Previous Posts: September 2012

Van Dyck and Tapestry

September 7 2012

Image of Van Dyck and Tapestry

Picture: Tate/Lord Sackville/National Trust

Regular readers will know that I'm slightly obsessed with Van Dyck. So allow me to recommend a fascinating article online at Tate by Simon Turner which looks at Van Dyck's relationship with the Mortlake tapestry workshop. Turner builds on the theory that Van Dyck may have first been invited to England, in 1620, specifically to design tapestries, an intriguing idea which has some merit, especially when one sees the fluidity of handling and composition of The Continence of Scipio [Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford], one of few pictures we now were painted during Van Dyck's first brief stay in England. The article also reproduces a tapestry [above] featuring Van Dyck's Self-Portrait with Endymion Porter [Prado] in what was most likely its original frame (the one around it now is later, and entirely lacking in oomph). A similar frame is still to be found around Van Dyck's last Self-Portrait. 

Jeremy Hunt's legacy

September 6 2012

Image of Jeremy Hunt's legacy

Picture: Geoff Pugh/Telegraph

Two contrasting views of the former Culture Secretary's legacy, first from The Guardian's arts correspondent Charlotte Higgins, who asks:

Why has Hunt been so loathed? [...]

But when it came to the crunch, there seemed to be very little nurture in the air: quite the opposite. While few in the arts would have argued that the culture budget should have been immune from necessary public spending cuts, there was a particular unpleasantness in the manner in which the 30% cuts to the arts were handed down in 2010: presented as a 15% cut to "front line" services – a false division (front line/back office) if ever there was one. Then there was the sudden, immediate, brutal culling of the UK Film Council and Museums, Libraries, Archives Council: while few would have argued that either were model organisations, the ruthlessness with which they were despatched reeked of ideological fervour rather than considered action. In short, people began to suspect that Hunt's priority had been to wield the axe with an efficiency that would endear him to his superiors rather than to "support, nurture and encourage the arts". The early rhetoric looked, in retrospect, like a conscious decision to attempt to "decontaminate" brand Tory, rather than borne of any real conviction. The sense of betrayal – the rhetoric set next to the reality – has been enormous.

Phooey. I've not picked up much sense of betrayal, beyond the usual perennial whingers in the arts world. Major museum directors, for example, were pretty happy with the damage limitation fight undertaken by Hunt, and Ed Vaizey (who deserves most of the praise), with the Treasury. Nobody liked the MLA, and the Film Council's merger with the British Film Institute makes sense. In terms of total funding available to the arts, the overall budget cut was just 11% - that's less than the police. I realise that in the regions the cuts are much more painful, but that has largely to do with the sclerotic funding arrangements between regional museums and local government.

Here's a more balanced view from the Museum's Association's Maurice Davies

In retrospect, we may come to see former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt as a friend to culture. With the help of arts minister Ed Vaizey, he largely managed to restrict cuts in the spending under his control to 15%. 

He also protected free admission to national museums, retained Renaissance funding for regional museums and increased the share of lottery money going to the arts and heritage. (He began to try to strengthen philanthropy, but was badly undermined by idiotic Treasury views that donating to charity is a form of tax-dodging.)

Higgins of course did not mention the biggest culture success of the government to date - the enormous increase in Lottery good cause funding to the arts and heritage. We have already seen the benefits of this with mega grants for paintings like the Manet at the Ashmolean. (Forgive me if I mention, again, my small part in formulating this policy, I'm rather proud of it!). 

Selling contemporary art, New York style

September 6 2012

Video: Christie's

Giant Warhol sale - everything must go!

September 6 2012

Image of Giant Warhol sale - everything must go!

Picture: Sally Holland/CNN

Only, not all at once. The Andy Warhol Foundation has announced that it will sell its entire Warhol collection through Christie's. It has, however, wisely decided not to flood the market, and the sales will be eked out. From AFP:

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts announced Wednesday it will disperse its entire collection of works from the ground-breaking pop artist through sales and donations.

The profits will be used to bolster the foundation's grant-making activities, with Christie's entering a long-term deal to market the works.

"Christie's will conduct phased sales over a period of years using multiple platforms, including single artist live auctions, private sales and continuing online auctions, bringing a wide range of Warhol's art -- much of which has never before been seen by the public at large -- to existing as well as new collectors worldwide," a statement from the two partners said.

Great coup for Christie's. Whoever sealed that deal needs a big bonus.

