Previous Posts: June 2013

What is a "Museum Price"?

June 18 2013

Image of What is a "Museum Price"?

Pic: Christies

Here at our gallery it means a super low discount price! But does it mean something very different for auction houses? 

A reader reminds me that two of the pictures on offer in the forthcoming Old Master sales, the Jan Steen and the Vernet, were, as tax exempted items of cultural interest, formally made available to UK museums some months before being sent to auction. Each picture was listed at what now transpires to be the upper estimate: the Steen [above] was being marketed to museums at a 'guide price' of £10m, and is now estimated by Christie's at £7-10m (and I'll eat my trousers if it gets much beyond the low estimate), while the Vernet was on offer at £5m, which is the high end of Sotheby's estimate of £3-5m.

As the Arts Council warned any museums interested in the pictures:

The practice of the auction houses is usually to pitch this at their high auction estimate or, sometimes, even higher.

Update: my earlier version of this story got the estimate for the Steen wrong - apologies!

Update II: as my fellow dealer Johnny Van Haeften often says; 'with dealers the price can only ever come down - but at auction it only goes up'.

Conservation conference, 12th July, London

June 17 2013

Image of Conservation conference, 12th July, London

Picture: BAPCR

This looks like fun, a one day conference in London on '50 years of painting conservation':

The Picture So Far...50 Years in Painting Conservation is a landmark retrospective of the painting conservation profession and practice. Such a comprehensive review has not been presented in this country before and the event has broad appeal, not only to conservators but to curators, art historians, dealers, and collectors. The conference will also address the present challenges facing painting conservation and will conclude with a chaired panel discussion on our future directions. We are very pleased to have attracted pre-eminent international speakers (Nicholas Penny, David Bomford, Richard Wolbers, Joyce Hill Stoner among others) who will offer an extremely valuable insight into this, one of the key professions within the ’fine art family’.

More details here. You'll need £120 to attend though...

Spanish Old Masters at Sotheby's

June 17 2013

Video: Sotheby's

More on the two El Grecos coming up at Sotheby's in London next month. 

Further Sotheby's Old Master videos available here.

Cuts ahoy! (ctd.)

June 17 2013

We don't yet know the exact figures, but here in the UK, the Department for Culture is briefing as 'a victory' a cut of 8% to their budget. It's certainly true that things could have been a lot worse, and with increased funding from the National Lottery*, arts and heritage bodies in the UK look to be reasonably well protected. From the Museums Association website:

"The Treasury and the chancellor have listened very carefully to a case given with great vim and passion.

“5% is a real result within the DCMS overall cut. It's still of course going to require some tough decisions, but it is a good result for the arts council and the DCMS in the way that they have put the case."

The arts council was asked to model cuts of 5%, 10% and 15%. An ACE spokeswoman said that the model was “very crude, and not definite”, but a 5% cut might reduce the number of organisations in receipt of grant-in-aid from over 700 to around 400-450.

Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, said: “This cut, on top of the previous ones, pushes some national museums in England close to the tipping point where large areas of their work will have to be abandoned and facilities closed down.

“It will also impact on Renaissance funding and may reduce the number of Major Partner museums.”

The announcement follows cuts in 2010 to DCMS' core budget from £1.4bn to £1.1bn and cuts of 50% to its administration, then a further £34m in cuts to its core budget in December last year.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Scottish National Party's Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop has given her response to Maria Miller's argument that the arts should be seen primarily as an economic commodity:

Recently, the Culture Secretary for the UK Government set out a different approach to culture and asked the culture sector to help her make the arguments about the economic impact of culture in the context of economic growth.

I don’t agree. That is not the future I choose.

The Scottish Government already accepts the case for the role of government in supporting the cultural sector. We actively support the case for public subsidy of the arts. We understand that culture and heritage have a value in and of themselves.

* Regular readers will not be surprised to hear me claim part copyright for this policy!

Plug! New Lely exhibition

June 14 2013

Image of Plug! New Lely exhibition

Picture: Philip Mould & Company

Please indulge me while I plug a forthcoming selling exhibition at Philip Mould & Co. of works by Sir Peter Lely and his circle. The exhibition will coincide with Master Paintings Week (28th June-5th July) here in London, which is when London's best Old Master dealers show off their wares with exhibitions and extended opening times.  

