Previous Posts: July 2013

Rembrandt sleeper blocked for export

July 17 2013

Image of Rembrandt sleeper blocked for export

Picture: DCMS

The recently discovered Rembrandt self-portrait, sold last year to the Getty, has been temporarily barred for export. If a UK museum wishes to buy it, it must raise £16.5m by the 15th October. Unlikely, you'd have to say, but best of luck to anyone trying.

Connoisseurship alive and well in Texas

July 16 2013

Video: Rice University*

Congratulations to Melisa Palermo, a PhD student at Rice University at Texas, who has identified a manuscript illumination by Pedro de Palma in the University's collection. From the Rice website:

Using an art historian’s keen eye and analytical skills (art historians call it “connoisseurship”), Palermo was able to identify the previously unattributed manuscript and its image of an Old Testament prophet as the work of 15th-century Spanish painter Pedro de Palma. Hand-drawn on a large vellum sheet and beautifully illustrated, the manuscript had been donated to Rice in 1949 by New York City bookseller and antiquarian Paul Gottschalk and is housed in the library’s Woodson Research Center as part of the Illuminated Sacred Music Manuscript Collection.

*via the Association of Art Historians

Kunsthal theft trial

July 16 2013

Image of Kunsthal theft trial

Picture: AFP via Art Daily

Last year in Rotterdam thieves stole seven important pictures by the likes of Picasso and Monet from the Kunsthal. Now, even though no pictures have been recovered, six Romanians are to stand trial for the theft in Bucharest. More on Art Daily here.

Update - the mother of one of the alleged thieves claims she burnt the paintings. From AP:

A Romanian museum is analyzing ashes found in a stove to see if they are the remains of seven paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and others that were stolen last year from the Netherlands, an official said Tuesday.

Prosecutor spokeswoman Gabriela Chiru told The Associated Press that Romania's National History Museum is examining the ashes found in the stove of Olga Dogaru. She is the mother of Radu Dogaru, one of three Romanian suspects charged with stealing the paintings from Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery in a brazen daytime heist.

It was the biggest art theft in more than a decade in the Netherlands. The stolen works have an estimated value of tens of millions of dollars if they were sold at auction.

Dogaru told investigators she was scared for her son after he was arrested in January and buried the art in an abandoned house and then in a cemetery in the village of Caracliu. She said she later dug them up and burned them in February after police began searching the village for the stolen works.

Update - Mrs Dogaru is not the first art thief mum to do this. In 2002 a German woman chopped up her son's stolen art, and dumped it into the Rhine.

More cuts at English Heritage (ctd.)

July 16 2013

Image of More cuts at English Heritage (ctd.)


I recently mentioned the latest round of cuts to English Heritage's budget, which has taken repeated hits now for almost a decade. A reader has kindly had a go at doing the maths on what those cuts amount to over time, and it's not good:

Based on Bank of England CPI data, the English Heritage budget of £127,901,000 in 2004 is equivalent to £160,556,000 in 2013 British pounds.  That means the English Heritage budget of £83,056,000 in 2013 represents a 52 percent decline in real terms (i.e., adjusted for inflation) from its level in 2004.


Update - a reader writes:

Concerning those English Heritage budget cuts, I cannot help thinking what a terrible reflection this is on the effectiveness of that organisation's leadership. As EH itself stated in evidence to Parliament in September 2010, although EH's budget had been falling since 1997, DCMS's as a whole had risen, as had many other arms-length organistions funded by DCMS. What does that say about EH's ability to get its point across to government?

Plug! & Test your Connoisseurship

July 16 2013

Image of Plug! & Test your Connoisseurship

Picture: Emma Rutherford

Here's a photo taken here at Philip Mould & Co last night, where we were sorting exhibits for our forthcoming loan exhibition on... can you guess?

Clue; he was called 'the prince of limners'.

Update - yes, you nearly all got it, Samuel Cooper. More plugs masquerading as news on this soon.

Robots that paint

July 16 2013

Video: via

And not too badly by the look of it. This one, called E-David, even washes his own brushes.

Update - a reader writes:

It may walk like a duck, quack like a duck, even roll water off it's back... but it ain't a duck.

Auction action from Finland

July 15 2013


Predictable, but amusing nonetheless.

