Previous Posts: May 2012

Stereoscopicising* a painting

May 31 2012


A reader sends news that Jan Matejko's 1878 painting The Battle of Grunwald [National Museum Warsaw] has been rendered in stereoscopic 3D form (above). Impressive stuff - apparently it's a world first - see how they do it here

* Is that a word? I just made it up.

An artist's instructions

May 31 2012

Image of An artist's instructions

Picture: BG

Interesting to find these strict instructions on both viewing and preservation on the back of a portrait drawing by William Wood (1769-1810).

Another randomly cheery video

May 31 2012


A reader sends in the above, following the below. Now, anyone got the guts to try a flashmob in the National Gallery?

Randomly cheery video

May 31 2012

Via Art Daily and the Copenhagen Philharmonic

New Director at the Paul Mellon Centre

May 31 2012

Image of New Director at the Paul Mellon Centre


Congratulations to Professor Mark Hallett, who has been appointed Director of the Paul Mellon Centre in London. The Centre is the pre-eminent supporter of academic art historical publications in Britain. Prof. Hallett takes over from Prof. Brian Allen. More details here

Andrew Wyld sale at Christie's

May 31 2012

Image of Andrew Wyld sale at Christie's

Picture: Philip Mould/W/S Fine Art & Christie's

The auction catalogue for the sale of the late Andrew Wyld, one of the finest art dealers of his generation, has gone online. Andrew's gallery was just next to ours in Dover St, and while I can't say I ever knew him well, he was always a friendly face, a trove of knowledge, and above all a great connoisseur. It's nice to see that the Christie's sale is called 'Andrew Wyld: Connoisseur Dealer', for despite what some believe, the two disciplines go well together. Andrew had a good take on connoisseurship, which I use in my lectures on the subject:

“Academic study can lead to a closed mind. There is a world of difference between looking at thousands of photographs of works of art, with occasional visits to museums, and spending time in the saleroom looking at the real thing. Most of the things that one sees are not very good, but it trains the eye better to learn that way."

Lot 28 in the sale is a drawing by Romney of the Rev. William Atkinson. I reported on the curious coincidence behind this drawing some time ago. But to recap briefly, we found mis-catalogued at auction a portrait of the Rev. William Atkinson by George Romney (above left) and hung it in our window. Andrew had at the same time acquired a drawing by Romney (above right) of the same sitter in a hat - but didn't know who his sitter was until he walked past our window on his way home one night. It's a nice example of how the trade can advance art history. So too is lot 91 in the Christie's sale, a study of clouds by John Constable, which Andrew found in a minor country sale.  

Crowdsourcing at the V&A

May 31 2012

Image of Crowdsourcing at the V&A

Picture: V&A

A reader has alerted me to the V&A's new crowdsourcing site. The idea is that the V&A has uploaded a whole load of photos that weren't properly cropped, and it wants you to do it for them. So it's Photoshopping on the cheap, but also fun, as one participant says:

I joined at the weekend and it's addictive.  Aside from the challenge of selecting the bet images/crops/details there's simply the joy of finding out about the randon items presented.  I now know what a yad is and that the card game snap was introduced in 1866.

New data online at 'The Art World in Britain 1660-1735'

May 31 2012

Image of New data online at 'The Art World in Britain 1660-1735'

Picture: University of York

A range of new sources has been added to the inestimably valuable online art history project run by the University of York's art history department. The Art World in Britain 1660-1735 (edited by Dr Richard Stephens) has now reached 1.5m words of data, with the addition of the following:

Indexes of 'People' and 'Places': 2,600 names have been added to the index of people, comprising apprenticeship records of the Painter Stainers Company, based on the work of Cliff Webb. Several hundred other names have been added, of artists, house painters and others across Britain, using information from their wills. 100 addresses of colourmen and others have been added to the 'places' index, using data from Sun Insurance records. Miscellaneous other names and locations have also been added, of people and places mentioned in full-text sources published today.

Diaries, Memoir and Travel : Extracts from the diary of Dudley Ryder, 1715-16, including his long and revealing account of meeting with Sir James Thornhill as he worked on the St Paul's cupola. Extracts from the diaries of Viscount Percival, 1st Earl of Egmont, 1729-46.

Trade Organisations, Employment, Training : Records of the Virtuosi of St Luke, 1697-circa 1743

Wills: Lists of 700 wills of painters and related trades. Abstracts of 30 wills of painters and art dealers, including: Peter Roestraten, Remigius van Leemputt, Leonard Knyff, Thomas Highmore, Edward Davis, Parry Walton, Frederick Sonnius and Thomas Streeter.