We'll be announcing more details nearer the time, including an exciting royal discovery. Here for now though is a newly discovered portrait by Lely from very early in his career. In fact, given the Dutch fashion and handling of the drapery, it was probably painted before he came to England (where he was by 1643). The sitter is unknown, but the picture's unfinished state and overall intimacy make me think that it might show a member of his family. The picture isn't, you might say, the most commercial picture, but sometimes Philip and I can't bear to let a miscatalogued picture by a favourite artist slip by, and feel that we have to rescue them. 

We will also display newly found works by Lely's contemporaries, including John Michael Wright and Mary Beale. 

How do you explain connoisseurship?

June 14 2013

Image of How do you explain connoisseurship?

Picture: British Museum

Answer - with great difficulty. In a must-read article, however, Neil Jeffares has had a go on his blog. He concludes that it is almost impossible to explain the workings of the connoisseurial mind, for:

[...] the lightbulb in a single [connoisseur's] head is invisible to the rest of us, and indistinguishable from self-delusion (except by inference from that expert’s track record).

A good track record is always the best way to measure a connoisseur. And remember the crucial difference between a 'nein-sager' and a connoisseur: it's no good just listening, as many do, to those who do nothing but reject attributions. The exclusionist has to prove himself by saying yes to things too.

Update - I've updated the earlier post I linked to above, but the point is important, so I'll mention it here as well. The German art historian Max Friedlander (1867-1958) is often cited as a proponent of instinctive connoisseurship. He wrote:

“The way in which an intuitive verdict is reached can, from the nature of things, only be described inadequately. A picture is shown to me. I glance at it, and declare it to be a work by Memling, without having proceeded to an examination of its full complexity of artistic form.”

Art history's verdict on Friedlander, and his connoisseurial method, has not been overly kind, because it is considered that 'only half his attributions' have stood the test of time. However, this may be unjust criticism, for I found in Brian Sewell's autobiography an intriguing reference to Friedlander stating that only his pre-1933 and post 1945 attributions should be taken seriously. After that, when Germany was ruled by the Nazis, he was obliged to give optimistic attributions to Nazi collectors. He also helped Jewish families raise funds, he said, by issuing certificates that would make their art more valuable. 

Update II - a reader writes, most usefully:

The problem Friedlander had is the lack of documentation (at the time and since) regarding the Flemish 'primitives' - for example, the only documentation on Mostaert is van Mander (known to be suspect as mostly recorded via word of mouth) and a handful of references to works in collections - there are no signed works apart from a suspected signed work in Rome, so Mostaert's entire oeuvre is pretty much guessed from titles of works mentioned by van Mander and an Ecce Homo listed in Margaret of Austria's inventory. There's certainly no conclusive evidence that any works are actually by Mostaert. The same goes for most early Flemish - so essentially Friedlander had a ton of photographs that he had to arrange into some sense, and that for me is a good basis that early Flemish art historians can work from. I'm sure given databases, science etc that Friedlander would have been more than happy to revise many of his attributions. Putting a name to a group of iconographically/compositionally similar works was in a way better than leaving them all as anons. It was a fascinating period for art history and Friedlander was in the enviable/unenviable position of having the reputation of a connoisseur and having pretty much everyman and his dog that owned an old master sending him photographs on a daily basis after an opinion.

Sleeper alert

June 13 2013

Image of Sleeper alert


Dr Luuk Pijl writes from Holland:

The small copper enclosed is by Johan König (1586-1642). It was knocked down for 120.000 euro an hour ago at a sale in Toulouse against an estimate of 700/1000 euro, catalogued as Flemish school.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

June 13 2013

Another modern art forgery ring has been broken up, this time in Germany. They were faking Russian stuff (again). From The Guardian:

German police say they have broken up a multimillion-pound international forgery ring that specialised in Russian avant-garde artists.

Federal police said in a statement that 100 officers raided businesses, homes and art galleries across the country including in Munich, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Cologne on Wednesday and Thursday. Searches were also carried out in Israel and Switzerland.

