Previous Posts: December 2012

More goodies at 'Art World in Britain'

December 14 2012

Image of More goodies at 'Art World in Britain'


Dr Richard Stephens has been in touch with news of important additions to The Art World in Britain 1660-1735. Highlights include documents relating to the 10th Earl of Derby's intensive collecting:

The papers of one of the great early 18th century art collectors have been published on The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735 website. The 56 letters, 87 bills and receipts, and miscellaneous accounts, inventories and other documents of James Stanley, 10th Earl of Derby (1664-1736) of Knowsley Hall, comprise the largest archive yet found of the early 18th century art trade. Most of these papers remain at Knowsley Hall.

Derby's collecting can be reconstructed in amazing detail and he emerges as one of the most ambitious connoisseurs of his age. His London agent's account books document a decade of copious and self-assured expenditure, and there is a complete paper trail describing the importation of artefacts from Italy. The best documented agents are two painter dealers, Thomas Wright and Hamlet Winstanley, whose activities on Derby's behalf in London and Italy in the mid 1720s are described in many letters.

The papers are also an important source for the study of the early 18th century art world. They deal with the acquisition of prints, drawings, paintings and sculpture; purchases both in London and abroad; from dealers and at auction; purchases on the secondary market as well as direct commissions from painters; and not only the direct costs of art works, but also framing, colours and other studio materials, customs duties and packaging. They feature painters, picture sellers, importers, print sellers, sculptors, frame makers, shippers and carriers.

Excellent stuff. For full details of the latest update, click here.

Hirst & Gagosian split up

December 14 2012

Image of Hirst & Gagosian split up

Picture: Artinfo

Shucks. One of the most successful artist/dealer relationships ever seen is alas no more. From the FT:

Mr Hirst’s company, Science Ltd, said that “Larry Gagosian and Damien have reached an amicable decision to part company”, adding that the artist would continue his relationship with a second gallery, White Cube, in London.

Gagosian issued a statement, saying: “It has been a great honour to work with Damien over the last 17 years culminating with the worldwide showing of the Complete Spot Paintings 1986-2011 at all 11 Gagosian galleries this year;We wish him conti­nued success for the future.”

Spot the difference

December 14 2012

Image of Spot the difference

Picture: TAN

In The Art Newspaper, Emily Sharpe has news of the emergence of a putti in a picture at the Blanton Museum of Art in Texas:

The recent cleaning of what was believed to be a relatively straightforward composition of a 17th-century female nude in the collection of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin, took a turn of mythic proportions when conservators discovered two additional figures: a putto and a recumbent Zeus. They elevate the painting’s main figure from a mere mortal to Danaë, the daughter of a mythical Greek king and the mother of Perseus, a son of Zeus. Scholars have attributed the work to a follower of the French painter Simon Vouet (1590-1649).

The newly discovered figures had been scraped away and painted over at some point after the artist’s death. “[The alterations were probably] done either to hide badly damaged figures or to make the work more marketable and in keeping with the tastes of the 19th and early 20th centuries,” says Colette Crossman, a curator at the museum, who suspected that the painting had been altered. “The composition did not make sense and the subject matter did not connect to the standard [17th-century] iconography,” she says. After discussions, the curators and conservators decided to remove the overpainting and restore the figures.

Two years

December 13 2012

Image of Two years

Picture: Guardian

The prat who vandalised Tate Modern's Rothko has been sentenced to two years in jail. Said the judge:

"Your actions on the 7 October of this year were entirely deliberate, planned and intentional."

Speaking about "yellowism", Judge Chapple said it was "wholly and utterly unacceptable to promote it by damaging a work of art" which he called a "gift to the nation".

He said it was "abundantly clear" that Umaniec was "plainly an intelligent man" and told the court he had described Rothko as a "great painter" in a letter he had written to him.

A good deterrent sentence, I think.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

December 13 2012

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: Bonhams

A reader writes, astonishingly:

With all this talk of modern art fakery (which, as you say, is so rife that I've already experienced an extraordinary amount of it during my relatively few years in the trade), I thought I'd share you my favourite personal experience.  In my naive collecting days (not that long ago...) I purchased for a modest sum of around £100 a watercolour on Ebay purporting to be by the hand of Kyffin Williams - the main reason for this acquisition was the fact that I found the work had been offered as a genuine some years previous by Bonhams.

