Previous Posts: February 2013

Another Richard III found

February 13 2013

Image of Another Richard III found

Picture: Adam Busiakiewicz

Reader Adam Busiakiewicz from Warwick Castle sends news of a potentially exciting rival Richard III discovery. The above head was found:

[...] outside Bear and Clarence Towers, two buildings that were commissioned by Richard III himself, but never completed. He married Richard Neville’s, ‘The Kingmaker’, daughter Anne Neville in 1472... so we are celebrating this link a lot at the moment!

'Connoisseurship has never been more popular'

February 12 2013

Ok, so this article in the New York Times is primarily about chocolate, cheese and coffee connoisseurship. But it nevertheless contains, in the shape of Yale Chief Curator Laurence B. Kanter, someone from the museum world who is prepared to wave the flag for connoisseurship.

Connoisseurship has never been more popular. Long confined to the serious appreciation of high art and classical music, it is now applied to an endless cascade of pursuits. Leading publications, including The New York Times, routinely discuss the connoisseurship of coffee, cupcakes and craft beers; of cars, watches, fountain pens, lunchboxes, stereo systems and computers; of tacos, pizza, pickles, chocolate, mayonnaise, cutlery and light (yes, light, which is not to be confused with the specialized connoisseurship of lighting). And the Grateful Dead, of course.

This democratization of connoisseurship is somewhat surprising since as recently as the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s connoisseurship was a “dirty word” — considered “elitist, artificial, subjective and mostly imaginary,” said Laurence B. Kanter, chief curator of the Yale University Art Gallery. Today, it is a vital expression of how many of us we want to see, and distinguish, ourselves.

As its wide embrace opens a window onto the culture and psychology of contemporary America, it raises an intriguing question: If almost anything can be an object of connoisseurship — and if, by implication, almost anyone can be a connoisseur — does the concept still suggest the fine and rare qualities that make it so appealing?

There were probably Neanderthals who tried to distinguish themselves through their exquisite taste in cave drawings. But the word connoisseur was not coined until the 18th century — in France, of course, as a symbol of the Enlightenment’s increasingly scientific approach to knowledge.

At a time when precious little was known about the provenance of many works of art, early connoisseurs developed evaluative tools — for example, identifying an artist’s typical subject matter, use of color and use of light — to authenticate works by revered masters and to debunk pretenders to the pedestal.

“Works of art do not carry a guarantee,” said Dr. Kanter. “It has always been the job of the connoisseur to question, investigate, refine the received wisdom of earlier generations.”

Prado discovers rare early 15thC panel

February 12 2013

Video: Museo Prado

The Prado has restored a newly discovered early 15thC panel showing Louis I d'Orleans. From the Prado website:

Shown to the public for the first time, the Museo del Prado is presenting The Agony in the Garden with the Donor Louis I d’Orléans (1405-1407/1408), a previously unpublished work acquired by the Museum in 2012. Following a lengthy process of restoration it will now be placed on display in the permanent galleries and represents a major contribution to the field of Early French Painting. The aesthetic and pictorial merit of the painting, recently restored with the sponsorship of Fundación Iberdrola, combined with the rarity of works from this school, make this panel a unique example of enormous historical importance given that it is the only known panel painting to depict Louis d’Orléans. With a possible attribution to Colart de Laon, Louis’ painter and valet de chambre, the panel will be presented in a special display until 28 April in Room 51A, alongside X-radiograph and Infra-red reflectograph images of it and a video that shows the different stages of its restoration.

Exclusive - UK museums bid for Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral'

February 11 2013

Image of Exclusive - UK museums bid for Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral'

Picture: National Gallery

Newly released minutes of the National Gallery of Scotland's trustee meeting reveal that the NGS is combining with four other organisations to acquire John Constable's epic 'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows'. The picture is being made available via the government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. The NGS minutes state:

Possible AIL Acquisition: Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by John Constable 

Mr Clarke [NGS Director] reported that NGS was applying for the above Constable painting through the AIL scheme in conjunction with four other organisations (including Tate Britain).  If successful, NGS would get one fifth share of the painting.

The picture is currently on loan at the National Gallery, London, from a private collection. The picture has been in the same ownership since 1857. No values have been stated yet. More details as I get them.

Update - a reader who spotted the news writes:

I was really surprised for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is surely the wonderful late Constable which has been on loan to the National Gallery, London , from the Ashton of Hyde family, since at least the early 1980s?

Then, from the NGS Minutes it seems to being bid for by five ( yes five) galleries including the Tate . The NGS of Scotland seemed to think it would get a fifth share.  Does that mean that this splendid painting will be trundled up and down the land for ever more?  It is worrying enough that the two great Titians will be shuttled between London and Edinburgh twice every 10 years.

