Previous Posts: May 2012

The highest bid in history

May 3 2012


Above is the full 12 minutes. Now the speculation begins - who is the mystery buyer? The New York Times has a good piece by Carol Vogel here

Yet more art history toys

May 2 2012

Image of Yet more art history toys

Picture: Loyal K.N.G.

If Playmobil don't expand beyond Durer, we can always make our own. A reader directs me to these Lego-tastic Old Masters. Note, of course, that all the sitters are smiling. Suddenly, the Arnolfini Marriage makes sense...

Art history toys Ctd

May 2 2012

Image of Art history toys Ctd

Picture: BoardGameGeek

A reader writes:

While you're doing art history games, let's not overlook "Philanthropist: The National Gallery". I've got this at home, don't know how, but it's actually quite playable.

Yes, this game really does exist. Here's the blurb:

Philanthropist: The National Gallery, London is the second art history trivia game from Mecenes Inc., following the more general Philanthropist. As the title suggests, Philanthropist: The National Gallery, London focuses on the holdings of one of Britain's foremost art museums.

At the heart of the game are the 100 color reproductions of paintings from the museum. Players compete to give away all of their money by answering questions about these paintings. Questions are multiple choice, or players may opt to play an "Expert" card and answer without the multiple choice options for a greater reward. Correct answers allow players to draw a "Philanthropist" card, which indicates the amount of a donation and has other effects.

Philanthropist: The National Gallery, London offers several variations on the game mechanics of the original, allowing players more strategic options and lifting this game above many standard trivia games.

Presumably someone, somewhere, heard a pitch for this game, and thought; 'this could be big'.

More art history toys

May 2 2012

Image of More art history toys

Picture: Jailbreak Collective

A reader has kindly sent me these, available here at $18 for the set. They will look great alongside my Playmobil Durer. Now we just need some more Old Master artists (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don't count).

Meanwhile, this is the sort of game your parents used to make you play. (Update: my mother has been in touch, asking me to make it clear she didn't make me play it. I do remember dreading the 'Antiques Roadshow Game' though.)

New Poussin Connoisseurship Project

May 2 2012

Image of New Poussin Connoisseurship Project

Picture: Louvre

This is really exciting - Dr David Packwood's new Poussin Connoisseurship Project is up and running. He writes:

Why do this? Well, the internet revolution is making visual art available to the public in an unprecedented way, and scholars like me are excited by the opportunities this holds for the promotion of our subject. Not only that, but the web is starting to affect the way connoisseurship is practiced. The Poussin Connoisseurship Project positions itself within that new paradigm of digital connoisseurship; it aims to bring the traditional catalogue raisonné into the realms of hyperlinks, digital databases and the expanding universe of art history on the web. We’ll start modestly at first- but who knows? This has the potential to be something bigger.


To list the paintings on the Public Catalogue Foundation: BBC Your Paintings website (and others) that are not by Poussin’s hand, though linked with him by the curators of these resources. This includes paintings designated as “After”, “Style of”, “School” etc.

To use my own expertise and experience as a Poussin scholar to add to the knowledge data base of the PCF, as well as offer an independent resource for anybody interested in the subject.

To raise awareness about scholarly issues in Poussin connoisseurship for the general public.  

To use this resource as a foundation for larger, more ambitious projects, like cataloguing the paintings on the PCF by Poussin's followers; or even working through Poussin’s oeuvre in a web format.

Collaborative, accessible sites like these are the future of art history, don't you think?

English art history and public libraries

May 2 2012

Image of English art history and public libraries

Picture: BG

Sigh. I see this all the time. This is the definitive book on Nelson's iconography, published by Richard Walker in 1998. It should be a valuable part of any pdecent public library. But instead it's already been sold off. It's one small example of how public libraries are becoming book-free internet cafes - and why nobody uses them anymore.

Update: a reader in Canada writes to defend her public library, which has a thriving art history section. I am happy to make it clear that I was referring to public libraries in England, which for some years have been in general decline. 

Cezanne watercolour makes $19m

May 2 2012

Image of Cezanne watercolour makes $19m

Picture: Christie's

That recently found Cezanne watercolour of a Card PLayer made $19m last night at Christie's.

Bloomberg has some illuminating stats on the auction, and what's to come this week in New York:

Christie’s International held its smallest New York evening Impressionist and modern art sale in 2 1/2 years, at the outset of an auction fortnight expected to total as much as $1.5 billion.

Last night’s sale tallied $117.1 million, in the middle of the presale range of $90.5 million to $130.2 million. Three of the 31 lots failed to sell in an auction of less than an hour, the quickest in years.

Two paintings tied for top lot, at $19.1 million: Paul Cezanne’s watercolor “Joueur de Cartes” (“Card Player”) and a lush flower bouquet painted by Henri Matisse in 1907, “Les Pivoines.”

Christie’s equivalent auction in November had 82 lots and tallied $140.8 million.

“We all know it’s very difficult to get great Impressionist and modern work,” said New York art dealer Asher Edelman. “The contemporary options are much better.”