It had failed to sell but I thought the estimate was a touch high and thus I approached them to see if they'd consider re-offering the piece at a more conservative price.  They confirmed it was the same work but said that they'd have to get an 'external specialist' on the artist to inspect it first hand to reconfirm the attribution.  I felt this was probably a bad sign and thus was amazed when they came back and said the expert had proclaimed it to be right. Hence they re-catalogued it in one of their forthcoming sales [now withdrawn].

However, the catalogue had not been live long when I received an e-mail from Bonhams informing me that it had been brought to their attention that the work was a fake as its source had been revealed as former genuine sketch by a completely different artist, the notable but less expensive Alan Lowndes [below].

Someone had cut of Lowndes' signature, added a 'KW', some Williamsesque splodges, and crosses on the spires of a North of England pavilion to make it look like Venice!!   

Quite how this fooled Bonhams, twice, and an apparent expert of the artist's work is beyond me but I guess the story acutely demonstrates much that's wrong with the murky world of modern art - and why I now almost exclusively stick to old masters/pre-1900 pictures which thankfully are infinitely more interesting both academically and aesthetically...

All most peculiar. One hopes that Bonhams have called in the Old Bill, with regards to the first consignor.

Mission accomplished

December 13 2012

Image of Mission accomplished

Picture: BBC Your Paintings/PCF

Large round of applause please for everyone at the Public Catalogue Foundation and BBC Your Paintings - as of today, every one of the UK's 210,000 publicly owned oil paintings is online. This is a quite astonishing achievement, and all privately and charitably funded (tho' special mention to the Scottish Government for providing support where the UK government would not).

In my office here I have on the shelf a copy of Christopher Wright's 'British and Irish Paintings in Public Collections', an un-illustrated checklist published in 2006 by Yale containing details of some 90,000 works. It's an occasionally useful volume, as it lists the literature pictures have appeared in. But thanks to Your Paintings it is now largely redundant. In 2006 it was heralded as a transformational book. How quickly our expectations have moved in the past six years.

The PCF is still fundraising for the last batch of photography and digitisation. If you can make a dent in their £100,000 target, please do.

Watch the £29m Raphael sell

December 13 2012

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's comprehensively whipped Christie's this Old Master season, so we'll forgive them this shameful piece of corporate triumphalism. 

The scrap value of fine art

December 12 2012

Image of The scrap value of fine art

Picture: ATG/ Henry Moore Foundation

The recent jailing (for just 12 months) of two thieves who stole a Henry Moore sundial from the Henry Moore Foundation has revealed the amazingly low stakes involved. After it was stolen, the thieves sold the piece, valued at £500,000, to a scrap metal dealer for just £46. More details in the Antiques Trade Gazette.

Fresco Jesus - the revenge

December 12 2012

Image of Fresco Jesus - the revenge

Picture: Ebay

Here's a weird one - a picture by the restorer of 'Fresco Jesus', Cecilia Gimenez, has reached EUR610,000 on ebay. Next bid is EUR620,000 if you fancy it. I somehow doubt the winning bidder will pay up. But you never know. Maybe Alberto Mugrabi thinks she's the next big thing.

Update - a reader writes:

I think you have misinterpreted the eBay price for this picture. The comma is the European equivalent of our decimal point, so the price is only 620 euros.

Oops. Sorry about that. Lucky I'm not a journalist.


December 12 2012

Image of Yesterday...

Picture: BG

...I was at a conference on archives, so apologies for the lack of AHN. The conference was organised by the National Archives (TNA), which I advise, with the aim of helping private archive owners make their collections more accessible to researchers.

It's a subject close to my heart as both a historian and art historian. Some years ago, when researching for my PhD, I tried without success to get into the archives of Belvoir Castle, in which lie the highly important and unpublished diaries of a member of Disraeli's government. Many owners are (naturally) wary of strangers coming to rummage around their private, and often very valuable papers, but one of the messages we were trying get across yesterday is that TNA and local records offices around the country are on hand to offer all sorts of advice to owners, even down to helping screen researchers. So if you're ever stuck for access, remember that TNA is there to help.

In some cases, however, owners want to keep stuff secret. I was astonished when, again during my PhD, one old peer said he wouldn't let me look at a particular stash of papers, because it contained details of a sordid scandal from the 1850s!

The book above was brought along by one of the speakers. It may look like any damaged old tome - but only because it took a direct hit from a cannon ball at the Battle of Trafalgar.

El Greco soars above estimate (ctd.)

