Previous Posts: November 2012

New Murillo show at Dulwich

November 30 2012

Image of New Murillo show at Dulwich

Picture: Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Dulwich Picture Gallery has announced details of a new exhibition on Murillo, to open on 6th February. From The Guardian:

Britain's oldest purpose built art gallery is to be turned into something approaching a Sevillian church when it stages an exhibition of works by the 17th-century Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

Dulwich Picture Gallery in London has announced details of a show that will also include a work thought lost; and a re-attribution to Murillo of a work that has been rescued from the gallery's stores.

The show examines Murillo in his later years and specifically his relationship with his patron and friend Don Justino de Neve, the canon of Seville Cathedral – "the Saatchi and Damien Hirst of their time", said the gallery's chief curator, Xavier Bray.

Anyway, the show will have a few recent discoveries, including the above newly-restored sketch of The Adoration of Magi, which was previously languishing unloved in the Gallery's store.

All hail 'The Young Van Dyck'

November 30 2012

I'm afraid I haven't got time to write a full review of 'The Young Van Dyck' right now, as Old Master week is upon us, and today is the first day of viewing.

The good news is, if you were pushed for time and could only take a day off to see this fabulous show (which you should), it's just about possible. I landed in Madrid at about 10.30, and, thanks to Fernando Alonso's taxi-driving dad (it seemed), was at the Prado by 11am (where, wonderfully, I was promptly presented with a complimentary exhibition catalogue - thanks!). I took the 8.45pm flight back, which gave ample time for the exhibition, the main Prado collection, a quick visit to the Thyssen collection, and a fine lunch in the Prado's amiable cafe. Of course, if you want to stay the night in Madrid, then the Ritz is just opposite the Prado...

Regular readers will know how much of a Van Dyck anorak I am, but even if I wasn't, I'd still rate 'The Young Van Dyck' as one of the best exhibitions I've ever been to. Perhaps it's because in the UK we're increasingly fed a diet of low-brow blockbusters (you know, the ones that pointlessly lump together two or three Big Name artists), and so my expectations were low. 'The Young Van Dyck', however, was a masterclass in what museum exhibitions should be - an opportunity to bring together exquisite works to make a thorough examination of an aspect of an artist's oeuvre. Here, the visitor is treated to just the right number of drawings and studies alongside the main works so that we can fully chart the evolution of Van Dyck's genius, but there are no distractions with engravings, works by Van Dyck's followers, or, worst of all, explorations of 'contemporary resonance'. Clearly, they don't have 'outreach curators' at the Prado. The show just tells you everything you can hope to know about Van Dyck's first years in Antwerp.

And the catalogue - well, it's epic. You rarely get catalogues like this anymore. It is almost entirely free from new art historical guff - there are no essays about social context or convoluted theories on, say, stylistic discourse. There is even a great deal of connoisseurial discussion. It makes the Tate's effort on Van Dyck in Britain look very weak by comparison (which, as Brian Sewell said, read as if 'written by a student with access to Wikipedia'). Instead, we have an old-fasioned, fact-filled investigation of what Van Dyck painted, whether he painted it, and when, and for 'the how' there's even a thorough section on technical analysis. If you can't get to the Prado, it's well worth ordering.

I'll write more on the exhibition next week.

Where have all the blokes gone?

November 30 2012

Interested to see this piece* by University of Nottingham art history PhD candidate Helen Wainwright, written after she had attended a conference:

The one thing that struck me, however, and this comment was also made by Laura Gray from Cardiff School of Art, was the distinct lack of males in the room. Out of a 30-strong audience, only three men were in attendance; all of whom had specific roles to play during the event. Why had this happened? Are the new breeds of Art Historians mostly female and if so, is this going to cause an oestrogen fuelled riot or an all-out party, at some point in the not-too-distant future?! Or, do the male Art Historians like to keep themselves to themselves in fear of their safety?

It's definitely the former. And when the day comes, AHN looks forward to the all-out party.

*via Association of Art Historians Chief Executive Pontus Rosen.

A lost Van Dyck head study at the Prado?

November 28 2012

Image of A lost Van Dyck head study at the Prado?

