Previous Posts: June 2015


June 11 2015

Sorry about the lack of action lately, and also the rather desultory nature of recent posts too. The thing is, we got married on Tuesday, so things have been a little hectic. I hope to be back to usual service soon.

Inside China's painting factory

June 8 2015

Video: BBC

Here's a short BBC film about the famous Da Fen painting factory, where you can buy a 'Van Gogh' Sunflower for peanuts. The founder now says there are too many people trying to copy his copies, so he's turning to 'original' art instead. 

How much does it cost to find a Leonardo?

June 8 2015

Image of How much does it cost to find a Leonardo?

Picture: Duke of Buccleuch

The case of the stolen Leonardo, the Madonna of the Yarnwinder, rumbles on, years after the picture was returned to its owner, the Duke of Buccleuch. Now, a former solicitor who was charged - and cleared - with involvement in trying to extort money from the Duke is seeking £4.25m he says he's owed. The 'debt' apparently came about when the Duke helped undercover police in trying to return the picture by signing a letter authorising the payment of a finder's fee for the painting. The picture was recovered by police, but the sting and the subsequent court case collapsed. Marshall Roland is now suing for the payment. 

For more see here. For earlier AHN on this affair, see here. The picture is now on loan to the Scottish National Gallery, and very fine it looks there too. 

It's worth bearing in mind though the seemingly standard practice of offering payments to seek the return of stolen paintings. In many cases, these payments are dressed up as 'finder's fees', but are in fact little more than ransom money paid eventually to those who stole the painting. The whole business of stealing and recovering paintings is now almost a standardised affair, with insurance companies ready to pay to secure an asset, and middle men - sometimes presenting themselves as 'lawyers' - to whom payment is made. The situation is in contrast to human kidnapping, where, at least in Britain, ransoms are seen as counter-productive, and merely encourage further kidnaps. 

I am not saying that is the case here. 

Van Dyck show at the Frick

June 5 2015

Image of Van Dyck show at the Frick

Picture: New York Times/Frick Collection

Well, regular readers will know how excited I am about this - a new exhibition on Van Dyck at the Frick show. Apparently it will contain 'about 100 works' - wowee. Here's what the New York Times has to say about the exhibition, which was announced today:

Featuring about 100 works, it will be the first major show in the United States on this 17th-century Flemish painter since a 1990 exhibition by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the most comprehensive examination of his creative process as a portraitist, the Frick says. The exhibition will juxtapose preparatory drawings alongside prints and paintings, some of which remain unfinished.

The show covers the span of van Dyck’s career, including his early works, when, as a teenage prodigy, he was influenced by Peter Paul Rubens; his Italian period; and finally the English years, when he flourished at the court of King Charles I. It is organized by Stijn Alsteens, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Adam Eaker, a Frick curatorial fellow.

“We all felt it made sense to focus on an artist that we had never really focused on here at the Frick, surprisingly so since we have so many of his paintings,” said Xavier F. Salomon, chief curator at the Frick.

A prolific artist and a favorite for collectors during the Gilded Age, van Dyck (1599-1641) is among the best represented in the Frick’s collection — it has eight — but many works have been in storage for years. The Frick will bring out six of its best for the show, including the masterpiece portraits of the animal painter Frans Snyders and his wife, Margareta de Vos, and “Portrait of a Genoese Noblewoman,” which is currently being cleaned at the Met.

The remainder will come from loans, including possibly the star of the show, “Portrait of Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio,” arriving for the first time from the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

The exhibition will be from March 2nd to June 5th. See you there!

£35m Rembrandt on offer

June 4 2015

Image of £35m Rembrandt on offer

Picture: Telegraph

In The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell reports that one of the greatest Rembrandts in the UK, his 1657 Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet, is to be sold by Sotheby's. The picture is currently hanging in Penrhyn Castle, and belongs to the family of the Barons Penrhyn. The guide price is £35m. Because the picture is currently conditionally exempt from inheritance tax, UK museums have been given a head start to try and raise the cash. But is the sum too large? Let's hope not.

Killer conservation irons

June 4 2015

Image of Killer conservation irons

Picture: BG

I came across these old lining irons in a conservation studio recently. They are, or rather were, used when bonding a new canvas lining onto the back of an old one. The technique was to heat the irons, which are seriously heavy, on cookers. The weight and heat of these irons would then melt the glue or wax lining material and force it into the original canvas, bonding it to the new lining, and at the same time providing a new adhesive for any flaking paint. Sadly, the irons also used to flatten any impasto, melding the paint layers into each other, and sometimes caused a chemical change in the paint surface.

Happily, they're not often used these days - vacuum tables can be used instead. But when I occasionally say that no single group of people has done more damage to paintings in art history than conservators, these are the sort techniques I have in mind.

Hunting Hitler's Cranach

June 4 2015

Image of Hunting Hitler's Cranach

Picture: TAN

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that a German museum is trying again to find a Cranach looted from Germany after the war. The picture, Venus and Cupid the Honey Thief, was part of the Weimar state art collection, but was hung in Hitler's breakfast room at the Elephant Hotel in Weimar.

The curator of a new exhibition on Cranach has suggested it must have been taken by a US soldier, though there is no hard evidence of this. It was sold at Sotheby's in London in 1970, and is now thought to be in the posession of a Zurich banker, or his family. Apparently, under Germany's statute of limitations - the same ones which complicated restitution in the Gurlitt case - the picture will be hard to legally return. There's an irony in there somewhere.

