Previous Posts: May 2013

Getty buys Rembrandt discovery

May 10 2013

Video: Toledo Museum

Congratulations to the Getty, which has bought a newly discovered Rembrandt self-portrait. The small oil on copper picture, painted in about 1628, surfaced at a minor auction in Gloucestershire in 2007 as 'Follower of Rembrandt', where it made over £2m, selling to the London dealers Hazlitt, Gooden and Fox. The picture was then authenticated by Rembrandt scholar Ernest van de Wetering, who can be seen in the above video with the picture. It must be one of the biggest 'sleepers' of all time, so well done to all involved - that was some punt. The Getty has also announced the acquisition of a Venetian scene by Canaletto - more details in the LA Times here

Rich 'put money on their walls' (ctd.)

May 9 2013

Image of Rich 'put money on their walls' (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

Christie's New York Impressionist and Modern sale made $158m last night, a lacklustre figure compared with Sotheby's $230m the previous day. The $158m total was reported as 'surpassing' the lower estimate of $131m, but of course the final figure includes buyer's premium, while the pre-sale estimates do not. The top lot was Chaim Soutine's Le Petit Patissier, which made a record $18m. More here at Bloomberg.

Rich 'put money on their walls'

May 8 2013

Image of Rich 'put money on their walls'

Picture: New York Times

Or so Carol Vogel says in her review of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern sale held last night in New York. It made $230m including premium. Apparently some celebs were in attendance:

The first of the big spring auctions began Tuesday night at Sotheby’s, where paintings and sculptures by Cézanne, Braque and Léger topped expectations as bidders from 35 countries put money on their walls rather than in the shakier financial markets. The crowd — including the rapper L L Cool J and the New York businessman Donald L. Bryant Jr. — watched as bidders competed for Impressionist and modern artworks.

New Walpole Society volume

May 8 2013

Image of New Walpole Society volume

Picture: Tate

The latest edition of the Walpole Society has landed on my desk, and is devoted to the account books, diary and patronage of James Ward RA (1769-1859), who was primarily an animal painter. Congratulations to Edward Nygren for the publication. 

Renaissance conference bonanza

May 8 2013

Image of Renaissance conference bonanza

Picture: Palazzo Vecchio

There was recently a conference held at the University of Melbourne in February 2013 on The Power of Luxury - Art and Culture at the Italian Courts in Machiavelli’s Lifetime. If you missed it, fret not, for Three Pipe Problem has videos and text of the whole lot here.

China to the rescue?

May 7 2013

Image of China to the rescue?

Picture: BBC News

A reader alerts to a potentially significant exhibition doing the rounds in China at the moment. From BBC News:

JMW Turner's sublime Calais Sands, has been dispatched, along with around 80 other artworks from Bury and 18 other north-west galleries, on a money-spinning six-city tour of China.

The venture was put together by Bury Art Museum manager Tony Trehy, who saw that art collected by industrial barons across the North West of England could be a big draw overseas.

He corralled other galleries to put their "greatest hits" together and head east. "Put it this way," Mr Trehy says. "It's sufficiently lucrative that people have stopped talking about cutting us."

The exhibition is titled Toward Modernity: Three Centuries of British Art. As well as the Turner, it includes works by Constable, Lowry, Henry Moore and Lucian Freud, culled from collections in Chester, Carlisle, Salford and Stalybridge.

Chinese galleries pay to host the exhibition, which Mr Trehy is now hoping to take to other countries, and which could provide the template for further themed exhibitions. "Assuming we can do it on a regular basis, it becomes a significant new source of funding for museums," he says.

I think Tony Trehy deserves a medal for this. We must all - including the trade - follow up on his work, and do all we can to make sure Chinese art lovers like British Art.

Van Dyck in Canada

May 7 2013

Image of Van Dyck in Canada

Picture: National Gallery of Canada

A new exhibition on the working practices of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens looks to be worth visiting, if you're in Canada - the National Gallery of Canada is looking in depth into a number of the works it owns, including Van Dyck's Suffer Little Children Come unto Me. Displayed alongside this work will be no less than two studies for the children (the boy with clasped hands and the child bottom right), which were discovered by Philip Mould in sale rooms some years ago. 

Doing my bit for the UK economy

May 7 2013

Image of Doing my bit for the UK economy

Picture: Houghton Revisited

A reader writes:

Thanks to you and your blog, I am going to Houghton Revisited - I have bought my tickets!! Very exciting. 

