Previous Posts: May 2013

Cleaning Sir Joshua

May 21 2013

Image of Cleaning Sir Joshua

Picture: Kathleen Soriano

Kathleen Soriano, Director of Exhibitions at the Royal Academy, has tweeted this picture of Sir Joshua Reynolds' statue getting a spring clean.

Update: Dr Ben Thomas alerts me to his excellent blog entry on the statue, which is by Alfred Drury.

'Very Choice'

May 21 2013

Image of 'Very Choice'

Pictures: Anon

The best thing about running this blog is the wonderful feedback and correspondence I get from readers. Last night a reader in Portugal who shares my interest in Van Dyck sent me these very cool photos. I love a good cigar, so what a shame Van Dyck cigars are no longer made. And as this old advert for Van Dyck cigars makes clear, they were only smoked by 'the Distinguished Set'.

'Manner of Romney'

May 20 2013

Image of 'Manner of Romney'

Picture: Tate

Whilst looking into Tate's collection of Romneys yesterday, I came across this portrait of Richard Cumberland, the dramatist, described as 'Manner of George Romney', and 'date not known'. I presume this is a database error or something, as it's certainly by Romney, an early work, perhaps from the 1760s.

Ashmolean acquires Millais' portrait of Ruskin

May 20 2013

Image of Ashmolean acquires Millais' portrait of Ruskin

Picture: BBC News/Ashmolean

Congratulations to the Ashmolean museum, who have secured through the Acceptance-in-lieu scheme John Everett Millais' portrait of John Ruskin. From the Ashmolean website:

The picture, which was recently exhibited in Tate’s major exhibition, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, has been on loan to the Ashmolean since January 2012. It has been allocated to the Ashmolean by the Arts Council England under the Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance (AIL) scheme. The portrait was started in the summer of 1853 while the artist, sitter, and Ruskin’s wife were staying in Glen Finglas, a remote area of the Trossachs north of Glasgow. It was during this holiday that Millais fell in love with Effie Ruskin, setting in motion the events which would break the Ruskins’ marriage, Millais’s friendship with Ruskin, and the artist’s engagement with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Finishing the picture was to become, for Millais, “the most hateful task I have ever had to perform.”

On the Tate re-hang

May 19 2013

Image of On the Tate re-hang

Pictures: BG

I finally made it to Tate Britain this weekend to see the much-heralded ‘re-hang’. I’m still puzzled about the concept of ‘re-hanging’ the whole gallery, as if our national collection of British art can be shoehorned into some sort of fixed, giant exhibition. But re-hung it is, and very pleasant it looks too. As a building, Tate Britain has at last been fixed. Great credit is due to all those involved.

First, the renovated galleries are a wonderfully comfortable place to view art. The décor is welcoming but not distracting, the lighting is superb, and, best of all perhaps, the pictures are hung gratifyingly low. One can fully engage with every part of a painting, rather than (as is often the case in major galleries), just the bottom edge of a frame. Better yet, there are no ogrous guards waiting to shout at you if you peer in too closely. They even let you take photos. It’s picture viewing heaven.*

Alas, the time spent in this nirvana must be brief, at least for those interested in many of the great names of British art. Of 20 galleries in the BP Walk Through British Art, just five cover the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. More of a trot, then. The 20th Century, by contrast, is given 11 galleries. 2013 gets a whole room to itself. The imbalance leaves you wondering what Tate Modern is for. Must Tate Britain be Tate Modern-Lite?

Don’t, therefore, go to Tate expecting to see anything other than the briefest highlights of British art from before the 19th Century. You will, for example, find only one portrait by Lawrence (of thirteen in Tate’s collection), one Raeburn (of nine), and two works by Romney (of twenty). Fans of Paul Nash, on the other hand, can enjoy no less than five of his works, and after eight Barbara Hepworths, I stopped counting.

The chronological hang was not, for me, quite the triumph that the critics promised. I can see why, for most visitors so far, it has proved a great success. The layout is easy to follow, and the pictures on display are almost all excellent. But for art history anoraks the hang will be a little under-whelming. It’s nice to see all the old favourites, but there’s precious little that isn’t already familiar from books, posters and websites. It’s a blockbuster display, and, like any display of blockbusters, it leaves you with an overly simplified view of British art. From this chronology, for example, you would never know that pastel was once a popular medium in Britain.

