Previous Posts: October 2015

$25m-$35m Gentileschi

October 21 2015

Image of $25m-$35m Gentileschi

Picture: Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal reports that Sotheby's New York will offer the above painting by Orazio Gentlieschi for $25m-$25m in the January sale:

Measuring more than 7 feet across, Orazio Gentileschi’s “Danaë” portrays a mythological scene in which the god Jupiter enters the title character’s chamber in the form of a shower of gold.

The painting’s estimated value is $25 million to $35 million, according to Sotheby’s, which plans to offer the work at its Master Paintings evening sale in New York on Jan. 28, 2016.

“It’s the most important Italian baroque painting to come on the market since World War II,” said Otto Naumann, an old masters dealer in New York. “If I had it, I would have offered it at $75 million.”

A friend and contemporary of Caravaggio, Gentileschi began his career in Rome and later moved to England, where he entered the service of Charles I. His daughter, Artemisia Gentileschi, was also a painter whose works have been rediscovered in recent years.

“Danaë” was commissioned by the nobleman Giovanni Antonio Sauli in 1621 for his palazzo in Genoa. 

The picture belongs to Richard Feigen - the eminent New York Old Master dealer who, regular readers will know, is given to saying the Old Master market is dying. Au contraire, Richard: if your picture sells - which it should - it'll be another sign that in fact the best Old Master pictures are fetching prices never before achieved. 

If you go down to the Louvre today...

October 21 2015

Image of If you go down to the Louvre today...

Pictures: BG

...take a baby, and a duster. The first helps you jump the huge queues to get through security (over an hour and a half when we went last week).

And the second to help you see some of the paintings, because they seem never to dust them (as seen above). Some of the pictures were thick with dust, and frames even worse. Especially the highly hung works which evidently haven't been moved for years. I'm all for the Louvre's traditional reluctance to clean paintings,* but surely a light dust wouldn't do any harm every now and then...

The crowds inside are pretty intense. The Mona Lisa room was naturally the busiest, and it always amazes me to see everyone straining to see her, but completely ignoring the Raphaels in the next door room. But to be honest most of the rooms were thronged with people. I was interested to see lots of Chinese visitors, many with tour guides, but many taking a genuine interest in art of all periods, including French 19th Century, Dutch and Flemish 17th Century, and even in the tiny English and American room. All of which makes me feel optimistic for the future of 'Old Masters', or 'Classic Art' as some now call it. People still like the old stuff as much as ever before, perhaps more so. And although some might find looking at great paintings surrounded by noisy, selfie-taking crowds a little trying, I personally find it rather energising. I love to see the art I love loved by so many. 

Another reason to take your baby to the Louvre is that the unfailingly kind and charming room wardens will occasionally insist on an impromptu walking lesson, as below.

* I had a good look at the newly cleaned Leonardo Virgin and Child - wowee, what a mess they've made of that.

The Arts Council meets Alain de Botton

October 21 2015

Video: ACE

Regular readers may remember Alain de Botton's starring role in a series of excellent 'Guffwatches' a while back, when he re-labelled pictures in the Rijksmuseum. Now he has been enlisted by the Arts Council here in the UK (that's the government funded body which supports and champions arts institutions and museums) to help 'make the case' for the arts ahead of the next Spending Review due in November.

The case for arts funding in the UK seems to swing endlessly between art's 'intrinsic' value (that is, art for art's sake) and its 'instrumental' value (that is, we fund the arts because it makes us healthier, cuts crime, that sort of thing). The problem with the latter is that it sounds great, but a) isn't really true, and b) even if it was true, it is impossible to prove to the satisfaction of Treasury beancounters. How do you show that because Joe Bloggs saw a Velasquez, he was less likely to rob a bank? 

De Botton has gone for the full 'instrumental' argument in the Arts Council's latest piece of arts lobbying:

The purpose of art isn’t always necessarily to help people to think for themselves. It might be to console or to enliven, to reopen eyes or rebalance character. But the underlying point is that the arts should be able to do something – however minor or diffuse – for you. And this is the point so often missed in our culture, which still clings mistakenly to an ‘art for art’s sake’ mantra – and refuses to accord to art the power it so patently possesses to guide and inform our lives.

I wonder how much taxpayer's money the Arts Council spent on this attempt to get more taxpayer's money. The video above is another curious example, and I'd love to know how much that cost. It's had just 567 views on You Tube since it was uploaded in December 2014.

