Previous Posts: June 2012

Good website / Bad website

June 20 2012

The first in an occasional series devoted to museum websites; we either praise them for being brilliant, or name and shame them for being hopeless. Today, shame falls on the site of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, home to one of the world's greatest collections - but with precious few works available online. Join the 21st Century please!

And we praise the National Art Library at the V&A. A clear, easy to use catalogue, which lets you order books online before you go - brilliant!

Send in your suggestions as you come across them.

BP Portrait Award winner

June 20 2012

Image of BP Portrait Award winner

Picture: NPG/Aleah Chapin

Aleah Chapin has won the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery with her picture Auntie. More details here

Update - a reader writes:

Looks like Richard Gere with a wig.

Picasso vandalised

June 20 2012

Video: ITN

I can't physically type any comment on this that doesn't involve swearing. So compose your own indignation. The picture, Woman in a Red Armchair, is part of the Menil Collection in Houston. More details here.  

Questions. Is the internet age making such attacks more likely? Does the ease with which a vandal can generate worldwide publicity mean we have to look again at the whole question of museum security? Should, or rather, could news outlets (and sites like this) therefore not report such attacks?

Update - a reader writes:

I'm not sure that unreporting vandalism is possible, ethically or practically, but nothing the youtube generation has done to art has so far matched the hammer attack on Michelangelo's Pieta or the shotgunning of The Madonna of the Rocks.

Maybe a return to the pillory is the answer?

New Miro record

June 20 2012

Image of New Miro record

Picture: BBC

Joan Miro's Peinture (Etoile Bleue) sold at Sotheby's in London last night for £23.5m, three times what it made when sold in Paris in 2007. The Impressionist and Modern Art sale made £75m in total. More details here.

Want to find a Raphael?

June 20 2012

Image of Want to find a Raphael?

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery has a new micro-site to show you how.

A novel way to advertise an exhibition

June 19 2012

Image of A novel way to advertise an exhibition

Picture: ATG

From this week's Antiques Trade Gazette. Ten out of ten to the Van Haeften Gallery for originality, and honesty. Or is there an intern somewhere thinking, 'oh ****'?


June 19 2012

Image of Today...

Picture: BG

...we're having one of our final filming days for 'Fake or Fortune?'. Normal service will resume tomorrow!

New Kenneth Clark biography

June 18 2012

Image of New Kenneth Clark biography

Picture: Sotheby's 

Delighted to read in The Art Newspaper that a new biography of Kenneth Clark is being written. Clark, most famous for his epic television series, Civilisation, is one of my heroes (despite the fact that it contains not one mention of my other hero, Van Dyck). The biography, by Sotheby's UK Chairman James Stourton, will be Clark's first. More details here.

Update - a reader writes:

Surprised to see YOU make a mistake in your blog today.  

The Sotheby's/publisher bumph may be claiming the biography of Lord Clark is the first, but actually Meryle Secrest published 'Kenneth Clark: A Biography' in September 1983 in hardback.

Another reader writes:

An example of how Clark remains under appreciated: last week I attended the Warburg Institute's very important conference on Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin, which was a great success, but where Clark's name was not mentioned once in spite of the fact that he was one of the first English art historians to popularize Warburg's methods in this country (notably in the book on the nude).

National Gallery 2013 exhibition schedule

June 18 2012

Image of National Gallery 2013 exhibition schedule

Picture: Gustav Klimt, 'Portrait of Hermine Gallia', 1904, National Gallery, London

Many treats ahead. In the Sainsbury Wing, from 27th February to 19th May we have Barocci: Brilliance and Grace. Here's the blurb:

Federico Barocci (1535–1612) is celebrated as one of the most talented artists of late 16th-century Italy. Fascinated by the human form, he fused charm and compositional harmony with an unparalleled sensitivity to colour.

