Previous Posts: November 2013

Closing time at the museum

November 12 2013

Image of Closing time at the museum


Maurice Davies of the Museums Association has had a bad closing time experience at the V&A:

I guessed that the 5.45pm advertised time was to give staff 15 minutes to clear the building so the place could be all shut and locked up by 6pm.

I was wrong.

At about 5.25pm a member of staff stomped into the gallery and told us we had just five minutes left. In the next few minutes a remarkably large number of front of house staff appeared, we were hustled out, and barriers were efficiently and speedily erected all over the museum to keep us on track and stop us being distracted by the wondrous collection.

Many of the galleries were firmly shut at 5.30pm. “Oh well”, I said to my slightly disappointed wife, who had been engrossed in the elegant and expensive theatre and performance galleries, “at least we’ll have time to go to the shop.”

I was wrong again.

When we reached the shop (after having to sneak past a distracted member of staff to use the toilets), it too was firmly shut, the staff doing some light tidying and stock-checking. [...]

All too familiar, alas.

More miniature stuff

November 12 2013

Image of More miniature stuff

Picture: Giles

If you like British portrait miniatures as much as I do, then the new catalogue of the collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art (one of the best in the world) looks like a good buy. You can order a copy here.

Plug! Samuel Cooper exhibition

November 12 2013

Image of Plug! Samuel Cooper exhibition

Picture: BG

We've finally finished installing our Samuel Cooper portrait miniatures exhibition, and the catalogues have arrived. So my work is done. But yours, dear loyal readers, is only just beginning - you have between tomorrow at 10am and 5pm on December 7th to visit. We are also open Saturdays from 12-4pm. Despite working on such a small scale, Cooper was not only the first internationally recognised British artist, but also one of the best portraitists this country has ever produced. 

The show is the first on Cooper for 40 years, and features loans from, among others, the Royal Collection, the V&A, the Fitzwilliam, the Ashmolean, and the National Portrait Gallery. The title, 'Warts and All', comes from Oliver Cromwell's famous instruction to Cooper, when the Protector sat for his portrait in about 1653.

Poor Sir William Burrell?

November 11 2013

Image of Poor Sir William Burrell?

Picture: BBC/Glasgow Museums

When Sir William Burrell left his important art collection of some 8,000 objects to the City of Glasgow in 1944, he did so on condition that none of the items should be loaned overseas. Now, the Scottish Parliament has passed a bill to get around that restriction. More details here

What do readers think about this? I'm mindful that we have to respect the conditions of people who donate works. That, in the end, must I suppose be inviolate?

Update - a reader writes:

Well in those days the "lending of" was probably not as well organised as it is now, and things probably went on horse and cart, so not good for the articles. The decisions were made under v different condiditons.

Good point. Lending conditions are now very different.

Another writes:

I don't see this as a chance to get things out of the stores, but rather the lending out of the highlights. They want to close the Burrell for years while they make cash by renting out the collection for a world tour. It's not shedding new light on the collection by showing objects in a new and relevant context, but simply shipping them around the world in exactly the same configuration to raise cash. There's a lot of it going on these days (I think the big Barnes tour may have started the trend), and I think it's wrong on many levels. It puts art at risk, it makes serious exhibitions harder to mount (because the schedule is tied up with these shows, which take very little organising, and because works are bespoken for touring and cannot be released for other more meaningful exhibitions), and it sets an unfortunate precedent for the monetisation of collections - why provide any public money if you can pay your way by renting out a third of the collection? The organisers of these shows are often 'for-profit' entertainment companies that are incentivised to pay as little as possible and cut as many corners as possible.

Update II - another reader writes:

My own research into the history of collecting has taught me that while some collectors wanted their art to be kept together in museums with their names attached to it as a way of remembrance, others also knew of the inherent dangers of museum display. Dusty, unvisited museums could become mausoleums and just as in a collector's home, objects had to be part of daily life in order to remain relevant. Of course, Burrell's great achievement needs to be remembered but his objects have multiple meanings, of which the provenance is just one. It might be wrong to emphasise this over all other aspects. Burrell collected European objects and their temporary inclusion in European museums where they could enter into dialogue with the continental collections might in a way revitalise the objects. Loans are an excellent means of focussing on the art historical or historical value of the objects that once belonged to a Glaswegian collector. I am sure that this is what Burrell would have wanted. After all, he did approve of loans.