There are further problems with a strict adherence to the rigid timeline, or chronology for chronology's sake. Regular readers won’t be surprised to find that here I shall introduce Van Dyck to illustrate the point. First, it doesn’t help that in the very first room of the re-hang Dobson’s Portrait of Endymion Porter (painted c.1642-5) comes before Van Dyck’s pair of portraits of Sir William and Mary Killigrew (painted in 1638). You would also not know how dramatic an effect Van Dyck had on British art, for in the new hang he is tacked onto the end of the first room and appears almost as an after-thought.

A curator not bound by a strict timeline would be able to demonstrate Van Dyck’s transformative effect on portraiture in Britain (for better or worse, our staple artistic diet until the mid-18th Century) by better using the hang to contrast Van Dyck’s work with the stiff, often characterless and two-dimensional portraiture that existed in Britain before his arrival here in 1632. In other words, most of the art on display in room 1. The pair of Van Dycks on display should really (alongside Van Dyck’s full-length Lady of the Spencer Family, which remains in the basement) be hung at the beginning of the second room, alongside works by artists who are obviously indebted to him, like Sir Peter Lely.

While I can see why the chronological approach is appealing to many (not least to those who find the ‘-isms’ of art history hard to grasp, or even intimidating) it does prohibit making anything but the most basic art historical arguments. Arts institutions used to relish the idea of ‘challenging’ their audience, but in the new label-free, chronological Tate every judgement and response is left up to the visitor. Little attempt is made to question, convince or guide you, for Tate cannot show, by simple grouping of similar works, changes in taste or technique. The new ethos is heralded by Chris Stephens, Tate’s Head of Display, who said ‘Your response is as valid as our knowledge'. As I said in an earlier post, that’s a worrying philosophy for what should be an educational institution. It’s very right-on, but you might as well give up on scholarship entirely. In some cases the lack of a descriptive label can lead to a wholly misleading impression. I suspect most visitors would be interested to know (or at least would like to have the opportunity to know) that the German-born Godfrey Kneller’s Elijah and the Angel [below] was painted before he came to England, and so isn’t British at all. The presence of this woeful picture suggests there was a demand for large-scale religious painting in England in the late 17th Century, when there wasn't.

A final and slightly dispiriting aspect of the new chronological emphasis is that it suggests a permanence of display. I doubt a curator will be minded to change a picture or two if it means rehanging a whole room, just to maintain the strict timeline. In contrast, one of the joys of visiting the National Gallery these days is that the regularly changing hang means you’ll invariably find something new to see. If Tate’s new hang does signal a permanent exile of the great majority of pre-19th Century art to into storage, then I hope that the new director will follow the National Portrait Gallery’s policy of liberally lending those works it does not display to regional museums across the country. For now, however, Tate’s storage facility must be the greatest museum that never was. In that sense, Tate’s re-hang is for me more about what hasn’t been hung. Isn't it sad that so much great art has to be hidden away?

*National Gallery security department, please note.

Update - The Grumpy Art Historian also went round at the weekend.

Update II - a reader writes:

Thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughtful price on the TB rehang. I've still not had a chance to see the rehang for myself.

You make several good points in your well balanced piece and I am sure that almost nobody that visits the gallery is going to be happy with everything that they see. Quite apart from any issues about decor, labelling, lighting etc. nearly everyone that visits will, for example, tend to favour "historic" over "modern", prefer the eighteenth century to the twentieth, dislike contemporary art, find portraits dull, and so on and so on. This makes objective comment extremely difficult as there is an inevitable tendency to be more likely to like the rooms which contain works of art you prefer and criticise the rooms which contain works of art you don't like at all. This factor has coloured many of the reviews of the new hang.

[BG butts in - the problem being, in the present case though, that it's hardly a level playing field]

There are a few general points that at least merit some thought;

1. Many reviewers have commented on the balance of rooms between older art and modern art whilst seemingly forgetting the Clore galleries which remain mostly dedicated to Turner but now also contain rooms dedicated to Constable and Blake.

