Previous Posts: September 2013

New Titians galore

September 27 2013

Image of New Titians galore

Pictures: National Gallery, top, and The Burlington Magazine, bottom

Exciting news in the new edition of The Burlington Magazine: not one but two new Titian attributions. First, Jill Dunkerton (a conservator at the National Gallery, London) is writing an article on the NG's 'Concert', which she says is by Titian. Jill has been cleaning the work, and when it was de-lined it was found to have Charles I's brand on the back. When Charles owned it, it was called Titian. For what it is worth, I gave my cautious view on the pre-cleaned painting from an online photograph back in January here. Tediously, the NG website still lists the painting as 'imitator of Titian', and with the pre-cleaned photograph (above).

The second new Titian (published by Artur Rosenauer), can be seen on the magazine's front cover, and is thought to be an unknown early work called 'The Risen Christ' (below). It looks, from the photo, entirely right as an early Titian. I can't tell you any more, because the magazine has yet to land on my desk. Of course, being The Burlington, none of this is freely available online, but the magazine will be well worth buying at £19.50. 

Update - apparently the Risen Christ is in a private collection in Uruguay. That country's first Titian?

Birmingham acquires Erasmus Darwin portrait

September 27 2013

Image of Birmingham acquires Erasmus Darwin portrait

Picture: Philip  Mould & Co.

Congratulations to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for raising £275,000 to acquire Joseph Wright of Derby's portrait of Erasmus Darwin (above). The portrait was bought, with help from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lotter Fund, from, er, us here at Philip Mould & Co. Birmingham's website says:

The portrait belonged to Erasmus’ elder brother, William Alvey Darwin (1726 – 83), of Elston Hall, Notts, and remained in the family until sold at auction in 2009.  It was one of only two copies done by Wright of this particular portrait. The other copy survives and is now on loan to Darwin College Cambridge. 

Darwin was 40 years old when the portrait was painted around 1770, and Wright brilliantly captures his intellect, charisma and good humour through his skilful brushwork and trademark use of contrasting light and shadow. 

Erasmus Darwin (1731 – 1802) was a key figure in the history of the British Enlightenment. He was a gifted physician, botanist, author, poet and inventor, and a founder member of the famous Lunar Society of Birmingham with Matthew Boulton. Although not as well known today as his grandson Charles, Erasmus is credited with many of the ideas that led to Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution. Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) is perhaps the artist most closely associated with the Enlightenment and the early Industrial Revolution. Best known for his dramatic scientific subject works like the iconic Experiment with a Bird in an Air Pump, much of his output was portraiture.  

 Chris Rice, Head of Heritage Services at Birmingham Museums Trust commented: “This is a hugely important acquisition for Birmingham Museums. Once again we are extremely grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their generous grant which means the portrait can be enjoyed by everyone in the region for generations to come.”

Which is more important - a portrait or a letter?

September 26 2013

Image of Which is more important - a portrait or a letter?

Picture: ArtFund

What tells you more about a historical figure - their portrait or their letters? Even as an art lover and a purveyor of portraits, I would have to concede the latter, in most cases. A possible exception can be made when we're dealing with exceptional artists who have built strong relationships with their sitters. The first example that comes to mind is Allan Ramsay and David Hume. 

Anyway, the point of this post is to alert you to the impending loss to the UK of the archive of General James Wolfe, conqueror of Quebec. On 1st August this year, the UK government put a temporary export ban on the most important collection of documents relating to Wolfe - 232 letters from Wolfe to his parents, charting his whole career. The archive had been sold to a Canadian buyer for £900,000. 

With just four days to go, it seems that no UK institution is going to step forward and try to prevent the sale. The National Army Museum is the logical candidate for a buyer, for some years ago they successfully stopped the export of the above portrait of General Wolfe by J S Schaak, and bought it for £308,750. But I've learnt that the NAM has decided not to even try and buy the archive. One of the reasons is that much of it has 'already been reproduced'. 