Update III - a reader adds:

Regarding lending and other such restrictions a friend who is the scion of fabulous collectors/philanthropists often had said that "the dead shouldn't govern the living" in such matters.  His family made unrestricted gifts and left relatively little to their descendants.

Things change and the static instructions of the dead must occasionally be altered, to wit the Barnes of which I was a neighbor long ago.

While art historian and fellow blogger Neil Jeffares says:

The Burrell dilemma overlaps with the Detroit question, as I discussed in my post.

However tempting it may seem to broaden access etc., every time we ignore the explicit wishes of philanthropists we run the risk of alienating other donors. But the most disturbing feature of this development is the council’s complacency about transportation risks and their apparent total disregard for Nick Penny’s widely reported cautionary advice.

Presumably the council thinks that the collection attracts many visitors to Glasgow. Have they considered whether those who are now to have the opportunity to see its star attractions elsewhere will now bother to go to Glasgow when it is reopened?

Nick Penny's advice about the risks of sending works on tour was given to Glasgow in confidence, but leaked by mistake some time ago. The Grumpy Art Historian (who is very wary of the risks of transporting art) covered it here.

Regular readers will know that I take a more sanguine view of loaning and transporting works of art. And in practice, so do most museums. In fact, I remember that on the day news of Penny's comments came out, I got an email from the National Gallery press office, headlined 'Masterpiece on Tour'. This year they're sending around the country Manet's Execution of Maximilian on tour, next year a Canaletto, and in 2016 Rembrandt's 1669 Self-Portrait

Update IV - a reader writes, conclusively I think:

Better to give the collection a life for another generation, and put it on the map with wider audiences at home and abroad, rather than to consign the whole collection to the stores for four-five years whist the refurbishments takes place. A London showing of its own will present the chance of attracting a wider international audience than would otherwise venture as far north to Glasgow. 

The V&A sent fragile masterpieces from its Islamic collection on a overseas tour whilst reconstructing the galleries. The more recent tour of Kenwood's Iveagh Bequest to four venues in the US was a worthwhile venture ("US Tour Pays Off", Art Newspaper November 2013, p.18). 

In the light of Dr Penny's leaked comments about the risks of transporting, how comes the National Gallery are prepared to tour mega-value Old Masters, not least the Titian Diana and Actaeon. Dr Penney seems to have had little qualms about the conservation risks of transporting that £50 million painting several times within one year, or Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral to five venues. 

There is plenty of scope for well-curated selections. This is hardly the scenario of cherry picking masterpieces, literally leaving blank spaces on the gallery walls and plinths as was the deplorable case of the Louvre's venture to the mining town of Lens. 

 Glasgow's art directors report "In the last five years, Glasgow has loaned more than 400 objects to 150 venues in 12 countries and has received 1700 objects from almost 250 lenders from eight countries. There has not been a single claim as a result of damage to any of those items. From lending the Dali to Atlanta, to the current tour of Italian Renaissance treasures in America, our staff are expert in assessing risks and ensuring we meet the strictest national and international standards on lending and transportation." (Herald  5 Sept 2013)

We are fortunate in the UK in having world-class regional art collections, but given the fact that the greater proportions of most languish in the stores I would welcome many more opportunities aside for the Burrell in letting publicly owned artworks see the light of day by means of loan exhibition programmes.

Meanwhile, Maurice Davies of the Museums Association has more on Nick Penny's view of lending and transportation here.

Nazi art stash man seen in supermarket!

November 11 2013

Image of Nazi art stash man seen in supermarket!

Picture: Paris Match

So says Paris Match, anyway. 

Bloomberg has the latest updates on the story, including news that police have also removed 22 paintings from the flat of Herr Gurlitt's brother-in-law.

Update - Catherine Hickley reports that Angela Merkel's office is now involved, and it seems things are to be speeded up. A full list of the works will now be published.

Update II  - here's more on the above.

Can an electric shock make me like Koons?

November 8 2013

Image of Can an electric shock make me like Koons?

