Previous Posts: July 2015

Poor OMP sales

July 10 2015


I am sorry for the lack of posts these last few days. The story of the Old Master sales this week is one of patchiness and disappointment. I'll look at why over the weekend.

London Art Week

July 3 2015

Video: Sotheby's

If you like Old Master paintings, then London is the place to be next week. There are the main sales from Christie's, Bonhams and Sotheby's, as well as special exhibitions from the major dealers. More here

Above, Sotheby's Alex Bell talks about two full-length portraits coming up in their Evening Sale, a Romney and a Batoni.

And there is an interesting introduction to London Art Week from Dr Nicholas Penny, which makes some subtle but important points:

It is a pleasure to write again in support of London Art Week in July because I can tell readers (who can tell their friends and clients) that the National Gallery will remain at the heart of this event, its curators among those moving eagerly from gallery to gallery, from viewing to viewing, opening to opening.

My successor as Director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, well-known to so many of you, will be conspicuous in the future among them. And will receive you as I have done within the Gallery itself, because we want all collectors, not just of Old Master Paintings, but of Old Master Drawings and Sculpture to support the National Gallery – as all (or almost all) dealers of Old Masters already do of course.

We believe in the pleasure to be obtained from the close scrutiny of a work of art, of looking at it in different lights and seasons, again and again.  And yes, we all believe in the pleasure of possession. Of course dealers generally get over this and sell what they love – although frequently retaining some secret emotional investment in it and planning one day to retrieve it for a while. And we curators and curator-directors (the category to which I belong) have to learn to welcome the rest of the world into our galleries. During this festive week in particular we will, I’m sure, all try to share as well as covet and compete.

Update - Monday: I'm in London viewing the sales, so I'm afraid there might not be much from me today.

Update II - neither full length sold. Curious.

Update III - It's Thursday, so many apologies for the absence of blogging. It's been a busy time up in London. Thanks to all readers who stopped to say hello. 

'Fake or Fortune?' series 4

July 3 2015

Video: BBC

Here's a trailer for the forthcoming series of 'Fake or Fortune?'. The artists under consideration this time are: Renoir, Lowry, Sir Winston Churchill, Alfred Munnings, and an unknown Venetian Old Master.

A Picasso in a suitcase? (ctd.)

July 2 2015

Image of A Picasso in a suitcase? (ctd.)

Picture: Scotsman/Fife Free Press

The story about the apparent discovery of a 'Picasso' in an attic in Scotland has gone around the world. As Maggie Miller, who first broke the story in Fife Free Press, reports:

Within hours of the Fife Free Press’ story, Dominic was interviewed by BBC and ITV news.

The following day, his astonishing discovery was featured in print across the UK and on the internet it went viral reaching Europe, Canada and the United States, followed by South America, Pakistan, China and Japan the next day.

Dominic has been approached by various TV production companies hoping to document his journey as he goes about proving the painting’s authenticity.

The story so far is that the picture - which is strikingly similar to a Picasso in the art institute of Chicago (below, right) - was a gift to the mother of Dominic Currie (above, who found the picture in his late mum's suitcase) by his father, a Soviet soldier called Nicolai Vladimirovich, of whose existence Mr Currie only learned about late in life. Mr Currie's mother (whom, growing up, he believed was his sister) apparently had a romance with this soldier in Poland in 1955, when she was on holiday.

The Russian name given, however, is only a christian name and a patronymic - that is, 'Nicolai, son of Vladimir' - and seems to be missing the surname we would usually expect to see. This made looking into the story of how the soldier might have got hold of the Picasso a little difficult.

Nevertheless, I did a reverse Google image search of the photograph of Nicolai Vladimirovich seemingly provided to news outlets by Mr Currie himself (above), but with the frame cropped out. This search revealed that the original photograph is listed on a website called, where it looks as below. It must be, with the same scratches and other details, the same photograph or original image. The hdstockphoto website, in turn, points to the source of that photo - what it calls the 'original website' - being Ebay.

Update - the medals shown, on the right, are Hero of the Soviet Union, and the Order of Lenin; two of the highest military honours of the Soviet Union. In other words, this Nicolai Vladimirovich should be easily identifiable. If he exists.

