Previous Posts: October 2013

Giant art history ads

October 13 2013

Image of Giant art history ads

Picture: BG

I saw this in Glasgow airport on Friday. Have you ever seen a better, or bigger art historical ad?

The exhibition is excellent by the way, well worth the trip. Closes 5th January.

"In storage", but on display

October 13 2013

Image of "In storage", but on display

Picture: BG

I was in Scotland again last week, and did a bit of filming in Glasgow Museums Resource Centre for The Culture Show. Regular readers won't be surprised to hear that I get excited about a museum store - so many things to find - but the one in Glasgow is supremely exciting: it's the only store in the country which lets in the public.

If there's a picture you want to see that isn't on display in one of Glasgow's museums (and only 2% of their collection is on display at any one time) you can simply wander along to the storage facility and someone will show you the picture? And it was paid for by the local authority. How enlightened is that? Normally, museum stores are shrouded in secrecy, with the art stuck there in darkness, pretty much forever. All museums should follow Glasgow's lead, don't you think?

This week...

October 8 2013

... I'm afraid things might be a little slow here on AHN. Today I'm off to speak at a conference at Knowsley Hall. On the same platform, the likes of Dr David Starkey and Sir David Attenborough. So no competition then. Then later in the week I have a bit of filming to do. All this interspersed with catalogue editing for our Samuel Cooper show. Sorry folks... 

Update: This is what the catalogue editing looks like. After about the fifth attempt to get all the caption and illustration numbers right...

Update II - a reader writes:

There's your problem!!!!  Your espresso cup is empty...

Elizabeth I's Tate debut

October 7 2013

Image of Elizabeth I's Tate debut

Picture: BG

I was pleased to see the above portrait - the 'Hampden portrait' - of Elizabeth I at Tate Britain this weekend, where it has been lent by a private collector. Not only is it the first full-length portrait of Elizabeth, it is also, as we found here at Philip Mould & Co. when we acquired the painting, the only portrait to show her as a possible wife. The portrait ties into a 1563 speech she gave in the House of Lords (hence the throne and cloth of state) re-assuring Parliament that she would get married and have children. The fruit and flowers in the background allude to her fertility. So it's quite a contrast to our usual image of the Virgin Queen, and consequently did not become one of the frequently repeated portraits of Elizabeth. In fact, remarkably, it was hardly ever published or referred to until we bought it and restored it, and spent most of the 20th century hanging in the judges' changing room at Aylesbury crown court. You can read more about the portrait's history here, and for further discussion on the portrait's attribution, to Steven van Herwijck, see my article in the British Art Journal here

Update - in a splendid piece of show 'n tell, a reader sends in his 16th Century portrait of Elizabeth I based on the head type seen above. 

Move along folks, nothing to see here...

October 4 2013

Image of Move along folks, nothing to see here...

Picture: Die Welt

How do you get a story in practically every paper in the world, with little or no effort? Easy, mention the words 'Leonardo', 'discovery' and 'expert' in the same press release. Hey presto, global media attention. The writer Fiona McLaren got wide coverage last year for claiming that she owned Leonardo's 'last commission'. She doesn't, but she's still going great guns with the idea, as this lecture at the University of Dundee shows. 

Anyway, the latest claim is the above portrait, of Isabella D'Este, which relates to the known Leonardo drawing in the Louvre. I find it hard to believe that it is by the greatest painter that ever lived, judging by the photo. I know it's dangerous to speculate from images, but AHN-ers don't like it when I sit on the fence. The drapery is really feeble. And did the same artist who painted the sublime hand in The Lady with an Ermine really paint that limp and formless thing above? I doubt it. But Leonardo 'expert' Carlo Pedretti has said he did. From The Guardian:

"There are no doubts that the portrait is Leonardo's work," said Carlo Pedretti, an emeritus professor of art history at the University of California.

If acknowledged as genuine – and if experts concur it was painted before the Mona Lisa – the portrait could shake up academic studies of one of the world's most famous painting.

The 61cm by 46.5cm portrait, which uses the same pigment in the paint and the same primer used by Leonardo, is the completed version of a sketch he made of D'Este, which, like the Mona Lisa, hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

The unnamed family which owns the portrait, and asked for it to be analysed, has kept a collection of about 400 paintings in Turgi, Switzerland since the start of the 20th century, reported the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

It's painted with old paint, on old primer - so it must be by Leonardo, right? Or might there have been thousands of artists around at that time who happened to use contemporary paints and techniques?