Picture: Telegraph

Possibly, judging by a report in the New Scientist:

You don't need classes to boost your art appreciation, just zap your brain.

Zaira Cattaneo at the University of Milan Bicocca in Italy and her colleagues showed paintings to 12 people. Each rated the images before and after receiving either mock treatment or transcranial direct current stimulation, which delivers a low current via electrodes on the head, to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) – a brain area involved in processing emotion.

Volunteers rated real-world images more highly after stimulation. There was no difference in rating after the mock treatment or for abstract art, possibly because different brain areas are used to process abstract art (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience,

"Stimulating the DLPFC may improve your mood – like looking through rose-coloured glasses," says Anjan Chatterjee, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cattaneo hopes the technique may help people with anhedonia – an inability to experience pleasure that can accompany Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.

View from the Artist no. 15

November 8 2013

Image of View from the Artist no. 15


It's Friday, and there's not much news, so time I think for a round of View from the Artist. Can you guess what the view is, who painted it, and when? No prizes alas, just for fun.

Update - a most esteemed reader from France was the first to nail it:

Clearly, the view n° 15 is representing the Palace of Fontainebleau (you can recognize the "Cour ovale" which is not so changed since the time it was painted). As for the painter, I think it is by Martin-Pierre Denis, and for the time, the beginning of the 18th century.

See the picture here on Google Art Project.

New 'Raphael' of Julius II on display at the Staedel Museum

November 8 2013

Image of New 'Raphael' of Julius II on display at the Staedel Museum

Picture: Art Daily

Regular readers may remember that a couple of years ago the Staedel Museum in Germany announced that it had bought a newly discovered 'Raphael and Studio' portrait of Pope Julius II. At the time, I was more than a little sceptical, as you can read here (check out the woeful hands and the crude under-drawing). Now (Art Daily reports), the Staedel has put on a new exhibition explaining their logic, and comparing the new discovery to other versions of the painting. Happily, the National Gallery original has not been lent, and is represented in the photo above by a life size reproduction. 

I still think the Staedel picture is most likely just a copy, and not by Raphael. But the compiler of the new Raphael catalogue raisonne thinks Raphael had a hand it in.

Update - the Grumpy Art Historian has been to see the exhibition, and is also unconvinced.

Update II - a reader writes:

The Gallery deserves credit for a responsible, careful effort, though, don't you think?

New Frick chief curator

November 7 2013

Image of New Frick chief curator

Picture: Frick Collection

Many congratulations to Xavier F. Salomon, who is the new chief curator at the Frick. Xavier was recently at the Met, and before that chief curator at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Quite a stellar rise. More details here

Update - my first version of this story had Xavier as Director - oops. As a reader wrote:

I am sure Xavier will undoubtedly be Director of the Frick before too long, but he has only been appointed Chief Curator to replace Colin B. Bailey. Very boring to be so pedantic, but as your US readers will now be awake, thought it worth clarifying.

New Claude discovery at Christie's

November 7 2013

Image of New Claude discovery at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

Christie's December Old Master sale catalogues are online, and the cover lot for their evening sale is a newly discovered £3m-£5m Claude landscape. The picture was nearly a bargain of the year, having been included (but withdrawn) in a Christie's South Kensington sale earlier this year as 'follower of Claude'. More details in Christie's press release here

The enticing-sleeper-withdrawn-at-the-last-minute thing happens a lot these days. There's a reason for this, and I'll leave to you to figure it out.

Rembrandt's elephant named for certain?

November 6 2013

Image of Rembrandt's elephant named for certain?

Picture: British Museum

A new article published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society names the elephant drawn by Rembrandt in c.1637 (above) as 'Hansken'. The name Hansken had been attached to the drawing before, but new research apparently makes it as certain as we can be. The new research looked into what was the first 'correct type specimen' of the Asian elephant. That is, the first scientific description of an elephant to show what an elephant was (if that makes sense). And it turns out that the first specimen elephant seen, in skeleton form, in Florence in 1667 by the British naturalist John Ray, is thought to be Hansken, and that is the elephant Rembrandt depicted, for it was known to have been in Holland at the time. As the Natural History Museum says:

members of the [research] team are almost 100 per cent certain that this is the skeleton of Hansken, a female Asian elephant that became a travelling curiosity at the time and was known to have died in Florence in 1655.