The un-pretending Pretender

September 5 2012

Image of The un-pretending Pretender

Picture: National Portrait Gallery

I recently noted a spurious portrait of Cardinal York, borther of Bonnie Prince Charlie, in Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, an erroneous identification which, to Jacobites, is sad enough. But sadder still is the National Portrait Gallery's curious reluctance to re-identify their own portrait of Cardinal York as him. They call it 'Portrait of a Cardinal formerly known as Cardinal York'. The sitter was long known, correctly, as Cardinal York, but for some strange reason was downgraded amid general confusion over the identity of Jacobite sitters. I sought to untangle this confusion in a British Art Journal article some four years ago, and showed that the NPG picture clearly was York. The noted Jacobite scholar Professor Edward Corp agrees with me - but still the identity remains incorrect on the NPG website. How much longer must it remain wrongly listed? 

You can read my BAJ article by downloading a PDF here.

The Olympic Effect

September 5 2012

The Museums Journal has some interesting statistics on London museum visits during the Olympics:

Museums in London suffered dramatic falls in visitor numbers in the run-up to the Olympics, with some as much as 40% down on last year.

Central London was the worst hit: the British Museum lost 169,970 visitors in July, while the number of visitors to paid-for exhibitions at Tate Modern and Tate Britain fell in the first week of August. 

The number of visitors to the National Portrait Gallery fell by 58,461 in July compared with 2011, while the National Gallery had 40% fewer visitors in the first week of August.

In west London, the Natural History Museum reported about 8,000 fewer visitors during June and July. 

In south-east London, the National Maritime Museum, part of the Olympic equestrian arena, changed its opening hours to encourage spectators to visit the museum but still lost 11,167 visitors in July. It did, however, welcome an extra 63,356 visitors in June.

We'll get the full picture when figures for August are available. But these numbers certainly tie in with my experience of museums during the Games. 

New Culture Secretary appointed

September 4 2012

Image of New Culture Secretary appointed

Picture: Guardian

We're having a government 're-shuffle' here in the UK. Jeremy Hunt has taken over from Andrew Lansley at the Department of Health, which means that Maria Miller has been promoted to Secretary of State for Culture. Maria used to be the Minister for Disabled People, and before that was Shadow Family Minister and a shadow education minister. She has also served on the Trade and Industry Select Committees, and on her website describes her political interests as 'Housing / Education / Media'.

Perhaps the first thing to note here is that at least the Culture department remains - there were rumours of it being axed. We do not yet know if any of the current DCMS team will remain, such as Arts minister Ed Vaizey.

Curious fact - it's the first time I haven't been on first name terms with the Culture Secretary or Shadow Culture Secretary since 2005.

Chatsworth to sell Raphael drawing

September 4 2012

Image of Chatsworth to sell Raphael drawing

Picture: Sotheby's/Bloomberg

Bloomberg reports that the Duke of Devonshire is to sell a Raphael drawing and two illuminated manuscripts this December. The sales will take place at Sotheby's in London, where the Duke is also Deputy Chairman. The drawing is a study for an Apostle in Raphael's Transfiguration [Vatican]. The estimate will be £10-15m.

In Russia, a giant Durer jigsaw puzzle

September 4 2012

Video: ITN

Apparently it's part of an effort to strengthen in Russo-German relations. Which picture would you send to a country to enhance diplomatic relations?

Into the lion's den?

September 3 2012

Image of Into the lion's den?

Picture: Wallace Collection

Association of Art Historians chief executive Pontus Rosen has kindly asked if I might submit a paper on connoisseurship at the AAH 2013 conference. Here's the blurb for the session:

Although increasingly viewed as a retrograde and deeply conservative art historical methodology, notable by its absence from many recent art historical ‘readers’ and ‘critical terms’ texts, connoisseurship has indisputably played a formative role in the development of the discipline. While connoisseurship defines itself as the rigorous formal and visual analysis of art works, since the 1970s the ‘new art histories’ have levelled accusations of myopia, the employment of loaded value judgments and the creation of an impermeable canon thus casting the practice as an anachronism. The figure of the connoisseur has long been a trope visualised in ‘high art’ and satirical renderings, which often point to the slippage between the connoisseurial gaze and scopophilia, suggesting the exercise of an aestheticising gaze over both art and femininity, a concern central to feminist critiques of traditional connoisseurship. 

The increasing material focus in art historical writing, influenced by the ascendancy of material culture studies, however, engenders the need to reassess the role of connoisseurship and its relevance and potential function in progressive scholarship. 

This panel invites papers that examine:

  • key figures in connoisseurship
  • the historiography of connoisseurship
  • the visualization and hagiography of the connoisseur
  • its strengths and weaknesses as a methodology
  • its function in academic discourse; its relationship to the art market and the museum
  • and its role, if any, in future scholarship.

We invite papers considering the connoisseur and the practice of connoisseurship from all periods and locations and encompassing a broad range of critical perspectives.

Sounds a bit scary. Should I go into battle on behalf of retrograde conservatives everywhere? Or save myself the armour-hiring fee? Anyone prepared to come along as my Sancho Panza?