Thanks to the cooperation of the Soprintendenze delle Marche, the exhibition will showcase Barocci’s most spectacular Marchigian altarpieces, including his famous Entombment from Senigallia and Last Supper from Urbino Cathedral – never before seen outside Italy. In total, 16 of his most important altarpieces and devotional paintings and five of his finest portraits will be on display alongside their preparatory drawings and oil sketches.

Barocci was an incessant and even obsessive draughtsman, preparing every composition with prolific studies in every conceivable medium. Drawing from life and inspired by the people and animals that surrounded him, his works are characterised by a warmth and humanity that transform his religious subjects into themes with which all can identify.

Then from 26th June to 8th September, we have Vermeer and Music: Love and Leisure in the Dutch Golden Age:

This exhibition explores the concept of music as a pastime of the elite in the northern Netherlands during the 17th century. Vermeer and Music: Love and Leisure in the Dutch Golden Age will bring together for the first time the National Gallery’s two paintings by Vermeer, Young Woman Standing at a Virginal and Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, and Vermeer’s Guitar Player, on exceptional loan from the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood House. The exhibition aims to enhance viewers’ appreciation of these beautiful and evocative paintings by Vermeer and his contemporaries by juxtaposing them with musical instruments and songbooks of the period. Visitors will be able to compare 17th-century virginals, guitars, lutes and other instruments with their painted representations to judge the accuracy of representation and what liberties the painter might have taken to enhance the visual or symbolic appeal of his work. In 17th century Dutch paintings, music often figured as a metaphor for harmony, a symbol of transience or, depending on the type of music being performed, an indicator of one’s education and position in society. Musical instruments and songbooks were also included as attributes in elegant portraits to suggest that the sitter was accomplished in this area.

Finally, from 9th October to 12th January 2014 we have, The Portrait in Vienna 1867-1918:

The Portrait in Vienna 1867–1918 is the first exhibition to explore Viennese portraiture during the Austro-Hungarian Empire, showing both the continuity and the rupture between the Biedermeier and imperial traditions of the 19th century and the innovations of avantgarde artists such as Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl and Oskar Kokoschka in the years around 1900. The period is widely regarded as the time when the avant-garde overthrew the academy.

The exhibition explores how portraiture came to be closely identified with the distinctive flourishing of modern art in Vienna during its famed fin-de-siècle years. It is divided into six sections: Biedermeier-Modern (the rediscovery around 1900 of early 19thcentury portraits of the Alt-Wien bourgeoisie); Modern Family/Modern Child; The Artist; Modern Men/Modern Women; Love and Loss (the use of the portrait to declare love and commemorate the dead); and Finish and Failure (unfinished works abandoned by frustrated artists, or rejected by outraged sitters).

Caravaggio restored

June 18 2012

Video: IBTV

Caravaggio's 1608/9 painting The Raising of Lazarus has been restored. Tolerably good images can be seen in the video above. Otherwise, more details here.  

Update - a reader writes:

In 1992 my wife and I saw Caravaggio's (un-restored) 'Raising of Lazarus' in the Messina museum.  We were entirely alone, as far as we could see in the whole place, except for very welcoming guardians.  The 'Raising of Lazarus' made a tremendous impact: my reaction then that this was the single greatest oil painting I had ever seen, and I am not sure I would think differently today.  Thanks for flagging the restoration -- I can only heartily recommend anyone see it in Rome or back home in Messina.

Art history futures - 3D printing

June 18 2012


Quite incredible. More details here.