2. One factor in what is displayed must surely be what the Tate actually owns - you menion Paul Nash and Hepworth. The Tate has 30 works by Nash and over a hundred by Hepworth whereas for many well known seventeenth and eighteenth century artists the number of works in the Tate collection is significantly lower.

3. I know your piece was about the "Walk through British art" display but there are also the so called Spotlight displays. I don't know if you had time to look at any of these displays but they include rooms dedicated to Constables "The Cornfield", eighteenth century portraits of artists, and two rooms dedicated to works on paper (which is I think a first for Tate Britain). There is also the "Looking at the view display" for anyone pining for a thematic hang.

4. Whilst the layout of rooms in the "Walk through British art" seems to be more or less now as a fixture, I cannot imagine that the works on display in each room will forever remain the same. What is displayed is sure to change over time, whether it be the insertion of the odd new work or the complete rehang of a room. This is especially the case as this display is both new and very large so the curators will inevitably feel in time that not everything "works" as well as it should. I have no doubt that there will be changes in due course and that this will involve works currently in storage finding their way out on to the Tate's walls.

[BG again - here's hoping...]

5. Like it or not modern artworks are more often than not considerably larger than most pre-twentieth century artworks. Quite simpy this means that a room of art from say the 1970's will have significantly fewer art works in it than say one from the 1770's. It isn't therefore arguably "fair" to simply count the number of rooms dedicated to modern versus historical art works.

6. Time marches on - can 1900 continue to be the dividing line between modern and historical works forever? If 1900 was a "sensible" divide 50 years ago should it now be 1930 or 1910? An interesting question, especially given the rate at which contemporary art is churned out these days. There is of course no right answer.

7. However much pre 19th Century art the Tate has in storage there is far more art in storage from later eras.

Update III - another reader writes:

On the labels controversy: many museums used to have plasticized information sheets, sometimes held in practical hand-held frames, which interested visitors could pick up and put down as they moved from room to room; some museums still do; why not more of that? Or do they think this competes with sales of museum guides, including audio guides? My own view is that this information is more likely to tantalize and incite to further purchases, or to serve a somewhat different audience than audio guides...

Update IV - Waldemar likes it very much.

Update V - another reader writes:

First of all, must say I agree with all the aspects mentioned in AHN on the new display of the Tate Gallery. Particularly regarding the chronological arrangement of the gallery - It is always a safe choice and also a useful one when the museum in question has no funds to renovate the rooms often. However when museums have big "gaps" in their collections this sort of approach makes those gaps even more noticeable. Moreover this option might be a bit "dull" or little challenging for some visitors, but sometimes curators do get a bit carried away and make (in my opinion) way too creative associations of ideas.

Update VI - on Twitter, art historian Ben Street nails it in less than 140 characters:

NPG tells the story of Britain much more effectively. But there are joys in new Tate Brit hang, almost all of which are in the early rooms.

Update VII - a reader points out that Tate Modern's remit is very different:

Tate Modern has a different remit which is to show international modern and contemporary art. British artists get included normally only in an international context so the percentage of works on display at TM by British artists is actually quite low [...] just over 11% of the works in the four suites of collection displays at TM (39 works out of 350).

There are also 3 major exhibitions currently at TM but these are all by foreign artists.

Update VIII - a reader makes a valid point about Tate Modern's new expansion:

I have just returned from London where I spent the morning in the Tate Britain - unlike many I found the new hang somewhat dispiriting, especially with the intrusive noises off from the Duveen video installation. Like you I thought the historic / modern quota unbalanced. Why not shunt the 'recent modern' material upriver to TM when their new multi-million extension is built?

Church of England to sell important Benjamin West?

May 16 2013

Image of Church of England to sell important Benjamin West?

Picture: British Museum

Here's a story you're likely to hear more of in the coming weeks... A well-informed reader writes:

The Church of St Stephen, Walbrook, in the City of London owns an impressive 5.6m x 3.2m Benjamin West altarpiece depicting "Devout men removing the body of St Stephen" [shown above in print form]. Commissioned for the church by a rector committed to promoting English art through church patronage, and unusual both for its scale and choice of subject, the painting is of international significance.

