Previous Posts: January 2015

Starkey & Worsley on Holbein's Henry VIII & Edward VI

January 6 2015

Video: BBC

Now here's a presenting line up I'd never thought I'd see... Above is a clip is from a forthcoming programme on Hampton Court, which goes out this Saturday on BBC2, presented by Lucy Worsley and David Starkey. 

I used to live in the park at Hampton Court, in an old mews. For the story on a picture I discovered of another royal baby which now hangs there, see here

New York Old Master sales

January 6 2015

Image of New York Old Master sales

Picture: Christie's

The catalogues for Christie's and Sotheby's New York January Old Master sales have gone online. Sotheby's had theirs up long before Christmas; Christie's went up yesterday. Therefore, over the holiday, yours truly pressed refresh quite a few times on the Christie's website.

To be honest, though, when the Christie's sale did go online, I skipped through it mighty quick. There's a few nice things, including this depiction of 17th Century dentistry by Guido Reni at $1.2m-$1.8m, and a pair of Canalettos at $3m-$5m.

There's also an interesting painting attributed in full to Caravaggio, above, which, as the literature listing makes pretty clear, has variously been called both 'Caravaggio' and a copy right up until the most recent catalogue raisonné, by John Spike, who said it was a copy. In their catalogue note, Christie's cites the opinion of the Met's Keith Christiansen:

Keith Christiansen, who has closely studied the present painting, considers it to be among the finest of surviving versions, but notes that it is difficult to go beyond this judgment, given the picture’s condition. He notes that at this early date, when Caravaggio was working for the market, the artist may well have painted more than one version. For Christiansen, that in the Queen’s collection (Hampton Court) is the best preserved and the most convincing of the versions that he knows.

Not much of an endorsement. Here's the Royal Collection picture. It's better.

Christie's note continues:

Interestingly, the contours of the Queen’s Boy peeling a fruit line up precisely with our painting, suggesting that the two were made from a common design.

Or that it's a copy. Then the catalogue mentions an X-ray:

The x-radiograph of the present work (fig. 4) does not reveal any tracing, and primarily shows that Caravaggio built up the folds of the boy’s shirt with lead white.

An artist using lead white for the shirt? It must be Caravaggio. The estimate is $3m-$5m. And for that I'd expect a better catalogue note. Still, the note concludes with this roster of those who support, or supported, the attribution:

While its autograph status has been questioned by some over the past several decades, many scholars support the attribution to Caravaggio, including Sir Denis Mahon, Barry Nicolson, John Gash, Luigi Salerno, Mina Gregori, and Beverly Louise Brown.

Christie's, as is their habit of late, has a seperate 'Renaissance' sale, the highlight of which is a Bronzino portrait, with an estimate of $8m-$12m. This picture failed to sell in 2013 at $12m-$18m. It's still a little expensive, it seems to me. The cataloguing is interesting, as, doubtless in a bid for the 'cross-over' market, they're straining to make a contemporary resonance angle:

The reverberation of this golden age of portraiture [by the likes of Bronzino] haunts us even today in ways as varied as the original function of the older paintings. A celebrated artist who adapted the conventions and superficial appearance of Renaissance portraiture for her own ends is Cindy Sherman, whose History Portraits (1988-1990) ransack sources as readily identifiable as Raphael’s La Fornarina (Untitled 205) or as generic as Untitled 209, a portrait of a lady in an elaborate 16th-century costume who confronts the viewer with all the haughtiness of a Bronzino aristocrat. Naturally art using photography, or Sherman’s performance art version of it, lends itself to the appropriation of historical images, and with no post-war artist was this accomplished to greater effect than with Joseph Cornell, whose Medici Slot Machines were executed in the 1940s and 50s using printed reproductions of such paintings as the Portrait of Bia de Medici by Bronzino (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) (fig. 1), which gaze poignantly out at us from behind the glass, part devotional object, part arcade entertainment.

In fact, I think that's the point of the stand alone 'Renaissance' sales - they're meant to appeal to modern and contemporary buyers. Doubtless 'baroque' or 'rococo' wouldn't quite work in the same way.

Sotheby's has the richer sale, with a monochrome Van de Velde maritime picture at $2m-$3m, a study by Constable of Salisbury Cathedral also at $2m-$3m, a Ribera of St Paul at $600k-$800k, and a $3m-$5m Salomon van Ruysdael.