How effective is the Art Loss Register?

June 4 2015

Image of How effective is the Art Loss Register?

Picture: TAN

In The Art Newspaper, Charlotte Burns has an interesting follow up to the case of the recently restituted El Greco portrait, above. It turns out that despite being on a number of looted art databases, the Art Loss Register missed a number of opportunities to return the work. It was even cleared for exhibition and sale at TEFAF in Maastricht.

he ALR cleared from claim, on at least two occasions, an El Greco painting seized by the Nazis from its war-time owner Julius Priester. Portrait of a Gentleman (1570) was one of numerous works taken by the Gestapo from the collection of the Viennese industrialist, who fled the Third Reich in 1938.

It was recently returned to Priester’s heirs after the Commission for Looted Art in Europe (CLAE) spotted the work on a New York dealer’s website and filed a claim. Working with Art Recovery International, the firm representing the dealer who owned the painting, a settlement was made.

The Art Newspaper has obtained a copy of the claim document filed by the CLAE. This describes the extensive efforts that were made to locate the work by Priester, who died in 1955, and then his former employee, Henriette Geiringer, between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. Efforts resumed again after the 1998 Washington Conference on Nazi Confiscated Assets. In 2000, a new heir was appointed to Priester’s collection, Kurt Schindler, who, according to the claim document, “contacted the Art Loss Register, the Holocaust Claims Processing Office, Sotheby’s and many other organisations, lawyers and researchers providing them with details of the missing works of art”.

Anne Webber, the director of the CLAE, says she has evidence of “extensive correspondence consisting of letters, emails and faxes” between the ALR and the heirs dating back to 2001, including a “comprehensive section on the El Greco, with images of the painting”. She says that, in 2004, the ALR told the heirs that the El Greco had been included in an exhibition in Crete in 1990. The heirs then found out that a London dealer had sent the painting to the exhibition, and that it had been returned to him afterwards. The heirs “conveyed this information to the ALR”, Webber says.

We asked the ALR about the extent of its correspondence with the heirs. The organisation initially said that its “first recorded contact” was in “August 2005… seeking clarification as to who the heirs were—the number and identification of the heirs appears to have been an issue at times”, Ratcliffe said. This contact concerned the Priester collection as a whole, not the El Greco painting specifically.

The ALR has since revised its statement. “We have been looking further at the Priester case,” Ratcliffe says. “With the extra time available we have now tracked down some earlier correspondence... going back to 2001.”

The ALR says it initially registered four works from the Priester collection on its database that year. These did not include the El Greco painting because relevant information, such as the title, date or dimensions of the work, was not provided, Ratcliffe says. In 2006, he says, the ALR offered to register the works free of charge, and told the heirs that more information was needed in order to do so. “They did not in fact take us up on the offer or provide the further information requested,” he says. In around 2010, the ALR added another 12 works from the Priester collection to its database, but “the El Greco was not amongst these”, he says.

The CLAE is “puzzled by the ALR’s statement about the registration”, Webber says. “The ALR was provided with details and individual photographs of the missing paintings in 2001.”

Van Dyck, on the money!

June 4 2015

Image of Van Dyck, on the money!

Picture: BG*

The Bank of England are planning to put an artist on the new £20 note - and they're taking nominations from the public. Says the Bank:

The next £20 note will celebrate Britain’s achievements in the visual arts and we would like the public to nominate who they would like to feature on the back of the £20 note.

Visual artists include architects, artists, ceramicists, craftspeople, designers, fashion designers, filmmakers, photographers, printmakers and sculptors.  

The Bank will not feature fictional or living characters, with the exception of the Monarch, who appears on the front of our notes.

Since Britain's single greatest contribution to the history of painting is the genre of portraiture, then who better to put on the note than the most influential portraitist ever to work in Britain - Van Dyck?

AHNers - please do your bit, nominate him yourself, and spread the word!

* with apologies for the rubbish Photoshopping. If anyone can send in a better example, please do...

Frick garden wins

June 4 2015

Image of Frick garden wins

Picture: WSJ

The Frick's planned extension has been shelved, following months of dispute about whether to build over a garden created in the 1970s. More here in an announcement from the director. The Frick still plans to create additional display space - good.

Ashmolean campaigns for Turner

June 4 2015

Image of Ashmolean campaigns for Turner

Picture: Guardian/Ashmolean

The Ashmolean museum is hoping to raise £1m to acquire the above view of Oxford High Street by Turner. There a long way there already, with sizeable grants from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The picture is apparently one of the best documented Turners ever painted. More here

'Fake or Fortune?' returns

June 3 2015

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' returns

Picture: BBC

We're almost finished with series 4 of 'Fake or Fortune?' The programmes begin on Sunday 28th June on BBC1 at 8pm. This, I'm told, is as prime time as you can get. So there's no excuse for not watching. The series includes works by - or not by - Lowry, Renoir, Winston Churchill, Munnings, and a Venetian 16th Century artist we're still working on. 

Expect many more plugs for this over the coming weeks.

Update - after the four programmes of this series have been aired, the BBC will show four repeats from earlier series - a sort of greatest hits. These will be shown in the same Sunday 8pm slot. So (for British AHNers) you've eight weeks of me on the telly - enjoy!

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