December 10 2012

Image of El Greco soars above estimate (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

Hot on the heels of an 'attributed to El Greco' which went way over estimate at Bonhams last week, the above 'Workshop of El Greco' made £163,250 at Sotheby's, against a £10-£15,000 estimate. The picture, a Saint Francis in Ecstasy was in reasonably good state, and signed. There was quite a lot of overpaint in the background. It had been called 'El Greco' until it was rejected in Harold Wethey's 1962 catalogue raisonne. Apparently it was also questioned by someone senior at the Prado recently.

Here at Philip Mould & Co., we thought the picture had presence, and potential to be the real thing. The signature looked damaged, but original. It seemed, on looking into the literature, that Wethey had slightly got his St Francis's in a muddle, and that the above picture could in fact be a lost original. We had a generous go at the auction, but were alas unsuccesful. El Greco is a little outside our usual area of expertise, so we weren't confident enough to go all the way, so to speak. 

I look forward to seeing it again soon.

Update - a reader writes:

As an aficionado of Art History News, I enjoy the gossip but worry that you reveal too much of Philip Mould Ltd's methodology. 

The clue with the Sotheby El Greco is its lack of provenance. His work wasn't of enormous monetary value at the end of the 19th century, which explains how Ignacio Zuloaga was able to acquire an El Greco painting in Paris when he was still an impoverished artist. Who the heck was María del Carmen Mendiéta?  Methinks that someone has misidentified her.

How not to run a museum

December 10 2012

Image of How not to run a museum

Picture: Guardian/Christie's

The failure of the British Empire Museum in Bristol is a textbook example in how not to go about running a museum. It closed, having run out of money, in 2008, but I went shortly after it opened in 2002. I don't remember much about it, except that it was empty. It seemed clear to me then that it would never be able to survive in Bristol - museums that tell a national story need to be in London.

Now, however, the museum's history has taken a farcical twist with the news that many items lent to the museum have gone missing. Most oddly of all, one of them was sold at Christie's, despite the lender having asked for it back. From The Guardian:

Almost 150 artefacts lent to a museum set up to tell the story of Britain's colonial past may be missing, it has emerged, with some of them having been sold without their owners' permission.

Trustees of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, which has now closed, are in talks with about six of the owners about compensation.

Among them is Lord Caldecote, who said he was shocked to find that a 19th-century maritime painting his family had lent to the museum had been sold at auction. [...]

An investigation by BBC's Inside Out West programme, scheduled to be broadcast on Monday, claims that 144 objects belonging to eight lenders remain missing. They include the oil painting of an East India Company ship, Dunira, by the sailor-turned-artist Thomas Buttersworth.

Caldecote told the Guardian that his late father, an engineer and industrialist, had lent the painting to the museum. After his father's death, he asked for the painting to be returned.

"I decided I would like the picture back. It turned out the museum had sold the picture through Christie's. I don't suppose we'll be able to get it back again."

Caldecote said the picture had sentimental value because an ancestor had captained the ship, part of the East India Company's fleet, and it had been a gift to him. "It was a shock when I found out the painting had gone," he said.

The painting was sold by Christie's to the government of Madeira for £61,250 in 2008. The island can be seen in the background of the picture. Neither Christie's nor the Madeirans realised that there was any issue with the ownership of the painting.

There is an ongoing dispute between the board of trustees of the museum and its former director, Gareth Griffiths, over missing artefacts. There is no suggestion that anyone has made personal profit from any sales.

The board has criticised Griffiths but he insists the care and security of the collection was the trustees' responsibility. He said: "I never benefited from any sales of material and will regard any such inference as actionable."

(Is it actionable to suggest incompetence though? Just askin'...) The story of missing items from the museum has been running for some time now, and I find it hard to believe that nobody has been held responsible. According to the Museums Journal, other things have been sold too, and Mr Griffiths was dismissed for this very reason:

The director of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum (BECM), which closed its Bristol base in 2008 pending a relocation to London, has been dismissed from his post following allegations of the unauthorised disposal of objects from the collection. 

 Neil Cossons, chairman of the BECM board of trustees, said: “Gareth Griffiths has been dismissed as director of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum for abuse of his position as director and the unauthorised disposal of museum objects. We're not in a position to make further comment because of impending police enquiries.” 

Museums Journal understands that at least two items from the Commonwealth Institute collection, which was gifted to BECM early 2003, have been disposed of including a 19th-century Maori wooden panel, which was consigned to auction last September at the Dunbar Sloane auction house in New Zealand. 

A spokesman for the auction house said: “[The panel] came to us from an overseas museum, who were the vendors. They believe they have correct title to the Maori panel.”