This is a curious state of affairs. As the (so far anonymous) Expert Adviser when an export licence was being considered noted, the papers have indeed been reproduced, but only in a heavily edited way (to suppress a great deal of information) and with many errors. Clearly, the papers are of central importance to UK military history, and a strong case can be made for them staying in the country. Saying we don't need the physical letters because they've been transcribed is a bit like saying we don't need a painting because it has been photographed.

I'm doubly interested in the NAM's decision because when the Schaak portrait of Wolfe, above, came up before the government's export licensing panel I had the job of representing the overseas buyer. I argued that the portrait was, while an interesting object, not a pre-eminent one, mainly because it wasn't done from life, and was one of a number of versions. So I'm puzzled as to why the NAM should have wanted to acquire a posthumous portrait of Wolfe which tells us little of the man, but not his more important archive. Art lovers may like the precedent that a portrait of a historical figure is more valued, and easir to fundraise for, than their archive. But historians certainly won't.

Update - some behind the scenes agitating by me (I'm a member of the government's Historical Manuscripts body), has helped lead to the below letter in today's Times. Our best hope at the moment is in persuading the NAM to change their mind. Three days to go...

Update II - a (Canadian) reader writes:

On the bright side, if General Wolfe’s archive does leave the country it will go to Canada where he is a great hero and much better known than I suspect he is in his homeland! Every Canadian student learns about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham as an important moment of our country’s history. They would find a good home there, I think (provided they are still available to researchers, of course).

True. But also, sadly, a reflection of the shockingly bad provision for history teaching in UK schools.

Update III - they're going to Canada. I tried, but alas...

The value of that new Van Gogh

September 26 2013

Image of The value of that new Van Gogh

Picture: New York Times

The Frankfurter Allgemeine reports that the newly discovered Van Gogh 'Sunset at Montmajour' was offered to a New York dealer earlier in the summer for between $150m-$200m. It seems that someone unofficial, we don't know who, claimed to be able to sell the painting, which at that time had not yet been authenticated by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. More here, in German.

Cultural visits in the UK

September 26 2013

Image of Cultural visits in the UK


Are on the up, according to a government press release:

Visits to museums and galleries in England are at their highest levels with over half of all adults in England visiting a museum or art gallery in the last year according to official statistics, published today.  

On top of this 78 per cent of all adults had attended or participated in the arts during the period, a ‘significant increase’ since 2005/06.

The biggest increase in engagement with the arts was by those living in the North East, North West and the East Midlands.  

The number of adults in those areas saying they engaged with the Arts rose to 74.6 per cent in the North East, 76.5 per cent in the North West and 81.4 per cent in the East Midlands. 

Our national Heritage proved a firm favourite with 72 per cent of adults visiting a Heritage site in the previous year and more people, nearly a third of all adults, saying they now visited at least 3-4 times a year.

Read More

New blog on African art history

September 25 2013

Image of New blog on African art history

Picture: Bruno Claessens

Pray extend a warm art historical welcome to a new blog by Bruno Claessens, a curator and independent expert on African art.

Connoisseurship strikes back

September 25 2013

Image of Connoisseurship strikes back

Picture: Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Regular readers will know that I'm a cheerleader for connoisseurship, which has long taken hammering from academic art historians. So I'm interested to see that the Vrije University in Brussels is offering a post-graduate course in connoisseurship. The course objectives are:

To enable graduates, already specialists in the world of the arts, to improve their connoisseurship qualities. Incorporating the latest insights of neuroscientific research applied within the context of a thorough knowledge of the historical, economic, legal and sociological processes that shape the art market, are essential.

To lead students to a better understanding and to critical visual cognitive-perception of artworks through the study of neuroscience. The deeply human side of the talent of the connoisseur, on the one hand, and the limits imposed by the laws of brain and of cognitive-perception, on the other hand, are studied.