The painting was illegally removed by St Stephens in the 1980s when the building was (controversially) reordered [a new altar was installed], it has been in storage ever since. The PCC [Parochial Church Council] are now in consistory court hoping to obtain permission to sell the painting abroad for a seven figure sum. The case in favour of removing the picture is that it apparently doesn't suit the building, and that the massive price tag will pay for necessary repairs. The sale has been opposed by the London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and by the CofE's Church Buildings Council. The outcome of the hearing is not yet certain.

The attempted disposal of this picture seems to be wrong on a number of levels, but then readers who remember the Bishop Auckland/Zurburan debacle will know that the Church of England is skilled at handling such cases ineptly. The potential buyer is one of America's leading institutions. I'm not aware of any attempt by the Church of England to find an English home for the painting. I'm told that the consistory court has recently finished its hearings, and the decision will be announced soon. If a sale is agreed, then the picture will, of course, have to go through the usual export procedures. 

Update - a reader writes:

I don't have anything in particular to add to this story but I am glad that you are covering it. I remember the painting hanging on the north wall as a child in 1970s. At the time of the restoration I was hopeful that it would return to it's former position over the altar. After it disappeared I periodically visited the church and asked about it, to the obvious irritation of the former rector,  Chad Varah (who apparently hated the painting) and gave me various evasive answers: 'It's being restored', 'The church is selling it'.. I was reassured that this could not happen without permission by the Friends of the City Churches. I have never understood why the church has not used it as a way of attracting visitors, particularly Americans, who might sponsor its restoration; the City of London is in any case awash with money. It should remain in the church but it also occurs to me that there could be an arrangement with the Guildhall Art Gallery nearby, which owns Copley's vast painting of the Siege of Gibraltar, with regard to the American connection. 

New website for US National Gallery

May 16 2013

Image of New website for US National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery of Art, Washington

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has a new website, with an excellent zoom feature for their online collection. The above detail comes from Holbein's Portrait of Edward VI

Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain

May 16 2013

Image of Mary Beale discoveries at Tate Britain

Picture: Tate

I was pleased to see in The Independent that Tate Britain is emphasising the work of women artists in the new Walk Through British Art. As Chris Stephens, Tate's head of displays, says, 'it's an area where we have underachieved in recent years'. One could say the same of most UK museums, alas. 

Two newly discovered works by Mary Beale (one shown above) have now gone on show at Tate. They were bought in 2010, having been found in a Paris antiques shop. Tate Curator Tabitha Barber says of Beale:

“I think she’s remarkably important and very underrated. People don’t tend to know her now. She was commercially very popular at the time.”

Anne Killigrew is another female artist of the period who has recently come back into the public arena. You can see her striking classical scene Venus Attired by the Graces by Anne Killigrew (discovered, ahem, by Philip Mould & Co.), at Falmouth Art Gallery, while another fine work by her can now be seen at the Queen's Gallery, where her Portrait of James II is part of the In Fine Style exhibition. 

Update - apparently the frames are modern, but reconstruct the type described by Mary's husband, Charles, in his diary.

Update II - a reader writes:

We might talk of Kneller or Lely being "commercially very popular", but the Beales? They were constantly in debt, relying on handouts from well-wishers and that was even after Charles Beale's income from colourmaking was added to Mary's from portrait painting. They were economically vulnerable their whole lives, that was simply the reality of painters' lives back then. In 1671 Mary Beale's rate for a half length portrait was £10, whereas in the same year, Lely's was £20 for a head. In 1674 she painted fewer than 30 portraits: that is not the record of someone who was "very popular", commercially or otherwise.

Secondly, what does it say about our museums and art world now, that in order to "celebrate" a 17th century painter we must highlight their (spurious) commercial popularity?  The truth - that she struggled to make ends meet her entire life but, even so, persevered as a painter in a society that little understood women artists - is surely more interesting?

Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral' still for sale?

May 16 2013

Image of Constable's 'Salisbury Cathedral' still for sale?

Picture: National Gallery

As I exclusively revealed here in February, a consortium of UK galleries had got together to buy Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, currently in a private collection and on loan to the National Gallery. Two readers have now alerted me to the fact that the picture is now no longer on display. Is a deal imminent?