Although Ray only saw the skeleton of Hansken, Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn painted the elephant from life when he saw it in Amsterdam in 1637. 

This now means that Rembrandt's paintings and sketches are the original and correct portrayal of the type specimen of an Asian elephant. 

Prof Lister said the team was excited to finally be able to assign the Asian elephant its correct type specimen.

Enrico Cappellini, lead author of the study from the Natural History Museum of Denmark, said, 'That you can still see it as a life drawing by Rembrandt demonstrates how science and art remain inseparable.'

The most prominent differences between Asian and African elephants are that African elephants have bigger ears, are generally larger and have more wrinkled skin.

It's all a bit confusing, but I think there's a snippet of news in there somewhere.

Update - a reader explains it far better than I have:

The news is that Rembrandt H v R has suddenly become a natural history artist, alongside people such as JJ Audubon, Gould, Maria Sybilla Merian etc. The relevant word is 'iconotype', ie the first pictorial representation of the first scientifically described specimen. Other artists  drew elephants before Rembrandt, but Hansken was the taxonomic specimen used by John Ray.

Update II - Michael Robinson has all the Rembrandt elephant images on his blog here, and writes:

The elephant in question was a celebrity in Europe from arrival in Holland to death and is well recorded in print and manuscript-- Stefano della Bella drew a significant number of sheets, probably in Paris and finally in Florence, and it is definitely the same elephant in his etchings  --  I think there can be no doubt, or as little doubt as is inevitable in all matters historical, that the skeleton in Florence is of the animal drawn by Rembrandt in Amsterdam in 1637. For me the clinching detail [...] is the wooden ribs, first noted by John Ray in 1664, for more see this long post at Nature.

What is very strange is that Pliny, circa AD 70, is very clear on their being two distinct and different types of elephant,  Indian and African, I can not for the life of me understand where and why Linneaus went wrong  -- the fetal specimen he acquired was known to have been brought from Africa by the West India Company.

Church of England conservation scheme

November 6 2013

Image of Church of England conservation scheme

Picture: TAN

What's this, the Church of England making an effort to restore their works of art, rather than flog 'em off at every opportunity?* The Art Newspaper reports that the Church is seeking to raise £3m to restore treasures such as the above 15th Century wall painting, 'Doom', from Waltham Abbey. Other items, according to TAN, include a della Robbia relief, some early 15thC brasses, and a William Morris carpet. (In other words, if you were being unkind, all the things they know they can't ever sell.)

* vis the Benjamin West in the City of London.

Wednesday amusement

November 6 2013

Image of Wednesday amusement

Picture: via Rembrandt's Room on Twitter

Dingo deal done

November 6 2013

Image of Dingo deal done

Picture: NMM/Nevill Keating Pictures Ltd

Congratulations to the National Maritime Museum for acquiring Stubbs' depictions of a kangaroo and a dingo. The pictures had been destined to Australia, but a £4.5m fundraising effort secured them for the UK. A fine victory over the Aussies in time for the Ashes. The Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, and the Monument Trust all contributed, along with a magnificent £1.5m donation from shipping magnate Eyal Ofer. Well done everyone.

More details here

Update - a reader writes:

Regarding these two Stubbs paintings, for the first time ever, I was not completely in favour of paintings being saved for the UK.

As an expat Australian I believe that both countries have an equal cultural claim for the painting. It's a shame that something could not have been worked out for a shared acquisition.

Nonetheless it is great to have them on my doorstep in Greenwich, well done NMM.

Update II - a reader writes:

SO thrilled to hear about the Stubbs paintings. You might mention that it is strange, if the Australians thought them so important, that they never attempted to borrow them for an exhibition, even though they were very well known, and had been on display at Parham Park for decades. 

Update III - a reader disagrees:

I disagree about the Stubbses tho. David Attenborough was one of my first heroes - 'Fabulous Animals' got me into art and monsters - but I think he's wrong here. The paintings have far more emotional appeal Down Under, and could get people into Stubbs who might otherwise never have thought of him.

Nazi loot extravaganza (ctd.)