To prepare the students, already specialists in the world of arts, to excell in the knowledge of the legal framework and all issues related to the art market in a global world. The academic program ‘Connoisseurship’ targets on the knowledge of the legal aspects of different law systems, to be taken into account in the global art market today. Various legal disciplines will be examined and practical cases will be studied.

To put the definition of authenticity in art in the context of the very nature of the work of art and on the legal system. Vendors, buyers, auctioneers, dealers, and agent-strategies have to be understood in the legal, sociological, fiscal, and economic context.

To provide the acquisition of theoretical and practical knowledge for material analysis by specialized laboratory techniques. Diagnostics based on technical results, require great experience to produce the rightful attributions. It focuses on a detailed observation of the work of art, essential in this context.

To increase skills for evaluation and expertise in the light of the art market experience. It needs a ‘period eye’ and the understanding of the specificity of each work of art.

Nothing, of course, beats going out and looking at pictures - so there will always be a limit on what you can learn in a classroom. But if you're interested, sign up here.

What's next for the 4th plinth

September 24 2013

Image of What's next for the 4th plinth

Picture: Culture24

The shortlist for Trafalgar Square includes a horse skeleton and a giant thumb. Spoilt for choice, as they say... More here.

Worcester Art Museum's new Veronese

September 24 2013

Image of Worcester Art Museum's new Veronese

Picture: Worcester Art Museum

I'm slightly late on this I'm afraid, but last month the Worcester Art Museum acquired the above Veronese, 'Venus Disarming Cupid', which (the New York Times reports) was once a bit of a sleeper:

 The museum announced Wednesday that it had acquired one of the few paintings by Paolo Veronese still in private hands, “Venus Disarming Cupid,” believed to be from 1560. Its attribution to Veronese came relatively recently, in 1990, when the painting was auctioned at Christie’s.

The work, based on a drawing by Parmigianino and one of several paintings of the same theme known to have been made by Veronese, sold for $2.9 million to the collector Hester Diamond, who has decided to give it to the Worcester in honor of her stepdaughter, Rachel Kaminsky, a museum board member. In a statement Ms. Diamond said, “The Worcester Museum’s willingness to explore new ideas for encouraging audiences of every age to think differently about art reflects the arc of my own collecting.” Matthias Waschek, the museum’s director, called the donation “a game changer for our collection.”

When the painting’s previous owner consigned it to Christie’s, the work was identified as “Circle of François Boucher.” But the Veronese expert Terisio Pignatti and W. R. Rearick, an authority on 16th-century Venetian painting, endorsed its attribution to Veronese after examining it. The work has been described as notable for the expression on the face of Venus, a mixture of triumph, amusement and consternation. The painting was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in late 2006 and will go on view at Worcester beginning Sept. 21 as part of the museum’s re-installation of its old-master galleries.

Good and bad news for the arts in the US

September 24 2013

The Art Newspaper reports that government funding for the arts in the US hit a record low in 2011. However, there are also signs that overall things are getting better...

Overall, however, the report suggests that the arts sector is slowly recovering from the recession. The number of Americans volunteering for the arts grew from 1.8 million in 2010 to 2 million in 2011, an 11% spike. Arts employment remained steady and the average annual salary for arts professionals kept pace with inflation, reaching $52,000. 

The report’s authors emphasize that anecdotal evidence and recent economic data suggest that the arts industry has grown healthier since 2011. Roland Kushner, an economist who co-authored the report, says in a statement: “We’ve seen broad improvements in the economy, employment and philanthropy since 2011, all of which suggest that the arts are poised for higher index scores in years to come.” 

I'm not entirely sure what the 'arts industry' is. But if it's any help, I can report a great year so far for my little corner of the art trade here in London. There's definitely a sense that things are on the up...

How to be a Connoisseur

September 22 2013

Image of How to be a Connoisseur


Reader Leonor Leite kindly alerts me to this indispensable guide in how to tell who painted what. Above is a handy way to spot a Bosch.