Regular readers will remember the most recent Pedretti blessing, for the so-called Isleworth Madonna, which just isn't, not in a million years, by Leonardo (as the highly respected Leonardo scholar  Prof. Martin Kemp has vainly tried to point out). Pedretti was also involved in that weird 'Leonardo sculpture' business I mentioned last year. You'd think by now that the press would be wary of people claiming to discover Leonardos without amassing a proper consensus among Leonardo scholars. But on it goes.

Update - The Telegraph has spoken to Martin Kemp:

Martin Kemp, professor emeritus of the history of art at Trinity College, Oxford, and one of the world’s foremost experts on da Vinci, said if the find was authenticated it would be worth “tens of millions of pounds” because there are only 15 to 20 genuine da Vinci works in the world.

But he raised doubts about whether the painting was really the work of Leonardo. The portrait found in Switzerland is painted on canvas, whereas Leonardo favoured wooden boards.

“Canvas was not used by Leonardo or anyone in his production line,” Prof Kemp told The Daily Telegraph. “Although with Leonardo, the one thing I have learnt is never to be surprised.”

There are further doubts – Leonardo gave away his original sketch to the marquesa, so he would not have been able to refer to it later in order to paint a full oil version.

“You can’t rule out the possibility but it seems unlikely,” Prof Kemp said. It was more likely to have been produced by one of the many artists operating in northern Italy who copied Leonardo’s works.

Update II - Professor Kemp has further written on his blog:

Another promotion of a non-Leonardo, pushed by the Corriere della Serra, which has been a great newspaper. I was contacted by someone called [...]* - not, apparently, an accredited arts journalist. I declined to express a visual opinion on the basis of the poor reproductions I had seen but made it clear that any attribution to Leonardo was not consistent with the documentation. The result is that I am implicitly cited as a supporter of the attribution. I will be asking for a retraction.

Having looked further at this, it is clear that the painting cannot be by Leonardo, on the basis of the documented account of Leonardo's relations with Isabella d'Este and his evident failure to paint her portrait.

Update III - a reader writes:

These "Leonardo" discoveries are getting quite tedious as you rightly point out. What is even more annoying is the unreflective acceptance by people and organizations that really should know better. Today, I found it on the TEFAF [The European Fine Art Fair] facebook-page. They are not really helping critical thinking, are they?

I wonder what this tells us about Tefaf vetting.

Update IV - TEFAF gets in touch to tell us:

We believe it's always a good thing to be very critical regarding the authenticity of a piece of art. TEFAF Maastricht is unrivalled in its standards and the methods it applies to establish the authenticity, quality and condition of every painting and object on sale at the fair. Without any exception a TEFAF vetting committee consists of several experts rather than one. By sharing news about (proclaimed) discoveries on our facebook page we hope to enable the discussion amongst our friends. Feel free to participate, we value your thoughts. We are excited to have this discussion and remain curious what further examination will teach us.

* Bizarrely, I got a letter from an Italian lawyer asking me to remove the name the Prof. Kemp had mentioned. 

First photo of Titian's(?) 'Concert'

October 4 2013

Image of First photo of Titian's(?) 'Concert'

Picture: NG3, Possibly by Titian, 'The Music Lesson', about 1535, Oil on canvas 100.4 x 126.1 cm, (C) National Gallery, London

The National Gallery have kindly sent me a photo of the newly cleaned 'Concert', or as it is now called 'The Music Lesson', which I posted about below, and which is featured in the latest issue of The Burlington Magazine. The Gallery catalogues the work as 'Possibly by Titian'. It's hard to judge the picture from this, not least because it has obviously suffered significant damage in the past. The best bit is the central figure below, which, in his jacket, is quite Titian-esque. 

Turner's Scottish Welsh Turner

October 4 2013

Image of Turner's Scottish Welsh Turner

Picture: Telegraph

The Telegraph reports that the above Turner in the Fitzwilliam Museum, which was formerly thought to show a scene in Wales, has now been identified as a scene in Scotland:

Inspired by the majestic Scottish landscapes during his first visit to the highlands in 1801, Joseph Turner created the watercolour painting, entitled The Traveller - Vide Ossian's War of Caros, the following year.

It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London during 1802, but was incorrectly catalogued as a Welsh Mountain Landscape in the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge University during the 1970s.

