Previous Posts: August 2014

Does flash photography really damage paintings?

August 14 2014

Image of Does flash photography really damage paintings?

Picture: BG

Effectively not, and no more than normal light exposure, according to this paper by Dr Martin Evans. It's worth reading in full, but here are some key parts. 

First, the National Gallery did a test in 1995 to see how pigments reacted to extreme and repeated use of flash. The answer was, not much:

These trials showed that 'fugitive' pigments deteriorated while on the walls of a controlled-light gallery at about the same rate as if a modest 'hotshoe' flashgun was fired at them every 4 seconds from a distance of about 4 feet [over a million times!].

Following these tests, the National Gallery decided that professional photographers could use flash when photographing their paintings. The crucial thing to note here is, as Dr Evans says:

In practice almost all small camera-mounted flashguns now incorporate a correction filter to bring the xenon light balance close to natural daylight. These filters also remove most of the UV wavelengths which conservators fear.

He goes on to note that the problem is even less of a concern for smartphones, which, no doubt, is how most gallery visitors will be taking photos (or selfies):

Many 'smartphones' include an illuminator that may be a tiny xenon flash, or a light-emitting diode (LED) that briefly flashes light onto the subject. It is hard to estimate the power of these little illuminators in terms of strict guide numbers, but the consensus is that they can be rated at GN 2 to GN 4. Clearly, flashes from 'smartphones' cannot be regarded as a conservation threat in any properly lit gallery.

He concludes:

Is it worth getting steamed up about such a tiny extra quantity of light, as far as pigment fading is concerned? Several photographers have already suggested that any trifling damage done by a few hundred of these little flashes in a day could be fully offset by closing the gallery and turning off the lights a few minutes early. A ban would be justified in rare cases, where large numbers of photographers might be taking many flash photographs very close to something that could reasonably be considered photosensitive. The more advanced (and expensive) cameras used by serious photographers also have a built-in flash facility. The flash units fitted in digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have guide numbers in the range GN 10 to 14 - somewhat more powerful than those built into the small cameras. However, these DSLR and similar advanced cameras can now take photographs at such high ISO sensitivity settings that their users seldom need to use flash. Does the ban on photography in some galleries really reflect a genuine, though misplaced, fear of light damage, or is it part of a hidden general anti-camera attitude by some administrators?


There are therefore some plausible reasons why a museum or gallery might decide to ban the use of photographic flash. However, to prohibit the use of flash on the grounds that it will harm the exhibits is the least plausible reason of all.

Of course, I absolutely agree that flash photography should be prohibited in galleries and museums, not least for the disruption it causes other visitors. The point of this post is merely to rebut the widespread belief that flash photography kills paintings. 

Photography in galleries - Van Dyck's view

August 14 2014

Image of Photography in galleries - Van Dyck's view

Pictures: British Museum

I was asked on the BBC yesterday whether great artists of the past would have approved of photography in museums. My answer was unhesitatingly yes, as the sketchbooks of Old Master artists around the world attest. I cited Van Dyck's Italian sketchbook, which, as you can see from the page above [from the British Museum], contains hundreds of lightning quick drawings as he captured what he could from the great masterpieces by the likes of Titian that he went to Italy specifically to see. If he'd had a smartphone, you can bet he would have been an avid snapper of great paintings. 

Can you imagine someone saying to Van Dyck, 'no, you cannot make a sketch of that Titian, I insist you simply look at it for a long time instead'? Those who say we must ban photography to make people appreciate art 'in a better way' make the same argument. 

By the way, while I'm on Van Dyck's Italian sketchbook, allow me to show you perhaps my favourite drawing by him. It's a beautifully observed drawing of an ostrich. To the right of the image, however, is a hurried sketch of the ostrich head-on, with its wings flapping. Above it, Van Dyck has written; 'If the ostrich gets angry, run'.  

