are expected to top $10bn once complete figures for the year are in. This shows a contraction compared with 2011’s record-breaking $11.8bn, but nonetheless should beat 2010, the second-highest grossing year with $9.5bn.

I'm also struck by the disconnect between the economic gloom and the much more positive feeling here in our part of the art business. We've had another encouraging year, selling 151 pictures and miniatures (and the odd portrait bust). I'm not entirely sure why this is, but I'm vain enough to put at least part of it down to the hard work of my colleagues and I (and the other reasons are trade secrets). Even the much maligned 'middle market' is doing well for us - the majority of our sales have been priced at under £50,000, to private buyers.  

Meanwhile, over on Forbes, Kathryn Tully has been looking into the year's auction sale numbers in a little more detail, and what they mean from an investment point of view:

The headline-grabbing prices fetched at auction for a number of post-war and contemporary artists in 2012 certainly does not indicate that the broader art market is on the up. On December 24, Mei Moses reported a 3.28% decline in its World All Art Index this year to date, whereas the S&P 500 Total Return index returned 7%. Mei Moses only tracks the sales of art works that have previously appeared at auction, so the 3.28% drop represents the average loss for the sellers of those items.

Its December report also noted that these collectors lost money, despite keeping their art works for an average of 29.7 years. It also pointed out that although it is impossible to tell whether the collectors that spent millions on the most pricey individual art works this year have made a good financial decision, history suggests that they have not, because throughout its database of 33,000 repeat sale pairs, art works bought for over $1 million tend to produce the lowest returns.

Of course, there have been years when the S&P has gone down, and we mustn't forget that for many people the attraction of investing in art is its long-term stability (not to mention the dividend of pleasure). But then, as a dealer, I would say that, wouldn't I...

Still, from an investment point of view, buying and selling art only through auction has to be a long-term consideration, for two reasons:

  1. the hefty buyer and seller premiums mean you have to be sure that your art has increased in value by up to 37% (not including Vat) before considering a sale and getting your original investment back. 
  2. a 'fresh' work at auction invariably attracts more bids than one seen again. So if you re-consign a picture to auction too soon, you can be sure that the level of interest in it will be considerably less than it was before. Partly this is due to dealers not wanting to buy works that have recently appeared at auction, but I think it's mainly psychological for collectors; people don't like buying things that have been on the market repeatedly within a short space of time. They begin to look like ugly dogs at the pound, the ones nobody wants to take home. That's why you have to be so careful to make sure your picture doesn't get fail to sell.

Encouraging news at Tate Britain

December 31 2012

Image of Encouraging news at Tate Britain

Picture: BG

After all the hoo-hah about Tate Britain's mercurial hang (as questioned by me, and lambasted by The Burlington Magazine), a reader writes:

Tate Britain have re-hung their historical British collection and it looks much, much better.

Intrigued, I ambled along this morning, and the new layout [above] is indeed a great improvement. Whether it was long-planned, or done in response to The Burlington's attack, I don't know. But it's nearly as good as it used to be, which I suppose we must be grateful for, given Tate Britain's recent identity crisis. At least students wanting an overview of British art history won't now have to wait till the main renovations are complete in 2014 (when, incidentally, there will still be less space for the 'historical collection' than there used to be).

My reader also wrote with encouraging conservation news:

Some work has been done on their Tudor portraits:

A blank fillet has been added to the right of this Eworth to restore it to its original proportions.

This intriguing work [of William, 1st Lord De La Warr] has been cleaned.

And there are lots of other goodies. Bryce McMurdo [by Raeburn] comes up from storage amongst  them – which reminds me that this was displayed as part of the National Gallery’s selection of British paintings until the 1960s.

I saw also that John Michael Wright's Portrait of Sir Neil O'Neill has also been restored, and looks marvellous. I was lucky enough to be shown the picture when it was in the conservation studio, where, in its stripped down state, it looked a little scary. Rica Jones, who restored the picture, has pulled it together brilliantly.  