Now artistic detective work by Professor Murdo MacDonald, of Dundee University, and Eric Shanes, a former chairman of the Turner Society, has proved the painting is a depiction of the Loch Lomond area.

The pair used maps to scout the Scottish countryside to pinpoint the location as Rubha Mor, six miles to the south of Inveruglas.

I was driving along Loch Lomond earlier this week, and very beautiful it was too. I can see why Turner felt the place was worth painting. Full details of the discovery will appear in the next issue of Turner Society News, the journal of the Turner Society.

Trouble 'n strife at Sotheby's

October 4 2013

Image of Trouble 'n strife at Sotheby's

Picture: NY Times

Get out the popcorn and pull up a comfy chair, because it's all kicking off at Sotheby's. One of the company's largest shareholders, Daniel Loeb (above), has launched a series of zingers at the board. From the New York Times:

“Sotheby’s is like an old master painting in desperate need of restoration,” Mr. Loeb wrote. He also disclosed that he was the company’s biggest shareholder with a 9.3 percent stake. The letter and disclosure were in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mr. Loeb, who is a prominent art collector, is agitating for change at the top of Sotheby’s, contending that a “crisis of management” has created “dysfunctional divisions and a fractured culture.”

“As with any important restoration, Sotheby’s must first bring in the right technicians,” Mr. Loeb added. He wants to join the board immediately and recruit several new directors and a new chief executive. He also does not want the same person to be chairman and chief executive. [...] 

He then focused on Sotheby’s management. “Sotheby’s malaise is a result of a lack of leadership and strategic vision at its highest levels,” Mr. Loeb said.

He attacked Mr. Ruprecht’s pay package — $6.3 million in salary in 2012 — and limited stock holdings, adding that it had created a misalignment with other shareholders.

He also chastised Sotheby’s senior directors for an extravagant lunch and dinner at a notable “farm to table” New York restaurant, where he said “senior management feasted on organic delicacies and imbibed vintage wines at a cost to shareholders of multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Sotheby’s responded several hours later with a statement calling Mr. Loeb’s comments “incendiary and baseless,” and signaling it might not back down without a fight.

In a penetrating analysis of Sotheby's position, the Grumpy Art Historian agrees with me that it was a mistake by Sotheby's to retreat from their middle and lower end operations (for example, closing their Olympia saleroom in London).

Masterpieces in Schools

October 4 2013

Image of Masterpieces in Schools

Picture: BBC

So yet another great idea from the Public Catalogue Foundation - 'masterpieces in schools'. A series of paintings from public collections will be taken to schools around the country, to introduce children to great art. And it really is great art - this is not just 'let's find any old painting to show da kids', but, as you can see above, works by the likes of Turner (Dolbadarn Castle) . More here

NPG buys Anne Clifford portrait

October 4 2013

Image of NPG buys Anne Clifford portrait

Picture: The Guardian

The National Portrait Gallery has acquired a newly identified portrait of Lady Anne Clifford by William Larkin. The portrait was found by the Weiss Gallery in London. More details here

Connoisseurship and that new Van Gogh

October 3 2013

Image of Connoisseurship and that new Van Gogh

Picture: NYTimes

Art historian Gary Schwartz (whom regular readers will know for his expertise on that recently discovered Saenredam) has raised some interesting questions about the new Van Gogh 'discovery' - specifically, how did it ever get turned down in the first place?

It was submitted for judgment in 1991, at which time the museum notified the owner that “we think that the picture in question is not an authentic Van Gogh.” The quotation is from the scholarly publication on the re-attribution in the October issue of the Burlington Magazine, the art-historical equivalent of an article in Nature or Science. (Louis van Tilborgh, Teio Meedendorp and Oda van Maanen, all curators at the Van Gogh Museum, “’Sunset at Montmajour’: a newly discovered painting by Vincent van Gogh,” The Burlington Magazine 155 [2013], nr. 1327, pp. 696-705.) Given this embarrassing fact, the rhetoric surrounding the announcement should have been toned down considerably. The painting should not be called “newly discovered,” certainly not in a journal of record like the Burlington. A more accurate title for the article would have been “Sunset at Montmajour: the Van Gogh Museum changes its mind about an attribution and corrects an old error of its own."

Schwartz goes on to highlight all the strong evidence in favour of the picture, including a large '180' written on the back of Sunset at Montmajour, which matches up exactly with an inventory compiled just after Theo Van Gogh died, where the picture is listed as '180 soleil couchant a Arles', and with the same dimensions. Montmajour is in Arles. The more I read about it, the more I wonder how Van Gogh connoisseurship ever went so off beam?