Questions for the Art Loss Register

September 22 2013

Image of Questions for the Art Loss Register

Picture: ALR

There's an interesting article in the New York Times on the Art Loss Register, which I hope makes people ask some questions about that organisation. In a fairly devastating run through some of the ALR's more unusual actions, the article highlights what to me is the ALR's fundamental flaw - that despite sounding like a pure and benign 'register' of stolen art, which anyone can check before deciding to buy something, it aspires to make its real money by taking a cut out of any art it returns. This can lead to some significant conflicts of interest. For example:

Among the incidents that have drawn criticism, the Register misled a client who wanted to check the provenance of a painting before he purchased it, telling him it was not stolen, when in fact it was, so that he would buy it and unwittingly help the company collect a fee for its retrieval.

It has been known to pay middlemen and informers for leads on stolen works, a practice that troubles some in law enforcement, who say that it can incite thefts. And the company often behaves like a bounty hunter, charging fees of as much as 20 percent of a work’s value for its return.

These fees do not bother the insurance companies and other clients that hire the Register to find a work. But the company has approached people and museums with whom it has no relationship. In several cases, people say the Register contacted them, told them of a lead on a stolen work, then refused to divulge any information until the subject agreed to pay a fee.

Officials at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Orleans, France, for example, said that the Register approached the museum in 2003, asserting that it had information about an Alfred Sisley painting that had been stolen from the museum. The company said it could retrieve the work if the museum agreed to its fee. Unable to afford the payment, the museum called the police instead. The work was never recovered.

For me, the most worrying aspect of the ALR's position is its global, quasi-judicial ability to arbitrarily declare a work of art 'stolen', sometimes without there being an actual police or court judgement that a work is in fact stolen. So a perfectly straightforward ownership dispute can see the ALR working on behalf of one party, from whom it will get a fee if it helps return that work, and then prevent the other party doing anything with the work by declaring it 'stolen', and thus effectively worthless.  

It is clear that the art world needs an art loss register of sorts. But this should be a simple database searching company (using information from courts and police forces), and not get involved in returning works for a fee. I don't see why it shouldn't be possible for the art trade and law enforcement agencies, collectively, to fund such a body on a not-for-profit basis.

Rosales pleads guilty

September 22 2013

Image of Rosales pleads guilty

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports that Glafira Rosales, the dealer behind the recent $80m Knoedler fakes scam, has pleaded guilty. The artist who painted the works, believed to be Pei-Shen Qian, has not been charged. Meanwhile, US art critic Jerry Saltz has expressed his wonderment at how Knoedler were taken in by Rosales, and (marvellously) likened the whole business to:

[...] an email you get from Nigeria twice a day.

Damn right.

Meltdown at the Museums Association?

September 22 2013

Image of Meltdown at the Museums Association?

Picture: Museums Association (detail from the MA's '2020' vision document)

The Grumpy Art Historian, who is no fan of the Museums Association, highlights yet another disastrous blog post by the MA's Head of Policy and Communications, Maurice Davies. Following his post on 'Stupid Curators', discussed here on AHN, Davies sought to extricate himself from allegations that he was yet again dissing the profession he is paid to represent. But it seems, from the comments (most of which are from MA members) that he has only made matters worse. Here's the choicest of them:

It seems you are becoming the Quentin Letts of the museum world. You seem to take glee in writing comment that you know will explode the sector. And then you relish your second helping of glee as the negative responses come in. And you can do that as you have power in the organisation that pays you. You are safe. Most of those responding are not and are scared of losing jobs, status or both. Until you come out from your protected place please stop looking down on everyone else as little stupid people (or curators). [...] I am only sorry that the MA thinks it suitable to have someone as influential and senior in the organisation kicking others in the sector on a regular basis, instead of supporting or helping them. 