November 5 2013

Video: BBC

Not only are the German authorities refusing to publish a list of the art found in that son-of-a-Nazi fellow's flat in Munich, but they've also lost track of him. Unglaublich.

Mind you, judging by the few photos released so far, there's a lot of truly terrible art there too. I wonder if some of it is a bit fake.

Mark Hudson in the Telegraph has a good article on German reluctance to return looted works.

Update - a reader writes:

[...] there must be more to that story. Some of the pictures do indeed look dreadful - and the conveniently round billion euro valuation is inherently suspicious.

I keep reading the phrase 'not previously known' when the press discusses this or that 'new' Matisse, Chagall, Dix etc., which makes me a little suspicious.

However, in Bloomberg, Catherine Hickley reports that many of the works were inventoried by the Alleis after the war, and returned to Gurlitt, the Nazi art dealer who first amassed the collection, in 1950:

A list of art compiled by U.S. troops in 1950 may help Jewish heirs identify works looted by the Nazis that wound up in a squalid Munich apartment, researchers from the Holocaust Art Restitution Project said.

U.S. troops vetted Hildebrand Gurlitt’s collection and missed a chance 63 years ago to seize the stash, which included works by Max Beckmann and Edgar Degas, according to a custody receipt that Marc Masurovsky and Willi Korte, researchers at HARP, found yesterday in the National Archive in Washington.

Their discovery includes a five-page list of artworks held by the allies and returned to Gurlitt in 1950. Prosecutors said they won’t publish an inventory of the 1,400 works seized in the Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, Hildebrand’s son. Groups representing the heirs of Jewish victims of Nazi persecution protested the secrecy.

“A great many people don’t know what is missing from their collections,” Wesley Fisher, Director of Research at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said by telephone from New York. “This secrecy is not going to help families. Many of the items that clearly seem to have come from France may have been seized or lost in forced sales.”

Authorities seized Cornelius Gurlitt’s cache of more than 1,400 paintings, lithographs, drawings and prints as part of an investigation on suspicion of tax evasion in a three-day operation in March 2012. It took 1½ years to announce the hoard. Though refusing to provide a list of the works, they said it includes works by Beckmann, Pablo Picasso, Oskar Kokoschka, Franz Marc, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Max Liebermann.

Update II - the Commission for Looted Art in Europe has published Hidebrand Gurlitt's interview with the allies, and a (much smaller) list of the pictures he had here.

Knox's plans for the Fitzwilliam - 'I want to make it sing'

November 5 2013

Image of Knox's plans for the Fitzwilliam - 'I want to make it sing'

Picture: Fitzwilliam Museum

Exciting news from the Fitzwilliam Museum - after his first six months in the job, new director Tim Knox has published something of a manifesto for what he wants to see happen there. And it is good. Very good in fact. For example, some new building projects are announced, the Founder's Library will be opened, more works will be put on display and rescued from storage, the public will be able to see more of the Hamilton Kerr's conservation work, and, splendidly, photography will now be allowed. Knox says he wants 'to make the place sing'. You can read more details here.

The Fitzwilliam certainly needed this breath of fresh air. In terms of the building, the museum has certainly become a bit tired, as the photo I took last year (below) shows. I hope also that some attention will be paid to the museum's labels, which used to be woefully uninformative.

Also, the Fitzwilliam allowing photography means that the National Gallery is just about the last major museum in the UK that doesn't permit it. Surely this must change soon?

Update - a reader writes:

Let’s hope not. The National Gallery is a sanctuary that saves people from themselves on this point.

 I recently took a friend over from Italy round Tate Modern and the spectacle of some people photographing every painting, followed by its label, without really looking at either, was depressing.

Why are people more inclined to photograph life than live it these days? Is nothing worth doing unless somebody else can be made envious of it with photographic evidence?

Perhaps a better question to ask is, why do some people get so bothered about the way other people chose to look at art? Looking at art in different ways is part of the museum experience, isn't it?

Update II - the reader responds:

I suppose it comes from the same place as caring about whether people look at art at all – it’s an enjoyable (and maybe even edifying) thing to do, so our natural care and concern for other people leads us to want them to have that enjoyment too! 