Sale Catalogues: 6 sale catalogues from March 1691, generously contributed by Peter Moore, a PhD candidate of the University of York, who is attached to the 'Court, Country, City' project

Bills, Accounts and Receipts: Extracts from the Chirk Castle accounts, 1675-1721. Bill and receipt for frames made for Jacob Tonson by Gerrard Howard, 1733-4. Receipt from John Michael Wright to Sir Walter Bagot, 9 December 1675. Bill for pictures painted for Sir Walter Bagot by John Michael Wright, c.1676. Bill and receipt from Christopher Cock for the Duchess of Marlborough's purchases at the Kneller sale, 28 April 1726.

Inventories and Lists: A list of recipients of mourning rings at the funeral of Sir Godfrey Kneller. Probate inventory of Edward Cooper, London's leading printseller of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. 'A Note of Pictures' belonging to Viscount Fauconberg, 1684-93.

Correspondence: Petition of Jean Rambourt, circa 1670-85.

I like the idea of art dealers calling themselves 'The Virtuosi of St Luke' - something we ought to resurrect.

Prince Charles and Dumfries House

May 31 2012

Image of Prince Charles and Dumfries House

Picture: ITV

In case you didn't see it, there was a good programme on ITV the other day on Prince Charles' decision to buy and save Dumfries House for the nation. You can watch it again here.

Briefly, in 2004 the Marquess of Bute decided he would sell the mansion and its contents, which included innumerable pieces of furniture made by Thomas Chippendale for the house. After much fundraising, a consortium led by the Prince bought the whole estate for £45m at the last minute. The fleet of trucks carrying everything from the pictures to the doorstops for auction at Christie's, with the catalogues already printed and mailed out, was turned back on the motorway at 1am. It was that close.

Now, the house has been restored and is open to visitors. The majority of the cash borrowed to buy the estate has been raised. In short, all is well, and Prince Charles has done a very Good Thing. You wouldn't think that, of course, if you read the Daily Mail, which called the venture a "£20m banana skin... a colossal error — one fuelled by vanity and hubris... a disastrous deal [and one which has left the Prince with] egg all over his face".

Some egg, some face.

'The best kind of wealth' - why you should buy art

May 30 2012

Image of 'The best kind of wealth' - why you should buy art

Picture: Philip Mould & Company

I've just come across this fine quote by Sir Joshua Reynolds, on why he not only painted great art, but collected it too:

I considered myself as playing a great game and, instead of beginning to save money, I laid it out faster than I got it, in purchasing the best examples of art that could be procured: for I even borrowed money for this purpose. The possessing portraits by Titian, Vandyke, Rembrandt, &c., I considered as the best kind of wealth.

There speaks a sensible fellow.

Reynolds was particularly keen on Titian. Once, Reynolds' pupil, James Northcote, asked him whether there would be anyone who could paint a portrait as well as Titian: 

He answered, that he believed there never would - that to procure a real fine picture by Titian, he would be content to sell everything he possessed in the world to raise the money for its purchase; adding, with emphasis, 'I would be content to ruin myself.' 

Update - a reader writes:

Characteristic of Sir Joshua's scholarship and modesty that he did not recommend the purchase of his own pictures to his pupils...

Lucky Montreal

May 30 2012

Image of Lucky Montreal

Picture: MMFA

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has scooped the donation of a $75m collection of important Old Masters. The Michael Hornstein collection includes the above Jan Lievens, Elderly Scholar in His Study. The Montreal Gazette reports:

As a young man, Michal Hornstein narrowly escaped a cattle car bound for the Auschwitz concentration camp. As a successful Montreal businessman, and inspired by his wife, Renata, he amassed an art collection that garnered international acclaim.

On Friday, Michal and Renata Hornstein formally gave that collection – 70 to 80 works valued at more than $75 million – to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. There was one condition. “It is very important for us to share our collection with the public. People should see the works we have,” Hornstein said during a low-key media conference.

That meant the bulk of the works had to be on display – not in storage – and be accessible free of charge to the public “at least two days a week,” the 92-year-old said. The MMFA – whose permanent collections are offered free all week – will house the Hornstein Collection in a $18.5-million pavilion of international art to be built on Bishop St. and linked to the Jean-Noel Desmarais Pavilion.

The Emperor's new... certificate

May 30 2012

Image of The Emperor's new... certificate

Picture: Artinfo

There's a bizarre story over at Artinfo about the loss of a certificate of authenticity for a Sol LeWitt 'wall drawing'. LeWitt's drawings aren't made by the artist; instead, anyone can make them from his set of instructions. So without that all-important certificate, the finished product is worthless. But then you and I might think it is anyway. Julia Halperin has the tale:

What is the essence of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing? What makes these works — which famously exist as a series of instructions, executable by anyone who owns them — authentic LeWitts and not just some lines on a wall? This metaphysical quandary is about to be played out in a lawsuit filed by disgruntled collector and dealer Roderic Steinkamp against Chicago's Rhona Hoffman Gallery.