It's a shame to see the Arts Council trumpeting the 'instrumental' approach to arts funding, because it was all the rage in the early 2000s, and most people (especially the Treasury) have moved on since then. We shouldn't be shy about supporting the arts because of their own intrinsic value. If we seek to find other ways to justify supporting the arts, with feel-good but spurious claims about health and crime, then by definition we concede that the arts are just a luxury, and can thus be cut. 

Update - the Grumpy Art Historian looks at the question in more depth here.

Is it a bird, is it a plane....?

October 21 2015

Image of Is it a bird, is it a plane....?

Picture: via Grumpyarthistorian

No - it's Super Art Woman lifting up a framed Rembrandt all by herself. And without White Gloves!

The Grumpy Art Historian says that the recent export block to save the above £35m Rembrandt is a mistake, and there are better ways of buying paintings:

The UK government has placed a temporary export block on Catrina Hooghsaet (above), which is being sold from Penrhyn Castle. The Telegraph reports that a private buyer has agreed to pay £35m plus sales tax of £660k. The painting is exempt from sales tax, so presumably £660k is due on agent's fees of £3.3m. UK buyers have until 15 February to register interest in buying the picture. 

I hope no one does. The picture has been openly marketed for years; the Rijksmuseum came close to buying it. There was ample opportunity to negotiate a friendly deal without the need to pay millions to Sotheby's. I don't begrudge dealers' mark-ups or agents' fees, which are fairly earned in a competitive market. But British institutions have a woeful history of waiting until the last minute and then declaring a national emergency, when a bit of foresight would save millions. If anyone wanted it, the should have said so earlier. They will seem incompetent if they only raise their hands now.

I do hope an institution or two does make the effort to buy this work. It's true that the export system is not an ideal way for museums to buy art, and that it places a value on things that happen to already have been in the country for a long time. But in my view the UK has best export system in the world, one which fairly balances the rights of both 'the nation' and private owners. 

UK museums on theft alaert

October 21 2015

Image of UK museums on theft alaert

Picture: TAN

Martin Bailey reports for The Art Newspaper that:

A warning of a “severe and imminent” threat of attack on UK museums has been issued by Arts Council England. William Brown, the council’s national security adviser, says that museums should ensure that their collections are held in facilities with “the best available defence against any attack”. He warns that staff should now be “extra vigilant to visitors paying undue attention to collections”. Although “attack” might suggest a terrorist threat, a council spokeswoman says that the concern is over “theft of objects”.

The Scottish Council on Archives, a government-funded body, has elaborated on the danger. It advises: “The National Crime Agency are aware of an imminent threat of theft of collections across the UK. They are aware of a group who has made reconnaissance visits to a number of museums and other venues across the UK. It is thought that smaller, more portable items will be targeted rather than items such as large paintings”. The National Crime Agency, a UK government body, has previously warned that organised criminals are targeting museums and galleries.

How to keep a Van Gogh

October 21 2015

Image of How to keep a Van Gogh

Picture: Yale

The Yale University Art Gallery has defeated a legal claim that one of their star pictures, Van Gogh's 'The Night Cafe', should be returned to the heirs of a Russian collector whose art works were seized by the Bolsheviks in 1918. More on the legal case here.

It seems on the surface curious that US courts are always eager to restitute artworks if the Nazis were involved, but not the Bolsheviks.

How to grow a Van Gogh

October 21 2015

Image of How to grow a Van Gogh


Via Danny Lewis on

It took [landscape artist Stan] Herd six months of digging and planting to recreate van Gogh's 1889 painting, which currently on display at the MIA. To mimic the artist's iconic brushwork, Herd grew patches of pumpkins, squash, watermelons and cantaloupes, while arranging mulch, rocks and soil to create darker lines, according to Nick Mafi at Architectural Digest.


October 20 2015

...for the lack of posts - I'm in that London on business. Back Wednesday.


October 16 2015

Video: Vernissage TV

Ken Kagami is apparently the 'surprise hit' of Frieze, according to The Guardian: he draws people's breasts and penises. You don't need to undress - he just looks at your face, and 'knows'. Hence the blokes queuing up in some trepidation.