Two suspects, aged 67 and 41, were taken into custody as alleged leaders of the group of six forgers.

Police said that since 2005 the ring has produced and sold more than 400 faked paintings as "previously unknown works" attributed to artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich for "four- to seven-figure euro sums" each.

How do you get into the RA Summer Exhibition?

June 13 2013

Image of How do you get into the RA Summer Exhibition?

Picture: Getty/BBC

If you didn't see it, there was a splendidly crafted Culture Show programme on the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, still available on iPlayer. It shows how the Academicians select works from the thousands on offer - each work gets, it seems, a glance of seconds and, if rejected, is marked on the back with a crushing 'x' in chalk. There are moving sequences with three artists submitting works, including a delightful old lady called Nancy Thomas. 

Apparently anyone can have a go, and, intriguingly, presenter Alastair Sooke reveals himself to be a closet artist - at the beginning of the show he says he has submitted work to the RA himself. I wonder, should AHN submit something? Difficult, seeing as I struggle to draw even a smiley face.

Masterpieces at Christie's

June 13 2013

Video: Christie's

I'm annoyed to have missed the 'Masterpieces' exhibition at Christie's, which was on last week. The Grumpy Art Historian liked it, though as he says:

It was billed as a 'curated exhibition', but was mostly just the most expensive upcoming lots from the major summer sales.

Still, there's no better way of demonstrating the extraordinary quality of some of things you can buy this summer in London, many of which are museum standard. The snappy, if slightly effusive video above gives you an idea of what was on show, and I look forward to next year's offering. Full marks to Christie's for coming up with the idea for an exhibition like this. 

Rebuilding Berlin's City Palace

June 13 2013

Image of Rebuilding Berlin's City Palace

Picture: Die Welt

In Berlin, they've begun rebuilding the 'City Palace', which was destroyed after the Second World War. There's an interesting slide show on the EUR590 million project here

What's a 'political artist'?

June 13 2013

Image of What's a 'political artist'?

Picture: Mirror

Answer, a bad one, if this offering from 'political artist' Kaya Mar of Kate Middleton is anything to go by. 


June 13 2013

Image of "Perception-changing"

Picture: Telegraph

I post this, from the Telegraph, without comment:

The [National] Trust is hosting two “perception-changing” events this month, featuring displays of the risqué and racy danceform, as part of an attempt to appear less “buttoned-up” and to attract new, younger visitors to its properties. It follows a dismal year for the Trust in 2012, when the wet weather was blamed for a four per cent drop in visitor numbers.

One of the events is being held at Killerton, an 18th century house set in a 6,400 acre estate near Exeter, which until now has been best known for its collection of historical costumes.

Burlesque shows, which have enjoyed a revival in recent years, involve titillating performances by women in ornate, tasselled garments. However, the Trust assures that the Devon event will feature “tasteful dancing” from the performers, who will be “showing off their corsets, feathers and pearls”.

Not art history...

June 12 2013


A small diversion into history here, for I happened to catch a moving moment on Yesterday in Parliament last night, and thought I would share it with any First World War buffs out there. It's best to watch the speech of Labour MP Paul Flynn (on the plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the War) in the video above, starting at 9:54. But if you can't, here's what he said:

The first world war is not an occasion to celebrate. [...] I have a different tale to tell, but it is relevant and true, about a young man who volunteered at the age of 15. He was full of optimism and a great patriot, and went to war believing that it was going to lead to dignity, glory and honour. It did not; it led to disease, degradation, bitterness and early death at the age of 43.

That young man was a machine gunner. The belief on both sides was that machine gunners were never taken prisoner, because they were responsible for killing hundreds and possibly thousands of people. He found himself in a machine gun nest—a foxhole—gravely injured, and the others were dead. That was in April 1918, when the Germans broke through on the Messines ridge. His life was saved. He heard a German patrol coming to him and took out his rosary beads to pray, waiting for the bullet to blow out his brains. He could not get out of the hole, where he was identified as a machine gunner because the machine gun was lying across his body. However, he was not shot. The German officer, and two others, carried him across no man’s land and his life was saved. He was ever grateful to the Germans for the rest of his life.