On May 22, Steinkamp sued Hoffman and her eponymous gallery for a total of $1.4 million, alleging that she lost a certificate of authenticity for a Sol LeWitt drawing he consigned to her in 2008. (The lawsuit was first reported by Courthouse News.) "Since the wall drawings do not constitute freestanding, portable works of art like a framed canvas or a sculpture on a podium, documentation of the work is key to transmitting it or selling it to a collector or institution," says the complaint, filed in New York County Supreme Court. "The unique nature of Sol LeWitt's wall drawings renders their accompanying Certificates of authenticity critical to such works' value."

As they say, go figure.

'...a safe and welcoming environment to enjoy the paintings'

May 30 2012

Interesting to see, after the debate here about room guards at the National Gallery, that the NG is hiring a new Deputy Head of Visitor Service and Security

The blurb for the post says:

When the gallery is open to the public uniformed Gallery Assistants help provide a safe and welcoming environment for visitors to enjoy the paintings. Trained to identify and deal with potential risks to the Collection they fulfil an important dual role in visitor service and security.

Let's hope the new Deputy Head is able to remind some of the Assistants what those words 'welcoming' and 'enjoy' actually mean.

Who will buy the Constable?

May 30 2012

Image of Who will buy the Constable?

Picture: Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

A reader writes:

Maybe the Getty, since they finally got their hands on Turner's Modern Rome last year?  And they have been spending vast amounts of cash on acquisitions of late.

Modern Rome was their second painting by Turner of course, the other being the ex-Holloway College Van Tromp; and they have two watercolours.  But nothing by Constable as yet so this is their only opportunity to get a really important one.  I doubt somehow that his last great six-footer, still in private hands, would be allowed out of the country.

Meanwhile, my cunning plan to solve Spain's banking crisis by buying back Holbein's Henry VIII is scotched by a Spanish reader:

Fortunately, the portrait of Henry VIII is owned by the Spanish State, and like all works of art from national museums,is inalienable, in contrast to Constable's 'Lock' which is owned by the Baroness and only was on loan to the Thyssen museum with the rest of the Carmen Thyssen collection, but the collection of her husband, With Van Eyck, Duccio, Caravaggio, Carpaccio, Weyden, Bacon, etc is owned by the Spanish.

On the block - Constable's 'Lock' *

May 29 2012

Image of On the block - Constable's 'Lock' *

Picture: Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

Constable's 'The Lock' is to be sold by Christie's this July in London. The estimate is £20m-25m. From The Guardian:

The auction house said it was to sell the only one of Constable's Stour series - which includes The Hay Wain in the National Gallery - that remains in private hands.

Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie's Europe, said The Lock was "one of John Constable's greatest paintings and an outstanding masterpiece of British art". He added: "This superb landscape, coming from the same series as The Hay Wain, represents British landscape painting at its very best and is sure to attract bidding from museums and collectors from all over the world."

UK museums are unlikely to have deep enough pockets for a work that, when it was bought at auction in 1990, set a record for a British work of art. It was bought for £10.8m and held the record until 2006 when a view of Venice by Turner, Constable's rival, sold for £20.5m at Christie's in New York. Another Turner sold for £29m at Sotheby's in London in 2010.

Who will buy it? Who knows. Can a British museum afford it? Perhaps the Heritage Lottery Fund's recent decision to give a whole chunk of cash towards the Ashmolean's Manet is indicative of a new willingness to help with acquisitions. But don't hold your breath...

The sale is likely to be controversial in Spain. The picture used to hang in the Thyssen museum, but is being sold by the widow of the late Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former Miss Spain. There was a row about it last year, with the Baron's daughter calling her stepmother 'isolated from reality', and blocking the sale of any pictures from the museum. But then again, perhaps the people of Spain won't miss a Constable that much. And who knows, if the selling thing catches on, we may even be able to buy back one of our greatest lost treasures, Holbein's Portrait of Henry VIII, which was sold by one of the Earls Spencer in 1934. Now that would make a dent in the Spanish deficit.  

* I know that's a really lame rhyming headline. 

A Polish King lost in Scotland

May 29 2012

Image of A Polish King lost in Scotland

Picture: BBC/Your Paintings/University of Edinburgh

A sharp-eyed reader has spotted this '17th Century Portuguese Nobleman' in the collection of the University of Edinburgh, and cunningly revealed him to be King Sigismund III of Poland

A fragment of Henrietta Maria's lost Guido Reni?

May 29 2012

Image of A fragment of Henrietta Maria's lost Guido Reni?