Guffwatch - how they do it

June 18 2012

This is invaluable - a former intern at Sotheby's, Alice Gregory, lifts the lid on those impenetrable contemporary catalogue entries:

After a few months on the job, I was assigned a new duty—writing the essays that are printed beneath and between the reproduced images in the sale catalogue. [...] The essay copy is mostly a formality, but it plays a role in the auction house’s overall marketing strategy. The more text given to an individual piece, the more the house seems to value it. I sprinkled about twenty adjectives (“fey,” “gestural,” “restrained”) amid a small repertory of active verbs (“explore,” “trace,” “question” ). I inserted the phrases “negative space,” “balanced composition,” and “challenges the viewer” every so often. X’s lyrical abstraction and visual vocabulary—which is marked by dogged muscularity and a singular preoccupation with the formal qualities of light—ushered in some of the most important art to hit the postwar market in decades. I described impasto—paint thickly applied to a canvas, often with a palette knife—almost pornographically and joked with friends on Gchat that I was being paid to write pulp. Pulp was exactly what I was writing. It was embarrassingly easy, and might have been the only truly dishonest part of the Sotheby’s enterprise. In most ways, the auction house is unshackled from intellectual pretense by its pure attention to the marketplace. Through its catalogue copy (and for a time, through me), it makes one small concession to the art world’s native tongue.

The £670,000 Greek fake at Sotheby's?

June 15 2012

Image of The £670,000 Greek fake at Sotheby's?

Picture: Artinfo/Sotheby's

Readers may remember the case of a Greek art collector suing Sotheby's for selling him not one but two alleged fakes. Now, Artinfo reports a court has found against Sotheby's with regard to one of the pictures, the above 'Virgin and Child' (above) sold as by Constantinos Parthenis for £670,000, and has orderd the auctioneers to pay Diamantis Diamantides £950,000 in damages. Sotheby's are appealing against the decision, and say:

 "It stands to reason that an auction house which sells art worth billions of dollars per year and relies on its reputation to secure consignments and purchasers would not put its business at risk by knowingly selling forged works."

This is a cut and paste response from their previous denials of the case. At the same time, the market for Greek art has fallen through the floor. Pictures are struggling to sell for a fraction of what they did before the 2008 crash. So, paradoxically, Mr Diamantides' pictures are worth more as fakes (if he can indeed force Sotheby's to repay him his money) than they are as the real thing. 

Come to London - buy Old Masters!

June 15 2012

Video: MPW

If you like Old Master paintings, then London in July is the place to be. Especially if you want to buy one. All the catalogues are now online for the Old Master auctions; Sotheby's here, Christie's here, and Bonhams here. I'll post on these sales in more detail once the viewings are open. The top lot of the week is John Constable's The Lock, the sale of which has already been guaranteed.

Also tempting you to London is Master Paintings Week (29 June-6 July), where the city's best dealers open their galleries for extended opening times, and put on a series of exhibitions. To help guide you round the galleries, you can download the Master Paintings Week app here. At Philip Mould & Company we shall be having an exhibition of British royal portraits. And finally, there's the Masterpiece fair in Chelsea, where we shall also be exhibiting. 

No other city offers the Old Master enthusiast so much in one week, and I hope to see some of you around. For me, it's by far the busiest week of the year; preparing 2 exhibitions, viewing 6 auctions, and hopefully buying and selling many more pictures. So if I look a little bit zonked, forgive me. 

Art history futures - marketing your child prodigy

June 14 2012

Video: Agora Gallery/via Art Daily

Regular readers may remember the debut 'show' in New York of four-year old artist Aelita Andre, whose paintings fetched thousands of dollars. Now the prices must be going up, for, aged five, she appears in this glitzy film, complete with health-spa music, to advertise another New York solo show. I hope Aelita sells lots of pictures, now and in the future. But seeing the video above, it's hard not to feel sorry for the kid. 

Art history futures - pyscho interactive machines

June 14 2012

Image of Art history futures - pyscho interactive machines

Picture: Galerie Rudiger Schottle

Introducing Rodney Graham's Mini Rotary Pyscho Opticon, 2008, available this week at Art Basle:

The so called “Mini Rotary Psycho Opticon” by Rodney Graham is a kind of readymade—a replica of a freestanding kinetic op-art sculpture used as a mechanized back-drop for an early 1970’s Belgian television show on which the band Black Sabbath appeared performing their song ‘Paranoid”. The work comprises a large spinning disc behind a wall with five holes cut in it. The disc contains five discs (each containing a black and white op-art pattern) which are visible through these holes while the disc spins, creating a crude ‘psychedelic’ optical effect. The apparatus was designed to be pedal-powered by a bicyclist. Therefore the work has a high finish and is interactive. In an exhibition context viewers will be able to operate the machine. The Mini Rotary Psycho Opticon is designed by a master bicycle designer.