Update - Nathaniel Hepburn, the new director of the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, tweets:

I am an avid photographer in galleries & it is patronising to be told that I am 'shooting not looking' by some in the NO campaign. How do they know how long I have looked before shooting, and many times after. Grrr

But Jon Sharples tweets:

This sort of specious reasoning is very bad for @GrumpyArt's health!

Dr Matt Loder of the University of Essex tweets:

I don't always see eye-to-eye with @arthistorynews but on photography in the NG I am in rapturous agreement!

If you're not on Twitter by the way, I do recommend it, and all the above are worth following. 

Update II - a reader writes:

I hadn't seen the Van Dyck Ostrich before your post today, so thank you for including it, such a fun sketch and now also one of my favourites.

Restoring Le Brun's 'Jabach and His Family' (ctd.)

August 14 2014

Image of Restoring Le Brun's 'Jabach and His Family' (ctd.)

Picture: Met Museum

I mentioned recently that Met curator Keith Christiansen is charting the restoration of their recently acquired portrait Everhard Jabach and his Family by Charles Le Brun on his blog; now he's highlighting something I didn't know, that there were two versions of the picture. The other (above, right) was in a museum in Berlin, and destroyed during the war. The question is, however, which one is or was better? Christiansen says he;

[...] worried about this as we entered into negotiations for the purchase of the picture.

But concludes;

the quality of the Berlin painting is vastly inferior: the figures have a smooth, almost airbrushed quality and lack the expressive liveliness of those in the Metropolitan's version. No wonder that in the eighteenth century, the Metropolitan's painting became a principal sight in Cologne—it's noted in guidebooks to the city and was seen by the great poet-philosopher Goethe as well as by the British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. In contrast, the Berlin version was reputed to have been painted in part by the workshop.

Update - a reader writes:

This feels like rubbing salt in to a wound.

Really interesting though – pity the National doesn’t do blogs. Would this be your next campaign?

Bowes' altarpiece 100% funded.

August 14 2014

Image of Bowes' altarpiece 100% funded.

Picture: ArtFund/Bowes Museum

Good news - the Bowes Museum has today raised the £21,000 they needed to restore their 15th Century Flemish altarpiece.

Footballers as Old Masters

August 14 2014

Image of Footballers as Old Masters

Picture: Mirror

The faker turned artist and TV present John Myatt has painted some famous footballers in the guise of Old Masters. Above is Andrea Pirlo as the Mona Lisa. Sort of. More here

Are you the 'South Ken Scrubber'?

August 14 2014

Image of Are you the 'South Ken Scrubber'?

Picture: Christie's

There's an art dealer out there somewhere whose modus operandi seems to be this: buy a cheap but vageuly enticing-looking old picture in a far flung auction house; give it a fairly brutal 'clean' with acetone and a brillo pad (by the look of it); and then consign it to Christie's South Kensington. I don't knwo who it is, but I call them 'the South Ken Scrubber'.

The above portrait of Charles I sold at Christie's South Kensington in July for £5,000 inc. premium looking like this. It had previously sold at Chorleys auction (as below) in Gloucestershire for £2,200 (exc. premium). After commissions, Vat and travel 'the Scrubber' might have made a few hundred quid. But the picture is damaged forever.

Brits in France

August 14 2014

Image of Brits in France

Picture: Louvre

If you're in France, some British works from the Louvre are on display at the Museum of Valence (till 28th Sept). The exhibition includes sixty works from British 18th Century artists, included Gainsborough (above), Reynolds, Lawrence, Turner and Constable. It sounds like it may be a rare chance to see the Louvre's British pictures - whenever I go, there are usually hardly any on display. 

More here.

Private sales at Sotheby's

August 13 2014

Image of Private sales at Sotheby's

Picture: Sotheby's

There's a curious snafu over at Sotheby's New York, where, in response to some shrewd digging around by the journalist Philip Boroff, a senior executive has got shirty with ArtNet, apparently threatening them with 'minimal cooperation' 'going forward'. Boroff had discovered that Sotheby's much-vaunted private sales figures were far less rosy than had been presented

Photography at the National Gallery (ctd.)