Another zinger;

This same rubbish is also reflected in how the MA has behaved recently. For example, purposely writing out curatorial and preservation impacts from “Museums 2020” (as stated by Mark Taylor) and airbrushing the benefits of curators out of “Collections for the Future” and only valuing collections that are used (to only mention a couple of examples)! This is where the problems are. Great museums need good curators and it is about time the MA realised this and did something to reverse the damaging trend of decreasing curator numbers rather than “cheap sensationalism”. Best practice models, advocacy and the accreditation scheme should all include and make clear the vital need museums have for curatorial skills. However we have nothing on this from the MA. Why? 

The MA really needs to get back to being a body which sticks up for the museum sector in its relations with central and local government. At a time of cuts, this is more important than ever. All this daft agitating for change within museums, be it exhibition policy or the need for curators to think about integrating human rights in their displays, needs to stop. If people in government know the MA has a fractious membership, and doesn't command the respect of the whole sector, then they won't listen to it as much as they should. Possibly there is a conflict here between some of those who work part-time for the MA and also for their own Museum Consultancy, which offers, for example:

Organisational development and change. Our focus is on achieving organisational change through helping you rethink what you do and why, staff development and nurturing better working relationships.

Policy development. We have been at the forefront of shaping policy in the museum sector over the last decade and can offer insight into sector developments, advice on influencing funders and decision-makers and help your museum think creatively about its future role.

Rethinking collections. We have developed some of the most influential recent initiatives relating to museum collections and can help you to use your collections in new ways, as well as helping with practical tasks such as collections reviews.

See earlier AHN for more MA daftness here and here

Go to Yeo (ctd.)

September 22 2013

Image of Go to Yeo (ctd.)

Picture: Jonathan Yeo/NPG

Further to my mention of the new Jonny Yeo portrait, below, there was a good programme on the artist on BBC2 recently, available on iPlayer here.

Met Director - how to curate

September 22 2013

Video: TED

Definitely worth a watch this. Met director Thomas Campbell makes (it seems to me) a plea for old fashioned, object-based displays. Money quote:

Nothing replaces the authenticity of the object presented with passionate scholarship.

Suck on that, label-free galleries.

In the edit suite

September 22 2013

Image of In the edit suite

Picture: BG

On Thursday I visited the editing suite at the BBC where they're cutting the Culture Show Special I'm making. Big mistake. You know that feeling you get, when you hear your own voice on, say, an answerphone, and think 'Christ, that's not really me, is it?' Well, magnify that by a million for the telly. Horrid. Then think of the poor editor and director who have to spend six weeks watching me on the big screen, as they stitch the programme together.

Sorry folks...

September 16 2013

...more filming today, and I'll be away all day tomorrow. 

Update - still away - sorry! Back, I hope, on Friday...

Even more Van Gogh news (ctd.)

September 13 2013

Image of Even more Van Gogh news (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

It never ends! The latest is a new book on Van Gogh's time in London, called 'How I love London' (as the artist once said). More details here. The photo above is Van Gogh's London home, in Brixton. 


September 13 2013

Image of Apologies...

Image, detail, courtesy of His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, KBE

...for the bad service lately - I'm thick in the editing of Samuel Cooper catalogue. Above is our design for the exhibition flyer, which is a detail of Cooper's c.1653 portrait of Oliver Cromwell. The Protector famously instructed Cooper to paint him 'warts and all', and you can see the best painted wart in the whole of art history above Cromwell's eyebrow.

For your diaries, everyone, the exhibition opens 13th November till 7th December, Monday-Friday 10-5, Saturdays 12-4. We're going to have a lot of new things to say about Cooper and portraiture in England in the mid 17th Century...

Update - a reader writes:

I spotted in a recent update you attributed the Cromwell 'Warts an All' quote to a work by Samuel Cooper. I always understood this to be an instruction he'd given to Peter Lely - and in fact have set this as a question in a recent quiz I wrote...

Do you believe it to have been Cooper instead? Or was it just a mistype?

Good question! It is commonly believed to have been said to Lely, as shown in this Horrible Histories clip, but, as we shall show in our exhibition and catalogue, must in fact have been said to Cooper.

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