Critics on the Tate re-hang

May 16 2013

Image of Critics on the Tate re-hang

Picture: Evening Standard

It's interesting to see how the press has run with Tate's PR line about their 'rehang', as if displaying the very pictures it was always intended to display was somehow something unusual, and special. One never hears of such a thing at the National Gallery. But anyway, it seems to have gone down well. Richard Dorment gives it five stars in the Telegraph:

So the first thing to say about Curtis’s rehang is that it is gloriously, satisfyingly, reactionary. In 20 galleries that are intended as an introduction to British art for the general public, about 500 works of art including paintings, sculpture and drawings are hung chronologically from the 16th to the 21st centuries. This is art history as it used to be taught before it was hijacked by academic theorists. Every gallery is labelled by the date of the art shown in it, and just in case anyone might think the redisplay is temporary, those dates are set into the floor in large gold letters at the entrance.

In The Times, Rachel Campbell-Johnston, notes the lack of descriptive labels:

The loser looks set to be the student armed with his or her art history book. The labelling is minimal. There is nothing to guide you through major art movements. And so what, to the expert, might seem delightfully risque, may feel confusing to the novice.

The curators' answer is simple - use your eyes.

Ah, the great label debate. I've never understood why people get so worked up over a long and helpfully descriptive label. Nobody has to read them - they're just there for those that want to. Isn't taking away all background information a rather punitive thing to do?

Even Brian Sewell is relieved to see Tate's 'historic collection' back on the walls after so long hidden away. It's undeniably the case though that there is now less space for 'old' art than there was before. As Sewell concludes, when finding whole galleries at Tate Britain devoted to individual 20th Century artists:

With this intrusive silliness, Tate Britain is divided into one third for its historic possessions, and two-thirds for its infinitely weaker holding of recent-modern and contemporary art.

Such a division is extraordinarily and inexcusably unbalanced.

A row in Russia

May 16 2013

Image of A row in Russia

Picture: Portrait of Ivan Morozov, a major collector of avant-garde French art, by Valentin Serov 

The Voice of Russia reports on an attempt to break up the Hermitage collection in St Petersburg:

Two of Russia's greatest art galleries are at loggerheads after the 91-year-old director of Moscow's Pushkin Museum asked President Vladimir Putin during his live phone-in to recreate the Western art museum in Moscow. The Hermitage would lose some of its finest treasures to Moscow if it happened.

President Putin on Tuesday asked the government to draw up by June 15 a report on the viability of the request. The State Museum of New Western Art in Moscow housed the Impressionist and early modern art collected by renowned Russian art collectors Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov [above] in the late Tsarist era. It was closed on Stalin's orders in 1948 in a drive to play up the importance of Soviet art.

Its collection was divided between the Pushkin Art Museum in Moscow and the world-famous Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, where the pictures can be seen to this day. The redoubtable director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Antonova, 91, last week personally asked President Vladimir Putin during his annual phone-in with Russians to consider re-opening the museum in Moscow with its original collection.

However the idea did not in the least impress the Hermitage Museum, which under the plan could see some of its most prized Matisse, Degas and Picasso pictures transferred back to Moscow. "This new attempt to break up the Hermitage is a crime against the stability of the whole museum landscape in Russia, whose unity and riches have been preserved with such difficulty," said Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky, quoted by the government Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

Antonova however launched a stout defence of her position saying the recreation of the museum was a question of "historical fairness". "The state destroyed this museum. The state has the chance to revive it. This is my opinion," she said.

A new Van Dyck discovery at the Royal Collection

May 15 2013

Image of A new Van Dyck discovery at the Royal Collection

Pictures: Royal Collection, top, and below, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

An exciting amendment to the Royal Collection's online catalogue - the above picture used to be called a copy of a Van Dyck, but has now been upgraded to Van Dyck in full. The text states:

This was until recently believed to be a contemporary copy after a lost Van Dyck portrait. It has however been convincingly suggested that this is the Van Dyck original: the handling certainly has the freshness and vigour of an original rather than a copy and the quality is sufficient to suggest Van Dyck's hand.

The sitter cannot be identified but the portrait belongs to the artist's second Flemish period (c.1630), when he painted a number of sitters in this particular format. Additions appear to have been made to the top and bottom of the canvas and it is possible that the fictive stone window was added alter.