August 13 2014

Image of Photography at the National Gallery (ctd.)

Picture: Katy Perry

Katy Perry (a pop star, m'lud) has 6.7m followers on Instagram, and earlier today she posted this 'selfie' from the Art Institute of Chicago (in front of Grant Wood's American Gothic). It's already generated 334,000 'likes'. In other words, if she took a similar photo in the National Gallery this week (as opposed to last week, when she'd have been shouted at), it would probably encourage more first time visitors to the Gallery than any amount of money spent on 'outreach' or advertising.

Anyone wanting to send in a (discretely taken) selfie from the National Gallery is more than welcome!

Update - In his latest contribution to the debate, The Grumpy Art Historian says I'm 'sadly deluded' that images like Perry's above will translate into new gallery visits.

But just in time, a reader writes:

Regarding the National Gallery photography campaign, you deserve much thanks and congratulations for raising the debate.

Your point about Katy Perry is terrifically important; as a forty one year old teacher I am well aware of how many light years away from the teen-culture-zeitgeist I exist, but the simple act of a pop star like her showing an active interest in visual art is genuinely having an influence on a younger generation of people who are already motivated and inspired by, as well as engaged in, music as an art form. When she toured England in May, she posted selfies she had taken in the British Museum, talked about her visit there when she was on stage at the O2 Arena, and encouraged her (predominantly) early-secondary-school-female demographic to go and explore the place themselves. Her recent visit to the Magritte exhibition in Chicago resulted in this heart-warming Facebook post [which encourages people to see the Magritte exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago]:

She's also supported local gallery shows by American 'Lowbrow' artist Mark Ryden. After all, in my own shallow experience, it was a simple comment by a singer in a band I liked which made me decide to go to see the Munch exhibition in London back in the early 1990s, and to which I owe my consequent life-affirming delight in art. The education departments at institutions like the NG, RA and British Museum could learn a trick or two from potent cultural 'mavens' such as Ms Perry when considering how to motivate the country's adolescent constituency.

Update II - this is still quite a media story: I've been asked to be on BBC Breakfast and Sky News so far today. Alas, I can't do either.

Update III - a reader writes:

Me, I want to have my cake and eat it too: no crowds to block my view, wide access to and popularity of art, and the right to take photos too. Is a partial compromise the setting by the museum/gallery of half-days or blocks of hours when no (guided?) groups are allowed? I don't know how wide-spread this practice is or isn't, or whether it works...

Update IV - in The Daily Telegraph, arts editor Sarah Crompton decries the National Gallery's decision:

[...] there is a distinct difference between learning about the art on the walls, and recording it without giving it a moment’s reflection.

As a parent, I try to get my children to stop, look and listen, without a screen in front of their eyes. There are so many distractions, that it is difficult for all of us to pause just for a moment and listen to the birds sing – both literally and metaphorically.

For centuries, art has been a way of making us slow down, and taking a moment to examine something in detail. This is not a plea for silent or empty galleries but for more thoughtful ones. One of my favourite moments in a gallery not so long ago was when I heard two women, in front of Titian’s Diana and Actaeon making up their own story for the events depicted.

The exchange was both loud and hilarious. But it was entirely engaged and committed. Something from one place had reached into another and prompted a reaction. To me, that is what art does.

By allowing photography, galleries are betraying all those who want to contemplate rather than glance. Surrounded by the snappers, they may come to think that this is the acceptable way to consume art, a kind of constant grazing without any real meal.

That’s not a means of making art more popular or accessible. It is the surest path to depriving it of all purpose and meaning. It is a trend that the National Gallery should have been committed to fight.

So another case of we must make people look at art the way we want them to. It's like telling diners at a fancy restaurant; you can only eat the food if you hold your knife and fork properly.