Another picture worth noting, which I don't think has been on display before, is the below Portrait of Jonathan Richardson the Younger by his father, Jonathan Richardson, which was purchased in 2010 from Philip Mould.

Update - a reader writes:

Regarding the Tate's rehanging of the British Collection, did you happen to notice whether poor Judith Dobson (William's missus) had found a better position than previously? I went especially to see her, and found her high up a wall (too high for my short 5'3" to see properly), obscured by the reflection of a badly-placed light, and next to a doorway through which you couldn't help but be blinded by some ghastly 'flashing chandalier' installation. I've not been back since - will stick to the NPG in future!!

It was indeed in a woeful place, utterly unseeable. I don't recall seeing it on my most recent visit though, so perhaps it has gone back into storage.

Art auctions in China

December 31 2012

Video: CRI English/Dominic Swire

This film on the risks of buying art at auction in China by Dominic Swire is worth a click. Aside from some wise words from an art historian based at Peking University, there's also the views from a buyer, Zhou Benli, on what makes a great art collector:

It's really bad if a piece can't increase by 30% in value per year. If you find an artwork that goes up 100 or even 200% a year then you're a great collector. I store my paintings and don't show them to everyone because of insurance issues... It's like looking after treasure.

Happy Christmas everyone

December 21 2012

Video: UrbanDanceCamp

Right, time to sign off for Christmas. A big thank you for all your interest and messages, and for your 245,957 visits since the year began. I'll be back before the New Year to debut Art History News' annual awards (don't hold your breath, it's definitely not the Oscars...). In the meantime, let me leave you with this totally un-art-historical but nonetheless charming video. I bet you can't watch it only once... 

Christie's wins...

December 21 2012

Image of Christie's wins...

Picture: Christie's

...the race to get their New York Old Master sale catalogues online first. Top of BG's wish list, if he could afford it, is the above Chardin, est. $3m-$5m. Sotheby's sales are not yet online. Bonhams aren't even having an Old Master sale this time round...


December 21 2012

Image of Frame-tastic

Picture: BG

The wonderfully comprehensive NPG online resource on British framemakers has been updated for a 3rd edition. Jacob Simon writes:

British picture framemakers, 1610-1950

A revised and substantially expanded 3rd edition of this online resource has just gone online on the National Portrait Gallery website. This dictionary resource has doubled in size since first launched in 2007. Thirty-five additional makers have now been added and the starting point for coverage taken back to about 1610. Although most entries have been researched and written by Jacob Simon, this new edition also features articles by Lynn Roberts and Edward Town. Further contributions would be welcome.

Highlights in the new edition include:

identification of the role of Richard Norris, as the first known member of the Norris dynasty, in framing and other work in the cabinet of Prince Charles at St James’s Palace in the early 1620s (see case study below)

biographies for Herman Scholier and Henry Waller, both active in the early 17th century, researched by Edward Town

a lengthy entry for Gillow of Lancaster, provided by Lynn Roberts

biographies for George Coffee and William Saltmarsh, who worked for Sir John Soane

highly revealing information from the account book of George Jackson, who supplied composition ornament to many leading Regency framemakers (see case study below)

a new entry on Robert Archer of Oxford and an expanded text for his apprentice, James Wyatt, revealing their importance in working for the Bodleian Library and the University Galleries in Oxford in the 19th century

expanded entries for Edinburgh makers, thanks to information from Helen Smailes, and new entries for Aberdeen and Glasgow framemakers

entries for Charles Goodwin of Maidstone, who carved frames for Arthur Hughes and some of the Pre-Raphaelites, and for John Henry Steer, London-based but framemaker to two artists with Cornish associations, Lamorna Birch and Laura Knight.

information from the National Probate Calendar, providing the value of estates for makers dying in the years, 1858-1966, and information from Board of Trade records relating to the setting up and liquidation of businesses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

What we've also lost

December 21 2012

Image of What we've also lost

Picture: Christie's

Following my post below on items bought for UK public collections through the export licencing system, a reader writes:

It's worth pointing out that seven items were deferred by the committe in the year, worth a total of £74.6 million.  Three, with a total value of £44.8 were exported - or 43% of cases and 60% in value.