Yours for £180,000.

Is the future of art history 'digital?'

June 14 2012

Image of Is the future of art history 'digital?'

Picture: NoMatter/

The fabulous Kress Foundation has published a new report; Transitioning to a Digital World - Art History, its Research Centers, and Digital Scholarship. Alas, it isn't particularly well written (for example, it would be helpful if it started with a definition of what it is meant by 'digital art history'), but a central summary reveals:

The findings reveal disagreements in the art history community about the value of digital research, teaching, and scholarship. Those who believe in the potential of digital art history feel it will open up new avenues of inquiry and scholarship, allow greater access to art historical information, provide broader dissemination of scholarly research, and enhance undergraduate and graduate teaching. Those who are skeptical doubt that new forms of art historical scholarship will emerge from the digital environment.  They remain unconvinced that digital art history will offer new research opportunities or that it will allow them to conduct their research in new and different ways.

Who are these art history Luddites?! I'm guessing none of them read this blog. Can anyone seriously think art history will not be advanced by 'digital' means - ie, the ability to find information quickly, and use high-resolution images? Or am I just being a geeky art history blogger?

Versailles in 3D

June 13 2012

Image of Versailles in 3D

Picture: Versailles 3D

An incroyable new website.

Update: Didier Rykner at Tribune De L'Art spots a few howlers in the narration. 

'It's a no-brainer'

June 13 2012

Image of 'It's a no-brainer'

Picture: BG

The CEO of digital art specialists s[edition], Robert Norton, has written an article for Wired magazine calling on the UK government to persuade museums to abolish reproduction restrictions. Regular readers will know the arguments well from my earlier posts, but Norton also focuses on Yale Universty's experience in liberating itself from the copyright beast:

Now is the time for the coalition government to act boldly and herald in an equally exciting new chapter for the visual arts online: to scrap licensing fees for public-domain works of art. These quasi-copyright assertions and licences are the digital equivalent of museum entry fees, and they prevent us from using, learning from and simply enjoying these art resources.

A digital renaissance in the visual arts is under way. Improvements in screen resolution coupled with faster broadband and more sophisticated digitisation technologies will create compelling ways to access and experience art online. New initiatives such as Your Paintings, a joint effort by the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC to catalogue the UK's collection of 200,000 oil paintings, or the Google Art Project, which has now attracted over 150 museums across 40 countries, allow online visitors unprecedented access to artworks and provide new levels of brushwork detail.

Last year Yale University became the first art institution to announce it would provide licence- and royalty-free access to digital images of public-domain materials in all Yale collections. Far from having a price calculator, it makes no charge for downloading the 20MB, 300dpi TIFF file of any of Yale's public-domain works.

I spoke to Kenneth Hamma, consulting information architect at the Yale Center for British Art, who described the two-step process in adopting this open-access policy. The directors of the museums and libraries first convinced themselves this was the right thing to do partly because the licensing revenues were small, but more importantly because they didn't feel it was their responsibility to determine how these images could be used. After this idea was presented to the officers of the university, they took five minutes to make a decision. It was a no-brainer.

A Rembrandt at Christie's

June 12 2012

Video: Christie's

Now this is how you do it - compare this knowledgeable, focused and understated video by Christie's co-chairman Richard Knight on Rembrandt's Bust of a Man in a Gorget and a Cap (coming up in July at £8m-£12m) with the effort Sotheby's put out for their Damien Hirsts

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