But he won't do vaginas. Because:

“Oh, the vagina is very simple. It’s just a hole,” he replies, sticking his forefinger in the air like someone pushing the button on a lift. “It’s difficult because it has no character. I want things that are long, short, sharp, pointed.” Does he think he could draw a vagina, at a push? “Yeah. Er, maybe,” he says.

Go figure.

Last chance to buy £35m Rembrandt

October 16 2015

Image of Last chance to buy £35m Rembrandt

Picture: Telegraph

The UK's Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey, has placed a temporary export bar on the above Rembrandt (Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet, giving museums a last chance to buy the picture for £35m. It was sold privately to an overseas buyer earlier this year. Here's the press release:

One of Rembrandt’s greatest late portraits is at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of £35 million.

In order to provide a last chance to save it for the nation, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on a painting by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet.

The portrait is important, not only for the study of Rembrandt’s late career, but also of Dutch society. The subject of the portrait, Catrina Hooghsaet, was a wealthy Amsterdam Mennonite who, at the time of the painting, was married but separated from her husband, which reflects her strength of character and independence. She is accompanied not by her estranged husband, but by her pet parrot, who features in her will.

Rembrandt’s portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet has been in the UK for more than 250 years and is one of Rembrandt’s best-known paintings in the UK. It has been on loan and on public display at the National Museum of Wales, the National Trust’s Penrhyn Castle, North Wales (for which it was bought in 1860), and most recently at the Ashmolean Museum. The only comparable Rembrandt paintings in the UK, Jacob Trip and his wife Margareta de Geer (National Gallery) datable to about 1661, were executed in the Rembrandt’s ‘rough manner’ whereas the precision of Catrina Hooghsaet’s features recall a style that was present in his much earlier work.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: “This Rembrandt painting has been enjoyed by the UK public for more than 250 years and provides a fascinating glimpse into history, helping us to better understand how society and art have evolved over the centuries. It’s important that paintings, especially one as famous as this, are available for our students to learn from. I hope that the temporary export bar I have put in place will result in a UK buyer coming forward to buy the Rembrandt painting to save it for the nation.”

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey took the decision to defer granting an export licence for the Rembrandt painting following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England. The RCEWA made their recommendation on the Rembrandt painting on the grounds of its close association with our history and national life, its outstanding aesthetic importance and its outstanding significance for the study of Rembrandt’s art and in particular his late works.

RCEWA Member Aidan Weston-Lewis said: “This is an exceptional portrait of a fascinating sitter, about whom there is still much to be discovered. Its departure abroad would be particularly unfortunate in view of its long presence in the UK, notably in Wales, which currently has no publicly-owned painting by Rembrandt.”

The decision on the export licence application for the Rembrandt painting will be deferred for a period ending on 15 February 2016 inclusive. This period may be extended until 15 October 2016 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the painting is made at the recommended price of £35,000,000 (plus VAT of £660,000).

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by Ed Vaizey. Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to a public institution wishing to acquire the item.

The last paragraph presumably refers to the fact that tax concessions may be offered by the government. In other words, HMG will agree to forego the tax payable on the painting by the owners, leaving a smaller sum to be raised by a museum. I don't know, but I suspect in this case that the painting was 'conditionally exempt' from death duties, meaning that death taxes of 40% were not levied on the painting in cash terms, in return for allowing the public to see the painting at certain times of the year. Thus, if part of the proceeds of the sale are to be taxed at 40%, and the government agrees to forgo that sum, then the effective asking price to a museum is £21m.

So the question is, after the French and Dutch governments each bought a Rembrandt for EUR80m apiece, can we buy one (a considerably nicer one) for less? Will the recent success of "Late Rembrandt" at the National Gallery give momentum to any public campaign? We have until October next year to find out. Here's hoping...

New Ochtervelt for Washington

October 16 2015

Image of New Ochtervelt for Washington

Picture: TAN

Paul Jeromack in The Art Newspaper reports that the National Gallery of Art in Washington has bought a work by Jacob Ochtervelt:

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, has acquired a recently rediscovered genre painting by the Dutch Old Master Jacob Ochtervelt, A Nurse and a Child in the Foyer of an Elegant Townhouse (1663). The work was bought by the London dealer Johnny van Haeften at Sotheby’s New York for a record $4.4m in January 2014, and two months later he offered it at the Tefaf fair in Maastricht for $7.5m. Sources in the trade say the National Gallery paid a little more than $5m for the work; the museum does not comment on the value of works of art, but a statement says the acquisition was made through “the generous support of The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund”.

