Previous Posts: June 2012

A Hirst sales pitch

June 12 2012

Video: Sotheby's

Unintentionally, the Sotheby's expert offering multi-million pound Hirsts hits the nail on the head:

'What fascinates Damien so much is the blind credence we human beings have...'

Update - a reader writes:

[It's] the art equivalent of your dad dancing to Coldplay.

Another reader takes me to task for preferring the Christie's Rembrandt video over Sotheby's Hirst one:

With reference to the promotional filmettes of the Rembrandt and the Hirst, you are letting your views on the artists influence your views on the films themselves. Whatever you think of the works of art behind talked about, the piece about the Hirst is actually very sober in the words it uses, while the Rembrandt video uses the words genius, iconic, virtuosity, seminal and astonishing all within the space of a few seconds. Just what we art historians were taught not to do. Knowledgable? He's reading from a script. Understated? It's all sales talk, with a bit of art history-lite thrown in. And you took that quote about blind credence totally out of context.

I am not trying to defend Damien Hirst, only to keep you on your toes!

Personally, I think the key difference here is that Rembrandt's art deserves to be described with the words 'seminal' and 'iconic', whereas Hirst's does not (yet). And I think it's a shame that art historians are (or rather were) taught not be enthusiastic about their subjects by using words like 'genius' and 'iconic'. If you like something, say it.

Another reader also pulls me up on the quote above from the Hirst video:

I think very selective quotes are usually a bad idea, speaking as a former lawyer, so was a bit surprised to see the Hirst one. 

The quote from the video may have been judiciously selected, but if I may plead in defence, I did preface its selection by writing that the Sotheby's expert was expressing a view 'unintentionally'. I think one can make a case that Hirst is interested in society's 'blind credence' on a number of levels, not least in its capacity to believe in the value of his art. On which point, let me remind readers that I hold a secret admiration for Hirst himself; it's just the associated guff people in the art world attach to him that grates. 

Splendid news

June 12 2012

Image of Splendid news

Picture: Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery

I mean, really splendid news, on a number of levels. I recently mentioned Birmingham Museum's quest to raise £900,000 for the acquisition of Sir Joshua Reynolds' Portrait of Dr John Ash (above). In these austere times, it looked like a big ask. But - praise be - the Heritage Lottery Fund has stepped forward with a whopping £675,000, leaving just £50,000 to be raised.

Is this more evidence (after the generous £5.9m support of the Ashmolean's Manet campaign) that the Heritage Lottery Fund is at last looking more kindly on acquisitions (as AHN has long hoped for)? If so, then it promises to be one of the most important developments in the UK's recent cultural history. Not only can museums begin to think seriously about acquisitions again, but we might also be able to save some of the important pictures that are being sold overseas.

Extreme souvenir hunting

June 12 2012


Whilst looking for a video for the story below on the Trevi Fountain, I came across this choice piece of cultural tourism, at the Moro Fountain in Rome.

Damage to the Trevi Fountain in Rome

June 12 2012

Rome's Trevi Fountain shows signs of age by euronews-en


More details here

Imagining Jane Austen

June 11 2012

Image of Imagining Jane Austen

Picture: Mail

There was a flurry of news about the Rice portrait of 'Jane Austen' this weekend. The portrait has long been claimed as Jane Austen thanks to its apparent provenance. But more recently the identity has been questioned, most notably by the National Portrait Gallery in London, and not least on grounds of date. It is thought to have been painted too late to show Jane as a girl. Jane was bown in 1775, but the portrait, stylistically and in the fashion represented, seems to date from the early 19th Century.

The family who own the picture have been on a long quest to prove that it does indeed show Jane. Their latest evidence that it is her, which hit the headlines this weekend, is based on a series of inscriptions found on old photographs of the painting. These prove, say the owners, that the portrait was by Ozias Humphry - an attribution which is important since it would push the date back to when Jane was a girl. The story goes that these highly important inscriptions have since been removed by over-zealous restorers. See more details in The Guardian here, and the background on the dedicated Rice portrait site here.

The Daily Mail concluded their report on the new evidence:

If the portrait is confirmed as being Austen, it may be an embarrassment to the National Portrait Gallery, which granted the picture a licence for sale abroad on the basis that it could not be the writer.