Regular readers may recognise the above St Joseph by El Greco, which is estimated at $2m-$3m; it's the picture I discussed in 2012, after it made £790k (inc. premium) in Bonhams, where it was called 'Attributed to El Greco'. I thought then that it looked 'right', and it looks even better now, cleaned. Will it matter that it's a relatively quick turnaround between the sales? It shouldn't. Someone's taken a brave punt, and it's paid off; good for them.

You can compare the pre-restoration image on the Bonhams website here. Despite the obvious ding, the picture is in fundamentally excellent condition.

Finally, Sotheby's has the below head study catalogued as by Van Dyck, estimated at $100k-$150k. It's a new discovery, and though I can only judge it from the image, I'd say the attribution is most likely correct. Indeed, I remember seeing the picture in a black and white photo once in the Witt Library, and making a mental note that it looked good - one for the 'sleeper radar'. But here it is, awake and looking shiny bright. It was previously attributed to Dobson. The condition looks excellent. The estimate is cheap.

Update - a painter writes:

When respectable art critics and auction houses attribute a ghastly painting, like this so-called Caravaggio to the man himself, I ask myself, 'did Caravaggio- for whatever reason, drugs, drink, or disease, go through a phase in his career, where he was no longer capable of imitating himself?'

Are great painters in fact capable of producing work without a single piece of correct anatomy or redeeming brush stroke? 

Personally, I think not.

Perhaps they think it will 'clean up nicely...'

New NPG director

January 6 2015

Image of New NPG director

Picture: NPG

Congratulations to Dr Nicholas Cullinan, who has been appointed the new director of the NPG in London. He takes over from Sandy Nairne, who has been director for the last 12 years. Says the NPG:

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and co-curator of last year’s hugely successful Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern, has been appointed Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, it was announced today, Tuesday 6 January 2015.

The appointment by the Gallery’s Board of Trustees, which has been approved by the Prime Minister, was made following the resignation of current Director Sandy Nairne in June 2014. Nicholas Cullinan will take up his new post in spring 2015. 

Since joining The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in early 2013, Dr Cullinan has taken an important role in developing a number of projects including the programme for the museum’s occupancy of the Whitney Museum of Art’s Marcel Breuer building in 2016 (following the Whitney’s move to another location), expanding and redisplaying the permanent collection and increasing the Modern and Contemporary Department’s base of supporters. At the Met, he organised the exhibitions Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company, 1932-47 (2013); Amie Siegel: Provenance (2014); and devised and led, together with co-curator Andrea Bayer, one of the Met’s opening exhibitions at the Breuer building for March 2016. He has been responsible for a number of major works being acquired by the Met. Significant gifts he worked on include the donation to the Museum of forty-four pieces by Carlo Scarpa and fifty-seven works from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, dedicated to African American artists.

Previously Curator of International Modern Art at Tate Modern (2007-2013), he worked on exhibitions such as Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs (2014), Malevich (2014), Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye (2012), Tacita Dean: FILM (2011), Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia (2008) and Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons (2008). While at Tate, Dr Cullinan also worked on acquisitions and collection displays, founded a committee for Russian and Eastern Europe art and was involved with many aspects of the second phase of the Tate Modern project, for which the new building, designed by Herzog & De Meuron, is scheduled to open in 2016.

Prior to joining Tate, he was the 2006-7 Hilla Rebay International Fellow between the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Previous experience includes in 2006 a Helena Rubinstein Internship at the Photography Department of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and Lecturer in Art History at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff from 2003-2004. 

Dr Cullinan was educated at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, where he was awarded First Class Honours for his B.A. in History of Art, a distinction for his M.A. and where he also gained his PhD. In 2003 Dr Cullinan was visiting teacher for the M.A. Course at the Courtauld Institute. While studying there he was a part-time Visitor Services Assistant at the National Portrait Gallery, London from 2001-2003. He also served as board member of the Courtauld Association from 2011-2013. Dr Cullinan is British and grew up in Yorkshire although he was born in Connecticut, USA in 1977.

The National Gallery trustees have chosen their new director, and so we should hear that decision soon. There has been all sorts of talk about who got the gig, and who applied, but I've decided not to put anything up here I'm afraid; I don't think such gossip would be fair on the unsuccessful applicants. Evidently, making the new appointment has been a rather leaky process.

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