Update - a reader writes:

Sounds great!  I love the way they take 'conservative' as automatically bad ... in fact it's not just conservative, it's 'deeply conservative' (all the way to to the bottom?).  But wait, now 'material cultural studies' - a safely new sub-discipline - means that we might be able to re-assess.  I think comparing, say, Berenson's writing with that of someone like Griselda Pollock might give a different view of which 'canon' is impermeable!

Another reader writes:

On connoisseurship, I am pleased to leave study of feminist critique, and the purchase or Mr Hirst's pictures, to others, on the basis that it reduces competition in the more fulfilling pursuits of looking at, studying, and buying, pleasing, if conservative, pictures. A similar approach can be applied to football, politics and the culture of celebrity.

And another reader says:

A bit of a worrying delight in polarisation for its own sake.

I thought all that divisive aggression had to be put to one side once Art History degrees became the preserve of the likes of Prince William and his wife.

Are we not able to have a ‘broad church’ whereby a putative connoisseur is also prepared to do a bit of the old marxist sociology / anthropology / economic theory too?

Prince William did Geography in the end. Another reader writes, splendidly:

Your correspondents make some interesting points, but they risk being put on the back foot by the question.

The important question isn't conservative vs unconservative art, or 'right' v 'wrong' connoisseurs exactly, but art history as a human science, whether it's Rembrandt or Jeff Koons.

Every painting was painted at some point in time by somebody. In the whole scheme of human understanding it is more useful to know the answers to these questions than not, not least for the knock-on effect on our understanding of so much else.

Is it better to know that The Execution of Maximilian is as a record of a shocking recent event, craftily rejigged to make a personally risky attack on Napoleon III his own Head of State, by an artist who had witnessed firing squads in the streets of his own city? or is it enough to call it 'Nineteenth Century School 'Shot at Dawn' and spawn a lot of freewheeling studies that tell you more about their writer than what they're writing about?

Even the most rabid something-ist would agree we need to know a few basic details about The Execution of Maximilian. Where would they draw the line? All works of art sit in the middle of a similar web of people, philosophy and events. Who says, stop looking now, that's enough? It's interesting they drag in scopophilia, as 'voyeurism' - conjuring an image of some pervy print-collector in a Daumier. Skopeo, 'I look' in Greek, is a respectable word in science, and this anti-connoisseurial movement reminds me of the Inquisition ganging up on Galileo's telescope.

The backbone of every science, natural and human, is the what/when/how. No intelligent person in any other empirical discipline would believe that speculation was more valuable than pursuit of the truth. And no intelligent person should see art history as other than an empirical discipline.

Clearly, this reader should have his own blog.

Wrong on so many levels

September 3 2012

Video: Leonardo da Vinci Equestrian LLC

A US company is offering 'original' casts of a sculpture they say is by Leonardo. The casts derive from what the company calls a 'rapidly detoriorating' beeswax sculpture which was attributed to Leonardo some years ago by Professor Carlo Pedretti. Despite the apparently fragile condition of the beeswax sculpture, which remains in a mysterious private collection in Switzerland, a mould was (recklessly?) taken by a business consortium with the intention of selling reproductions. This mould, which is now being hailed as 'the original mold' of Leonardo's sculpture, now belongs to a Mr. Richard A. Lewis of Indianopolis who, through a Las Vegas company called Art Encounter, is offering 'original' casts in bronze for between $25,000 and $35,000. The whole operation has been blessed by Leonardo scholar Professor Carlo Pedretti, who has declared the casts to be 'perfect, perfect, perfect!'. However, he evidently has not told them what the word 'original' really means.

The revered 'original mold' and casts will soon be embarking on a 'world tour' (er, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York and London) this autumn. The casts are available in four limited editions of 996. Sign up to buy yours here! More news reports here and here.

Update - a reader sends me this note from the College Art Association (CAA) on the ethics of making such casts. It concludes:

Posthumous castings from finished bronzes, unauthorized casts such as those made as a result of work being in the public domain, enlargements unsupported by verifiable instructions from the artist, posthumous translating of a carving into bronze, or work in any material other than wax, terra cotta, and plaster that is bronze cast for the first time, are undesirable.

The CAA is always keen to present itself as the mother of all art historical bodies, and even calls for legislation to protect the principles in its casting guidelines. Should the CAA have a word with the makers of these casts, or even Professor Pedretti about his involvement?

Update II - an interesting response from a sculptor here.

Why connoisseurship matters, ctd.

September 3 2012

Image of Why connoisseurship matters, ctd.

Picture: National Gallery

Curious story in The Sunday Times yesterday about the National Gallery's St Jerome (c.1496) by Albrecht Durer. Apparently, the organisers of the Early Durer exhibition in Nuremberg think it isn't by Durer. The National Gallery paid £9.4m for the picture in 1996. More details when I get them.

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