  1. A painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau, La Surprise (£17.5 million)
  2. A painting by Francesco Guardi, Venice: A View of the Rialto Bridge from the Fondamenta del Carbon (£26,697,250)
  3. A North Italian empire athénienne by Luigi Manfredini (£632,940)

But the press releases for these reports never draw attention to the complete picture.  

And it's a moot point whether the results were better than in the previous year when 7 objects worth a total of £65.8 million were exported (50% of cases but 92% by value).

Previously, in the days when the HLF was being mean about buying paintings, we could blame a lack of available funding for the loss of important works overseas. But now that the HLF is proving bountifully munificent, perhaps we should begin to ask instead about the acquisitional appetite of UK institutions. Buying pictures can be a lengthy and administratively tedious process. It needs curators and directors with determination and flair to drive it forward. This year we have seen thrillingly commendable efforts from museums like the Ashmolean and the Fitzwilliam, who have respectively stopped a Manet and a Poussin from leaving our shores. They've shown, along with the Heritage Lottery Fund's help, that it is now possible to secure great works in even the most challenging circumstances. However, it's undeniably the case that there are some (not many, but enough) instutions who just don't have the oomph to mount acquisition campaigns. In my time as a dealer, I've learnt to differentiate between those museums who are always ready to make the effort to try and buy works, and those who aren't. It usually comes down to the enthusiasm of the staff involved.

Here's one I missed earlier

December 21 2012

Image of Here's one I missed earlier

Picture: The Magazine Antiques

In The Magazine Antiques, Christopher Bryant has an excellent article on a long-lost portrait of Captain Gabriel Matruin by John Singleton Copley, recently found at an auction in the US (and alas not by me!).

New twist in 'Old Flo' saga

December 20 2012

Image of New twist in 'Old Flo' saga

Picture: ArtFund

The row over Tower Hamlet council's plan to sell Henry Moore's sculpture Draped Seated Woman, commonly called 'Old Flo', has taken a new turn after another council, Bromley, said that they may in fact be the owners. From Mike Brooke in the East London Advertiser:

Bromley has written to Mayor Rahman throwing the gauntlet down over his bid to auction off the sculpture—while Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali has raised the controversy in the Commons in a bid to block the sell-off.

The challenge comes after Museum of London bosses followed a paper trail back to the 1960s when Moore created the sculpture at cost price for the-then London County Council and waived consultation and transport fees to have it put up as a gift to the East End on Stepney’s Stifford Estate.

Old Flo was not transferred to Tower Hamlets when the LCC was abolished in 1965, but instead remained the property of the new GLC until its own abolition in 1986 when all assets passed to the London Residuary Body. The sculpture was then transferred to Bromley, the museum found.

“This is very good news indeed,” said museum director Sharon Ament. “We welcome Bromley’s challenge to Tower Hamlets.

“Bromley has committed to Moore’s statue being on public display. We hope that ‘Old Flo’ will come home to the East End.”

The museum has offered to cover costs of conservation, security, insurance and transporting it back from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where it has been stored for 15 years, to be displayed at its Docklands site at Canary Wharf.

But Tower Hamlets refutes that Bromley has any right to the asset. The 1962 minutes of the LCC authorised the purchase of the statue “to be sited in Stifford Estate” where it remained until the estate was demolished. The estate transferred to Tower Hamlets, the council points out.

MP Rushanara Ali raised the issue in the Commons yesterday (Weds) when she asked the government to stop the “fire sale”—describing it as “a betrayal of the East End’s working class heritage.”

Mayor Rahman wants Old Flo under the auctioneer’s hammer at Christie’s in February.

Christie's would be very unwise to sell Flo while questions over her ownership remain unanswered. My guess is that she won't be appearing for sale in February.

Picasso painting in light

December 20 2012

Image of Picasso painting in light

Picture: Gjon Mili/Life magazine

Marvelling at Gjon Mili's 1949 photos of Picasso drawing in light, newly featured on the Life magazine website, is an excellent way to waste time at work.

