Previous Posts: March 2012

German gallery sued for return of Klee

March 27 2012

Image of German gallery sued for return of Klee

Picture: Bloomberg

One of Paul Klee's most famous works, Sumpflegende, has become the subject of a restitution claim. The heirs of Sophie Lissitzky-Kueppers, a German art historian, are suing the Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich. Catherine Hickley at Bloomberg has the story:

Lissitzky-Kueppers inherited “Sumpflegende” in 1922 and loaned it to Hanover’s Provinzialmuseum in 1926, before she left Germany. The painting was seized from the museum in 1937 under the orders of Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels for the Nazi “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich.

Munich has “rejected returning the Klee painting with constantly changing reasons since 1992,” Christoph von Berg of Von Berg Bandekow Zorn, the Leipzig law firm representing the heirs, said in a statement sent to Bloomberg News by e-mail. “All attempts by the heirs to reach an agreement have been brusquely brushed aside.”

The Nazis seized thousands of modern works, seeking to purge German museums of art they saw as contrary to Aryan ideals. An online database compiled by Berlin’s Free University aims to document as many as 21,000 confiscated “degenerate” works by artists including Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Wassily Kandinsky and Klee.

In the degenerate art show, “Sumpflegende” was mocked as the “confusion” and “disorder” of a “mentally ill person.”

Waldemar on 'Turner & Claude'

March 27 2012

Image of Waldemar on 'Turner & Claude'

Picture: BG

He likes it:

The show ahead consists of ever clearer evidence that Turner was a great and tremendous artist, Claude a charming one. At the heart of the display is the famous face-off between their two views of ancient Carthage; a face-off Turner engineered when he left his work to the nation, on the condition that these two works always hang together. Which they usually do, in the National’s octagonal gallery.

In Claude’s Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, the weak beam from a low sun on the horizon seems barely to reach the shore, and even the figures humping stuff onto boats in the foreground appear utterly exhausted. But when Turner adopts more or less the same viewpoint, he flicks a switch and the electricity surges on. The sun is rebooted to its nuclear setting. A volcano erupts in the bay and the waters boil.

The usual interpretation of Turner’s insistence that his work hangs next to Claude’s is that it was intended as a homage: a pupil’s thanks to his master. But I no longer believe that. On this evidence, Turner’s great burst of atomic sunshine constitutes an effort to flatten Claude in battle. This wasn’t an homage. This was a beating-up.

Are these Nazi trucks carrying looted art to a mine?

March 26 2012

Image of Are these Nazi trucks carrying looted art to a mine?

Picture: Bild

Achtung! A team hunting a huge cache of Nazi-looted art believe they may be on the verge of an astonishing discovery in a mine on the German-Czech border. The lost pictures, from the collection of the Hungarian-Jewish industrialist Baron Ferenc Hatvany, include works by Monet and Cezanne. From the Mail:

Viennese historian Burkhart List, 62, says he has acquired documents from old Wehrmacht archives that report a mass shipment of the Hatvany collection to two subterranean galleries, measuring 6,000 by 4,500 feet, in the Erzgebirge Mountains.

With the permission of the mayor of nearby Deutschkatherinenberg, Hans-Peter Haustein, he deployed a neutron generator inside the mountain to probe for the secret chambers.  

The device revealed that, 180 feet down, there are workings detailed on no maps and they appear to be man-made, not natural.

Mr List said: 'In the winter of 1944 - 1945 the records indicate that a mysterious transport arrived here from Budapest that was coded top secret.

'One of the photos [above] yielded up by the archives was of the Sonnenhaus, a large building directly in front of the Fortuna mine where I believe the art is stored.

'It shows a large contingent of SS. There was no military or logical state purpose for them to be here on a secret mission, unless it was to deliver the artwork into chambers which, climactically, are ideal for the storage of art.'

So far the explorations have yielded only a Schmeisser machine gun, a Nazi gas mask, plastic explosive detonators and a safe deposit key.

EUR12m Francken goes to Boston

March 26 2012

Image of EUR12m Francken goes to Boston

Picture: Didier Rykner

Over at La Tribune de l'Art, Didier Rykner reports that the Boston Museum of Fine Art has acquired Frans Francken's Eternal Dilemma, 1633, which had been bought by dealer Johnny van Haeften in 2010 for EUR7m.

New Royal Collection website

March 26 2012

Image of New Royal Collection website

Picture: RC

The Royal Collection has launched a new website. Have a browse here and see what you think. The images are a little better than before. But so far, the search facility is very weak, whereas the old one was excellent. Happily, the RC says they will be adding a better search facility in the future.

Collecting Pre-Raphaelites

March 26 2012

Image of Collecting Pre-Raphaelites

Picture: Leighton House Museum

There was an interesting piece in The Observer yesterday on the Australian tycoon and Pre-Raphaelite fan John Schaeffer, about how he got into collecting:

Visiting the Tate's 1984 Pre-Raphaelite exhibition was a life-changing moment, he said. "It galvanised my collecting. The whole exhibition struck me … the poetry, the storylines, the romanticism. As a businessman who didn't have any formal training, it … caused me to suddenly pick up books and feverishly read [about] what inspired the artists."