 You may disagree with the underlying hypothesis that allowing photography makes people less likely to actually look at the pictures, but the ‘why are you bothered’ question is dealt with in exactly the same way as the question as why we think art galleries are a good idea in the first place.

Update III - the Grumpy Art Historian doesn't like Tim Knox's plans one bit. 

Is this the end of the art market bubble?

November 5 2013

Image of Is this the end of the art market bubble?

Picture: NYT

Over on Reuters, Felix Salmon sees the upcoming sales of one famous art collector, Steven Cohen, and wonders if his consigning recent purchases into auction signals an imminent collapse in the art market. In other words, Cohen's upcoming sales are evidence that the market is rising so fast, people can now 'flip' works to make a quick buck, even despite the art market's famously high transaction costs:

According to Carol Vogel and Peter Lattman in the NYT, Cohen is selling a Gerhard Richter [above] which he bought from the Pace Gallery last year, along with “about a dozen other pieces, mostly at Sotheby’s, that he acquired in recent years at art fairs and auctions”.

On top of Cohen’s works, Vogel has found other pieces being flipped this month, including Three Studies of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon, which “was purchased by a consortium from a private collector in Italy within the past 12 months”; and Apocalypse Now, by Christopher Wool, which was sold by David Ganek very recently. Between them, the Richter, the Bacon, and the Wool are going to account for a substantial percentage of the total amount of money spent at auction this season, which means that auction totals are increasingly comprised of short-term trades, as opposed to sales from individuals and families who have owned the objects for many years. [...]

It’s rare for people in the art world to buy a piece and then immediately consign it to auction. It’s common for works of art to be sold in the primary market for well below their auction value — but precisely because it is so common, there are lots of rules and protocols which mitigate against such things happening. When work is being sold at below-market rates, there’s naturally a lot of demand for it, which means that dealers can pick exactly which buyers they want. And if any buyer dares to flip such a work, he knows he’ll be blacklisted from then on in. Instead, if a buyer wants to sell a work he bought from a gallery, he always asks the gallery first.

Meanwhile, in other totally unrelated news, Mr Cohen's hedge fund SAC Capital has agreed to plead guilty to insider trading, and is to be fined a record $1.2 billion. 

Canalettos return to Warwick Castle

November 4 2013

Image of Canalettos return to Warwick Castle

Picture: Adam Busiakiewicz

Here's a clever thing - Warwick Castle has borrowed, from Birmingham Museum, two Canalettos which used to hang at the castle. They were sold off 35 years ago when the 8th Earl of Warwick sold the castle to Madame Tussauds. Many of the pictures were sold seperately.

There was an outcry when the castle was sold to Tussauds, but on my visits there I've always found it well run, and busy. And it's good to see a (gasp) 'commercial' owner taking an interest in such things as 18th Century landscape art. The pictures are on display throughout November. In the picture above, former Warwick Castle employee Adam Busiakiewicz, whose idea the loan was, admires Canaletto's Warwick Castle, the East Front, (which, the ArtFund website tells me, was bought by Birmingham Museum for £275,000 in 1978).

Daumier at the RA

November 4 2013

Image of Daumier at the RA

Picture: Observer

The new Honore Daumier exhibition at the RA seems to be going down well. Waldemar liked it, as did Laura Cumming in the Observer. Alastair Smart wasn't so keen though in the Telegraph, and gave it just two stars. There's a video about the show here

Installing Samuel Cooper

November 4 2013

Image of Installing Samuel Cooper

Picture: BG

Great excitement here at Philip Mould & Co. as we begin to install our Samuel Cooper exhibition

The photo above shows the first completed case. In case you're interested, installing five miniatures takes well over an hour. Each one has to be carefully checked, and then pinned into place with special plastic covered pins. The fabric on which they will rest has been 'Oddy tested' to make sure it isn't toxic for any aspect of the miniature or its frame, and the board behind the fabric, made of Plastazote, is also free of any harmful chemicals. The base of the specially constructed, reinforced glass and steel case has been filled with Artsorb to keep the humidity at a steady 50%. Things you can't see in the photo include humidifiers, light meters, and two ex-army security guards. These are just some of the things you need to think of when exhibiting museum items like this.

The exhibition opens on 13th November, and runs till 7th December. Attendance is of course compulsory for all AHN readers.

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