Picture: Museo Prado

I'm hoping to wangle a chance to see this picture at the Prado tomorrow. It isn't usually on display, and I've not it published before. Although the Prado catalogue the picture in full as 'Van Dyck', it isn't in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne. However, the 2004 catalogue was very conservative when it came to including head studies by Van Dyck - just 25 are listed, out of 744 works. 

Thanks to the Prado's excellent high-res images online, it's possible to get a good idea of the picture's quality. It's hard to be 100% sure from the photo, but I think this may well be by Van Dyck. The original oil on paper study has been extended on all sides, and laid onto another surface. The somewhat clumsy red/brown cloak is a later addition, as, probably, is the overly dark background.

The Prado website dates the study to 1618-20, but this feels too early to me. Interestingly, it is not included in 'The Young Van Dyck' exhibition, which may suggest that the Prado aren't sure how to place it. In my view, the handling is more redolent of studies I know from Van Dyck's second Antwerp period (1627-1632), with its subtle use of glazes, such that in the eye, even though it is only painted with barely a smudge of brown glaze, we can still see the sitter's expressive, upward glance. It reminds me of a similar profile head study we discovered here a few years ago (below, recently sold from the collection at Longleat), for the figure of St Joseph in Van Dyck's Holy Family of c.1630.

In fact, we are probably dealing here with an Italian period study, made between 1627-32. The head is almost certainly a study for the central Pharisee in The Tribute Money [Galleria di Palazzo Bianco, Genoa] (a picture for which we have no firm date).* As with most of Van Dyck's studies for religious pictures like this, the study above shows a less emphatically characterised head which, in the finished picture, eventually becomes more reflective of the composition's narrative. It allows us to see how Van Dyck took life studies of models in his studio, and turned them into the characters he needed for his finished pictures. 

* I am grateful to reader (and accomplished artist) Simon Watkins for pointing out the link to 'The Tribute Money'. I had initially flipped through the 2004 catalogue too quickly, and missed it - a lesson learnt!


When the dendrochronologist comes

November 28 2012

Image of When the dendrochronologist comes

Picture: BG

Today we had a visit from Prof. Dr. Peter Klein, the famous dendrochronologist. He will help us date the panels on which the above pictures are painted. If your painting is on an oak panel, and with more than at least 25 tree rings, you can usually get a pretty accurate date. It's always fascinating watching Peter measure the widths of the tree rings, which is a slow a painstaking task. I wouldn't have the patience myself.

Guess which one of the above panels is a Rubens.

Update - top right.

Loans for cash - a good idea? (ctd.)

November 28 2012

We've had some good contributions on this subject - thanks to those who have written in. Keep 'em coming...

A reader rants

November 28 2012

Image of A reader rants

Picture: NPG

A reader writes:

Can´t believe AHN will not rant about NPG new acquisition [a portrait of Amy Winehouse]! Even I am bothered and I am not even English! It is just a bad, bad, bad picture! Painful! Really bad!

Yes, it is pretty bad. Here's the guff to go with it:

Sarah Howgate, Contemporary Curator at the National Portrait Gallery, London, said: "Dumas’s liquid handling of paint carries tremendous emotive power.

"Detail bleeds into and out of her work, directing and dispersing the gaze of the viewer. The rich, translucent blues of this portrait allude to Amy Winehouse’s musical influences as much as to the melancholy details of her career."

If I was in charge of the National Portrait Gallery, I'd have a rule against commissioning posthumous portraits. They always disappoint, usually because, as here, their purpose is overwhelmed by the circumstances of the subject's death. A portrait should be from life. The Amy Winehouse image above is just a memorial.

I'm childishly excited...

November 28 2012

Image of I'm childishly excited...

Picture: Prado/Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenen Künste, Vienna

...about my trip tomorrow to see 'The Young Van Dyck' exhibition at the Prado. So expect to read about little else for the next few days. Readers who follow AHN on Twitter can also expect many excitable Van Dyck related tweets. 

A time limit to restitution?