He went there to serve the cause of his country that he loved and to kill the Hun, who were slaughtering Belgian babies. Other small nations had a different army experience at the time. He returned to civilian life and found that he was on a pension. He could not do what he called a man’s job ever again. In the mid-1930s, his pitiful pension was reduced by an ungrateful Government, who changed the reason for his pension from saying that his ill health was attributed to his war wound to saying that it was aggravated by it, although he went in as a perfectly fit 15-year-old.

The man was my father.

Extraordinary to think, even after the death of the last veteran, that the First World War is still so tangible for many.

Update: in case you're interested in my views on the origins of WW1 (!), you can read here why Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary in 1914, was listed at No.1 in my book 'Crap MPs' (available here at a bargain £5.99!)


June 12 2013

Image of 1,365

Picture: Kyle Chayka/Artinfo

That's the official number of Hirst spot paintings in existence, according to the new official catalogue raisonne. Like you really wanted to know!

Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain (ctd.)

June 12 2013

Image of Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain (ctd.)

Picture: Telegraph

I mentioned earlier the exciting discovery of two oil sketches by Mary Beale, which have gone on display at Tate Britain. The sleuth who found them (in a Paris antiques shop) is art historian and connoisseur extraordinaire James Mulraine, and he has sent AHN some further insights on the pictures:

Bendor has very kindly invited me, as the guy who discovered them, to say something about Mary Beale’s two sketches of the painter’s son Bartholomew c.1660, unveiled in Tate Britain’s BP Walk Through British Art. I am honoured, tho Tabitha Barber’s brilliant online catalogue entry could not be bettered.

They hang with Tate Britain’s other Beale, Young woman in profile, perhaps the studio assistant Keaty Trioche c.1681. These pieces that Beale painted for herself and her family have in Bendor’s words a ‘casual familiarity not often seen in seventeenth century English portraiture.’ Tate Britain visitors described them to me as ‘everyday,’ ‘real’ and ‘modern’. 

How influential were they though? They were largely unknown outside the Beales’ circle and dispersed after their deaths. In the next gallery William Hogarth’s Heads of Six of the Artist’s Servants c.1750 – 55 has the same unpretentious humanity. Hogarth would have seen a set of Beale’s private work. His friend and patron Bishop Benjamin Hoadly married Mary Beale’s star pupil, Hogarth’s friend, the portraitist Sarah Curtis. Sarah brought nine Beales with her including a self-portrait, a portrait of Charles Beale Sr and ‘Two Children in a Landscape’, perhaps Bartholomew and Charles Jr.

Did Beale make an impression on Hogarth? If more of his work c.1740 was like the Stuart-retro Portrait of the Actor James Quin 1739 (Tate Britain) you’d say yes, quite probably. It’s not that simple. But there is an affinity of mood. The ‘sobriety, energy, directness and sincerity’ that Mark Hallet sees in Hogarth’s mature portraits describes Mary Beale’s as well. Perhaps his visits to the Hoadlys nourished him when he was trying to create a distinctly ‘English’ portraiture. Their godly good cheer must have had a flavour of Charles and Mary Beale’s household, and Sarah Hoadly would have preserved Beale’s memory as well as her painting.

Fancy a fully-funded PhD?

June 12 2013

Then sign up to the National Gallery's research programme for your chance to win. The two topics are:

1. Patronage, Acquisition and Display: Contextualising the Art Collections of Longford Castle during the Long Eighteenth Century

Birkbeck College, University of London (School of Arts)/The National Gallery, London

2. Sir Philip Hendy (1900-1980) director and scholar in Leeds and London 1934-1967: the acquisition and display of art and curatorial practices in ages of austerity

University of Leeds/The National Gallery, London

More details here at the Association of Art Historians.

Update - if you want to do the one on Hendy, a reader sends in this helpful head start:

While Hendy was responsible for some major acquisitions over his long tenure (1946-1967), what’s striking is how many mistakes he made.

Letting David’s Napoleon in his Study go in favour of purchasing this Tiepolo sketch: he seems to have had a particular interest in 18thc Italian works.

Acquiring the only wrong “Rembrandt” from Chatsworth.

And a Giorgione which is substantially not original (putting it politely), even if it could definitely be attributed to him.