The gallery chose not to comment.

The NPG need not fear embarrassment, however. I applaud the owner's attempts to prove their painting is Jane. But I'm afraid these apparent inscriptions in old photos of the painting, which I have been shown, are (to me at least) not compelling. Nor is this the first time apparently conclusive 'writing' on the painting, seen in questionably interpreted and magnified old photographs, has been claimed. For the best critique of the painting's identity, read former NPG chief curator Jacob Simon's brief note here. In particular, he deals with the question of the apparent inscriptions written on the painting:

The [Rice Portrait] website claims that the portrait is signed several times in monogram, inscribed JANE and dated 1788 but, from my lengthy experience of examining British portraits, these apppear to be purely incidental and meaningless markings. They were not noted by Thomas Harding Newman, owner of the portrait in 1880, who attributed it to Zoffany. They do not appear in photographs taken by Emery Walker in about 1910, despite claims to the contrary on the website. They were not apparent to the professional painting conservator who examined the portrait with others at Henry Rice's request before cleaning it in 1985. They were not apparent to Christie's experienced cataloguing staff in 2007 when the portrait was put up for sale in New York, despite an earlier report of initials on the portrait.

View from the artist no.11 - answer

June 11 2012

Image of View from the artist no.11 - answer

Picture: Wikipaintings

Well done everone - lots of correct answers for the location, St Petersburg. But not many of you got the artist, Alexey Bgolyubov, painted c.1850.

The Emperor's new... exhibition

June 11 2012

Image of The Emperor's new... exhibition

Picture: Guardian

There's an exhibition dedicated to invisible art at the Hayward Gallery in London at the moment (really). A reader writes:




I agree.

Update - another reader writes:

This happens when people stop learning art history.

Things you shouldn't use as a coaster

June 8 2012

Image of Things you shouldn't use as a coaster

Picture: Christie's

Top of the list - drawings by Rembrandt. This slightly soiled example is yours for £50,000-£80,000 at Christie's next month. Of course, if it could be proved to have been Rembrandt's own coaster, then add a nought!

Update - it might indeed by Rembrandt's coaster (of sorts), for Christie's write:

The circular stain is an iron-gall ink stain, probably from the base of an ink-pot, so (while we can never know for sure) there is certainly a chance that the stain could be from the artist’s studio.

Christie's $12m vs Sotheby's $5m

June 8 2012

Image of Christie's $12m vs Sotheby's $5m

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's New York Old Master sale last night made a total of $5.2m (with preimum), less than half Christie's total of $12.5m earlier in the week. The top lot was a curious 14th C Madonna by the Pseudo Dalmasio Degli Scannabecchi (above), which sold for $794,500. The Guido Reni fragment I mentioned previously made $122,500.


June 8 2012

Image of Guffwatch

Picture: Ellen Jong

A reader sends in this gem, from an exhibition at the Allegra La Viola Gallery in New York of photographs by Ellen Jong. You wouldn't know it from the blurb, but the photos mainly show someone's erection.

The Invisible Line uses photography, video and poetry to document how Jong remembers falling in love over a four-year period leading up to her wedding day. The work is intimate and echoes the bold and provocative sentiment of Nan Goldin and Tracey Emin, but with the snapshot aesthetic of William Eggelston. Highly adept at interjecting private moments into a public space, Jong’s work provides a window into realized and uninhibited displays of passion.Where most people fail at being able to completely let go, Jong travels deep into the nether lands of love where her heart acts as a compass.

The photographs on view mimic pieces to a larger puzzle, offering micro-details of when and how Jong’s general existence and personal transition began to crystallize. Between the creation of each image and its pixel and grain, is a gesture of emotion that captures a dissolve and discovery of self, simultaneously. The images are uninhibited and demonstrate a form of passion seldom experienced in contemporary art, but universal to all.

Classic guff language. Take an abstract concept, cloak it in art-world legitimacy by name-checking other better-known artists, and then intersperse with useful guff-words like 'simultaneously'. In guff-land, things are always happening 'simultaneously'; it's a word that allows you to connect the totally random and unconnected. 