His fascination was further boosted by a visit to Leighton House, the exotic former home and studio of the Victorian artist Lord Frederic Leighton. Schaeffer said: "Of all the Victorian artists, I found him to be the king on the top of the mountain."

Yet in the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when high Victorian art was deeply unfashionable for collectors, British public collections sold off masterpieces that would today be worth millions. By the time Schaeffer began collecting in the 1980s, they had begun "scaling up in price". Even so, paintings that he could then buy for £100,000 would now cost a million, he said.

Schaeffer's collection will soon be on display at Leighton House in London, including the above work by John William Waterhouse.

Re-hanging the Wallace Collection

March 26 2012

Video: Wallace Collection

A fascinating video on the the now completed refurbishment of the Dutch Galleries at the Wallace Collection. (Here's hoping they dusted the frames this time...)


March 26 2012

Image of Baldies

Picture: RA/National Gallery of Victoria

A number of you have been in touch to suggest bald painters, following my post on the strange hair replacement advert at The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht. I asked for names of painters who were brave enough to portray themselves as bald. A reader writes:

V. few it seems, but - if we give Leonardo the benefit of the doubt - Matisse, Cezanne, Hokusai and Edward Lear do.

Other names suggested include Thomas Lawrence (above left), possibly Joseph Highmore (above right). Someone should write a thesis on this. 

Is China really the world's largest art market?

March 26 2012

Following my earlier post on China taking the no.1 spot, a reader writes with an excellent point:

Regarding a recent article named "Destination: China", I would just like to make some remarks. As a specialist at one the larger auction houses in Sweden, I have among my colleagues (both national and international) heard of many incidents which indicates that the market share figures regarding Chinese sales should be regarded with some caution. 

Many times, fines pieces of ceramics are sold at auctions for record prices, but they are never paid nor collected. In cases where depositions had been requested beforehand, credit card numbers turned out to be fake or not valid. My guess is that these purchases are gambles that didn't work out at the other end, and it is easier to disappear than to settle overpriced debts.

Auction houses, and I assume dealers alike, generally like to keep these failures to themselves, but it is the original results that show in the statistics. This does, to my opinion, skew the image somewhat. The new chinese market has still to mature.

24 hours to buy Van Gogh's house

March 26 2012

Image of 24 hours to buy Van Gogh's house

Picture: Savills

Following my post below on the sale of Van Gogh's now dilapidated London house, a reader writes:

I can't believe that no one has wanted to take care of this house. Shameful. You should buy it Bendor. No one could do it justice more than you.

Well, I'm enough of a fantasist to have thought of it. After all, the guide price of £475,000 makes it one of very few houses in London that is even remotely affordable these days. But the auction is tomorrow, and to bid you have to be ready with a 10% deposit on the day, with the balance due within 20 days. Of course, if it was Van Dyck's house, I'd be bidding - even if I had to rob a bank...

If you want to bid, full details are here.

Update - it made £565,000. Bargain!

Van Gogh's London home

March 23 2012

Video: Guardian

You have to watch this - a truly delightful video by Jonathan Jones on Van Gogh's London house, which will shortly be sold by auction. You can even see Van Gogh's lav.

Funnily enough, I'm looking for a house at the moment...

Friday Amusement

March 23 2012

Image of Friday Amusement

Picture: Cartoonstock

An exhibition on miniatures at Philip Mould

March 23 2012

Image of An exhibition on miniatures at Philip Mould

Picture: Philip Mould

Portrait miniatures were the closest you could get to photos before photography was invented. So it wasn't surprising that the genre died out quite quickly after photography became popular. An exhibition here at Philip Mould looks at how miniature painters gamely fought on into the 20th Century, some with more success than others. More details here.  

A Murillo discovery at Maastricht

March 23 2012

Image of A Murillo discovery at Maastricht

Picture: BG

A picture I liked yesterday at Maastricht was this small oil by Murillo of The Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua. It was with the Madrid gallery, Caylus, and had been plucked from under everyone's noses (including mine!) at an Old Master auction in London, where it had been catalogued at Christie's as 'Studio of Murillo'. It sold for just £10,000. The picture is a little gem, and since the vetting at Maastricht is fairly tough, there can't be much doubt about the elevation from Studio to autograph. Caylus have also established some solid provenance for the painting, going back to Marechal Soult, Napoleon's famous general. 

On the subject of vetting, I heard yesterday of a picture previously offered by an auctioneer for many millions which was vetted off by the committee at Maastricht. Ouch. I'd love to tell you about it, but am sworn to secrecy. (Oh alright then, it was from Sotheby's). 