I am coming to England to do a Tudor history tour in July, so of course, after reading your blog, had to fit in Houghton Revisited. 

Fabulous too that there is also a Vermeer exhibition (my favourite) at the National Gallery and The Art of Tudor and Stuart fashion exhibition at the Queen's Gallery. There is so much on I couldn't resist.

(That will be two trips in less than a year and I have spent a small fortune - so I must say I feel I have done my bit in boosting your economy).

But no, Maria Miller, you can't use this in your submission to the Treasury.

Monet in Melbourne

May 7 2013

Image of Monet in Melbourne

Picture: National Gallery of Victoria

A new show to open on 10th May:

Monet’s Garden is a stunning exhibition devoted to Claude Monet’s iconic garden at Giverny. Renowned as the ‘father of French Impressionism’, Monet was inspired by his direct experiences of nature, culminating in the ravishing depictions of his lily and flower gardens in the rural property at Giverny, northern France, that became his lifelong obsession. Step into the extraordinary this winter for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these masterpieces in Australia, exclusive to Melbourne.

Tories lose plot on the arts

May 3 2013

Image of Tories lose plot on the arts

Picture: Evening Standard

Why should governments fund the arts? Here in the UK, the newish Secretary of State for Culture, Maria Miller, recently gave a speech trying to answer that question, and made a fool of herself in the process. She also overturned a decade of enlightened Conservative thinking on the arts, and helped resuscitate the view that Tories are Philistines. 

The background to Miller's speech is the forthcoming spending review, during which government departments will lobby the Treasury on why they should avoid deep cuts. Miller's solution to protect arts funding was to radically change government thinking on why government should value arts spending. Her conclusion was that henceforth the government's 'focus must be on culture’s economic impact', and that using the arts as a tool to creat economic growth was the new 'fundamental premise' that the UK's cultural sector must embrace:

[...] we must be clear about the grounds on which this argument must be had and the points that will get traction, not in the press, but with my colleagues – and with the country at large. It is with this at the fore of my mind that I come to you today and ask you to help me reframe the argument: to hammer home the value of culture to our economy.

I know this will not be to everyone’s taste – many in the arts simply want money and silence from Government – but in an age of austerity, when times are tough and money is tight, our focus must be on culture’s economic impact. To maintain the argument for continued public funding, we must make our case as a twoway street. We must demonstrate the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay.

That’s the argument that I, as Culture Secretary, intend to make in my approach to this spending round – and I need all your help in that endeavour. In going through this period of transition, the Government wants participants – not bystanders – and I need you all toaccept this fundamental premise, and work with me to develop the argument.Unique challenges can also bring unique opportunities, a time for fresh thinking, and fresh approaches. Doing things differently does not have to mean doing things badly. So, over the coming weeks and months, I will argue that our cultural sector can bring opportunities, regeneration, jobs and growth.

Let us consider the idiocy of Miller's view that the arts must now act as a lever for economic growth by placing ourselves in the position of, say, Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery. Imagine you were planning the year ahead, and you had Maria Miller's new economic dictum ringing in your ears. Would you, for example:

  • continue to stage fascinating scholarly exhibitions like the current Barocci show at the National Gallery, or would you instead target box office takings (and tourists) with repeated 'blockbuster' exhibitions? 
  • would you approve the conservation of a fragile painting by a relatively unknown artist, or prioritise the display of works by big name artists?
  • would you invest in curatorial expertise and research, leading to a wider public education programme, or would you chose to build a new cafe?

It's not hard to see how establishing the wrong priority for arts funding can lead to the loss of those hard-to-value aspects of the arts that are so crucial: scholarship, preservation and above all education. Valuing the arts exclusively for their economic impact introduces inappropriate incentives into the decision making process, and will inevitably lead to a deterioration in the UK's cultural landscape.

The last Labour government made a similar mistake when it decided to value the arts for their social benefits, for their ability to make people healthier and happier, and even to cut crime. But it never worked. Taking Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks all the way to Manchester to bond with single mothers was just a waste of money (this really happened). In those days I was helping to write Conservative arts and heritage policy, and was able to make it party policy that we supported the arts because of their own intrinsic merits - art for art's sake.

As a former Conservative cheerleader for the arts, therefore, I'm profoundly disappointed in Maria Miller's ill-advised, short-termist and plain stupid speech. She should have been brave enough to continue to make the case for supporting the arts for their own sake, for valuing creativity, excellence and education. It so happens that these things do in fact have positive economic benefits - but that should never be the prime reason we support them. The arts can never be a 'commodity'.