2 days left to help restore 15th Century altarpiece

August 13 2014

Video: Bowes Museum/ArtFund

The Bowes Museum is close to raising the £21,000 they need to restore a fine 15th Century Flemish altarpiece. The fundraising, which is being led by the ArtFund on their new Art Happens site, is 89% completed, with just 2 days left to go. So if you've got a few spare spondoolees, please help them out. There's a range of goodies on offer too.

I'm pleased to see that the Bowes campaign (which I've plugged here twice before) is the most funded project on the new Art Happens site. So if readers have contributed already, many thanks. It's good to know that a campaign to restore a 15th Century anonymous painting in the North of England has gotten far more traction on the Art Happens site than the appeal to raise £25,000 to pay for a Chapman Brothers exhibition (which is only at 68% funding, despite the recent burst of 'publicity' for the show).

Update - it's now at 96%, one hour after posting the above. Anyone want to be the crucial final donor? 

Update II - 14.8.14: they've got to 100%. Well done all contributors. 

Martin Kemp - 'save the Warburg'

August 13 2014

Image of Martin Kemp - 'save the Warburg'

Picture: Warburg Institute

In the Royal Academy magazine, the great Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp argues against the University of London's plans to undermine the Warburgh Institute, which he calles:

the greatest act of vandalism in Western academia of my lifetime.

Strong stuff. More here

Update - a reader writes:

I could not agree more with Martin Kemp on the threat to the would be a huge and irrecoverable loss. The more attention that can be drawn to this the better. I notice on their website that they are advertising for a new director....perhaps Martin Kemp himself could be persuaded? It is certainly going to need a strong personality with a high academic profile to do what's needed to save it.

Update II - on his blog, Charles Saumarez Smith, formerly director of the National Gallery and now running the Royal Academy, writes:

I arranged with the Warburg Institute to take my son to visit its library and archive.   I had scarcely been back since I was a postgraduate student there in the late 1970s.   Little has changed:  the open access stacks of the library arranged according to Warburg’s intellectual principles, such that a Renaissance treatise is shelved next to the latest offprint;  the gunmetal grey filing cabinets of the Photographic Collection where I worked every Friday.   I had never seen the archive which was established in the early 1990s to make Warburg’s own papers more publicly available.   They still have serried ranks of card index boxes in which Warburg developed the intellectual system of his ideas, neat little rows of notes interleaved with articles, images and transcripts from early twentieth century books and journals.   What comes across is the continuing relevance of Warburg’s ideas and the intellectual integrity of the library as a whole, which makes it more baffling that London University should have challenged the terms of the Warburg family’s 1944 deed of trust in court.

Robots at Tate Britain

August 13 2014

Video: Tate

Tonight, you can take control of a robot going around Tate Britain. More details here

Of course, the Google art project allows you to pretty much do this any time you like, and much more effectively.

Update - I had a look at this, and boy was it weird. It looked like a 1980s video game, with image quality to boot.

Henry Moore at King's Cross

August 13 2014

Image of Henry Moore at King's Cross

Picture: Guardian

The newly renovated King's Cross concourse is terrific (as an Edinburgh resident it's now how I get into London), and has just been made even better by the loan of a fine Henry Moore sculpture. More here

Gibbons monument identified

August 13 2014

Image of Gibbons monument identified

Picture: Bristol Post

A monument thought to be by Grinling Gibbons has been identified in a church in Bristol. More here and here.

Photography to be allowed at the National Gallery? (ctd.)

August 13 2014

Image of Photography to be allowed at the National Gallery? (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Further to my posts below, the National Gallery has today issued the following press release:

The National Gallery introduces free Wi-FiFree .

Wi-Fi is now available throughout The National Gallery – the first of a number of major steps the Gallery is undertaking to provide a warmer welcome for visitors.

Director of Public Engagement Dr Susan Foister said “We are proud to introduce Wi-Fi to the Gallery, heralding new plans to enhance the experience of our visitors and to engage a broader audience. We know that when people feel inspired they often like to share the moment, so along with the free Wi-Fi service we are now welcoming visitor photography: from now on people will be able to share their experience of the Gallery and its paintings with friends and family through social media.”