I'm pleased to say that the 'convincing suggestions' came from, er, me. The picture, which is probably first recorded in the Royal Collection in 1747, had been listed as a copy in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue raisonne (entry no. III.A31), with the late Sir Oliver Millar regarding it as 'probably a contemporary copy of a portrait painted c.1630'. However, I always thought it had a chance of being right from the illustrations available, and so asked the Royal Collection about two years ago if I could see it. They kindly showed it to Philip Mould and I in their store room at Hampton Court, where, under bright lights it was apparent that the face was of very high quality, and that the dress had in fact been finished off by a later hand. A different collar can be seen underneath part of the present one. Philip and I had no doubts at all that the head was by Van Dyck, with the described oval and parts of the costume being later additions. This seems to have been the common fate of a series of head studies Van Dyck painted in Antwerp in the early 1630s, some of which are thought to have been studies for his large group portrait The Magistrates of Brussels. Sadly, the original picture was destroyed in 1695 when the French army bombarded Brussels, but the composition is known in a grisaille sketch by Van Dyck now in the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

It is conceivable that the Royal Collection's newly accepted study relates to the figure on the far left of the grisaille. A similar (and fully accepted) head study, probably also with a later oval, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Possibly, the picture in the Muzeum Naradowe in Poznan which was also rejected as a copy of a lost original in the 2004 Van Dyck catalogue, is also an original Van Dyck head with later additions.  

Tudor and Stuart fashion at the Royal Collection

May 15 2013

Image of Tudor and Stuart fashion at the Royal Collection

Pictures: BG

The Royal Collection has put on yet another excellent exhibition at the Queen's Gallery in London. Hot on the heels of the superb 'Northern Renaissance', the new show 'In Fine Style - The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion' looks at the sumptuous costumes worn at court in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Says the Royal Collection website:

This exhibition explores the sumptuous costume of British monarchs and their court during the 16th and 17th centuries through portraits in the Royal Collection. During this period fashion was central to court life and was an important way to display social status. Royalty and the elite were the tastemakers of the day, often directly influencing the styles of fashionable clothing.

In Fine Style follows the changing fashions of the period, demonstrates the spread of styles internationally and shows how clothing could convey important messages. Including works by Hans Holbein the Younger, Nicholas Hilliard, Van Dyck and Peter Lely, the exhibition brings together over 60 paintings, as well as drawings, garments, jewellery, accessories and armour.

There are many fine pictures on display, including Van Dyck's Portrait of Charles I in Three Positions. This is hung next to both Charles' Garter sash, and what is thought to be one of his lace collars (though personally I suspect it is too large to have been worn by so small a man). The pictures have been hung quite low, which makes them wonderfully accesible, and you can really peer into all the details of the costume. And don't forget that thanks to the Royal Collection's enlightened policy on photography (National Gallery please take note) you can snap away to your heart's content. Regular readers won't be surprised to hear that I took the opportunity to stock up on Van Dyck details. Note the smoother modelling of the flesh that Van Dyck appears to have used for his portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria - was this highly finished technique the result of a special command from the King and Queen? 

In amongst the pictures are illustrated storyboards which tell you all you need to know about the clothes of the period, and in that respect the show is notable for what is not in it: I suspect (without naming any names) that other institutions faced with mounting an exhibition on Tudor and Stuart fashion would have gone down the route of talking mannequins, clever lighting, and fancy dress boxes for da kids. 

As ever with the Royal Collection there's also a faultless and lavishly illustrated catalogue, written by the exhibition's curator Anna Reynolds.

Update - Richard Dorment in the Telegraph calls the show 'superlative'. 

Update II - a reader writes:

I keep thinking you could have been the sitter for Van Dyck's Portrait of Charles I in Three Positions

Do money launderers target the art world?

May 15 2013

Image of Do money launderers target the art world?