Update II - a Lynda Currie, who is listed on Mr Currie's Facebook page as selling some of his art on Ebay, has in the last six months bought more than one item from Ebay retailers specialising in Soviet memorabilia. I'm not saying there's anything in this. I'm just sayin'.

Update III - a video interview with Mr Currie is here

Update IV - all the photos used in the press coverage are captioned '(C) Dominic Currie/SWNS'. SWNS is a press agency, which has a website called These are the figures they quote for various stories:

Here is a loose example of what you can typically expect for a real life story (sold as an exclusive). Please remember that these prices can be higher or lower depending on availability of similar stories, quality of photos, the publication’s current budgets, and even the time of year (or other supply and demand factors):

£50 – Providing comment about a topic or issue, or appearing as a small case study.

£100 – Volunteering as a case study / part of a multiple feature.

£200 – Interesting or unusual story.

£500 –  Interesting or unusual story that is rare or related to current news agenda.

£1,000 to £3,000 – Extreme or sensitive story.

£3,000 to £10,000 – Extreme or sensitive story, rare story or unusual story involving a celebrity or public figure.

If you had a painting you thought might be a £100m Picasso, would you sell your story for this kind of money?

Update V - don't they teach the basic stuff in journalism school anymore?

Update VI - looking around Mr Currie's art online, he's actually quite talented.

Update VII - I haven't yet found the original listing for the photograph of 'Nicolai' on Ebay, but I have found what appears to be the frame in which it has been put (below). The Ebay listing for it was last updated on 1st April (inadvertently pertinent, perhaps), and it was bought by what appears to be the Lynda Currie Ebay account from someone called 'Bedfordbroker'. I say appears to be, because buyer details are anonymised on Ebay - but we do know that the Lynda Currie account bought something from the Bedfordbroker account at around this time, and her feedback rating star is both red and has the number 1383 beside it - and both these details appear on the buyer listing for the frame.

Update VIII - they also appear to have bought an 'Old Vintage Student Youth Festival Souvenir Book Russia USSR Soviet Union', for £2, and a Soviet 'Ticket for Wine Tasting' for $6.97.

Update IX - Oh, and a 'large blank canvas'.

Update X - Mr. Currie has confessed. It was a hoax all along. More here.

Sotheby's £130m contemporary sale

July 2 2015

Image of Sotheby's £130m contemporary sale

Picture: Melanie Girlis

There was a protest outside Sotheby's 'record sale' in London last night (I'm not quite sure which record, there's so many of them these days), as photographed above by The Art Newspaper's Melanie Girlis. Such is the way of the contemporary art world, it probably helped prices.

Marion Maneker of the Art Market Monitor has a breakdown of the sale here

The computer as connoisseur

July 2 2015

Image of The computer as connoisseur


Scientists in Serbia say they have developed a way of telling the difference between an original work of art and a copy, even if they're by the same artist, as in the case of the two identical pictures by Magritte, above. They use 'machine-vision analysis techniques', and this is how they do it:

Their fundamental hypothesis is that the action of creating original art is part of a self-organizing process orchestrated by the brain. As such, it leads to a unique level of complexity in the way paint and colors are used and distributed.

By contrast, the process of copying is much more methodical and leads to lower levels of complexity. And this difference should make it possible to distinguish originals from copies.

But how to tell the difference? Rajkovic and Milovanovic contend that this is possible using wavelet analysis that transforms a two-dimensional image into a time-frequency representation which captures information about the painting at various scales. These scales can be thought of as looking at progressively more blurred images of the paintings.

Rajkovic and Milovanovic perform this analysis using the red, green, and blue channels of a conventional RGB image of each painting. and they repeat the analysis for patches of each painting.

Sure enough, they say a difference in complexity is clearly visible between Caspers’s originals and copies. “For all patches and all the paintings, the mean global complexity of an original painting is larger than the corresponding value of a copy,” they say.

Is this now what we should call connoisseurship (for that is the process the scientists are describing): 'human-vision analysis techniques'?

More here.

Sotheby's Institute of Art

July 2 2015

Learn the Business of Art at Sotheby's Institute of Art from Sotheby's Institute of Art on Vimeo.

Video: Vimeo

I've given quite a few lectures for the Sotheby's Institue of Art, and have been an admirer of what they do (it's one of the few places to teach anything about connoisseurship for a start). It's expensive, but worth considering if you want to work in the art world. 

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