Previous Posts: February 2012

Forgotten Klimt to make £6m

February 6 2012

Image of Forgotten Klimt to make £6m

Picture: Sothebys

By LH.

A 'forgotten' painting by Gustav Klimt  is to go under the hammer at Sothebys on Wednesday estimated at £6m-£8m.

The painting (shown above) is one of Kilmt's landscapes, painted during a sojourn to a lake near Salzburg in 1901. Klimt's landscapes have experienced ever-increasing attention over the last decade, this one making over $40m last October. This work, titled 'Lakeshore with Birches' and painted in 1902 was given by two collectors to their daughter as a wedding present a few years after it was painted, and has remained in the same family ever since. 

I'll let you know what happens.

Story here catalogue details here.

Miro in Yorkshire

February 6 2012

Image of Miro in Yorkshire

Picture: 'Lunar Bird' 1945 - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington.

By LH.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park is to host an important exhibition of sculpture by Joan Miro (1893-1983).

Miro, who is perhaps best known for his surrealist, two-dimensional paintings, experimented with sculpture from the 1930's onwards, his most prolific period being between 1960-1983 where he produced some 800 sculpture and ceramics.

Miro considered his sculpture work to be of equal importance to his painting, and this will be the first time an exhibition of his sculpture on this scale has been held in the UK. 

Details here.

Freud - The Inside Story

February 6 2012

Image of Freud - The Inside Story

Picture: David Dawson


The Telegraph this morning delves into the private sphere of the late Lucian Freud, from the eyes of a family member. It’s quite a revealing account, and if you plan to go and see the upcoming NPG exhibition and want a bit of context, then it’s a recommended read.

Lucian Freud – Portraits’ at the National Portrait Gallery opens to the public on Thursday and runs until 27th May. 

Happy Birthday Art History News.

February 4 2012

Image of Happy Birthday Art History News.

Picture: BG

AHN went live this week in February last year. I'd like to say thank you to you all for your support and encouragement. From my initial email to about 20 friends, we've grown steadily to a circulation of over 4,000 unique visitors a week, with 201,000 page views in total. The average time spent on the site is 2 minutes, and there's a hardcore of about 20,000 of you who are regular returning readers. To my surprise, the most read post has been my review of the Leonardo exhibition at the National Gallery. I'm really grateful for your interest - and for your patience with my bad spelling. 

I'm off to Switzerland for a few days. I'm hoping that if I ask nicely, my colleague Lawrence Hendra will babysit the site in my absence.

Regional museums fight back

February 3 2012

Video: Museums Sheffield

Here is a rather compelling film put together by Museums Sheffield on the impact of missing out on the Arts Council's recent funding awards. The museum service had hoped for £1.4m from the Renaissance fund. It's rare to see a museum director, in this case the excellent Nick Dodd, be so vocal in the face of cuts. 

Obviously, in these austere times, there are bound to be some who win and some who lose. But Museums Sheffield have put together an illuminating statistic - Sheffield is England's fourth largest city, but receives the lowest arts funding per head of population of any English city outside London, at £4.62, compared to Nottingham at £13.06, Manchester at £17.75 and Leeds at £20.32. If so, something has gone wrong somewhere.

The lack of funding for Sheffield is odder still when one remembers that, as a pioneer of 'Trust Status' (making regional museums independent of local authority control, which is a Good Thing), it is worth everyone's while to make sure it continues to succeed.

So what is the solution? Museums Sheffield would like you to lobby MPs and the like. Regular readers will know that I've long been puzzled by the discrepancy between the Arts Council's direct grant funding (from DCMS), which has been cut, whilst its Lottery fund is awash with money - more than ever before. Surely, with a bit of tweaking, we can subtly broaden the scope of lottery funded projects? Why shouldn't a regional museum make a bid for a Lottery grant to fund, say, a one-off exhibition programme? I know the distinction between Lottery funding and direct government funding is an important principle to maintain. But is it more important than keeping the lights on?  

Friday amusement

February 3 2012

Image of Friday amusement

Picture: Cartoonstock

(ps, I pay for these things, so you'd better laugh...)

Introducing 'Wikipaintings'

February 3 2012

Image of Introducing 'Wikipaintings'

Picture: Wikipaintings

Is this the site we've all been waiting for? 173 Van Dycks illustrated - excellent... (except the double portrait of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, which you can just see above, is not by Van Dyck).