Damage at the Hotel Lambert

July 15 2013

Galerie Hercule de l'Hôtel Lambert, après l... by latribunedelart

Video: Tribune de l'Art

Didier Rykner of the Tribune de l'Art has had a go at inspecting the damage to Le Brun's famous frescos at the Hotel Lambert, recently damaged by fire.  More here

Curious judgement allows church to sell $2.85m painting.

July 12 2013

Image of Curious judgement allows church to sell $2.85m painting.

Picture: TAN

Some time ago I mentioned the case of a large painting by Benjamin West, which used to hang in a church in the City of London, St Stephen's Walbrook. In about 1987 the church removed the painting, and has been seeking permission to sell it. It has been locked away in storage ever since. A recent Church of England court judgement means they are now able to, and it has (reports The Art Newspaper) been bought by an anonymous foundation for $2.85m. It will be loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

I've obtained a copy of the judgement, given on 10th July, by His Honour Judge Nigel Seed. Much of it is based on some very strange logic. Here's the conclusion:

'any connection it may be said to have had to the parish was illegally established and to the aesthetic detriment of the church and that it should be sold to be displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.'

Let's look at the judgement in a little more detail. First, Judge Seed said that the original installation of the painting, in 1776, was 'illegal', because the then parish priest, Thomas Wilson, did not get the necessary 'faculty permission' to place it in the church. Consequently, although its removal in 1987 was also done without 'faculty permission', it was not removed illegally, because 'legally' the picture was never there. Judge Seed seems to think that in 1776 parish priests and the Church were as scrupulous in observing bureacracy as they are today. I bet you, however, that if I were to pick at random ten objects that have been installed in churches in the 18th Century or before, many of them would have been placed there ' illegally' under current church rules.

Secondly, Judge Seed was convinced that putting the West painting into the church was:

'to the detriment of the interior and so would its re-introduction be.'

Now this is a purely aesthetic argument, hardly one for a court of law, and although Judge Seed was right to say that West's painting interrupted Wren's original design, I can't see that that is a reason to remove the picture. Otherwise we'd have to remove anything installed in a church after the original building was made. All those pesky memorials in Westminster Abbey, breaking up the architect's original gothic vision? Take them out!

Then we come to the question of whether Benjamin West was any good, and by extension, whether the painting is any good. The judge was apparently impressed by the evidence of Mr Andrew Wilton FSA, of Tate Britain, that;

...few would regard [West] within the pantheon of great British artists. [...] that several founder members and past presidents [of the RA] have been forgotten [...] the picture in question is not one of the great works of British art and it is an intrusion in the church of 100 years later.

Here's the thing about the painting in question though - nobody really knows what it looks like. This blog and other outlets have not been able to publish a reproduction of it, because none is available. We have to make do here with a print. I find it curious that a picture can be disregarded as a forgettable work of art, when the wider public and art historical community has hardly had a chance to study it, and yet we are asked to accept that it is important enough to be displayed in one of America's finest museums with a $2.85m price tag. For all I know, the picture could be West's lost masterpiece.

Then we come to the question of why the picture should be allowed to leave not just the church, but the country. Judge Seed says:

'no location is available within the City of London. [...] I am satisfied that it would be seen and appreciated by more people [in Boston] than it would in St Stephen Walbrook. I am also satisfied that from a curatorial point of view a picture would be better cared for and maintained there than in the church.

Whoa, hold on Judge! Are we to accept that a painting should automatically go on display in the place where the most people would see it? And isn't it a bit odd to compare a church in the City of London with one of the most popular museums in America? Isn't there a halfway house? Tate Britain, perhaps? 

But wait, Judge Seed isn't bothered about any UK national heritage argument. Noting the sale of a Benjamin West altarpiece from Winchester Cathedral to the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1900, the judge says 'the precedent of an English church selling a religious picture by West to an American art institution was set then and not by me now.' On that basis (to pick a current example), because Catherine the Great was allowed to buy countless Rembrandts, Rubens and Van Dycks from Houghton Hall in 1779, it's ok to let any work of art leave the country now.

Update - a reader writes:

The Benjamin West is very cheap at under $3 million, as it's such an important painting for the City of London, wouldn't it be good if the Guildhall art gallery bought it, it can't be exported without a licence, so there can be no excuse.

Josh Spero, editor of Spears Magazine, tweets:

Why so vehement. Can't the church sell its property? It flogs deconsecrated churches.

But not overseas, Josh.