Another NPG acquisition

June 8 2012

Image of Another NPG acquisition

Picture: Sim Fine Art

Andrew Sim of Sim Fine Art writes:

Having just read about your transvestite triumph at the NPG, I wondered whether your readers might be interested to hear that the gallery is still acquiring pictures of reassuringly tweedy English gentlemen, in this case the only known double portrait (non photographic) of Eric Ravilious (standing) and Edward Bawden (seated) by Michael Rothenstein, dating from 1933.

The picture was previously unrecorded, and surfaced unattributed in a minor auction - a very rare 20th Century sleeper.

Son of Guffwatch - new entry

June 8 2012

A reader sends in another entry for AHN's new series of academic Guffwatch, from the University of New South Wales:

Interference strategies for art 

Friday 22 – Saturday 23 June 2012

Hosted by the VCA, this Transdisciplinary Imaging Conference takes place over two stimulating days when acclaimed professionals including curators, historians, creative arts practitioners, critics and theorists will explore transdisciplinary imaging. 

Art, Science and Culture The notion of ‘Interference’ is posed here as an antagonism between production and seduction, as a redirection of affect, or as an untapped potential for repositioning artistic critique. Maybe art doesn’t have to work as a wave that displaces or reinforces the standardized protocols of data/messages, but can instead function as a kind of signal that disrupts and challenges perceptions. ‘Interference’ can stand as a mediating incantation that might create a layer between the constructed image of the ‘everyday’ given to us by science, technological social networks and the means of its construction.

The Transdisciplinary Imaging Conference presents speakers from a wide range of disciplines discussing:

  • Can art interfere with the chaotic storms of data visualization and information processing, or is it merely eulogizing contemporary media?
  • Can we think of ‘interference’ as a key tactic for the contemporary image in disrupting and critiquing the continual flood of constructed imagery?
  • Are contemporary forms and strategies of interference the same as historical ones? What kinds of similarities and differences exist?

I thought Australians were immune to this kind of nonsense. And as the reader writes: 

I had thought that 'interference strategies for art' were mainly undertaken by disgruntled gallery attendants and - as you've recently experienced yourself - cantankerous librarians but it would seem that 'acclaimed professionals' are also at it...

View from the Artist no.11

June 7 2012

Image of View from the Artist no.11


We haven't had one of these for a while - can you guess where the artist is painting? No prizes, just for fun.

Introducing the Dallas Dashboard

June 7 2012

Image of Introducing the Dallas Dashboard

Picture: Dallas Museum of Art

The Dallas Museum of Art has come up with a novel way of presenting information about itself, called the Dashboard. The most interesting page is that with the art statistics, which reveals they have 3,837 objects, 24 works on loan, and $400,000,000 worth of insurance cover. All museums should do this. 

$4.5m restitution windfall

June 7 2012

Video: Christie's

A Christ Carrying the Cross by Girolamo Romanino, which was dramatically seized from a museum wall just last year, has been sold for $4.5m by the heirs of the family who were forced to sell it during the Nazi era. The picture (featured above in a superalitive-laden video by Christie's) was the top lot in Christie's New York Old Master sale last night, which made in total $12.5m. Other noteworthy lots included a Portrait of Francois Langlois by the Studio of Van Dyck, which made $338,500 against an estimate of $80,000-$120,000, and a 'newly discovered Rubens' of Frederico Gonzaga, which failed to sell (for the second time) at $500,000-700,000.

NPG acquires 'a bloke in a dress with a hat'

June 6 2012

Image of NPG acquires 'a bloke in a dress with a hat'

Picture: Philip Mould/NPG

I'm very pleased to report that the National Portrait Gallery has acquired the above portrait of the Chevalier D'Eon. It shows the earliest certainly known likeness in oil of a transvestite. The portrait was discovered by us here at Philip Mould & Co earlier this year in a minor auction in the United States. It is now on public display at the NPG, in room 15. More details in The Guardian:

Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont, to give her full name, is one of the most important transvestites in history. She was "a fascinating and inspirational figure", said Lucy Peltz, the gallery's curator of 18th-century portraits.

"We are absolutely delighted to be able to acquire this portrait. D'Eon is a particularly fascinating and important figure from 18th-century British history."