Free access to the internet whilst in the National Gallery – and now a mobile enabled website - means visitors can explore the collection in fresh and inspiring ways. Now when they’re standing in front one of the 2,300 paintings from the 13th to early 20th century, they can instantly, in their hands on their smartphone or tablet, find out all about the artist who painted it and the stories being told, along with the techniques and materials used. Wi-Fi also means we can interact with our visitors in real time via social media and they can share all their in-gallery experiences with friends, family and networks. Now for the first time National Gallery visitors can Check In on Facebook using the some of the most popular paintings in the collection, they can comment about their favourite works on Twitter using the hashtag #MyNGPainting and they can post pictures of the rooms they most enjoyed visiting on Instagram.

For international visitors, this means accessing information in different languages, as well as being able to use translation tools. Wi-Fi also opens up the possibilities for including interactive digital elements in our future exhibitions such as multimedia guides or smart phone apps.

The Super Connected Wi-Fi scheme is funded and supp orted by the Mayor of London and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey said "Free public Wi-Fi in the National Gallery will allow visitors to engage with the masterpieces that adorn its walls in completely new ways. I'm delighted that Government's Super Connected cities programme has made this exciting new development possible and that the National Gallery will join the hundreds of museums, galleries, libraries and public spaces that will be offering free Wi-Fi as part of our transformation of the UK's digital landscape."

I'm extremely pleased, and very heartened, to see the National Gallery and the government working together and embracing new technologies like this. Three cheers for both from AHN. I don't know who was leading this in either the NG or the DCMS, but give yourselves giant pats on the back if you were involved. In one leap, the National has gone from seriously lagging behind the world's major galleries on the question of digital engagement, to leading them.

When I read the press release above, I find it harder and harder to understand some of the reaction against letting people take photos in the gallery. Photography is now just one part of a much wider and richer visitor experience in galleries; National Gallery visitors can now be more informed than ever about some of the best pictures in the world. What's not to like?

The next step for the National is to add to their online cataloguing. Some of the information available is quite limited, especially when compared to that available at places like the Getty and the Met. While I'm at it, you could say the same about their wall labels too.

Update - Neil Jeffares tweets:

Next step: the excellent complete catalogues should be online. But I fear wall labels will shrink as the "app" takes over.

Update II - our debates have made it into the Evening Standard - well done everyone, and thanks for your contributions!

Update III - we're also in the Telegraph.

Update IV - and The Times!

Update V - there's a poll at the Telegraph, currently running at 57/42 in favour of photography.

Update VI - a Telegraph commenter comments:

Good grief! Yet another clueless establishment, bowing down to their pointless, overpaid, clueless advisors, allowing idiot, brainless, lowest common denominator sheeple to get what they want! God help us! Don't you get it?! Why don't you actually deny the sheeple what they want, and you'll actually be MORE POPULAR!

I wonder if this person wears red trousers.

Update VII - a reader hits many nails on the head:

It is hugely encouraging that the NG have finally decided to allow photography on smartphones etc and to let visitors access wifi within the gallery.

In a public gallery I want to be able to look at and consume the art as I wish - it is infuriating to be dictated to. I don't live in London either so it's not as if I can pop into the National Gallery to peruse the pictures any time I want - a trip to the NG is a bit of a treat and yes I would like to take photographs that I can look at again and share on twitter and Facebook with my friends and family (most of whom have never set foot inside the NG but I would still like to share the art with them).

The access to wifi and the idea that perhaps there could be NG apps for different rooms and exhibitions I find even more exciting. I hate audio guides with a passion, I much prefer a written guide or really good labelling (neither of which are as available as they should be at the NG imo). So having the opportunity to look up a picture or room on my iPhone or iPad as I went round the gallery - being able to dig deeper and find out as much as I could about any work of art while I was actually able to look at it in the flesh - that would be fantastic.

I really don't understand why some people seem so unhappy about this small step to make great art more accessible, understood and appreciated. Sounds like elitism to me!

