Previous Posts: October 2013

Sleeper Alert

October 31 2013

Image of Sleeper Alert

Picture: Bonhams

This 'Circle of Francesco Albani, Hercules Resting' made £254,500 at auction yesterday in London, against a £3,000-£5,000 estimate. I saw it at the view, and thought it was quite good, but had no idea who it's by. One for my bulging 'Sleepers I have missed' file.

Update - two readers say Carracci, one Annibale and the other Agostino. 

Update II - another reader writes:

It's a new Leonardo!!!!!!!   Well, what the heck, why not join the crowd?

Update III - a sleuthing reader notes the connection with this drawing by Annibale Carracci, sold at Sotheby's New York in 1998 for £73,000. Note the difference between the position of the hand. Well done readers - case solved?

Update IV - another reader writes:

Don't wish to teach granny how to suck eggs… but re. your Hercules item: a high price against a low estimate surely does not necessarily mean it's a sleeper.  In this particular instance I would call it "speccy alert".  As we all know, many of them just die a slow and painful death… with bitter and twisted buyers.

The real sleeper is the one that just 'walks out' of the saleroom - largely unnoticed.

Not art history...

October 30 2013


...but definitely worth a click. It shows the moment a concert pianist realises she's been preparing for the wrong concerto, and has no music for the right one. And then, something amazing happens.

'China's broken art market'

October 29 2013

Fascinating article in the New York Times on how the Chinese art market isn't all it seems. Fraud, non-payment, forgery and bribery are all reasons to disbelieve much of what you see.

Sleeper Alert

October 29 2013

Image of Sleeper Alert

Picture: ATG

The Antiques Trade Gazette reports that the above picture made £240,000 at a Lyon & Turnbull sale in Edinburgh sale last week, against a £8,000-£12,000 estimate. It was catalogued as by a 16th Century follower of Dieric Bouts, who painted this very similar composition in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. 

An idea about the Royal Collection

October 29 2013

Image of An idea about the Royal Collection


Lord Adonis, the former Labour Cabinet minister, wrote an article in The Times last week about the Royal Collection. He was uncomfortable with the fact that so much of the collection is out of sight from the public. His 'serious proposal' was to turn St James' Palace into a permanent gallery for the collection. 

It's not a new idea, and has been doing the rounds for some years. I remember someone authoritative telling me, years ago, that an early gesture in any reign of Charles III would involve something like this. The question is perhaps (to be conspiratorial) this - why is Adonis writing an opinion piece in the Times on the matter, and why is he doing it now? Is someone trying to float the idea?

If so, then good luck to them. St James' Palace is used for royal functions and the offices of Princes William and Harry, but it is not a place of residence. It probably could be turned into a gallery to show more of the Royal Collection. The Queen's Gallery is a wonderful place for exhibitions, but too small for anything beyond a temporary hang. 

The trick with any larger space for the Royal Collection will be to accept that the collection is primarily a working one, one that is by definition dispersed among royal palaces (including non-residential palaces like Hampton Court) not just to decorate but to form part of historical settings often centuries old. So by all means have more space to display the Royal Collection. But don't turn it into a static display which changes the whole purpose of the Royal Collection.

Hasan Niyazi

October 29 2013

Image of Hasan Niyazi

Picture: 3PP

Hasan Niyazi, whom many readers will know from Twitter and his blog, Three Pipe Problem, has died. Hasan was a major part of the online art historical world, and art history has lost one of its most spirited champions. Coming from a clinical and medical background, he wrote about art (and in particular his favourite artist, Raphael) with a refreshing clarity and vision. His main aim was to open up art history to a wider audience. He disliked, and saw as uncomfortably elitist, much of the old language, methodology and structure of art history. Perhaps understandably, coming from a scientific background, he hoped to make art history a little more certain than it is, with a greater focus on consensus among experts, and properly tested evidence. That is to say, not attributional hunches and connoisseurial reactions.

An early reader of AHN, Hasan was always ready with a kind email of praise, and occasionally a probing Tweet of criticism. Sadly, we had a minor spat over connoisseurship last year. I don't think he was a fan of the concept, and saw it as too unscientific, especially in relation to pictures like Raphael's Madonna of the Pinks. But our disagreement was only a reflection of Hasan's passion for the wider subject, and we remained in touch.