November 28 2012

I'm intrigued to see a report in The Art Newspaper about a conference on Nazi looted art, one which discusses whether there should be a time limit on claims:

A one-day symposium focusing on new developments in Nazi-looted art disputes takes place today 27 November at the Peace Palace in the Hague (“Fair and just solutions? Alternatives to litigation in Nazi looted art disputes: status quo and new developments”).

Issues to be discussed include whether a “fair and just” solution depends on acquiring disputed works in good faith and if a time limit should apply to ownership claims. “Another, rather basic, question is in what sense Nazi-looted art claims differ from other claims regarding spoliated art. If there is a fundamental difference, what is its essence?” says a press statement. 

The debate will include an interview session with the chairs of five European advisory committees (Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK).

Regular readers will know that I am very much in favour of restituting looted art from World War Two, and have criticised decisions which seem to me to be unfair to the heirs of Nazi victims. But I have wondered for some time whether we need to impose a time limit on restitution, even if it is some way in the distance. There are signs that the restitution business is getting out of control: we've recently had a case of looted art from World War One, while last year a London dealer exhibiting in Paris had a work confiscated because it had allegedly been missing from a French museum since 1818!

Obviously, it is way too soon to set limits for WW2 - in many cases victims are still alive, and it would be entirely wrong to discuss any limit that impacted on them or indeed their immediate heirs. Perhaps we need a solution that doesn't necessarily set just a time limit, but a generational one. For example, should we say that spoliated art can only be re-claimed by two, three or four generations of heirs? That is, would it be reasonable to ask how long, even if no spoliation had taken place, a family is likely to have kept its paintings in the first place?

Loans for cash - a good idea?

November 27 2012

Image of Loans for cash - a good idea?

Picture: MFA Boston

Sebastian Smee in The Boston Globe highlights how US museums raise funds by renting out their masterpieces:

[...] the MFA [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston], eager to raise revenues, is also renting out many of its most prized works of European and American art to for-profit enterprises. A total of 26 paintings, including the marquee “Dance at Bougival” and “Madame Roulin,” have been sent to exhibitions in Italy organized by a private company called Linea d’Ombra, for a large, undisclosed fee.

The combined loans and rentals have resulted in what Malcolm Rogers, the MFA’s director, readily admits is a “traffic jam” of missing masterpieces.

“We admit there is some crowding [on the list of masterpieces sent away],” Rogers said in an interview with the Globe. “Everything has come together at once.”

‘As an art history professor, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that certain canonical masterpieces are on display in the museum,’ said Jonathan Unglaub of Brandeis University.

The practice of charging fees for lending works is not new, but it remains controversial. The Italian shows currently showing works from the MFA, in the cities of Vicenza and Verona, are titled “Raphael to Picasso” and “From Botticelli to Matisse.”

I'm not aware of any UK museums doing this (at least not on a large scale). But I'm interested to hear what readers make of the practice. If a hefty fee is raised, should pictures be loaned for cash to not for profit organisations? Should, say, Unilever be able to rent a Gainsborough from the National Gallery, if it is ordinarily in storage? Gaps on walls are a Bad Thing - but if sensitively done, I can see the practice having merits.

Update - a reader writes:

British galleries have started to do this on some scale.  16thc Venetian paintings from the National Gallery of Scotland, including the Dianas, went to America to Atlanta, Minneapolis and Houston from October 2010 to August 2011.  That was for a fee. 

And further back, all the Courtauld Impressionists and Post-Impressionists toured for fees. This was at least from the late 1980s to raise funds for their move to Somerset House.

I would have thought English Heritage are getting fees for the collection from Kenwood currently touring America,

On the other side it’s difficult to tell if and how much British galleries pay to borrow material.  One of the few cases that have come to light is that of the National Gallery paying a fee to a local church in Spain to borrow its El Greco.

Another reader summarises the case thus:

Honestly, I do not see any problem in museums loaning works of art.

In fact, the idea of the museum as something "beyond" and "above" mundane matters as "money" is as démodé as the French Revolution!

Another reader adds:

[...] the Reina Sofia paid 3.5 million euros to the Picasso Museum from Paris for exposing its works in Madrid for three months while the [Picasso] Museum was closed for renovation (later, the same paintings grossed a significant amount of money on their journey through United Arab Emirates, Canada, United States, Finland, Russia and Australia).

