Previous Posts: December 2013

Last chance to see Samuel Cooper

December 5 2013

Image of Last chance to see Samuel Cooper

Picture: BG

The Samuel Cooper exhibition here at Philip Mould ends this Saturday at 4pm. You'll probably never see such a good collection of his work together for a few decades. Unmissable!

Sotheby's Old Master evening sale

December 5 2013

Image of Sotheby's Old Master evening sale

Picture: BG

Sotheby's evening Old Master sale netted a healthy £33.5m last night, coming in some way above Christie's £21.8m. Auctioneer Henry Wyndham was in his usual good form. The top lot was a pair of Canalettos, at £9.6m (inc. premium). The evening's bargain was a powerful, unfinished portrait of the Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence (above), which made £962k with premium, selling at the low estimate. I thought this picture would fly, and would make more than the less alluring Lawrence of Wellington sold at Christie's in 2006 for £2m.

Selling well above the expectations, and justly, was a compelling Spanish-period Rubens portrait, which sold for £3.2m, beating its £400k-£600k estimate. Strangely, an x-ray revealed that it was painted on top of a portrait by Velazquez. The sitter of the Rubens portrait is unknown, but could it in fact be a portrait of Velazquez himself? There has long been uncertainty over some of Velazquez's putative self-portraits. But if, like me, you think there is mileage in the old theory that the sitter in both the Met's unfinished portrait and the fellow in the background of the Surender of Breda are Velazquez, then could the Rubens show the same sitter?

Who gets what if the Scots leave?

December 4 2013

Image of Who gets what if the Scots leave?

Picture: Daily Record*

Here's an interesting cultural conundrum: if the Scots (or rather, people who happen to be living in Scotland on the day of the referendum) decide to leave the UK next year, then what will happen to objects of cultural importance, in relation to things like export licences? 

Let's take a current case; the Van Dyck self-portrait (which, to recap, has been sold to an overseas buyer, and which the National Portrait Gallery is currently trying to buy). Let's say that the picture wasn't yet sold, and that the Philip Mould gallery (for which I work) had a shop in Edinburgh, where we kept the portrait. Now, if the Scots went for independence, the picture would overnight be lost to what remained of the UK. Would the Mould gallery then have to apply for an export licence? Or would it be too late? If we sold the picture to an overseas buyer post-independence, would the Scottish government be as bothered about Van Dyck leaving as the UK government is? And if an export ban was placed on the picture by the Scottish government, then would a Scottish museum even be able to raise the money to stop the picture leaving Scotland (answer, probably not)? It will undeniably be easier to export cultural treasures from an independent Scotland than from the UK, because the Scots (with their much smaller philanthropic and lottery pot) won't be able to match UK firepower when it comes to 'saving' cultural objects. 

There's a risible little section on cultural items in the SNP's 'White Paper' on Scottish independence, which reads thus:

Question: What will happen to cultural items related to Scotland and held in UK national collections in an independent Scotland?

Answer: Scotland currently owns a share of all UK national collections.

The national museums and galleries in both London and Scotland all hold items from different parts of the UK and collections assembled from across the world. They have long-established arrangements for loans, exchanges and partnerships, which will be able to continue when Scotland becomes independent.

Clearly, nobody in the SNP has thought of this. The SNP answer to every question these days - that "Scotland owns a share of the UK's currency, air, cows, etc. (but not oil of course, because that's all Scotland's)" - won't really work with cultural assets. Does the SNP want the UK to buy Scotland out of their share of every Titian and Gainsborough in the land? Or should we chop them into bits? Or does the 'loan' answer given above mean that there will be mandatory lending of works, on some sort of rotational basis? The SNP question above asks, perhaps selfishly, only about items related to Scotland currently in the rest of the UK. But what about English-related items in Scotland? 

Too many questions. Just vote no.

*By the way Alex, you can keep all the Vettrianos.

Christie's evening Old Master sale

December 4 2013

Image of Christie's evening Old Master sale

Picture: BG

Last night's evening sale at Christie's was a fairly average affair I felt. Nothing took off in a stellar way, but there were also no major casualties. The total was £21.8m. The 'Rembrandt & Studio' (above) sold for £2.5m (inc. premium), The large Claude made the top price of the evening, at just over £5m. What a bargain this would have been had it not been withdrawn at the last minute from Christie's South Kensington as 'follower of...'. Talking of bargains, the steal of the day was surely the large 'Studio of Rubens' of Hercules, at £385k. More 'Rubens and Studio', unquestionably. As a purveyor of British portraits, I was heartened to see a relatively standard corridor portrait of Elizabeth I not only be included in a Christie's evening sale (it used to be a day sale kind of picture), but also make £135k. These things are going up in value. Also, the Reynolds portrait of a boy made a strong price, at £600k (against an estimate of £100k-£150k).

Update - it has been pointed out to me that for half the price of Jeff Koons' recently sold Orange Dog, you could have bought the whole of last night's sale. Think about that for a moment. For half a Koons, you could have a Rembrandt, a Claude, a mostly-Rubens, a Brueghel, a Steen, etc. etc.

Detroit sell-off likely?

December 4 2013

Video: WXYZ

It's not looking good for Detroit. Yesterday a US judge ruled that the city is eligible for bankruptcy, which means that asset sales can go ahead. One of the city's most valluable assets is its art collection in the DIA. Until now, there hasn't been a blatant pitch to sell the works, only a 'discrete' valuation by Christie's (at a cost of $200,000). The judge made it clear that in his opinion it wouldn't be wise to sell the art, but that was just his philosophical view, not a ruling. In fact, the man in charge of the city's bankruptcy proceedings, Kevin Orr, made it clear yesterday that the art collection is very much 'on the table'. The total value of the saleable works so far is thought to be about $2 billion, which is less than some believed.

Many of the city's creditors have filed motions to allow them to 'monetise' the DIA collection, and also get a second opinion on the valuation, which Orr has ruled out (oddly). There will be much discussion ahead of whether the DIA should sell its art, and obviously one hopes that they don't. But this will come down to a matter of law, and the fact is that the city, which owes money and will have to sell assets to pay it back, owns much of the DIA's easily disposable art collection. Roll up folks...

More here and here.

Update - a reader writes:

Clearly the need in Detroit is to pay unfunded pensions which involve a stream of payments over decades rather than an immediate capital payment.

Therefore it makes more sense to rent the art on long leases to museums particularly in newly funded ones rather than sell the stuff.  Think of London ground leases which include an initial capital payment and an annual rental. 


Qatar, the Getty, and Crystal Bridges could all help and simultaneously fill their museums without inflating the art market at auction.


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