Of course, he was entirely right to want to find a more certain, scientific way to attribute paintings. The only question is whether it can be done. I suspect it probably can be, one day, and then the likes of Hasan will justly be seen as pioneering advocates for a new approach to art history. I found an email from him which I think sums up his approach. Writing about a discussion he had with a Raphael scholar, he related that: 

[...] he had a good chuckle when I asked him "will art history ever free itself from the need to debate attributions" - he seemed to think the passionate debate was part of the fun - which I can understand to an extent - though my science training does think it a bit odd.

Aside from his writings on Three Pipe Problem, Hasan's best online legacy will doubtless be the (sadly unfinished) 'Open Raphael' project, an invaluable reference point for information on every painting Raphael made. I'm sad not to have eventually met someone that dedicated to art history. He was just 37 when he died (the same age as Raphael).

You can find tributes to Hasan from Monica Bowen (aka Alberti's Widow) here,  David Packwood (Art History Today) here, Francis Stefano (Giorgione et al) here, and from Dr Ben Harvey here.

Sotheby's sued over Winslow Homer ownership

October 29 2013

Image of Sotheby's sued over Winslow Homer ownership

Picture: Standard

The Evening Standard reports that Sotheby's are being sued over the ownership of a watercolour by Winslow Homer (above). Regular readers may remember the picture from our BBC1 programme 'Fake or Fortune?' Sotheby's has been holding onto the painting ever since 2009, when two families claimed owneship, and are now being taken to court by a descendant of the sitters in the painting, Shirley Rountree.

To recap quickly: the painting was allegedly found on a rubbish tip in Ireland about 25 years ago by a man going fishing; he then gave it to his daughter, who took it onto the Antiques Roadshow; the picture was then researched by us for 'Fake or Fortune?', and we established the identity of the sitters, who were the children of the Governor of the Bahamas, Sir Henry Blake. The daughter then decided to sell the painting at Sotheby's New York; but just an hour before the sale, Sotheby's said they had a rival claim of ownership, from Mrs Rountree, who said the picture had been stolen from her house all those years ago.

It all made for dramatic telly, but since then Sotheby's have kept hold of the painting, being unsure who to give it back to. And now they're being sued by Mrs Rountree, who says the picture is hers. There was never, however, any record of the picture being stolen. So part of the problem was that nobody could yet definitively prove ownership. 

Apologies... (ctd.)

October 29 2013

Sorry for the lack of posts yesterday. I was doing a voiceover. I'll try and post some news later today in my lunch break.

Voiceovers, in case you're interested, are trickier than you think. Not only does your voice have to compete with the image on screen, but it also has to convey the right emotion for the subject at hand. Warmth, intrigue, sadness, optimism - easy if you went to RADA, but not for your average art dealer. Try too hard and you sound like Jeremy Clarkson, take it too easy and you just sound dull. 

Test your connoisseurship

October 25 2013

Image of Test your connoisseurship


We haven't had one of these for a while. So, can you tell who painted this? Find the answer below by clicking 'read on'.

Update - a reader writes:

For your Connoisseurship puzzles,  no more ' read on ' links, please.

It spoils the fun.   I'm sure others feel the same way.

And with Google and Bing all your followers can chase down any bright ideas they might come up with.

And learn more, and possibly find clues to their own research...

Another reader writes:

Unusually easy that one for you.

Read More

Suing the Met (ctd.)

October 25 2013

Image of Suing the Met (ctd.)

Picture: Metropolitan Museum

I reported a while ago on the attempt to sue the Met in New York over its admission policy. (To recap, some chancers are trying to get a multi-million dollar class action suit against the museum.) Yesterday, the Met announced it has signed an amendment to its lease with New York City, so that in future there is no doubt about what it can and cannot charge. AP reports:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art says it has signed an amendment to its lease with New York City that confirms the museum can set its own admission fees.

The amendment comes as the museum faces lawsuits filed earlier this year that accuse the Met of fooling visitors into thinking they have to pay.

The museum says a policy requiring visitors to pay at least something has been around for four decades, and the amendment codifies it in the lease and also gives the museum the ability to consider any other price modifications it might need in the future.