Upgrades & downgrades in art

May 2 2012

Image of Upgrades & downgrades in art

Picture: Christie's

The current High Court case against Christie's over the above allegedly fake Kustodiev, has prompted an interesting article in today's Telegraph on upgrading and downgrading works of art (and it features me!):

So how can you be sure the auction houses are intercepting any dodgy Dalís before they make it onto the rostrum? Only last year, a former art teacher, Rizvan Rahman, was jailed for 18 months for selling UK galleries some £180,000 worth of fakes, including a £35,000 Lowry lookalike.

Naturally, there’s a fair amount of caveat emptor when you’re buying at an auction. None the less, the experienced London art-verifier Bendor Grosvenor says auction houses are keen to avoid a stain on their good name. “If it turns out there’s any kind of justification for questioning a work’s authenticity, I can’t envisage an auction house doing anything other than refunding the money,” he says. “Fighting the case just isn’t worth the potential damage to their reputation.”

Absolutely right, says Julian Roup, head of press at Bonham’s Auctioneers. Though he won’t discuss the Vekselberg case, he can assure customers that the company takes allegations of fakery most seriously.

If there’s any question over authenticity, “an immediate investigation is launched,” he declares. “We bend over backwards to establish the facts.”

And it’s amazing what a bit of forensic work can find out. Visit the web-archives of Freemanart, and you discover the tiny giveaway clues that can mean the difference between a painting securing you a fortune – or a spell in prison. Take the seemingly genuine Gainsborough, for example, where microscopic examination showed that the artist’s signature had been traced in pencil first for the forger to copy. Or the otherwise perfect Gauguin, given away by the paper it was painted on: the corners were straight, when they should have been round.

But while science’s principal contribution is to downgrade by proving that paintings are fakes, it can sometimes work the other way. Not just by showing that the Mona Lisa is holding a shawl (she is, though it’s invisible to the naked eye), but by upgrading a previously disregarded work.

For example, thanks to the miracle of dendrochronology (the science of dating objects using tree bark), a painting of Mary Queen of Scots, thought to have been an 18th-century copy, has been promoted by the National Portrait Gallery to the status of 16th-century original (tree ring analysis suggests 1560-1592).

Meanwhile, a Gloucestershire art collector, Frank Faryab, has, after five years and a lot of consultants’ fees, gathered sufficient scientific evidence to convince the art world that his oil painting of a distant ship is not the doodle of some old sea dog, but a lost Turner masterpiece, worth as much as £4 million.

Which is heartening news for all of us who dream of stumbling upon a Leonardo da Vinci in the lumber room. But that’s not to say, though, that the art world is always ready to welcome new paintings with open arms, just as it doesn’t like to see authenticated works discredited.

“For a previously disregarded work to be declared authentic, or a previously accepted work to be downgraded, a lot of people have to be proved wrong,” says Dr Grosvenor. “And if there’s one thing people in the art world don’t like, it’s being proved wrong.”

Durer exhibition - the real discovery

May 2 2012

Image of Durer exhibition - the real discovery

Picture: Playmobil

A reader writes:

I enjoyed reading your story on Durer, but for once your journalistic instincts have deserted you. Somehow you've missed the big story about the Nuremburg show - which is that, in his honour, Playmobil have produced a special-edition mini Durer figure, painting his self-portrait.

I got one at the Prado a couple of months ago - you can pick them up from the Nuremburg tourist office, here:

I mean, how cool is that?

This goes way beyond cool. The only thing wrong with it is the suggested age range, '4-10'. Every art historically minded adult must surely want one. I want several. In fact, I want a whole edition of artists painting their self-portraits (starting with Van Dyck).

Longstanding readers may remember another art historical toy featured here on AHN, the unique Ken-as-David Michelangelo homage. If you know of any others, send them in!

Analysing Durer

May 1 2012

Image of Analysing Durer

Picture: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremburg

To coincide with an exciting new exhibition on Albrecht Durer, in Nuremberg from 24th May to 2nd September, new research has revealed previously unknown aspects of Durer's technique. In his 1493 Self-portrait (x-rayed above), researchers discovered that on occasions he painted with his thumb and the ball of his hand. Full details in Der Speigel here.

Burlington's editorial ripples outwards

May 1 2012

The Burlington Magazine's stinging critique of Tate Britain, which I mentioned yesterday, has been picked up by the wider press. Here is The TelegraphThe Times (paywall), and Jonathan Jones in The Guardian agrees with it wholeheartedly: 

Tate is the custodian of a national collection of British art since 1500, whether it wants to be or not. The unique breadth of the Tate collection of British art makes it a fundamental historical resource. History is popular: the Tate has tons of art illuminating themes such as the English Civil War and those gorgeous Georgians, which are constantly being explored in TV dramas and documentaries. Why does it assume no one is interested when there is so much evidence to the contrary?