Another item believed to have gone on the open market is a bronze casting of an 1860s plaster maquette by pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner, which depicts John Robert Godley, the founder of Canterbury in New Zealand. 

Interestingly, when Christie's sold Lord Caldecote's marine picture in 2008 there was no provenance listed, and no mention of the recent museum loan. The picture was listed with a special vat consideration attached to it, which often suggests it has been consigned by a company or a dealer. It would be interesting to know how thoroughly Christie's checked the picture's history. I can't quite understand why the police are not more involved in all this. Lord Caldecote's picture has effectively been stolen from him.

'Constable, Gainsborough, Turner' at the RA

December 10 2012

Image of 'Constable, Gainsborough, Turner' at the RA

Picture: RA, Thomas Gainsborough, 'Romantic Landscape' c.1783.

I'm looking forward to seeing 'Gainsborough, Constable, Turner and the Making of Landscape', which is open till the 17th February. I thought of going this weekend, but these days I'm trying a new exhibition-visiting practice of reading the catalogue before seeing a show.

In The Guardian, Michael Prodger makes an interesting point about how ubiquitous 'Turner and...' exhibitions seem to be these days:

There is nothing particularly new about either the theme or the participants. The birth of the Georgian landscape in art, literature and gardening has been minutely examined down the years. This exhibition's three big names are all familiar; indeed, after Turner and Claude at the National Gallery and Turner, Monet and Twombly at Tate Liverpool, this is the third show this year to present Turner in company with other artists – it's as if he is no longer safe to be let out on his own. Nor was the Royal Academy always so keen on its headline acts. While Turner, from child prodigy until his death, was an academician through and through, both Gainsborough and Constable had fractious relationships with the institution. The latter once had to sit silently as a member of the RA rejected one of his paintings because it was "a nasty green thing". He was elected a full academician only aged 53 and even then by just one vote.

I see that the exhibition is being sponsored by (gasp) - a dealer! Large round of applause please for Lowell Libson.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

December 8 2012

In the New York Times Philip Mould (my boss), has an interesting piece on not only how to find lost Old Masters, but how to avoid fake new ones. As regards the latter:

It is with heavy heart that I report that a good 20 percent to 30 percent of 20th-century paintings up for sale these days online and at certain provincial auction houses are “trappers” (shorthand for cheese in the trap). This is a term I have coined by necessity for works that cleverly “suggest” themselves as the work of recognized artists but not cataloged as such — paintings purportedly by people like Jack Vettriano, Augustus John or Francis Bacon, placed in oldish frames, and often with fake exhibitions labels on the back. They are sold as by “unknown artists” and priced with tantalizingly low estimates in the hope of getting two rival bidders, thinking they are onto a winner, to fight it out. The vendors normally disappear into dust when you try to track them down, but could be anybody from the faker himself, an intermediary or even the auctioneer.

I bought one of these, a putative Picasso representing four abstract reclining nudes, for £120 at auction earlier this year (for research purposes only I might add) and had it resting on the floor of my West End gallery in London for a couple of weeks before I took it home. How depressing is this? One of my better clients spied it on the ground among the Van Dycks, Gainsboroughs and Sir Thomas Lawrences and drawn by the zeitgeist ruggedness of the forms, turned to me and said, “God I love this stuff. So pleased you are getting in to it.”

Day off!

December 7 2012

First in a while. Tragically, even my day off involves Van Dyck. See you Monday - bon weekend.

Louvre Lens opens (ctd.)

December 6 2012

Image of Louvre Lens opens (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Following my post on the opening of the Louvre's satellite museum in Lens, and the raiding of the Louvre's collection to fill the new site, a reader writes:

One consequence of the opening of the Louvre Lens, is that the Raphael Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, which was for a time part of the Raphael "Les denieres annees" exhibition at the Louvre, is no longer on show in the exhibition (it's been sent to Lens).

Yet the exhibition catalogue makes the point (on page 296) that comparing the Castiglione portrait with the Raphael/?Giulio Romano double portrait supports the attribution of the double portrait to Raphael, rather than to Sebastiano del Piombo or some other venetian painter.

Perhaps the hope is that people will come back to the Louvre sometime next year to confirm this statement in the catalogue.

I find this astonishing. The photo above is from the Prado's version of the catalogue, where the picture was an exhibit, on loan from the Louvre. So how can it not be on display in the Louvre's own exhibition? Couldn't they wait till January 14th, when the Late Raphael show closes, before sending the picture to Lens?