The world's new most expensive painting

February 3 2012

Image of The world's new most expensive painting

Picture: Vanity Fair

The state of Qatar has paid a reported $250m for a version of Cezanne's Card Players. Cezanne painted five similar images, and this was the only one remaining in private hands. The others are in the Met, d'Orsay, and Courtauld museums, as well as the Barnes Foundation. Alexandra Peers of Vanity Fair has the story:

How did Qatar get the Cézanne? For years, Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos had owned and treasured the painting, rarely lending it. He was “entertained” but unmoved, according to one art dealer, by occasional offers for it that climbed ever higher alongside the art market in past decades. A few years ago, the painting was listed by artnews magazine as one of the world’s top artworks still in private hands.

Shortly before his death in the winter of 2011, Embiricos began discussions about its sale, which was handled by his estate. Two art dealers—William Acquavella and another, rumored to be Larry Gagosian—offered upward of $220 million for the painting, people close to the matter said. But the royal family of Qatar, without quibbling on price, outbid them, at $250 million.

'Let's go to Qatar to see a slightly different version of an already well-known painting' doesn't do it for me. Perhaps they should have spent their $250m on something truly unique. If I had that sort of money to go out and buy a headline painting, I'd go for Salvator Mundi. A Leonardo in the desert? Now that's worth a trip...

More curious auction cataloguing...

February 2 2012

Image of More curious auction cataloguing...

Picture: Stephan Welz & Co.

Here's another odd piece of auction cataloguing. Above is a 19th Century painting illustrating the Brother's Grimm fairy tale, 'The Frog Prince'. It is described as:

Lot 343: English School, oil on board, 'Discussion with a Frog'.

Wonder what they're discussing...

Don't photograph the National Gallery!

February 2 2012

Image of Don't photograph the National Gallery!

Picture: BG

I'm grateful to Steven Moore and Gwyn Headley of for highlighting a curious piece of proposed legislation banning photography in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. Here's a piece of draft legislation called The Trafalgar Square Byelaws 2012:

5.       Acts within the Square for which written permission is required

(1)       Unless acting in accordance with permission given in writing by the Mayor, or any person authorised by the Mayor under section 380 of the Act to give such permission, no person shall within the Square —

(p)  take photographs or film or make any other recordings of visual images for the purpose of or in connection with a business, trade, profession or employment or any activity carried on by a person or body of persons, whether corporate or unincorporate;

So I guess that means the above photo of the queues outside the National Gallery would be illegal. If you think this is a curious law in 21st Century Britain, then you can take the following action:

Any objection to the confirmation of the Byelaws may be made by letter addressed to Carl Schnackenberg, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH, or by email to:

All together now; 'Dear Carl...'

The most useless catalogue illustration ever?

February 2 2012

Image of The most useless catalogue illustration ever?

Most auction houses are well-run businesses, and a pleasure to deal with. But every now and then I come across some really inept ones. Could you tell from the above photo that this lot is meant to be:

A Miniature Portrait of a Gentleman Miniature bust view portrait of a gentleman in 18th century style.


Two Goering pictures restituted

February 2 2012

Image of Two Goering pictures restituted

Picture: Bloomberg/Dutch Restitutions Committee.

Catherine Hickley of Bloomberg reports that the Dutch government is to restitute two paintings once owned by Goering to the heirs of a Jewish antiques dealer. Paris-based Edouard Leon Jonas shipped the two works - an anonymous 16th Century Portrait of a Man with a Dog [above] and a landscape by Theobald Michau - to Bordeaux for safekeeping when Germany invaded France in 1940. But the pictures were intercepted and seized for Goering's enormous collection of looted art. They ended up in the hands of the Dutch government after Goering swapped them for Han van Meegeren's fake Vermeer, Christ and the Adulteress.

I love the fact that the consequences of van Meegeren's forgeries are still being felt today. 

The Mona Lisa's curious new face

February 2 2012

Image of The Mona Lisa's curious new face

Picture: TAN/Museo Prado

There was much excitement in the press yesterday about the Prado's newly restored copy of the Mona Lisa. To recap, the Prado have cleaned what they thought was a not-very-important copy of the Mona Lisa, only to discover that the black background was over-paint, revealing a landscape background underneath. The Prado say that their version is the 'earliest known' copy of the Mona Lisa, and that it was painted in Leonardo's studio at the same time as the original by one of his pupils. 