Yes, according to an article by Charlotte Burns in The Art Newspaper:

Art lends itself to money laundering because the market’s lack of transparency means art can become what De Sanctis calls an “invisible asset”. Values can be manipulated, and complex ownership schemes, with an emphasis on secrecy, are commonplace. “Art has the advantage of being portable and easy to store anonymously, and it can be bought and sold relatively anonymously in different parts of the world. Therefore, the art market has been, and continues to be, a target for money launderers,” says Pierre Valentin, a partner at the law firm Constantine Cannon.

I can't think of any occasion when I've suspected a potential buyer to be a money launderer, however. That said, there's a major impediment to using Old Masters for money laundering - export regulations. In the UK, for example, any painting over 50 years old which is worth more than £130,000 needs an export licence before it can leave the country (a painting worth less is of no use to criminals really). For portraits of historical figures the threshold is even lower - just £10,000. Old art, therefore, comes with a guaranteed, government-regulated paper trail. So according the criteria set out above, only modern and contemporary art is of any use to the money launderer.


May 14 2013

...for the lack of action lately. It's been non-stop filming for 'Fake or Fortune?', so I've not had any time to blog. 

Exclusive - Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' sold

May 13 2013

Image of Exclusive - Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' sold

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art/Tim Nighswander

I can't tell you for how much or to whom, but a deal has been done, and the greatest discovery of the age is 'no longer on the market'.

Hanging Houghton revisited

May 13 2013

Video: BBC



May 13 2013

Image of Today...

Picture: BG

...we're filming for series three of 'Fake or Fortune?', so there may not be many posts I'm afraid. Apparently the camera above was used in Skyfall. How cool is that?

Update - a reader writes:

I was watching a Lovejoy episode at the weekend, pretty certain it was the one where a pig farmer's wife unwittingly buys a stolen Venetian bronze owned by the Queen (Pig in a Poke) - anyway, Tinker is looking through a copy of the ATG and you can clearly see a quarter page advertisement for Philip Mould Historical Portraits! I think that's infinitely cooler than the camera from Skyfall....

New labels at Tate Britain

May 11 2013

Image of New labels at Tate Britain

Picture: BG

My recent April Fool on the new re-hang at Tate Britain caught a few of you out, especially the part about the picture labels. It seems, however, that I might not have been so wide of the mark. Here's an interview in The Guardian with Chris Stephens, head of displays at Tate Britain, ahead of the opening (on 14th May) of their much vaunted  chronological hang:

"There was once an expectation that every work should have a piece of text," says Stephens. "People would say they won't know what to make of a work unless they were told A, B and C. But what if the label tells you X, Y and Z?" The new hang has taken "a middle course" and a number of short texts will start from a work, but are designed to open up wider historical and political issues. [...]

While the new Tate chronology runs strictly from the 1500s to today, the layout of the museum will allow visitors to dip into areas as they please. "It's all part of this lighter touch that lets people choose more what they look at and how they think about it," says Stephens. "Art seems to be the one domain where we still hang on to academic and historical constructs as a necessary way of it being appreciated." He says that people are not required to know the history of literature and movements before taking a book out of the library, or require knowledge of kitchen sink realism before going to the cinema. "We still have all the historical information available, in many formats, if people want it. But whether it is useful or not, you don't need to know it to appreciate the pictures. Your response is as valid as our knowledge, and this re-hang presents a sort of release for the artist and their work from this encumbrance of academic protocols. Interestingly, some of the people I've encountered who have found it hardest to get their heads round are other curators and historians. But I think the public are going to be fine."

If you think about it, the sentence 'Your response is as valid as our knowledge' is a chilling concept for what is meant to be, at its heart, an educational institution.

David Packwood over at Art History Today is not happy about the re-hang being called 'The BP Walk Through British Art' (and neither am I)

Georgian room unveiled at Boston

May 10 2013

Image of Georgian room unveiled at Boston

Picture: Museum Fine Arts, Boston/Art Newspaper

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (one of my favourite museums) has re-opened its prized mid-eighteenth century drawing room from Newland House. In pride of place in the picture above is a newly discovered portrait by Allan Ramsay, acquired from us here at Philip Mould & Co last year. More details in The Art Newspaper, and you can see a video of the room here

Update - a reader writes:

You may like to now that Newland House itself was burnt to a shell early last year and is about to be demolished.....

all very sad tho with luck nothing of aesthetic value in the remaining interiors.....

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