Update VIII - I was on BBC radio's PM programme talking about all this, from about 45 mins here.

De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

August 11 2014

Image of De-accession time in Delaware (ctd.)

Picture: DAM

The very troubled Delaware Art Museum is continuing its picture flogging. Up next, as I reported here in April, is Winslow Homer's Milking Time, one of the museum's best-known treasures. The picture will be sold at Sotheby's auction this autumn for an undisclosed estimate, though bafflingly this article in the New York Times tells us that they're looking for a private buyer first. 

I say bafflingly because it seems the DAM is going about their de-accessions in the most hopeless way possible. They need to raise $30m to plug a financial black hole, but haven't developed a proper disposal strategy to raise the funds. They're doing it piecemeal, and badly.

It appears, for example, that with the Homer sale they'll be repeating the same mistakes which resulted in the pretty miserable failure of their previous de-accession, of William Holman Hunt's Isabella and the Pot of Basil. The Hunt sold at Christie's in London for £2.9m in June, having been estimated at £5m-£8m, and offered widely privately before the sale. In other words, it bombed, and it's no surprise that this time DAM is trying their luck with Sotheby's.

But because DAM has now telegraphed its sale process for the Homer, we can be sure that the picture's appearance at auction in the autumn will mean that it has failed to sell privately beforehand. This may make it a less attractive option for bidders at the auction, as almost certainly happened with the Holman Hunt. Equally, those private buyers offered the Homer privately before the auction date might feel that they'll wait and try their luck to buy it for half price at auction later. (This is a growing problem for auctioneers as they rush to embrace private treaty sales; there's a high chance that big-ticket pictures appearing at auction nowadays have been 'burnt' - that is, offered and rejected - before the sale. Worse yet for a client's confidence in prices and the auction house, a picture you were offered privately might be sold at auction for a great deal less in just a few months time.)

That said, Homer is much more in demand these days than Hunt, and DAM might yet make a serious dent in their target. Hopefully, in future the DAM will be more discreet and strategic in selling its pictures, if it has to. They should probably have had one single round of de-accessions at auction.

Either way, it appears from the New York Times article that the DAM is in a pretty serious mess. Here's a quote from the chief executive, Michael Miller:

“I know nothing about art.” [...] Asked to name a work at the museum that he likes, he replied: “Jeez. I never thought about that. Well, I actually like Picasso, but we don’t have any Picassos.”

And then we learn about how the DAM went about choosing which works to sell. A painstaking process involving all staff and curators? Nope:

Asked how he chose the Holman Hunt for selling, as opposed to any of the 12,500-odd other works in the museum’s collection, Mr. Miller said the process was relatively straightforward. You might assume that he met with the museum’s curators, asking them to weed out works that struck them as inferior, or too similar to other works to merit space. But the curators were never consulted. “They didn’t want to have anything to do with this,” Mr. Miller said. “And we didn’t want to bring them into this.” Instead, he deferred to the marketplace. He contacted art appraisers from Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams, and had them valuate “a very short list” of works the museum had purchased over the years.

Update - a reader writes:

The NYT article suggests that the next de accession at Delaware should be Mr. Miller which will have no impact on the collection. Then they should hire a consultant to advise on culling the collection intelligently.


The question of 'studio'

August 11 2014

Image of The question of 'studio'

Picture: TAN

If an artwork is made, even in part, by an artist's studio assistants, is it a fake? Yes, according to the Dusseldorf District Court in Germany, who agreed with the widow of the German artist Jorg Immendorff, Oda Jaune, after she spotted the above work in an auction catalogue, and said it was a fake. The court said the picture must be destroyed (in a case which has echoes of the fake 'Chagall' we featured on 'Fake or Fortune?').

However, the owners of the work protested (naturlich!) and pointed out that the work had been bought directly from Immendorff's studio, with a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist. It seems that Immendorff was very ill with a neurogenerative disease towards the end of his life, and, noted an appeals court, sanctioned the sale of late works made in his studio by his assistants. The appeals court therefore ruled that the picture, which was a replica of an earlier work by the artist, should not be destroyed. More details of the case here inThe Art Newspaper.