Pictures: Sotheby's

There's an intriguing lot coming up at Sotheby's New York next month, catalogued as 'Attributed to Guido Reni'. The picture purports to be a fragment from Guido Reni's long-lost 1637-40 painting Bacchus and Ariadne on the Island of Naxos, which was commissioned by Queen Henrietta Maria. It never arrived in London because of the Civil War, and not long after Henrietta Maria's death was cut up due to its salacious nature. The composition is known from an engraving (below). From the Sotheby's catalogue:

The present composition would appear to be the right hand extremity of Reni's original Bacchus and Ariadne, showing two faun followers of Bacchus with Silenus beyond, on his donkey, supported by two putti.  Upon firsthand inspection of the work both Keith Christiansen and David Stone recognized the hand of Guido Reni in the faces of the fauns and in the hands holding the tambourine though suggested, as with the majority of Guido's large scale compositions, the likely involvement of his studio in the execution of certain passages.  Camillo Manzitti, meanwhile is in favor of a full attribution to Guido Reni, believing this work to indeed be a fragment of the original.  He furthermore suggested that the addition to the right edge of the painting was executed in order to centralize the figures within the composition andto avoid any concealment of Silenus by an eventual framing of the work.

Although there are indeed variances in detail between Bolognini's engraving and the present composition, these would appear incidental.  The drapery over the hip of the right hand figure may have been added later and so too the still life of flask and glass of wine, perhaps subsequent to the painting's division in order to bestow the fragment with the more cohesive and traditional composition of a Bacchanal.  Yet the presence of a tambourine, under the feet of the larger faun and still visible to the naked eye below the paint surface, provides a compelling argument in favor ofthe fragment's origin.  This corresponds with the engraving closely and may have been covered over at the time the other changes were made. This Two Fauns in a Bacchic Dance is not the first fragment from the composition tosurvive; in 2002, Denis Mahon and Andrea Emiliani discovered a fragment portraying the beautiful and vulnerable figure of Ariadne, now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna.The addition to the left hand edge of the Ariadnecanvas shows that, far from being obliterated, the canvas had been carefully cut to preserve the figures, presumablyto facilitate their sale as individual fragments.  It too is painted on a heavy weave canvas that appears to correspond to that used in the present picture. 

The estimate is $100,000-150,000. The picture has been given several cleaning tests, presumably to tempt the trade. It's hard to be conclusive from the photo, but the drapery over the larger faun's groin appears to be a later addition. In which case, the painting is closer to the engraving. I find the case quite convincing.

Clean a painting with your finger

May 29 2012


A new digital book called 'Cleaning Mona Lisa', by Lee Sandstead, allows you to 'digitally clean' paintings with your finger. It's for an iPad apparently. No idea if it's any good, but it looks like fun. Anything that explains fine art conservation to the wider public is a Good Thing - just don't be tempted to try it at home. 

Every conservator's nightmare

May 29 2012

Image of Every conservator's nightmare

Picture: The Sun

An artist in the US has taken to painting the Queen in beer and curry

Who guards the guards?

May 29 2012


Following my rant yesterday, a reader writes:

My own first encounter with these little tyrants was at Saltram near Plymouth, which I was visiting as part of my research for a Reynolds exhibition. Reynolds was close to the family that remodelled the house in the late 1760s and early 1770s & we were borrowing their two best Reynoldses.

There is an old guidebook to the pictures at Saltram by Nigel Neatby, still useful now but of course the hang has changed over time, so I wanted to make a note of the current location of everything, which I did by scrawling on my paper a very rough elevation of each wall, with a numbered square for the location of each picture. In every room I introduced myself to the steward and explained who I was and what I was doing. In one room, the steward asked me if I had permission, to which I replied that surely I didn't need permission, I was just taking notes of the pictures. This was my mistake. When I was in the Saloon, a very short and angry man stormed up to me and demanded to know what on earth I was doing, that sketching was absolutely forbidden, that I could be a burglar etc. Even the steward in the Saloon tried to intercede on my behalf. The upshot was that I was permitted to continue to make notes, but I could no longer arrange my information within squares, as that would constitute drawing. What made me most cross is that most of the pictures at Saltram aren't even worth stealing.

Come to think of it, when I was at Powis Castle the other month, I asked a room steward if it would be ok for me to check his folder of information as I was interested in one of the pictures. He totally forbade it, and then got very cross and flustered when I asked him to look up the attribution (a Marlow landscape), all the while telling me about the two Gainsborough Duponts either side of it, about which he was clearly more used to talking.

The point is really that life in these National Trust houses seems incredibly scripted. They are used to people filing through and expressing delight at their tired old stories about how the 5th Countess snogged George Bernard Shaw under the sofa etc etc, but too often they cannot cope when a visitor doesn't conform.

Of course, please don't get the idea that AHN is in any way upbraiding the hard working volunteers and wardens who make sure our national collection of treasures is as safe as it can be. I'm merely prompting a debate about the very few who can sometimes over-step the mark. 

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.