Update II - another reader writes:

In principle I don't have a problem with this. Although having said that, and I'm surprised no one has already mentioned it; isn't there the issue of the fragility of works of art and the unnecessary stress that constant loaning and lending can place on an artwork (especially if lent to corporate companies who probably wouldn't treat them as carefully)?

While another is not so sure:

I feel more strongly than other contributors.  What does it mean to say that museums aren't 'above money'?  Of course they don't exist in a different plane where budgets are irrelevant, but that doesn't make them commercial enterprises driven to make a quick buck wherever they can.  They exist to preserve art and to display it to the public.  Rentals militate against both of these purposes.  Paintings shipped around the world are inevitably at risk of damage.  Brian Sewell's autobiography has some tragic anecdotes about paintings ruined in transit.  The NG even managed to break its own paintings when taking down an exhibition.  

 Dumbed down commercial blockbusters try to cram through as many people as possible, making it hard for anyone properly to see anything.  There are always major lacuna at major galleries, which have become more like lending libraries (as noted by Haskell & Penny).  Visits to more out-of-the-way collections are often once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and to miss half of their best paintings does a great disservice to people who have travelled to see them.  

There are more doleful examples of paid loans recently - including the NG paying to hire Leonardo's Cecilia Gallerani.  The Art Tribune has a good post on the impact at the Louvre, with pictures of many empty spaces.  The paymasters will see this as an opportunity to cut budgets, forcing perpetual prostitution of the collection to pay running costs.  It is most certainly a Bad Thing.

Old Master Week (plug)

November 27 2012

Image of Old Master Week (plug)

Picture: Philip Mould & Company

To coincide with the Old Master auction viewings here in London, the Philip Mould gallery will be open on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd December between 12-5pm. Amongst the pictures we'll have on display will be this rather nice Balthasar Denner, painted in 1732, which he called ‘Eine Kaffee Schenkerinn’.

Putting on a Francis Bacon exhibition

November 27 2012

Video: Gallery of NSW, via ArtDaily

Is harder than you think, according to this video from the Gallery of New South Wales. Their new Bacon show, Five Decades, is open till 24th February.

Robert Hughes vs Damien Hirst

November 27 2012


Figures put out by Artnet show that works by Damien Hirst have suffered a 30% decline in value at auction. Andrew Rice in BusinessWeek has a lengthy article about Hirst's place in the market, which is well worth reading:

For all his celebrity, Hirst’s stock in the art market has experienced a stunning deflation. According to data compiled by the firm Artnet, Hirst works acquired during his commercial peak, between 2005 and 2008, have since resold at an average loss of 30 percent. And that probably understates the decline—judging from the dropoff in sales volume, collectors aren’t bringing their big-ticket Hirsts to market. A third of the more than 1,700 Hirst pieces offered at auctions since 2009 have failed to sell at all—they’ve been “burned,” in the terminology of the art world. “He has way underperformed,” says Michael Moses, a retired New York University business professor who maintains a financial index for art. “He has lots and lots of negative returns.”

Further on in the article we find a telling piece of contemporary art vacuousness from 'collector' Alberto Mugrabi:

“Great artists, they always go up to a peak, and then they go down to a very low low,” says collector Alberto Mugrabi. “I feel that Damien is one of the most influential artists of our time.” Hirst may care little about critics, but he knows collectors have great power. Advertising executive Charles Saatchi was an early patron, and in recent years, Mugrabi and his family have played a crucial supporting role. Mugrabi isn’t merely an art lover; he’s called his family “market makers.” His father, Jose, who made a fortune in the Colombian garment business, started collecting Warhols soon after the artist’s death, when his most expensive work commanded six figures. He continued buying them on the cheap through the downturn of the 1990s, and the Mugrabis now own the largest Warhol trove in private hands. They’ve followed a similar strategy with Hirst, amassing more than 100 pieces.

“Collectors have to learn to buy art with their eyes,” Mugrabi says, “not their ears.” An olive-skinned international bon vivant, he’s sitting in his Park Avenue office—a Warhol Blue Jackie sits propped against the wall behind his desk—and showing off a desktop picture on his computer screen: four Hirst sharks, suspended in adjoining tanks. “What’s more amazing than that?” he asks.