Update II - another reader writes (vehemently):

St Stephen Walbrook was listed Grade One in 1950; even if the late Chad Varah [the then priest] had applied for a faculty in 1987, English Heritage (or the 1980s version) might have objected as the painting had already been part of the decorative fabric of the building for two hundred years; during that period, no one seems to have raised the matter of any 'missing faculty'.  I am uncertain if English Heritage have any jurisdiction over the C of E, but this story stinks. 

Bugger Boston, the picture survived the Blitz and should stay in Britain.

Update III - a reader observes that the West painting is not the only interloper in Wren's church:

If the painting's removal is based upon it's stylistic and aesthetic incongruity within a purely architectural context, then why is Henry Moore's slightly deflated modernist marshmallow [the altar, officially, 'Circular Altar, 1972'] allowed to remain in situ slap bang under the stunning coffered dome and passing itself of as an altar of sorts? West's painting would surely have a stylistic consanguinity closer to the blend of classicism and the baroque that inspired Wren?

And on that Henry Moore altar, another reader notes that the lack of 'faculty' for the West painting need not matter:

Judge Seed should not have attached significance to the apparent lack of a faculty for installation; the Church of England's Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved (founded 1963) has the power to grant a restrospective faculty. It did so for the Palumbo-Moore altar at stephen walbrook.

Another reader comments on the 'illegality' of the original West installation, and notes that:

[...] the Vestry’s thanks in 1814 seems to indicate that they had accepted the gift by conduct. And although I’m no expert in church law, one would have thought that estoppel would come into play. But if the judge is right, isn’t the logical conclusion that the church cannot take the proceeds?

Good point - if the picture was, as the judge says, never 'legally' installed, then surely it is not the church's to sell. The judge did indeed reserve judgement on this point, and it would be an appropriately ironic end to the case if the Church was compelled to give its windfall to, say, the heirs of Thomas Wilson, the rector who commissioned the painting from West.

Another reader despairs:

I am shocked although not surprised by the judgement. As The Art Newspaper points out, it could set a dangerous precedent for other less wealthy churches which want to raise money by selling their treasures. As a rare example of a Protestant altarpiece from this era, in its original setting if not location, the painting should be celebrated and I think it is disgraceful that an expert was brought in to denigrate Benjamin West and thereby the need to keep the painting in this church. If all paintings in British churches were subjected to judgements on the nationality of the artist, the quality of the work and their compatiblity with the architecture, we would have almost nothing left. As I mentioned before, it would have seemed appropriate to link the Benjamin West with J.S Copley's Siege of Gibraltar in the Guildhall Art Gallery, perhaps by shared ownership with the church.

 Clearly the church authorities don't like it or want to keep it and will never reinstate it over the altar. But they seem to have forgotten that in 1987, the Henry Moore altar was installed by overturning a decision of the London Diocesan Consistory Court, and it can in no way be said to represent Wren's original intentions, so hopefully will also be sold to the States in a few years time.

Update IV:

An alert reader tells me that the picture was offered for sale at Sotheby's London in November 2001, with an estimate of just £50-£70,000, but was withdrawn before the auction. A colour illustration can be found in the catalogue, and a black and white is available in the Staley & von Erffa catalogue raisonne of West's works.

Update V - a reader sees the matter in a more profound light:

The church was built for the parishioners to worship the glory of God and the gift of the painting was a show of worship too.. Can worship now be sold?  Apparently yes.!

Update VI - I'm told that the petitioners against the removal and sale, including the senior counsel, were all acting on a pro bono basis.

Extensions ahoy at the Fitzwilliam?

July 12 2013

Image of Extensions ahoy at the Fitzwilliam?

Picture: ArtFund

Interesting interview on the ArtFund website with Tim Knox, the new director of the Fitzwilliam Museum. Hearteningly, it seems that when he arrived in Cambridge, he headed straight for the basement:

[...] it’s like a mini Louvre, as we have paintings as well as antiquities and wonderful Chinese things and even contemporary works – it’s a wonderful change of pace. I’m really startled by the collections and going round the stores I’m astonished by the things which aren’t on display and of course that is going to be one of the challenges in the next few years – how you get more gallery space.

Knox has good form with his successful refurbishment of the Soane Museum. Prepare for exciting things...

£10m Tate donation

July 12 2013

Image of £10m Tate donation

Picture: Tate

Well done to Tate Modern for securing a bumper £10m donation from Eyal Ofer for their new extension. More here in the FT.