Me in retirement

December 19 2012

Image of Me in retirement

Picture: Cartwright Hall Art Gallery

Just come across this fine picture on Your Paintings called 'The Connoisseur', by Henry Herbert La Thangue. Mrs G looks resignedly on...

Meanwhile, also on Your Paintings, is another rather charming picture called 'The Connoisseur', by August Friedrich Siegert:

Readers who want to display their connoisseurial credentials are invited to send in similar images...

Update - a reader writes:

"The Connoisseur" [top]  by Henry Herbert  La Thangue is actually of Mr Abraham Mitchell, aged 53 at the time, a Bradford textile tycoon and a Methodist of "reserved and retiring nature". He and his brother Joseph built neighbouring mansions (called "The Parks"), his with a picture gallery, which is the setting for this work. He was one of La Thangue's principal patrons. In the background are his wife and their two sons Tom (standing) and Herbert, and one of his daughters either Edith or Annie. Mitchell had been a local councillor, alderman, JP and refused the mayoralty of the town (see "A Painters Harvest". Oldham Art Gallery catalogue 4 November -12 December 1978 Page 22 & 23).

A very unusual genre for him and a very modern painting for you!!

Add to list of life's ambitions: have a house with a picture gallery.

National Gallery conference: the Emerging European Art Market

December 19 2012

Image of National Gallery conference: the Emerging European Art Market

Picture: Towneley Hall Art Gallery/Your Paintings

The National Gallery have been in touch - they're seeking papers for a conference to be held next year  on 21-22 June, on London and the Emergence of a European Art Market (c. 1780-1820):

The French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars with occupations of Italy, Spain and the Low Countries, instigated a sweeping redistribution of art. At the same time, the Papacy’s loss of temporal power undermined the enforcement of export laws in the Papal States. This convergence of events ensured that large volumes of paintings—often entire collections, from European monasteries, churches, and private palaces—were widely dispersed via auction and private treaty sales in a true diaspora of art. Current scholarship posits that amidst these large-scale market transformations London emerged as the new hub of the international art trade, replacing Paris. The well-known example of the move of the Orléans collection to London, where it was sold through various private treaty transactions and a series of auctions between 1798 and 1802, is often considered a pars pro toto for the British assumption of power on the international art market.

While some studies have begun to address the velocity and scale of this redistribution, little has been done to analyze the dynamic networks of agents who provided the infrastructure for the circulation of art works and sales information throughout Europe. Economist Neil De Marchi recently pointed out that the financial market linking crucial centers such as Amsterdam, London, and Paris has been studied in depth, but comparable research into the “mechanism of the painting trade and the extent to which it was integrated across those centers has barely begun.” This conference aspires to tackle this issue by convening scholars and experts from a range of disciplines to discuss broad research questions such as: Did the long-term effects of the political turmoil in France alter the existing personal and professional networks of dealers and connoisseurs? What would have been the motivations to ship art works to foreign market places? How integrated was the European art market around 1800, or were there still relatively independent local markets? Was there an implied hierarchy of metropolitan markets or were conditions too volatile and fluid for fixed patterns to emerge?

More specific details below (clock 'Read on'). If you would like to give a 30 minute paper, or know anyone who might, please contact Susanna Avery Quash at the Gallery wtih a 250 word proposal by 15th February by emailing susanna[dot]avery-quash@ng-london[dot]org[dot]uk.

Read More

'The Black Gardener'

December 19 2012

Image of 'The Black Gardener'

Picture: The Garden Museum

Congratulations to the Garden Museum and its director Christopher Woodward, who, with only ten days notice after seeing it in an auction catalogue, successfully raised £127,000 to buy the above 'Black Gardener' (dated to 1905) by Harold Gilman. The amount needed was more than twice the upper estimate. Our new best friends, the HLF, contributed £60,000. Well done to everyone involved. More details here.