Then there’s the Delacroix which never was, and, similarly, the Pontormo  and the Cavallino which turned out, quite quickly, not to be so.

Also a Batoni which, in near forty years of visiting the National Gallery, has never been exhibited in the main rooms.

And there was the controversies over the Renoir dancers at £163,000 in 1961 and the early version of Rubens’ Judgement – when, again, his great Daniel in the Lions’ Den went to Washington

On the plus side, there’s the Burlington Cartoon and getting extra money out of HM Treasury – at a time when was possible to do so – to help buy the Uccello St George*, Monet’s large Waterlilies and Cezanne’s Large Bathers.

*which, every time I look at it, I think, 'was this not made in the last hundred years?' The version in Paris is much more convincing. 

Old Master catalogues online

June 11 2013

Image of Old Master catalogues online

Picture: Christie's

It's soon going to be my favourite time of year - Old Master sales galore - and the London auction catalogues are now all online. Christie's have amassed good selection of big names this year: a £5m-£7m Jan Steen; a £1.5m-£2.5m Rubens sketch many of you might know from the Ashmolean, where it has been on loan; a small and unpublished (but undoubtedly right) head by Titian [above]; and a Canaletto of the Doge's Palace at £4m-£6m. Sotheby's highlights include two El Grecos, one of St Dominic at Prayer (£3m-£5m), and a Christ on the Cross with the same estimate.

Guffwatch - Tate Trustee meeting special

June 11 2013

Image of Guffwatch - Tate Trustee meeting special

Picture: Telegraph

A reader has alerted me to the latest minutes of the Tate Trustees. The first thing to notice is that most of the interesting, and even less interesting, information is kept secret from the public. You get things like this:

11. e. Trustees were presented with the principles Information has been exempted under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 20003.

Even a report (6.1.c) on National Gallery Trustees being invited to the opening of Tate Britain is exempted from release 'under Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000'. Perhaps there was a sensitive discussion on canapes.

Still, there are gems, like this:

1.d. Trustees endorsed the principles of Tate’s long-term Vision document, and recommended developments following discussion at the Away Day. They discussed the importance of finding a clear and outward-facing expression of purpose, demonstrating relevance and the importance of Tate as an institution that takes risks on behalf of society.

So next time you go and look at the Turner Collection, remember to be grateful for all the risks Tate is taking on your behalf. The old rule of determining just how Guffy something is, of course, is to see if the opposite makes any sense at all: would you ever contemplate producing a 'muddled and introverted expression of purpose'?

We also learn of further cuts to Tate's budget:

9.c. They [the Trustees] were informed of the news from the DCMS that in the budget there was likely to be a further cut of 1% in 2012/13 and 2013/14 in addition to the previously announced cuts of 1% and 2% in those years.

Worth noting is item 19:

British Art at Tate and the National Gallery – a draft Memorandum of Understanding.

All further mention of this is kept secret, though. Might it be something about the National Gallery lending more works to fill the gaps in Tate's early collection?

Finally, there's an intriguing reference to photographic material in Tate's archive, which is interesting given they recently chucked much of it out:

6.11 Photographic Material 

a. Trustees were informed of changes to the credit of specific papers in Tate’s archive.

Update - with regard to the National Gallery/Tate MoU, a reader writes:

An interesting development which might well be as a result of the “secret” MoU between Tate and the National Gallery which was completely redacted in the Tate’s recent Trustee Minutes.

“The Hill Above Harlech” c 1917 by William Nicholson ( a wonderful artist in my opinion ) has just gone on show in Room 46 of the National Gallery ( the Degas Room ) as a Tate loan.  I’m not sure what this means in terms of the NG “date cut off” or as a modern British loan—but it is interesting!

'Art everywhere'

June 11 2013


This looks like it'll be fun - putting images of 'great art' onto thousands of billboards across the UK. They need funds first, and are looking for donations here. I'm holding off until they announce, on 24th June, the shortlist of works to be featured, which will be chosen by 'a panel of curators and creatives'. At the moment, the 'great artists' highlighted on their preview page here is a little underwhelming, and the last thing AHN wants to do is provide free advertising for Mr Hirst.

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