How to print a bronze sculpture

July 12 2013

Grim news from Paris

July 10 2013

Image of Grim news from Paris

Picture: Bridgeman Art Library

Paris' famous Hotel Lambert, home to art treasures such as Charles Le Brun's Hercules frescos, above, has been badly damaged by fire. As is so often the case, the building was being renovated at the time. 

Update - the latest here in The Art Newspaper

National Gallery exhibitions 2014 - Rembrandt & Veronese

July 10 2013

Image of National Gallery exhibitions 2014 - Rembrandt & Veronese

Picture: NG

Here's the list, just announced:

Sainsbury Wing

Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance, 19 February – 11 May 2014

Colour, 18 June – 7 September 2014

Rembrandt: The Final Years, 15 October 2014 - 18 January 2015

Sunley Room

Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting, 30 April – 21 September 2014

Rooms 4-8 and 11-12

Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice 19 March – 15 June 2014

Late Rembrandt and Veronese will be the Big Ones, I guess. On the former:

'Rembrandt: The Final Years' is organised by the National Gallery in collaboration with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. It is the first ever in-depth, focused exploration of Rembrandt’s late works across all media.

The exhibition will bring together approximately 40 paintings, 20 drawings and 30 prints by the master, to offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the passion and innovation of Rembrandt’s late works.

Far from diminishing as he aged, his creativity gathered new energy in the final years of his life: from the 1650s until his death in 1669 he consciously searched for a new style that was more expressive and more meaningful. He freely manipulated printing and painting techniques in order to give traditional subjects new and original interpretations – endowing his work with rare profundity that has influenced countless printmakers, painters and draftsmen in the generations that followed. The exhibition will highlight the formal and iconographic concerns that occupied Rembrandt during these years, and inspired unprecedented creativity. Soulful, honest and deeply moving, in many ways it is the art of these late years that indelibly defines our image of Rembrandt the man and the artist.

The exhibition will include key works lent by European and American museums (including the National Gallery of Art, Washington and the Mauritshuis, The Hague).

The exhibition will run in London from 15 October 2014 to 18 January 2015 and in Amsterdam from 12 February to 17 May 2015.

And on Veronese, which will be in seperate rooms in the main gallery:

Paolo Veronese (Verona, 1528 – Venice, 1588), is one of the most important painters of the Venetian Renaissance. His paintings are magnificent visions of the opulence and spectacle of 16th-century Venetian life. He created works ranging from complex fresco decorations of villas and palaces to large-scale altarpieces, smaller devotional paintings, mythological, allegorical and historical pictures, and portraits.

The National Gallery owns 10 paintings by Veronese, from a wide range of periods in the artist’s career, and including masterpieces such as the 'Family of Darius before Alexander' and the four 'Allegories of Love'.

This exhibition, the first monographic show on the artist ever held in the United Kingdom, will put these important works in context by displaying them next to other major paintings by the artist, lent by European and American museums (Musée du Louvre, Museo Nacional del Prado, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Chrysler Museum of Art, The State Art Museum of Florida). Visitors will be able to enjoy the monumental nature of these works as they are being displayed in the heart of the National Gallery.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Veronese’s paintings were avidly bought by collectors and eagerly studied by artists. Carracci, Rubens, Tiepolo and Watteau are among the many artists who are heavily indebted to Veronese’s art.

New research on Veronese’s works is being carried out especially for the exhibition, and the catalogue is intended to become the key and most up-to-date publication in English on the artist.

This exhibition will provide a unique opportunity to admire about 45 key works by one of the most significant, influential and beautiful painters of the Italian Renaissance.

More here.

New website on Flemish Baroque art

July 10 2013

Image of New website on Flemish Baroque art


This looks interesting, a new website on Baroque Flemish art. The site gathers together works from museums across Flanders, and has notes of lectures and new research.

Readers won't be surprised to hear that I went straight to the Van Dyck section. There's some good stuff on there, though this portrait of Abbe Scaglia is not thought to be autograph in the latest catalogue raisonne, and is most likely a copy after the original in the National Gallery, London. Also, it's not absolutely certain, as the website's biography of Van Dyck states, that Rubens called Van Dyck his 'best pupil'. As the recent 'Young Van Dyck' exhibition catalogue pointed out, Rubens did not explicitly name Van Dyck in the letter concerned, and in any case Van Dyck was Rubens' assistant, not his pupil inthe conventional sense. 