Even if no one cared about the world of Joseph Wright of Derby, the Tate would still have a duty to show his art properly. A museum cannot just shrug off its responsibility to the public collection it holds. Or can it? Tate has apparently established the right to treat its collection not as our national property, to be on view for us to see and draw conclusions about, so much as the plaything of curators who can trawl it to create mediocre exhibitions such as the recent Migrations.

Update - a Tate spokesman states in the gallery's defence that:

"At the moment, just over fifty percent of the works on display from the Collection at Tate Britain are pre-1900".

But as a reader writes:

'Interesting that they apparently think that the fact that only almost half of what's up is 20thC gets them off the hook. When you've got a mandate to cover five centuries of art, it's a slightly odd defence.'

Yves Klein's 'Fire Colour 1'

May 1 2012


One of the top lots in next week's contemporary sales in New York will be Yves Klein's $30m-40m painting FC1, or 'Fire Colour 1'. Christie's have released a video by film maker Laurent Chanez celebrating the work, which you can see above. More interesting perhaps is the original footage of one of Klein's earliest naked painting sessions, in 1960, which you can see here. (It looks a little Pythonesque, don't you think?) 

Nicked: Stanley Spencer painting

May 1 2012

Image of Nicked: Stanley Spencer painting

Picture: BBC

From BBC News:

A painting by the eccentric English artist Sir Stanley Spencer has been stolen from an art gallery in Berkshire. Police said a window was smashed at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in High Street, Cookham at 01:00 BST on Sunday evening.

The thief took the painting entitled Cookham from Englefield (dated 1948) by the artist once dubbed 'the divine fool of British art'. The painting is privately owned and had been loaned to the gallery.

Leonardo as anatomist

May 1 2012


Excitement is building ahead of the Royal Collection exhibition of Leonardo's anatomical drawings (opens 4th May at Buckingham Palace). Will we see queues like those outside the National Gallery? Probably not, but it will be crowded.

Above is a fine video featuring the Royal Collection senior curator Martin Clayton on the drawings. You can buy the exhibition app hereAnd here is a piece by Channel 4 News, which is a little simplistic but features a contribution from National Gallery director Nicholas Penny. 

Who will buy 'The Scream'?

May 1 2012

Image of Who will buy 'The Scream'?

Picture: Sotheby's

In the LA Times, Christopher Knight has an excellent piece looking at Sotheby's marketing of Munch's The Scream (selling tomorrow in New York), and what price it may make (a reserve of $80m is expected). First, an insight into how the picture has been touted around the world's art buyers:

A fascinating recent story about the sale in the Wall Street Journal noted that: "In a rare move, Sotheby's sent the work to private homes in Asia, North America and Europe so key clients could test whether the haunting image clashed with the rest of their art collections." Potential buyers from a tiny pool of possibilities were said to include "European executives, Asian big-spenders and Middle Eastern sheiks."

That sounds a tiny bit desperate to me. Secondly, Knight asks if a museum could afford the work, and concludes that yes, perhaps it could. Top of the list that can is the Getty:

In 1989, when the J. Paul Getty Museum went to auction and acquired Jacopo Pontormo's incomparable Mannerist "Portrait of a Halberdier" (1528-1530), the price paid was $35.2 million -- a public record for a 16th century painting. Adjusted for inflation, that's the equivalent of about $65 million today. "The Scream" is within shouting distance.

How about Vincent van Gogh's 1889 "Irises"? That Getty acquisition likely went over the Munch-mark [...] the payout for the purchase in 2012 currency would be more than $94 million.

Then there's Titian's stunning picture of individual power and tender pathos, the 1533 "Portrait of Alfonso d'Avalos, Marquis of Vasto, in Armor with a Page." Owned by an insurance company and on long-term loan to the Louvre, it was a 2003 private sale to the Getty, also at an undisclosed price. Reportedly it cost the museum $70 million. That's $87 million now -- meaning that, if accurate, the Getty has bought at least two works well within "Scream" territory.

I have no idea, but my hunch is that the Getty won't bid for it. They stretched themselves recently for the purchase of Turner's Camp Vaccino. And would any museum really want to spend at least $100m on a cliché? 

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that you can even place a bet on the bidding:

ODDS are 3-to-1 that when Edvard Munch’s “Scream” comes up for sale at Sotheby’s on Wednesday night, it will fetch $150 million to $200 million. And there’s a 3-to-2 chance that pastel will become the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, breaking the current record of $106.5 million set two years ago at Christie’s for Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.” As for who will buy “The Scream,” bets are 5-to-2 that it will be a Russian, 3-to-1 an Asian or European and 4-to-1 an American. That’s the thinking, anyway, from Ladbrokes, the British bookmaking chain, which has been analyzing the fate of what Sotheby’s is billing as the most recognizable image in art history after the “Mona Lisa.”

I presume Ladbrokes are taking bets on The Scream more with an eye to publicity rather than establishing the concept of gambling on auction prices. After all, auction prices can be very easy to predict. But if Ladbrokes ever open a book on Old Master sales, I bet you I could retire in a year...

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