When asked what the piece is called, Mugrabi shuffles some papers, racks his brain, but the name won’t come to him. Finally, he yells to his secretary in an adjoining room: “Liz, what’s the name of the shark?” “Theology, Philosophy, Medicine, Justice,” she shouts back.

You can hardly blame Mugrabi for letting it slip his mind. Since he acquired the piece in 2008, he’s rarely seen it. While his family keeps a few pieces around the office—one of the artist’s glass medicine cabinets, a bull’s heart impaled on a knife and encased in a transparent box—most of their Hirsts are stored in warehouses in Newark, N.J., and Switzerland, where the animals are removed from their tanks and refrigerated. Another installation includes 30 sheep, two sides of beef, a string of sausages, an umbrella, and a dead white dove. “Just to install a piece is a lot of money,” Mugrabi says.

Ultimately, Mugrabi is investing to make a profit. He’s trying to sell the shark, for instance, and says he has a good offer. But he’s in a tough spot: Like any major art collector, he has to protect the value of his holdings. That means he must prop up Hirst by paying—perhaps overpaying—at auction. Mugrabi says he thinks the acquisition strategy will pay off, as his father’s Warhol investment did. He brings up recently deceased art critic Robert Hughes, who once interviewed him and called Hirst’s art “a cruddy game for the self-aggrandizement of the rich and the ignorant.”

“In another year, nobody will talk about this man anymore,” Mugrabi says of Hughes. “In 2,000 years, Hirst will still be in people’s vocabulary.”

For as long as this blog shall live, 27th November will here on after be Robert Hughes Day, on which we'll not only re-post the above highlight of Mr Mugrabi's greatest moment, but also check up on Hirst's values and reputation. If we're all still living, let's re-group in, say, 2050 and see who's winning...

'It's called artistic licence'

November 26 2012


HRH the Prince of Wales has opened a new drawing school at Dumfries House, the stately pile he rescued last year (against the Daily Mail's advice). In the video above, a student takes exception to the Prince's gentle critique.

Porn alert! (ctd.)

November 26 2012

Image of Porn alert! (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

Last week we saw how Christie's, in their Old Master Drawings catalogue, felt the need to print a large warning notice before showing two 'sexually graphic' drawings by Thomas Rowlandson. But it seems that in the modern British department, anything goes. Or at least, anything goes if you subtly title the above drawing by Duncan Grant, 'Two men Wrestling'.

Looks a bit below the belt to me...

Update - a reader writes:

When I was at Bonhams I was portering a Vertu sale with some Edwardian enamelled porno cufflinks. There were four separate 'close-ups', all very Triple X. 

Of course, a client rang up wanting someone to describe what was happening in each one. 'Wrestling' wouldn't do, and I was in the middle of a public view saying things like 'double penetration' down the phone.

That's enough filth for now, I think.

Porn alert! (ctd.)

November 23 2012

Image of Porn alert! (ctd.)

Picture: Royal Collection

Following the Rowlandson naughtiness below, a reader alerts me to this new Rowlandson exhibition at the Queen's Gallery in Edinburgh, and writes:

I wonder what they will dare display!

Not much, would be my guess. Imagine the official opening...

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

November 23 2012

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: Der Spiegel/Christie's. A fake Campendonk sold for EUR500,000 in 2006.

The Economist has an interesting article on how, in the modern art world, lawsuits and forgeries are making authenticity increasingly hard to prove:

Alas, plenty of other experts are now too scared of lawsuits to authenticate pictures, says Clare McAndrew, the founder of Arts Economics, a consultancy. Early this year the Andy Warhol Foundation dissolved its authentication board after spending $7m to fight a lawsuit from a disgruntled London collector. In September the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Keith Haring Foundation stopped authenticating works by the two late artists. Last year the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation dissolved its authentication committee rather than “jeopardise our health and well-being”, says Jack Cowart, its director. In the past five years insurance policies taken out by art authenticators have more than doubled at Hiscox, an insurer.