Then, while writing this with a Scottish mother and English father, I wonder why the National Gallery of Scotland thinks it is entitled to a share of a painting by a very English artist which has only ever been in English collections and for over 30 years has been shown at the National Gallery? Are works of art from Scottish collections, accepted by AIL, allocated south of the border? Probably yes, as I can think of the Raeburn “The Archers” double portrait which came to the National Gallery in 2001, but I wonder what the ratio is.

And, yes, I believe that national painting collections should not be restricted to the art just of that country but, at the same time I would prefer that this decision on allocation was made after the Scottish independence vote in 2014!

And another writes:

5 galleries sharing such a work would be unusual - the need for so many to be involved suggests that a substantial sum of money is also going to be involved to make this deal work.

I suspect that the case might one where the value of the painting exceeds the value of the tax to be waived. The combined effort may mean that a substantial fundraising effort is required. The record for a Constable work is the £22.4m for The Lock sold last year, and Salisbury Cathedral is twice the painting. Regular readers will know, however, that the £22.4m figure is one to be taken with a pinch of salt

Update II - a reader wonders if the NGS were meant to spill the beans this early on in the acquisition process:

When the National Gallery in London publishes its Minutes to trustee board meetings, discussion on acquisitions always note “Information has been excluded under s 43 Freedom of Information Act 2000”

Update III - a reader agrees with the above, but then makes a heretical suggestion:

I agree with the two updates - my thoughts too.  A little while ago I noticed it missing from the NG and asked a guard about it.  He pointed to its usual place and said it was there ... then realised that it was gone!  It was just at an exhibition, but he hadn't noticed its absence.  Much as I love seeing it in London, I'd frankly prefer it to go elsewhere rather than be shuffled between five galleries.  Not the Louvre - they'd only send it to Lens.  But what about the Musee D'Orsay?  It would fit the collection well, and it seems appropriate for Paris to have a great Constable given how they appreciated him in the nineteenth century.  Or the Neue Pinakothek in Munich - a great collection that would be able to show it in a different context.  I know they won't have the funds for a purchase on this scale, but I'd make a donation.

Another reader agrees about the secrecy angle:

Your Update 2 contributor is right; now the National Gallery, London Trustee Meeting Minutes exclude all references to Potential Acquisitions.  It was not always such because as recently as 2006, there were references to discussions about potential acquisitions, accepted and rejected, and even prices paid. Then, all that stopped and the “Excluded under the Freedom of Information Act etc” was all you got. So I wrote to the NG about the sudden change in the quality of information given in the Trustees’ Minutes and received a “snotty” reply saying that they were entitled to exclude material etc…..So much for transparency, although, of course, sensitive information about current negotiations should be excluded, even though Minutes are always four months in arrears.

Tate Trustee Minutes are even worse, threaded with “Excluded….” tags like confetti through the text!

Update IV - the NGS minutes have now been removed. Oops.

Richard III? (ctd.)

February 10 2013

Image of Richard III? (ctd.)

Picture: BBC

A reader alerts me to the various petitions on the Downing St website over where Richard III's remains should be buried. At the time of writing, York is ahead of Leicester by 18,177 votes to 6,810. My favourite petition, however, is one headed:


It has just two votes, so far. 

I favour York. But as I wrote last week, I still don't think we have enough proof to bury this body with full veneration and identification as Richard III. Before we take such a significant step, we must be 100% sure it's him. The University of Leicester's website information on the crucial DNA analysis remains woefully thin, and academically embarrassing. The more I find out about the DNA process used, the more I learn that it is far from conclusive. It may even prove nothing at all. So if I was to petition the Prime Minister on Richard's remains, it would be to ask: can we please not rush into this?

Wildenstein charged with tax evasion and money laundering

February 10 2013

Image of Wildenstein charged with tax evasion and money laundering

Picture: Getty Images

French art dealer Guy Wildenstein has been charged with tax evasion and money laundering, following a formal investigation which began in 2011. More details here.

Courbet discovery - is it all a load of 'foutaise'?

February 10 2013

Image of Courbet discovery - is it all a load of 'foutaise'?

Picture: Paris Match

Le Figaro has interviewed art dealer Hubert Duchemin on the apparent discovery of the head of Courbet's 'L'Origine du Monde', first published in Paris Match. He says it's all a load of 'foutaise' - or as we say in English, 'bullsh*t'. In addition, the Musee d'Orsay has issued a statement saying the discovery is, to use the technical term, a load of old phooey.

Didier Rykner at Tribune de L'Art has published Paris Match's recreation of how the sketch and body are supposed to match up [above]. Didier is deeply sceptical of the whole thing. Meanwhile, Jean-Jacques Fernier, the compiler of the Courbet catalogue raisonne who has accepted the work, is taking a dim view of the critics:

I don’t give a damn what they think. I am the official Courbet specialist and I have said it is by him. These Civil servants haven’t even seen the work.” 