Now the point of all this, of course, is that if the reasoning of the Dusseldorf district court was extended across the contemporary art market, then the vast majority of works by the likes of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons would not only be deemed 'inauthentic', but ripe for destruction. So which court would you be rooting for; the District Court or the appeals court?

Update - a reader writes:

A logical riposte to your final observation is that, in the light of the recent kerfuffle over 'Bombay Mix',  Mr Hirst apparently agrees with the court.

Photography to be allowed at the National Gallery? (ctd.)

August 11 2014

Image of Photography to be allowed at the National Gallery? (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Is it victory? The last major photography prohibitor has fallen, it seems. Following my revelation earlier that the NG was reconsidering its stance, a reader writes:

I've been in London for the past few days and made a stop at the National Gallery and just thought you should know that they are allowing visitors to take photographs! I'm not sure how I feel about this quite yet. Until today, I was also a proponent of letting people freely photograph the art but I have to say, a bit of my soul died each time someone photographed a piece (or even worse, took a selfie!) without actually looking at it with their own two eyes, just the lens of the camera. Who am I to judge how people experience and enjoy the art though…I guess.

Quite right. There seem to be two main objections to allowing photography in galleries. The first, and more understandable, is that people taking photos get in the way of those looking at the art. However, I can honestly say that I have never personally known this to be a problem. Yes, sometimes someone takes a snap in front of a picture I want to look at, but in such cases I'm no more inconvenienced than had I been waiting for them to simply finish looking at the picture, pre-photography, and move on. In other words, there will always be a crowd of people in front of famous pictures, whether they're taking a photo or not. And the great majority of photo-takers do adhere to the generally accepted rules of gallery life; be quiet, respect the art, etc.

The second reason I take greater objection to, and that is the belief that we need to somehow force people to 'look' at paintings in a way that is culturally acceptable to us. We must, goes the argument, make people stand in front of paintings for a minimum time period, in case they don't fully appreciate it. Usually this is a generational thing, and is blind to the fact that many younger people (whose average attention span, yesterday's Sunday Times tells me, is 7 seconds) consume art in a very different way to us oldies. For them, looking at a photo at leisure later on, and sharing it with friends, is just as rewarding. And it helps build audiences too. 

I will ask the NG press office whether this is all official now. 

Update - here's the National Gallery's statement:

The introduction of free Wi-Fi throughout the public areas of the National Gallery is one of a number of steps we are taking to improve the welcome we provide.

Wi-Fi enables our visitors to access additional information about the Collection and our exhibitions whilst actually here in the Gallery, and also to interact with us more via social media.  

As the use of Wi-Fi will significantly increase the use of tablets and mobile devices within the Gallery, it will become increasingly difficult for our Gallery Assistants to be able to distinguish between devices being used for engagement with the Collection, or those being used for photography.

It is for that reason we have decided to change our policy on photography within the main collection galleries and allow it by members of the public for personal, non-commercial purposes - provided that they respect the wishes of visitors and do not hinder the pleasure of others by obstructing their views of the paintings.  This is very much in line with policies in other UK museums and galleries.

The use of flash and tripods will be prohibited, as will photography and filming in temporary exhibitions.  

Commercial photography remains subject to existing arrangements.

Update - a lively response to this over on Twitter. The historian Ian Mortimer tweets:

I agree with you. Going around the Mauritshuis 2 days ago, my camera acted as a visual notebook of socio-historical detail.

For me, taking photos of the occasional detail of a painting is essential. And I suspect that for most people taking photos, and then looking at them in detail later, makes them look more closely at a painting than the sceptics fear.

Maggie Gray of the Apollo points me to this post, and says the Van Gogh museum is reconsidering its photo-allowing policy. Probably that's too crowded a museum to make it work. 