More responses to Miller's speech can be found here from Michael Savage, here from Tom Sutcliffe, here from Alex Massie, and here from Professor Mary Beard. Nobody seems to have liked the speech, in which case Miller's cunning plan to protect the arts from funding cuts is going to fail spectacularly - no museum director or playwright worth their salt is going to ride into battle with her. The Treasury will say to the DCMS - 'you asked for your sector to make the economic case for arts funding, but they haven't. The reason you gave for continued funding must therefore be wrong. So we're going to cut it.' I'm particularly baffled by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey's role in all this - he's always been so sound on these questions before. Certainly, his previous, more enlightened view on arts funding seems to have worked well with the Treasury - in the last spending round, his arguments resulted in the arts being cut less than the police. 

Update - a reader writes:

Thank you for highlighting the lamentable situation in which we find ourselves over Maria Miller and her ill-judged ‘way forward’.

Chins are hitting the floor across all sectors in the arts. 

It’s very alarming, is there a chance she is on her way to another department or is this her last chance saloon ? 

Maybe you know ...........

Alas not.

Another reader writes, from the art trade:

I think they had already lost the plot on the arts - viz the extension of Artist's Resale Right which didn't need to be implemented. Put Maria Miller in the same cell as Baroness Wilcox [minister in the Department of Business].

Update II - another reader adds:

The Secretary of State's speech was, indeed, very depressing.  Although I can just about buy the line that she needs help in presenting her case to the Treasury who, we can assume, are even less sympathetic to the Arts than she is, one key point seemed to have dropped out of her thinking altogether.  Government funding for the Arts is, by definition, a subsidy for bodies whose activities are not self-funding and where there is assumed to be cultural value to society at large from maintaining them.  The "economically productive" Les Miserables presumably receives no State funding and for very obvious reasons.  Am I missing something?

Update III - Neil Jeffares has a neat summary on his blog:

These are points that should have been demolished in her school debating society, not aired as government policy. But one must wonder how on earth this country – home to the National Gallery, the Wigmore Hall and the National Theatre – has permitted such blatant philisitinism to take over at the highest level.


May 3 2013

Google Analytics tells me that we passed a million page views last week here on AHN. So thank you very much for your support and continuing to read the site - I really appreciate it. Those of you who have been reading since we started just over two years ago get a special pat on the back. 

Thornhill's Greenwich painted hall restored

May 2 2013

Read all about it here

Two conferences in London

May 2 2013

Image of Two conferences in London

Picture: V&A

Two conferences in June in London look to be worth going to. The first, at the V&A on 14th & 15th June, is all about England and Muscovy in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. The second, at the National Gallery on 21st and 22nd June, is on London and the Emergence of a European Art Market c.1780-1820

The Landscapes of Piero della Francesca

May 2 2013

Landscapes of Piero della Francesca from The Frick Collection on

Video: Frick

Here's a video of a lecture by Scott Nethersole on the landscapes of Piero della Francesca.

This is still not Shakespeare (ctd.)

May 2 2013

Image of This is still not Shakespeare (ctd.)

Picture: Telegraph

Regular readers will be aware of the increasing misuse of the phoney Shakespeare portrait, above, which is now regularly appearing in newspapers, books and even pub signs. The latest case in the Daily Telegraph, however, caused me to choke on my tea and swear rudely at the computer. The image above will appear in a TV series speculating on how historical figures would look today.

The infectious spread of the phoney Bard must be evidence of how, subconsciously perhaps, people want Shakespeare to look like something out of the film Shakespeare in Love, and not the plain, bald man he really was. For the record, again, the sitter is of course Sir Thomas Overbury.  

Job opportunity

May 1 2013

Image of Job opportunity

Picture: The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection in New York is looking for a new Chief Curator. That's a good gig. If you're interested, you need:

[...] a Ph.D. in art history with expertise in one of the Frick's primary areas of collecting, a minimum of ten years curatorial experience, and an extensive record of exhibitions and publications.

More here. Good luck!

Re-hanging Tate Britain (ctd.)

May 1 2013

Video: Tate

Tate Britain has a video of what we can expect in their new galleries. I'm very much looking forward to seeing it. The chronological hang is to be called 'The BP Walk Through British Art' (which is a bit too much, even for a free-marketeer like me).

Update - Tate Britain Director, Penelope Curtis, writes more about the re-hang in The Art Newspaper

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