The phrase 'official specialist' should be enough to chill the heart of any art historian. What a weird concept. But they seem to like doing things this way in France. 

Readers will notice that I've censored the above image, out of deference to Buckinghamshire County Council, who blocked AHN after I first reported the story. 

Optimism (stolen Leonardo special)

February 10 2013

Image of Optimism (stolen Leonardo special)

Picture: Duke of Buccleuch

A struck-off former solicitor is trying to claim £4.25m for the safe return of the Duke of Buccleuch's stolen Madonna of the Yarnwinder by Leonardo [above]. More details here, and earlier AHN coverage of the private investigators who were charged with handling the stolen picture here.

Ice Age hubris

February 10 2013

Image of Ice Age hubris

Picture: British Museum/Guardian

Jonathan Jones goes overboard in his Guardian review of the new ice-age art at the British Museum:

[...]  animals are portrayed with gobsmacking accuracy – from line drawings of reindeer to lions carved on ivory. While humans have been done better, no one – not even Leonardo – has ever surpassed these ice-age animal portraits.

Update - a reader writes:

Re Jonathan Jones's article on cave-painting; the later printing has a remarkable correction at the end:

• This article was amended on 6 February 2013 because it referred to Leonardo incorrectly as "Da Vinci" as if it were the artist's surname. Da Vinci refers to the Vinci district near Florence.

Previously I have railed against this new habit of talking about 'Da Vinci' but I'm not sure it merits an apology.

Cave-art and Leonardo are clean different things, but cave-art is - still - the best painting of animals in life and movement I have ever seen. And seeing what fossil animals really looked like is unbelievably exciting.

Face found in the Ghent Altarpiece

February 10 2013

Video: Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage

The above video is in Dutch, but is pretty self-explanatory: a face has been found in the underdrawing of Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece. Is it a cheeky self-portrait?

Mega art projections in the UK

February 8 2013

This looks like fun - tonight at 28 locations around the UK, giant projections of publicly owned paintings will be beamed onto important landmarks, such as the National Gallery. It's all part of the promotional programme for Your Paintings. For a list of locations see here

Delacroix attacked in Louvre Lens

February 8 2013

Image of Delacroix attacked in Louvre Lens


Worrying reports from France that Delacroix's 'Liberty Leading the People' has been vandalised in Louvre Lens.

Update - the graffiti has been removed. Usual story; some half-baked nutter looking to publicise something. 

Courbet's infamous model?

February 7 2013

Image of Courbet's infamous model?

Picture: Paris Match

Curious story in The Telegraph and Paris Match about the supposed discovery, in France, of the separated head from Courbet's 'L'Origine Du Monde'. Apparently it's worth £35m. Hmm.

Will try and get more photos (of the head).

Update - more images here, including a pencil drawing of what the whole picture looked like before it was cut down.

Update II - Art History News is officially porn. A reader writes:

You will be delighted to hear that the Bucks County Council schools server has just blocked all access to your website on all school computers (administrative as well as teachers and students) as it contains ‘Profanity’ and ‘Sexual content’ - must be the Paris Match cover of the ‘L’Origine du Monde’ painting – without the strategically placed spot that was printed in today’s Times!

I did think about somehow censoring the image, in deference to AHN's younger readers, but then thought I owed a greater responsibility to Courbet. And in any case, the headline in the Paris Match article just about covers enough for it not to be shocking. But apologies for any embarrassment caused to readers.

Update III - this may yet be another dud discovery story. See my separate post above. But I'm still trying to get a decent photo of the head.

'Women can't paint'

February 7 2013

Image of 'Women can't paint'

Picture: Telegraph

So says German artist Georg Baseltitz (above). From The Telegraph:

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Baselitz said, “women don’t paint very well. It’s a fact.” He backed up his claim by saying that work by women artists “simply don’t pass the market test, the value test. As always, the market is right."

If Elizabeth Vigee Le Brun's self-portrait in the National Gallery ever came up for sale, I reckon it would sell for at least £5m, probably more. So I guess the market can't always be right, Georg.

Update - a reader writes:

Last week I went and did a little talk to two groups of 13 year olds at an all-girls school. My subject was how women are perceived in art and why paintings by women sell for far less than those by men. 

I started by asking them to shout out names of famous artists whilst one student wrote them on the board. Both groups named only men!!  Out of about 35 artists not one female came up. 

I also gave them this quote from Sewell from The Independent back in 2008 which is quite amusing… 

"The art market is not sexist," Mr Sewell said. "The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist.

"Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it's something to do with bearing children."

I wonder if Brian and Georg are buddies.