Naomi Russell says on Twitter:

Can only speak from my experience. As à visitor I find it very invasive to reflection to have phone shots.

Javier Pes of The Art Newspaper tweets:

If I had a pound for the times I've been told off in museums for trying to take a surreptitious snap...

Me too. 

Frenchy Butchic tweets:

I had a horrible time at the Louvre in July when tourists took selfies without looking at art.

There's that disdain that people aren't looking at art properly.

On the same theme, Sam Cornish of Abstract Critical says:

[...] for me more important is the culture of not looking that cameras promote.

Again, we must force people to look at art in a culturally acceptable way... But each to their own I say. And probably I look more closely at art than most people; photographing all or part of them is crucial to that. 

Leigh Clothier tweets:

That is good news and brings it line with many others who have changed their policy in last year.

Steve Bowbrick tweets:

Photography now allowed @NationalGallery. More interesting is free wifi throughout. Blurs the idea of gallery/space.

Meanwhile, the Grumpy Art Historian is bewildered by the whole business:

The last bastion of quiet contemplation is now to become selfie central, where noisy clicking smartphones and intense flashlights will prevail over any eccentrics who want actually to look at art. [...]

The NG used to be a haven where looking at pictures was prioritised. Now it will all be about taking your own pictures.

Well, of course it won't. And it's been a long time, in my experience, since the National Gallery was a place of quiet contemplation (at least after midday).

Much of the criticism seems to assume that galleries will now be bombarded with flash and, horror, 'selfies' (think about it; what's really wrong with people taking a photo of themselves in front of a painting they are inspired by?). But in dozens of gallery visits this year, I've not once been dazzled by a flash. In any case, most mobiles take far better photos without flash, and most people know this. In fact, hard as it may be to accept, the great majority of people really do abide by the rules in art galleries, and act discretely. And if some people don't, well, rather than tut tut and be driven to despair, we sometimes just have to remember that not everyone is as civilised as us. After all, these are public galleries, and the taxpayer who has shelled out to support them has a right (within reason) to enjoy them however they please.

Frames at Ham House

August 8 2014

Image of Frames at Ham House

Picture: National Trust

More frame stuff - the National Trust have helpfully put online Jacob Simon's guide to the picture frames at Ham House. Jacob was until recently Chief Curator at the NPG London, and is currently the editor of the Walpole Society. Art history researchers will already know of his invaluable his work on frames, artist's suppliers and all manner of other things. 

Art for rent

August 8 2014

Image of Art for rent

Picture: MFA Boston

There's an interesting article in the Boston Globe about the practice of museums effectively renting out paintings. Technically, the pictures are just loaned to exhibitions in faraway places like Japan - but there are hefty facilitating fees attached. The Globe article looks in particular at how the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston deals with its fee-paying loans, which are said to bring in about $5m a year, and which appear to leave some of the museum's better known works, like Renoir's Dance at Bougival (above), being repeatedly out on loan for long periods.

The article cites Metropolitan Museum Director Thomas Campbell saying:

“Lending exhibitions for fees is categorically not part of our business model,” said Thomas Campbell, the director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He listed five exceptions to this policy since 2009, each one a traveling exhibition that brought in fees. All either coincided with the closure of a gallery for renovations or had some other one-off strategic purpose.

The Met, Campbell said, does not exploit such shows “to underwrite our expenses or operating costs. We don’t lend to or organize exhibitions through companies like Linea d’Ombra or other for-profit organizations.” [...]

Campbell, who noted that “there is certainly more discussion of [loans for fees] in the industry” of late, said he is concerned in part because the Met organizes more than 30 exhibitions a year. “We depend for those exhibitions on the good will of other institutions we’re asking to lend works to us.”

His fear [...] is that as museums increasingly charge fees, there will be a “copycat process” — more and more museums will charge fees when they receive requests for loans, and it will become harder and harder to put on important shows.

In its defence, the MFA quite reasonably points out that it gets just 1% of its funding from the state, and the money has to come from somewhere... 

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