The first Las Meninas?

October 3 2013

Image of The first Las Meninas?

Picture: National Trust

A Spanish art historian, Dr Matias Diaz Padron (Director of the Instituto Moll, the 'Centre for the Study of Flemish Pictures' in Spain) has claimed that a previously overlooked 56 x 48 inch replica of 'Las Meninas' belonging to the National Trust (above) is in fact Velasquez's preliminary study for the work. Says The Guardian:

Díaz Padrón argued that the painting was "believed to be, and documented as, a Velázquez original in the 17th and 18th centuries … by the professors of the Royal Academy, including Francisco de Goya". It was only in the 19th and 20th centuries that the painting's provenance was changed, he said, with historians coming to believe it to be a later copy by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, Velázquez's son-in-law and successor as painter to the royal court.

He argued that this was a mistake and that the painting was the first "boceto or modeletto" — a first draft or sketch – painted by Velázquez, which the king then asked him to reproduce on a larger scale, which now hangs in the Prado.

Díaz Padrón said: "Today, the moment has arrived to revise these judgments, and restore the painting's authorship to Velázquez." He said: "I don't see any differences between the boceto and the definitive work … the colours are typical of Velázquez in both pictures."

The debate is anything but settled, however, and the Prado museum denies that the painting in Kingston Lacy, bought by the English landowner and art collector William Bankes in the early 19th century, is an original.

I haven't got access to good images of the Kingston Lacy picture. There's one on the National Trust website here, and another on Your Paintings here. I'll try and get hold of a good photo. Compare with the original in the Prado here. In the meantime, it's interesting to note that if, as the Prado maintains, the Kingston Lacy picture is just a copy, then it isn't a particularly diligent copy. You can't, for example, see the all-important king and queen in the mirror (though it's possible I suppose that this is due to condition issues), and you'd have to wonder why a copyist would leave this out. Of course, if it is was a study by Velasquez, then it would make sense for him just to sketch in the mirror.

So keep an open mind folks. It looks to be a freely painted thing, of some quality. Mind you, if it was, as previously suggested, by Velasquez's talented son-in-law, Del Mazo, then it would also be a work of quality. Anyway, if the Kingston Lacy picture is 'right', then they'll have found a Rembrandt and a Velasquez in one year - amazing.

Update - a reader writes:

Díaz Padrón says that Lay Kingston painting, is a preliminary study of Las Meninas, but this is unlikely. In the X-ray test performed to Las Meninas, will appreciate, numerous changes, introduced during the process of composition. These changes are only in the original canvas and not in the copy. This is a copy of the basic composition of the canvas of the Prado, once finished. If this was a modeletto, would reflect occult version of the Prado painting, not the final version.

Diaz Padron insists on ignoring the evidence, physical and chemical. According to him: "An artist is not a pigment, not a glue, not a color" but a painting, it is.

Update II - another reader writes:

Confusion over the works of Velasquez and del Mazo has been around for centuries. 

Aside from the Kingston Lacy painting, the National Gallery paid £10,000 in 1890 for what it thought was a famous original portrait by Velasquez of Admiral Pareja.  For some years now that work has been “downgraded” and is generally thought to be by del Mazo.

What’s always intrigued me is that the Gallery has a fully authenticated del Mazo which, while it bears some similarities to the Admiral Pareja portrait, is much less impressive.  If the Admiral Pareja portrait is a copy by del Mazo, he clearly had some facility in imitating Velasquez’s technique – see also the rather splendid work in York.

Update III - the Grumpy Art Historian has found that the picture was 'discovered' before, about 15 years ago.

Threats and menaces

October 2 2013

Twice now in the last year I've had what can only be described as threatening (in the legal sense) communications from the owners of two paintings (I'll leave it there, but regular readers can probably guess) which I have dared to question. Both are controversial in their own right, and I have not been alone in saying what I've said. But still the threats are made. This seems to be an increasing problem in the art world, and in both America and France scholars have been sued for expressing an opinion contrary to an owner's interest or wish. But happily, here in the UK it is impossible to be sued by a painting. Phew...

Apologies... (ctd.)

October 2 2013

Image of Apologies... (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Woeful service this week I'm afraid. Filming again in Scotland, this time on a beach. I still can't tell you what the programme is about, but if anyone wants to have a go at Test Your Beach Connoisseurship, they may figure it out.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.