AHN awards?

December 6 2012

Image of AHN awards?

Picture: English School, 'Prize Bull and Prize Cabbage', Compton Verney/Your Paintings

Most industries seem to be awash with annual awards and ceremonies these days, but strangely the art world isn't. So I've been wondering if AHN should heroically step in to fill the gap. Severe budget limitations mean that the prizes won't be anything more than a round of applause from AHN and its readers. But imagine the prestige!

So can readers suggest categories and worthy winners? I'm thinking of things like:

  • Best Exhibition
  • Best Catalogue
  • Best Discovery
  • Best Acquisition
  • Best Book
  • Best Website
  • Best Contemporary Art Guff
Bit of a daunting task. Help!

Not sure if this is a joke or not

December 6 2012


But it's worth laughing at all the same.* The Damien Hirst handbag. Each one costs $55,000:

Just One Eye is pleased to announce an exciting new project with renowned artist Damien Hirst and 2012 CFDA award winners The Row - the first in a series of curated artistic partnerships.

"We are longtime admirers of both Damien and The Row’s work,” explains Just One Eye co-founder Paola Russo, "and our main focus here is to nurture work between artists working in different mediums. We couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to debut this series of partnerships."

The resulting project is a fascinating study in contrasts; the classic elegance of The Row’s black patent, Nile crocodile leather backpack, adorned by the rebellious hand of Hirst.

Created in a limited edition of 12 and with a portion of each sale to benefit UNICEF, these works blur the line between high art and high fashion. Signed by the artist, each backpack features uniquely individual embellishments, from an assortment of prescription pills, to Hirst’s signature spots. "We are thrilled to be part of this project with Just One Eye”, add Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, “their unique approach on artistic collaborations is always inspirational".

Offering a wide array of fashion, art, and objects, Just One Eye is a new retail and e-commerce experience, striving to promote established designers alongside groundbreaking young creatives.

*Via Dr. Matt Loder.

Normal service resumed at Sotheby's

December 6 2012

Image of Normal service resumed at Sotheby's

Rubbish Picture: BG

After the desultory sale at Christie's on Tuesday, last night's £59m bonanza at Sotheby's brought a sigh of relief from the Old Master world. The headlines will of course focus on the £29.7m raised by the Chatsworth Raphael drawing. But even without that the Sotheby's total was a heartening result, with strong prices throughout the sale. A Jan Steen made £5.6m early on, and helped Sotheby's eclipse Christie's entire total of £11.5m after just 16 lots. Ouch. 13 lots out of 52 failed to sell, against 25 of 54 at Christie's. Ouch again.

One astute reader yesterday blamed the Christie's near 50% buy-in rate with a surfeit of recently sold works, including pictures flipped from one auction to another. There were none of these at Sotheby's, with almost all the lots, as far as I could discern, being relatively fresh to the market and from private sources. It was a well put together sale.

The 17 minute battle for the Raphael drawing was Old Master entertainment at its best, with Henry Wyndham (for me, the finest auctioneer in the business) deftly eliciting bids from four bidders to way past the £15m upper estimate. One bidder dropped out early, shortly after £10m, while another (whom I couldn't see, and was sat at the front) then bid against the drawings specialist Luca Bironi to about £20m (which sum drew gasps from the audience). Just when we thought it was all over, another phone bidder came in to take it up to £26.5m. The bidding had appeared to be stalling at £24.5m, but Wyndham charmed several more bids from the client at the front, as only an Old Etonian could. With premium, the price eclipsed Christie's 2009 sale of another Raphael head study, at £29.2m, and is not only a new Raphael record, but also one for any work of art on paper.

There was applause at the end - a rarity from the hard-bitten Old Master crowd. We normally leave clapping to the modern and contemporary buyers. But yesterday we showed them how to buy art in style.

El Greco soars above estimate

December 5 2012

Image of El Greco soars above estimate

Picture: Bonhams

The soaraway price of the week so far is the £790k (with premium) realised by the above Saint Peter catalogued as 'Attributed to El Greco' at Bonhams. The picture was estimated at £40-£60,000. I'm no El Greco expert, but even to me it looked to be so well painted that it surely must be 'right', as we say in the trade. 

The picture had recently been surface-cleaned, but was consigned in a generally unrestored state. In other words, it was a perfect trade picture, which could be taken onto the next level if the attribution is firmed up, and the picture restores well. The price is a reminder to the auction houses, in this week of (so far) high unsold levels, of how much the trade underpins Old Master auctions. 

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.