The painting was discovered by the London dealer Philip Mould at a provincial sale outside New York last year. It was being mistakenly sold as a portrait of an unknown woman by Gilbert Stuart, most famous for painting George Washington on the dollar bill.

"Even in its dirty state it was quite clear that this woman had stubble," said Mould, who bought it, brought it to the UK and began further research and restoration.

"Cleaning is always a revelation and on this occasion it revealed that not only was it in lovely condition but, more pertinently, the Gilbert Stuart signature cleaned off revealing the name Thomas Stewart, a theatrical painter working in London in the 1780s and 1790s."

Everything then began to click into place. "What is so unusual about this portrait is that it is so brazenly demonstrative in a period when you don't normally get that type of alternative persona expressed in portraiture," said Mould. There is no attempt to soften his physiognomy – basically, he was a bloke in a dress with a hat."

The discovery was tremendously exciting, said Mould. "We are the main dealers in British portraiture, doing it for something like 30 years and I must have sold two or three thousand British portraits to museums and institutions – but never have I come across something quite so idiosyncratic. I've never had anything which is so off-beam."

A record

June 6 2012

Last week at Philip Mould & Company we sold 28 pictures. That's a record for us.

I don't mean to boast, but it's an illuminating statistic. In these troubling economic times, does it suggest that art, even old stuff, is increasingly seen as a safe haven? 

Update - a reader writes:

Buying art as  a "safe haven"?  Very possibly, if what you have in mind is the idea that art will rise in value more than other sorts of investments these days, or at least not drop in value (like people pulling money out of euros to hold their money in USA dollars).  But there is another take: if directly financial investments are seen as going nowhere, or worse, then maybe some of those with money on hand feel they might as well spend it on something with substance that may provide lasting enjoyment.  From this point of view, those with a great deal of money might buy expensive art -- including from Mould Galleries, and congratulations for that !! -- while those with much less might buy from lesser-known artists they like.  Maybe this view is too optimistic, if that is the right word.  And of course, you know your own buyers!

The Queen's art historical sense of fashion

June 6 2012

Image of The Queen's art historical sense of fashion

Picture: Zimbio/NPG

Quite a few commentators, and some AHN readers, seemed to think the Queen was deliberately echoing Elizabeth I's famous Ditchley portrait with her outfit during the Jubilee Pageant on Sunday. And according to Lisa Armstrong in the Irish Independent, she certainly was:

The matching coat and dress, designed by Angela Kelly, the queen's senior dresser, were made in a cosy wool. It wasn't all pragmatism, though. That single organza frill on her coat was purely decorative, as were the dashing feathers on that hat.

But function is never far away in the monarch's choices. That brim was broad enough to keep the worst of any downpour at bay, but not melodramatically wide.

And, naturally, it was all richly emblematic. The outfit included allusions to her three jubilees as well as a reference to her distant ancestor Elizabeth I, who wore a Tudor, farthingaled version in the Ditchley portrait. Angela Kelly says that over the years the queen has taught her a huge amount about regal symbolism. The outfit was, apparently, a year in the planning.

They love the Queen in Liverpool

June 6 2012

Image of They love the Queen in Liverpool

Picture: Liverpool Echo

In Liverpool, part of the Jubilee celebrations included an art competition. The winner, Tommy Graham, scooped £1,000 for his depiction of the Queen as Godzilla, attacking the Liver Building. Tommy said:

“There was no particular point to it, I’m not anti-Royal. I just thought it would be funny.”

Van Gogh Action Figure!

June 6 2012

Image of Van Gogh Action Figure!


More art history toys - a reader sends in this gem:

Was there a greater character in history than Vincent Van Gogh? After all this is a man who chopped off his ear in the name of love. With the Vincent Van Gogh Action Figure, you can see him before and after his self-conducted surgery; with 2 ears or with bandaged head. Place the Vincent Van Gogh Action Figure in front of easel with interchangeable versions of his mini masterpieces. Celebrate one of the world's favorite artists or use him as an inspirational tool. Specs: 5-1/4" inches tall vinyl figure Two interchangeable heads Comes with a paintbrush, palette, an easel, a frame and some mini masterpieces to display. Illustrated blister card.

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