Now this is some claim: a copy of the most famous painting in the world, painted under Leonardo's own supervision? But hang on - where is the evidence? Apparently the copy is painted on walnut, which was used as a support in Italy at the time Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa. But it was also used in France in the later 16th Century, and cannot be dated by dendrochronology. So we cannot rely on the panel for a date. Has there been any paint analysis? Is there any documentary evidence to support its creation in Leonardo's studio? Have the Prado analysed all the other early copies, and proved they post-date the Prado's copy? We are not told. The only compelling evidence we have so far relates to the under-drawing in the copy, and comes from The Art Newspaper article by Martin Bailey (who broke the story):

There was an even greater surprise: infrared reflectography images of the Prado replica were compared with those obtained in 2004 from the original of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. This process enables conservators to peer beneath the surface of the paint, to see underdrawing and changes which evolved in the composition.

The underdrawing of the Madrid replica was similar to that of the Mona Lisa before it was finished. This suggests that the original and the copy were begun at the same time and painted next to each other, as the work evolved.

This is a curious claim, for we know that Leonardo took many years to complete the Mona Lisa. So at what stage was the copy made? If the under-drawing in the copy was made before the original was finished, then why does the painted surface of the copy look like the original after it was finished? Perhaps the copy was completed alongside the original at each stage of its execution. Or perhaps the different nature of the under-drawing in the copy could suggest that it is not as sophisticated or complete as that in the original - which is inevitably the case with a copy. 

I'm sorry to sound unneccessarily sceptical, but presenting conclusions without the evidence to back them up is bad practice, in any discipline. It only gives rise to peevish questions from people like me. And in the meantime, the conclusions get exaggerated by the press: in the Washington Post the copy is now described as 'painted with help from Da Vinci'.  It is of course entirely up to the Prado to announce their findings when they want. But I bet there's a whole load of art historians out there who are as frustrated as I am by the delay. For if the Prado is right, then this is indeed a great discovery, one which can really advance Leonardo studies. So why not release the evidence now? I asked the Prado if they had any more details, and received the following:

There will be an official press release coinciding with the presentation of the work once the restoration has ended. We will do a press conference in the week of the 20th of February to announce the final works of conservation and all the information regarding the research done on the painting.

Maybe I should just be more patient. So - until 20th February we have only the various photographs released to the media to go on. Is anybody else puzzled by this? Or am I just being cantankerous?

Restoration programme at the Courtauld announced

February 2 2012

Image of Restoration programme at the Courtauld announced

Picture: Courtauld

Yesterday the Courtauld unveiled their newly restored Cain Slaying Abel by Rubens (1608-9). It looks very nice. They also announced a new series of restorations of 20 works, including Tintorett's Il Paradiso. The restorations will be funded by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Good for them. You can see 18 of the works here

'Turner and the Elements' in Margate.

February 2 2012

Image of 'Turner and the Elements' in Margate.

Picture: Tate

It sounds as if the new exhibition looking at J M W Turner's approach to 'the elements' at Turner Contemporary in Margate is worth a trip: in The Telegraph, Alistair Sooke gives it four stars out of five. The show features 88 works by Turner, and closes on 13th May.


February 2 2012

Image of Ken-tastic!

Picture: BG

On Monday I posted a story about French artist Jocelyne Grivaud's modelling of Barbie in the guise of various Old Masters - and issued this challenge:

If somebody cares to send me Action Man in the guise of Michelangelo's David I'll put it up...

Well I'm delighted to say that a reader has accepted - and, voila, above, in what must be a world first, is Barbie's boyfriend Ken as David. Apparently Action Man was out of stock, but that's a good thing because Ken doesn't come with those glued-on blue Y-fronts - and, best of all perhaps, there's no need for a fig leaf (poor Barbie).

The reader writes:

At first I thought it would be a piece of cake, but it was not. 

For instance, in order to recreate the trickier "contrapposto pose" I found myself using a lighter to bend both David´s arm and leg (task which was not fully achieved, I am afraid.) 

Poor Ken! Well, at that point there was no turning back so, carried away by the joy of procrastination, my David was born.

P.S - Please note that I am not crazy, just bored. Tomorrow I will redeem myself by arriving early at the library, to continue with my thesis.

Excellent. Keep them coming!


February 1 2012

...I'm off to BBC Bristol for a meeting on the next series of 'Fake or Fortune?'. The good news is that I'm not going to be replaced by someone younger and lovelier - phew! - but the bad news is that there'll be no blogging today. See you all tomorrow.

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