Picasso to leave the UK

December 19 2012

Image of Picasso to leave the UK

Picture: Courtauld

Picasso's Girl with a Dove, recently sold for £50m, will now leave the UK after an export licence was granted. No UK museum had tried to raise the funds necessary to keep the picture here. It's interesting that, despite the Picasso name, the picture did not generate any 'save it for the nation' campaign.

This year, UK museums have raised enough money to keep artefacts worth £29m in the country, including the Manet at the Ashmolean, a pair of console tables at the V&A, and a sculpture by John Nost the Elder, also at the V&A. The bulk of the money for these purcahses came from the Treasury, in the form of tax foregone. More details here.  

Salvator Mundi not going to Dallas

December 19 2012

Image of Salvator Mundi not going to Dallas

Picture: DMN 

From the Dallas Morning News:

Visitors to the Dallas Museum of Art won’t be seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi after all. Its owners have rejected the museum’s bid to buy the painting after weeks of negotiations, officials revealed Tuesday.

The painting had been at the DMA during the talks. The DMA’s final offer was not disclosed, though the cost of the artwork had previously been reported as $200 million.

The rejection follows a recent flurry of upbeat news — free admission and free memberships in 2013, and $2.3 million in new grants and gifts.

The DMA announced that it was trying to acquire the Da Vinci during the summer and had launched a fundraising campaign toward the purchase.

“While the museum’s leadership was hopeful that the painting would be acquired for the benefit and enjoyment of the public, they are incredibly inspired by and grateful for the outpouring of community support for the campaign to acquire this work,” according to a statement from the museum. The DMA said it had raised “tens of millions of dollars” in pledges toward the purchase.

Director Maxwell Anderson said in the statement that it “was a privilege to be responsible for the safekeeping of this masterwork as we assembled commitments towards its purchase. The fortunate few who saw it in person will not soon forget its beauty, power and majesty.” 

Shame. I wonder if this is all part of the negotiation. At a reported $200m, the stakes are high...

Job opportunity - Louvre

December 19 2012

Image of Job opportunity - Louvre

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports that the Louvre director, Henri Loyrette, is to leave. 

Don't study art history! (ctd.)

December 18 2012

Further to my post below on Tom Snyder's call for students to avoid art history, a reader sends in this perspicacious thought:

Of course we need STEM [Science, Technology, subject graduates, but that does not mean we don't also need arts and humanities graduates (this sort of dubious see-saw thinking also infects discussions of private and public sectors). As recruitment officer for a School of Arts I often come across unsubstantiated assertions that there are no jobs for art historians or philosophers. This is not true. The creative industries, heritage and tourism and the cultural sector constitute a vibrant and substantial part of the UK economy. At a recent careers event at the V&A I heard a fascinating talk by a designer, Chris Sherwin - Head of Sustainability at Seymourpowell, about how a huge amount of industrial waste and environmental damage is simply caused by poor design. Scientists need arty types, and vice versa.

Arguments that we can "no longer afford the arts" are not only uncivilised, they fly in the face of evidence to the contrary of their importance for the economy.

Another reader writes:

I think one of the most important things in life is to have a balance, to help you see the whole picture…or at least to be able to appreciate that there is more than one way of looking at things. Art, for me, is the means to do this…and it will benefit the whole of society if more attention is paid to this vitally important and enriching aspect of our lives.

Rembrandt's English period?

December 18 2012

Image of Rembrandt's English period?

Picture: YourPaintings

A reader alerts me to this gem from Your Paintings. Anyone know where the original might be...?

Update - a reader writes:

Actually, there might be some evidence that he did spend time in England.  There are suggestions that he was in Hull later on in life (reported by Vertue) as well drawings of both St Albans and Windsor Castle.


December 17 2012 the Philip Mould Ltd Christmas Party! Hence not much posting today. Might not be much tomorrow either, depending on what sort of party it turns out to be...

Where have all the blokes gone? (ctd.)

December 17 2012

Following my recent mention of an art historian's finding that only 3 out of 30 people in an art history conference were men, a reader alerts me to the fact that the National Portrait Gallery's staff (according to their new annual review) is split 32% male, 68% female.

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