Forgers nowadays typically favour 20th-century abstract and expressionist styles. Mimicking Jackson Pollock’s drip-and-splatter paintings is easier than faking old masters such as Rembrandt. Swamped with lawsuits, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation stopped authenticating works in 1996, four decades after Pollock’s death. Lawsuits continued anyway. A court even entertained a suit from a man with a painting signed “Pollack” (he lost).


Marc Restellini, a Parisian art historian, rejected as fake numerous works while preparing a catalogue raisonné of drawings by Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian artist who left little documentation when he died young in Paris in 1920. Told by phone in 1999 to leave the drawings alone or be killed, Mr Restellini cancelled the project because, as he puts it: “I’m not James Bond.” (Now head of the Pinacothèque de Paris, a private museum, he continues to work on a catalogue of Modigliani paintings, one of which fetched nearly $69m at a Sotheby’s auction two years ago.) Other Modigliani catalogues are incomplete or at least partially discredited—one French author was convicted for forgery.

An accountant who knows about these things once told me that art fraud (including the use of art for money laundering) is, financially, the third largest crime in the world. At this rate, with art forgery going almost totally unchallenged by law enforcement agencies, and hardly if ever spotted by auction houses, it may soon be number one. 

Update - my remark about fakes not being spotted by auctioneers was made slightly tongue in cheek, but quite rightly a reader takes me to task for such a bald accusation:

As a specialist in a Swedish auction house, I may think that the "[…] hardly if ever spotted by auction houses" is a bit unfair. We reject hundreds of fakes a year which are never to reach the auction public. This includes the entire spectrum from completely fraudulent newly-mades to manipulated signatures on otherwise genuine works of art. 

The problem, as hinted in the article, is when a work by a frequently faked or rarely sold artist is consigned for sale and there is none to ask for authenticity anymore. Important committees or senior experts that no longer provide their views leave the field open for scholars with a vague conscious that gladly authenticates almost everything on a photo for a thousand euros. (Not to mention the problems with the increasing field of faking letters of authenticity, or foundations/committees campaigning against each other for the right of the ultimate yea or nay.)

I agree that there has been some rather notable auction sales of high end fakes over the years (in which the auction house's role has been on the dubious side), but in the business of fakes, the cup of wishful thinking has been drunk by everyone…

New research on artists' suppliers

November 23 2012

Image of New research on artists' suppliers

Picture: NPG

Former Chief Curator of the National Portrait Gallery Jacob Simon has been in touch, with news of his updated research pages on artists' suppliers on the NPG website:

The most recent edition of the online resource, British artists' suppliers, 1650-1950 has now been selectively updated. It contains new information on Scottish 19th-century suppliers, including Alexander Hill, William Macgill, Robert Nelson, Hugh Paton, Alexander Scott, John Douglas Smith, John Taylor and Taylor & Norie, later Robert Norrie & Son. These amended entries derive from two days spent in Edinburgh, where my research was greatly facilitated by Helen Smailes. The resource also contains updated entries on John Bryce Smith and Percy Young, both important early 20th-century London suppliers, and on John Wragg, the late 18th- century lay figure maker.

Additionally, there is a new illustrated feature, The artist’s porte-crayon, which happens to coincide with a display of some of the National Portrait Gallery’s finest but rarely seen drawings, The Art of Drawing: Portraits from the Collection, 1670-1780, until May 2013.

Next month, the resource, British picture framemakers, 1630-1950, will be launched in an expanded and updated form.

Can any other museum boast such a comprehensive online resource?

The new DG

November 23 2012

Image of The new DG

Picture: Telegraph

Lovers of the arts should be pleased at Tony Hall's appointment as the new Director General of the BBC. As far as I can make out, he's the first DG to have serious experience of working in the arts (as Director of the Royal Opera House since 2001). He's also a singularly nice fellow - he once gave me some last-minute house tickets to Don Giovanni (which went down splendidly during a crucial moment of early courtship with Mrs G).

Porn alert!

November 22 2012

Image of Porn alert!

Picture: BG

Tickled to see the above porn warning in Christie's forthcoming Old Master drawing sale. How hardcore do you think the pictures might be?

Find out by clicking 'Read On'.

Read More

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