Boom (ctd.)?

February 7 2013

Video: Christie's

More high prices at this week's Impressionist and Modern sales in London, including £26.9m for the above Modigliani. Details at Bloomberg here.

Smellism in France

February 6 2013

Image of Smellism in France

Picture: Telegraph

According to The Telegraph, a family visiting the Musee d'Orsay were asked to leave because they stank:

The couple and a young child were on a free trip to the Musee d'Orsay with a charity that supports hard-up families. As the group browsed a room with paintings by Van Gogh, security guards told them they had to leave the building because people were "complaining about their smell".

The worker with the Act for Dignity charity said: "I argued with the security man, telling him the family were all decent and properly dressed. "Not a single other person had complained about us so I refute the idea that it was their smell.

"We moved on to another room, but we were again met by four museum guards who ordered us out of the building."

Wise words on Connoisseurship

February 6 2013

Image of Wise words on Connoisseurship

Picture: BM

A reader writes:

A little something on the running connoisseur / art-historian topic. I have just chanced upon a sentence in Helmut Ruhemann's book The Cleaning of Paintings:

'Any candidate for the post of apprentice restorer at the London National Gallery has to prove first that he can see and paint. (If the present lack of connoisseurs among art historians is to be cured, undergraduates ought to be set similar tests before being admitted to the faculty of art history.)'

And he has a footnote at this point -

'Michael Levey, Keeper at the National Gallery, wrote in the The British Journal of Aesthetics (April 1963, p.188) 'Today's art history students are all-knowing and non-seeing.'

Ruhemann, at the time chief Consultant Restorer at the National Gallery, published his book in 1968 - so nothing new then! 

Brian Sewell in the closet

February 6 2013

Image of Brian Sewell in the closet

Picture: Bangor University/Your Paintings

Knowing what a fan of Brian Sewell we are here on AHN, a reader writes:

I thought you might like to see the portrait of him [by John Gregory] in the collection of Bangor University - what connection he has with the college is a mystery to me - and as far as I know it has never been seen on its walls since it was painted in 2004 - last time I saw it it was ignominiously shoved into a broom cupboard off the Senior Reading Common Room in its cardboard packaging. Nor do I know how or why it was painted, from life or not.  At least it's now safely aboard the good ship Your Paintings.

Can anyone from Bangor assure us that Brian is no longer in broom cupboard?

Richard III? (ctd.)

February 6 2013

Video: Press Association

I'm afraid I just don't trust these facial reconstructions from skulls. According to the video above, 70% of the facial recreation from a skull is highly accurate. But then we all have two eyes, a nose and a mouth - that is, our faces all have a great deal in common. It's the tiny details that set us a part. I don't believe we can get details such as the precise length or shape of noses, eyes, eyebrows, lips or ears, even hair colour - all the things which make our faces so distinctive - from a skull. So please treat the face in the above video with some caution. In this other video at The Guardian, the lady behind the recreation says that the face is derived 'only from science', but then immediately contradicts herself by saying she used multiple contemporary references. This exercise would only have been valid had the recreators been given the skull, and not told who it was meant to be. 

Update - here's an interesting article in Acta Biomedica in 2009 on the history of facial reconstruction by Laura Verze from the Department of Anatomy, Pharmacology and Legal Medicine at the University of Turin, Italy. She concludes: 

In conclusion, over the centuries faces have been reconstructed from skulls for different reasons: religion, teaching, and more recently forensics, anthropology and archaeology of ancient or more or less famous people. The techniques are changing, and new more reliable methods are being studied. Nevertheless, it is clear that facial reconstruction methods and their traditional guidelines present some inaccuracies, and the challenge will be to increase the degree of accuracy of facial reconstruction.

Stubbs' Dingo and Kangaroo blocked for export

February 6 2013

Image of Stubbs' Dingo and Kangaroo blocked for export

Picture: Guardian/DCMS

The government has temporarily blocked the export of two important paintings by Stubbs. From The Guardian:

The work is called The Kongouro from New Holland, or The Kangaroo, and the arts minister Ed Vaizey on Tuesday announced an export bar on it and a painting of a dingo by Stubbs.

Vaizey was acting on the recommendation of a committee which monitors the export of important works of art. He deferred a decision on an export licence until at least August.

The two paintings would have offered Britons the first look at the strange creatures from the new world that were being talked about as a result of Captain Cook's expeditions to the Pacific in the late 18th century.

They are likely to be sold to a foreign buyer unless a UK buyer can raise a matching offer of £5.5m. Lord Inglewood, chairman of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, said: "It would be a terrible shame if the UK were to lose these extraordinary paintings to an overseas buyer. They were the British public's first introduction to these exotic animals from the Australasian new world which was opening up at that time."

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