A lawyer for the museum visitors who sued said Thursday the change is actually an admission that the museum didn't have the authority to charge fees over those years.

I am not on Facebook

October 24 2013

Weirdly, someone has set up a Facebook page for Bendor Grosvenor. It used to be illustrated with a photo of me taken sneakily at night, through the gallery window here at Philip Mould & Co. Weirder still. Who would want to do such a thing? The trouble is, I don't want to be on Facebook. Does anyone know how to get my imposter removed?

Still, at least I know 44 people 'like' 'me'. Woo.

More of Leonardo's Sala delle Asse mural uncovered

October 24 2013

Image of More of Leonardo's Sala delle Asse mural uncovered


Removal of whitewash in Sforzesco Castle, Italy, has apparently revealed the remains of Leonardo's decoration in the Sala delle Asse. From the Gazzetta del Sud:

New sections of artwork by Leonardo da Vinci have been found in a room of the Sforzesco Castle, where he was the court artist for the duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro, in the late 1400s. Restoration work on the Sala delle Asse (room of the planks), which da Vinci decorated from April to September of 1498 with a mural of trees soaring into a vaulted canopy, has revealed additional sections of the original work under several layers of whitewash - sometimes up to 17 - according to representatives of the Florentine restoration institute Opificio delle Pietre Dure. Restoration workers say they are uncovering a monochrome section of the mural depicting a huge tree root [below], stuck in rock at the base of the many trees that adorn the room - a giant, surprising 'trompe l'oeil'. Analyses done on the face of the mural to reconstruct the original composition give "quite interesting results", they say, and give hope of restoring large parts of the original decoration. So far the work of scraping away newer layers has been performed with mechanical means, like scalpels and hammers, but further work will likely require other methods, like ultrasound scaling, laser instruments and chemical products.

More photos of the work in action here.

Graham Reynolds

October 24 2013

Image of Graham Reynolds

Picture: The Times

Sad news in The Times that the art historian Graham Reynolds, for decades the leading authority on Constable, has died. I never met him, but regularly used, and was in awe of, his various books. He was also an expert on English portrait miniatures.

Update - artist and print-maker Miranda Mott, who knew Graham Reynolds from her work at Gainsborough's House in Sudbury, writes:

I was investigating further details of Graham's work online, following his excellent Times obituary, when I came across your name as editor of Art History News.  The extensive piece published in yesterday's paper left no room to  mention yet another role, after he retired from the V&A,  as chairman of the Gainsborough's House Society governors. It was due entirely to Graham and his artist wife Daphne, who brought it all together, that we were able to launch the successful Print Workshop in the old Coach House at Gainsborough's birthplace museum in Sudbury.

It opened in 1979, towards the end of Graham's chairmanship, and brought into being an unusual partnership between living artists and art historians under the same umbrella, where they belong - all artists are history in the end !

We published a short history of this Workshop last year, which I edited and to which Graham contributed, to celebrate its thirty years existence, financed with a special hardback edition in a slipcase - which virtually sold out before an exhibition about its artists in the House gallery. The paperback version is on sale in aid of Gainsborough's House.

John and I knew both Reynolds very well, and saw a great deal of Graham over these past years since Daphne died in 2002. The remarkable breadth of his mind - he was a trained economist among other things and was an inexhaustible reader - meant too that he and John shared interests in the machinations of the Thatcher government, and of Whitehall, which Graham had experienced himself in the war and via the V&A. His mind was unaffected right to the end.

3D Art Reproductions

October 22 2013

Video: Canon

Very cool. And for an art dealer, slightly alarming. 

Frieze week sales

October 22 2013

Interesting update on sales at this year's Freize week from the FT, the fair's sponsor:

Sales at the five-day event, which attracts the world’s top dealers, gallery owners, artists and wealthy collectors, stayed firmly within expectations, with some describing trade as “muted”.

Circling Detroit (ctd.)

October 21 2013

Image of Circling Detroit (ctd.)