Guffwatch - could do better

July 10 2013

Image of Guffwatch - could do better


A reader alerts me to the work of an artist called John Russell, who has taken a series of contemporary art press releases and 'corrected' them into normal English, in the manner of a schoolmaster.

The Russians are buying!

July 9 2013

Image of The Russians are buying!

Picture: Sotheby's, via Telegraph

So says Colin Gleadell in The Telegraph:

[...] it was at Sotheby’s that the full strength of Russian bidding came into play, accounting for 30 per cent of lots in the main evening sale. Among these was the top lot, a vividly Expressionist St Dominic in Prayer by El Greco, which sold for a record £9.2 million. The same Russian bidder also claimed a crucifixion scene by El Greco for £3.4 million. Although Sotheby’s did not identify exactly which lots were bought by Russians, it would seem that the list was fairly eclectic and would include a 15th-century Madonna and Child by Francesco Botticini, two paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder, and an 18th-century Venetian canal scene by Marieschi. The number of Russian-speaking telephone bidders was also overwhelming – so much so that the auctioneer, Henry Wyndham, christened one Olga, which was not her real name.

Sotheby’s co-chairman of Old Masters, Alex Bell, said afterwards that he thought the market had entered a new phase with this sale. Doing their homework over the weekend, Sotheby’s now estimates that in the past month, during which time they have taken nearly 290 million pounds in London, bidders from 75 different countries have registered with them. One in 6 were from Asia, Russia or the Middle East, and a similar percentage were bidding at Sotheby’s for the first time.

Prado goes LED, and unveils a new Ribera

July 9 2013

Image of Prado goes LED, and unveils a new Ribera

Picture: Museo Prado

The Prado Museum has announced that it is to convert its galleries to LED lighting. These give a much more natural sense of light, and as I've noted here before, it's probably as close to daylight as you can get. Mind you, there was that slightly alarming study into how LED lights cause some yellow pigments to go brown...

Still, basking happily for now in the Prado's new LEDs is a recently cleaned and newly attributed work by Jose de Ribera, Saint Jerome Writing. The picture was long thought to be by Esteban March, but recent restoration by the Prado has prompted a rethink. From the Prado's press release:

Formerly in the collection of Isabella Farnese, this work has been on deposit since 1940 at the Casa-Museo Colón in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. That loan agreement was cancelled last year in order for the work to be studied and restored.

Saint Jerome writing was in the Casa-Museo Colón in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria with an attribution to the Valencian painter Esteban March. The expert on Caravaggism, Gianni Papi, has, however, recently identified and published it as an early work by José de Ribera, basing his attribution on the work’s close stylistic and compositional similarities with various works painted by Ribera around 1615, including some of the paintings in his series on “The Senses”. The present painting shares their descriptive preciseness and markedly tenebrist use of light, the origins of which lie in Ribera’s highly personal interpretation of Caravaggio’s models. In the light of the painting’s importance, it has been brought to the Prado for restoration and display in the galleries devoted to naturalism and Ribera. To replace the painting, the Casa-Museo Colón has received the long-term deposit of Saint Andrew, also by Ribera. From the viewpoint of the Prado’s collections, this is an important addition, given that together with his painting of The Raising of Lazarus, it will allow the public to gain an idea of the originality and high quality of Ribera’s work during his early years, which is a unique period in his career and one not represented in the Prado’s collection until around twelve years ago.

The painting arrived at the Museum with problems around its edges due to damp and an old attack of woodworm. The pictorial surface was generally well preserved but had an abnormal appearance due to the oxidization of the varnishes, surface irregularities caused by an old lining and an earlier selective cleaning that had concentrated on some zones to the detriment of others. During the restoration process the edges have been consolidated and straightened, dirt and oxidized varnishes have been removed, some small losses have been replaced and the painting has been cleaned. The result is the recovery of numerous spatial planes and as a consequence, a sense of volume in the saint’s figure.

Buy a pipe with Rubens on it

July 9 2013

Image of Buy a pipe with Rubens on it

Picture: Nice Encheres

For the Old Master collector who has everything, the perfect Christmas gift: a pipe with Rubens' head on it! Coming up for sale in Nice at Nice Encheres, lot 2, estimate EUR150-250. 

Burlington ads to go online

July 9 2013

Image of Burlington ads to go online

Picture: The Burlington Magazine

The Burlington Magazine is to put all its adverts online, going back as far as 1903. Very useful for researching provenance and past attributions. The poject is being funded by the Monument Trust. More here.

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