Hunt on for a new Arts Council chair

March 23 2012

Dame Liz Forgan, appointed by the last government in 2009, has not had her position renewed by Jeremy Hunt. More here

Update: reaction to the departure in The Guardian:

It is unusual for an ACE chair to depart after one term. Both previous incumbents, Sir Christopher Frayling and Sir Gerry Robinson, were invited to extend their contracts. Internally, Forgan's departure has come as a surprise, since she was widely expected to see through a restructuring of ACE, which has already begun and, under the last government funding agreement, obliges the body to cut its running costs by 50% by the end of March 2015.

When the coalition was formed in 2010, there was speculation in some quarters that Forgan, who has been perceived as left-of-centre politically and who was appointed under the Labour administration, might not survive under the new regime. However, relations between Forgan and Hunt have been, openly at least, warm.

But Hunt has received criticism from the right for being too accommodating of Forgan, and for failing to create a cultural identity for the new government, distinct from the values and people of the old guard. One senior figure in the arts world, who preferred not to be named, said: "This move is totally political. It is nothing more or less than political."

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, said: "I am deeply disappointed that Liz Forgan is not being renewed as chair of the Arts Council. She has led the council with real verve and conviction through a period in which cuts to arts spending could have resulted in the loss of major parts of our cultural landscape."

More on the Coleridge collar

March 23 2012

Image of More on the Coleridge collar

Picture: Christie's

A reader alerts me to this good write up in The Economist of the sad story of the Coleridge collar I mentioned earlier this week. It reveals that Lord Coleridge will now have to pay costs of about £1m: 

...because he lost the case, Lord Coleridge has to pay 90% of most of its costs, estimated at £1m. Hearing the verdict was like listening to a morality tale. There was much to learn from it.

Essentially, if a work of art or an antique is of personal or financial importance, it pays to get a second opinion if you don't much care for the first one. The job of an expert is to use acquired skills and natural gifts to narrow the gap between opinion and fact. The better the expert, the more narrow the gap—but it never disappears entirely. Experience teaches collectors, dealers and art historians that mistakes are unavoidable. Learning from them is often more beneficial and less expensive than going to court.   

As it happens, the chain was bought at Christie's in 2008 by Christopher Moran, who has built on enormous Tudor-style house alongside the Thames. Perhaps he will not mind having a collar that now is widely considered to be Tudor style, rather than the real thing.

I don't know what Christopher Moran thinks of his chain now, but I do know that he was very well advised at the time he bought it. And if I were in Moran's place, I would have no doubt at all about my purchase. 

There was one other aspect of the case which has slightly troubled me. A point made by Lord Coleridge's barrister was that Sotheby's should have made more effort to establish the value of the chain, even if it was 17th Century. The only comparable 17th Century collar had been sold for £300,000 by the London dealers S J Philips some years earlier - ten times what Sotheby's said Lord Coleridge's collar was worth as a 17th Century item. But, according to the Antiques Trade Gazette:

...Judge Pelling rejected the idea that S.J. Phillips would have revealed the price to Sotheby's, whom they would consider rivals in the market. He went on to conclude that, in general terms, contacting retail dealers with regard to value was unrealistic.

As a dealer, I'm not sure this is entirely right.


A reader involved in Sotheby's defence writes:

I have just seen your piece on the Coleridge Collar. SJP did not sell the collar to Arthur Gilbert for £300,000. The figure given in court by Lord Coleridge's expert witness was inaccurate. The precise figure of 300,300 was taken from an inventory in the V & A which should never have been made public. In any case the figure is a US dollar conversion of the price paid by Sir Arthur at the prevailing exchange rate. The price paid to the Richards's family solicitors, from whom the Gilbert collar originally came, was considerably less, though not paid by SJP, and very close to Sotheby's estimate of the less good Coleridge Collar.

If I understand this correctly, the relevant figure is what Sir Arthur Gilbert paid for his chain, not what its original vendors sold it for. Something is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. And it seems from this that Sir Arthur Gilbert paid considerably more than the Coleridge collar was valued at by Sotheby's.

Louvre the world's most visited museum

March 23 2012

New York's Met is in second place, and - how about this fellow Brits - the British Museum is third, the National Gallery fourth, and Tate Modern fifth! More here.

At Maastricht, questionable advertising

March 23 2012

Image of At Maastricht, questionable advertising

Picture: BG

Visitors to The European Fine Art Fair at Maastricht are greeted by this slightly desperate ad as they enter the fair.

It made me wonder how many great painters were bald, or at least portrayed themselves as bald. At the moment, I can only think of Rubens. Anyone know of any others? 

Thank you...

March 23 2012

We're now regularly getting over 5,000 readers a week here at AHN. So thanks to you all for your continued support!


March 22 2012

I'm off to The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht. Back to tomorrow. If the battery on my iPhone lasts more than five minutes, you may find occasional TEFAF highlights over on Twitter, @arthistorynews. 

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