Picture: BG/DIA

Back in the summer I reported on Christie's visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts to value the collection there, now that the bankrupt city is considering selling the art. Now, more information has emerged about what's going on. In the LA Times, Mark Caro tells us that Christie's staff visit the museum on Mondays, when it's shut, and that the auction house is being paid $200,000. Also, only works in the DIA specifically bought by the City are being valued for possible sale (so not gifts or other acquisitions):

Out of the DIA's 60,000 pieces, 6,000 are on view, and 3,300 are classified as city of Detroit purchases rather than those donated by patrons [...].

Christie's is appraising only the city-purchased works, so Rivera's courtyard murals, a gift from Edsel B. Ford, are not at risk, but many of the DIA's most famous paintings — such as Van Gogh's straw-hatted "Self Portrait" (1887), Rembrandt's "The Visitation" (1640) and Giovanni Bellini's "Madonna and Child" (1509) — were bought by the city before the museum's 1927 opening.

There's also some talk of art being sold, but leased back by the museum. For what it's worth, I suspect some prize works will be sold in the end, if only out of political necessity. Very few politicians like to be seen as protective of 'the arts' over pensioners. So the DIA will struggle on, just without some of its star pieces.

Have we run out of good art to sell?

October 21 2013

Video: Channel 4 News

Paul Mason of Channel 4 News wonders if the profusion of works by lesser known 20th Century artists on offer at Frieze Masters is because there isn't enough good art to go round, or rather the good stuff is just too expensive. One dealer, exhibiting the work of an entirely unknown Hungarian dentist (above), says somewhat unconvincingly, "This is not about finding something else to flog".

Update - an Old Master dealing reader writes:

Your post "Have we run of good art to sell" was a pleasure to read and see.

Indeed, even though the old masters are oft lamented as being almost depleted, it seems that modern and contemporary masters face the same problem. 

Where with the old masters it's more a problem of shrinking supply, the modern masters have had to cope with huge and growing demand, surging prices and an influx of new "collectors". Nowadays it seems easier (not to mention cheaper) to get your hands on a decent Brueghel than it is to acquire a half-decent Monet, Van Gogh or Picasso.

What Frieze says about London

October 21 2013

Image of What Frieze says about London

Picture: Guardian

Interesting piece in The Guardian by Nick Cohen on why Frieze is a perfect reflection of London's unsettling excesses at the moment:

If you doubt that London is the capital city of the global oligarchy, look around. When Russian, Kazakh or American billionaires buy mansions, the government ensures they pay minimal property and foreign earnings taxes. As a consequence, foreign buyers are taking half the houses costing £1m or more in central London. A vast service industry tends to their needs. I could point you to the luxury shops and private schools, but consider this statistic from the law courts instead. Corporate lawyers are so dependent on oligarchical wealth to keep their incomes high, foreigners now make up almost two-thirds of litigants in the commercial court.

Nothing can stop the infatuation. When George Osborne arrived in China, he assured his hosts that if its wealthy wanted to buy companies, power stations, homes, or anything else their hearts desired, he would welcome them to Britain, his party's anti-immigration platform notwithstanding.

We have a government, tax regime, property market, legal system and immigration policy designed to meet the needs of the plutocracy. And art for oligarchs too. Specifically, we have a giant, cartoonish cat in a garish sock by Jeff Koons hanging above the dealers at the Frieze art fair in Regent's Park.

"How much is it?" I asked an assistant.

"We don't give out prices," she replied, with a look that said: "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."

As an art dealer working in Mayfair, I obviously rely somewhat on the London's enormous influx of overseas money. But the flipside is that the city where I grew up has become too expensive to actually live in.

Whistler in Dulwich

October 21 2013

Video: Dulwich Picture Gallery

Adrian Hamilton in the Independent likes Dulwich Picture Gallery's new exhibition in Whistler, 'An American in London: Whistler and the Thames'. In the video above, Dulwich's director, Ian Dejardin, introduces the show. It runs until 12th January.

'Britain's Sistine Chapel'

October 21 2013

Image of 'Britain's Sistine Chapel'

Picture: National Trust

Regular readers will know of my anorak-like fascination with war art, so it's exciting to read that Stanley Spencer's WW1 murals, normally housed in Sandham Memorial Chapel in Berkshire, are coming to London. They will be on display from November 7th till January 26th at Somerset House. Needless to say, the PR hype that these murals are somehow 'Britain's Sistine Chapel' is a bit de trop

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