'Artsnight' looks at the art market

October 16 2015

Image of 'Artsnight' looks at the art market

Picture: BBC

The BBC's arts editor Will Gompertz (above right) has made an 'Artsnight' programme looking into the art market. I'm in it briefly, doing my bit on behalf of Old Masters. The programme is on tonight (Friday) on BBC2 at 11pm, and will be on iPlayer shortly afterwards. Here's the blurb:

For his edition of Artsnight, BBC arts editor Will Gompertz investigates the thriving art market. He meets collectors, philanthropists and multi-millionaires pursuing their passion for art, and asks whether record-breaking sales are a good thing or damaging creativity. Arguing for better regulations in the art market, he finds out why you can buy an Old Master for a fraction of the price of contemporary art. He talks to Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk about his vision for a new type of museum and meets the 89-year-old grandmother of contemporary art - Delfina Entrecanales - who for 40 years has quietly nurtured a generation of British artists, including more than a dozen Turner Prize nominees.

I can report that Will is an extremely nice fellow, and has a terrific breadth of knowledge.

'Empty Lot'

October 15 2015

Video: Tate

Expect to hear and see a lot more of Abraham Cruzvillegas' new Tate Modern commission, called 'Empty Lot'. Here's the blurb:

Empty Lot is a large geometric sculpture created using scaffolding, a grid of triangular wooden planters, and soil collected from parks across London including Peckham, Haringey and Westminster. Nothing will be planted in the soil, but it will be lit by lamps and watered throughout the six month display. The unpredictable nature of the work, which may grow and change from one week to the next, provokes questions about the city and nature, as well as wider ideas of chance, change, and hope.

In the video above we see a rare thing - a contemporary artist actually making the art work himself. Or at least a bit of it.

Don't tell anyone, but I think Empty Lot looks pretty cool.

'Hitler's art dealer'

October 15 2015

Image of 'Hitler's art dealer'

Picture: Thames and Hudson

Catherine Hickley - an expert on art looted in World War Two - has written a new book about the Gurlitt collection, and its tragic origins in Hitler's obsession with art. Read an excerpt here, and buy the book here.

'New things' at the NPG

October 15 2015

Image of 'New things' at the NPG

Picture: NPG

The Art Newspaper reports that new NPG director Nicholas Cullinan is hoping for 'a very strong contemporary programme' in the years ahead. And in 2017 we have the great treat of a show on portraits by Cezanne to look forward to. It'll be staged at the NPG, the Musée D'Orsay in Paris, and the National Gallery in Washington. It's not often you see the NPG's exhibitions staged at such high-profile galleries - impressive stuff. 

Episode 2 - the Story of Scottish Art

October 15 2015

Video: BBC

The second episode of Lachlan Goudie's extremely good 'Story of Scottish Art' was broadcast last night in here in Scotland. It's now on iPlayer, and I gather it will be soon be broadcast nationally on BBC4. Well worth a watch.

As you can see in the clip above, the programme makes great use of drones, which are gradually transforming the way we make films like this.


October 15 2015

Image of 431,541

Picture: AHN

That's the number of people who have read AHN since it began in 2011. I've just managed to access my Google Analytics for the first time in a couple of years. It's nice to see how many of you have stuck with the site since the early days, and also how many new readers continue to take a look. I'm so enormously grateful to you all for your interest and support - thank you. We now have on average over 5,000 individual readers a week. And since we began we've had over 3m 'page views' (whatever they are).

I should also probably apologise for the rather erratic posting there has been over the last few months. Apart from being busy setting up a new company (plus a new baby), I've been struggling to find a solution to various eyesight problems.

It's nothing serious, and I mention it here not to elicit any sympathy - but because I'm not sure we all realise quite how bad things like computer screens and smartphones are for our eyes. The kind of light modern screens emit has been proven to be degenerative to our eyes. And because we tend to stare at these screens we blink one third as much as we would normally. This can lead very quickly to having dry eyes, and other such things, because we don't blink and lubricate the surface of the eye. The front of our eyes are covered with thousands of nerve endings, and if these become too dry it's amazing how odd you can feel as a result.

So, as a result I've not been as diligent at putting stories up every day or so, as I used to. I've also not been as diligent at getting back to emails - for which further apologies, or putting up reader's comments - sorry again.

But fear not AHNers, for the solution is at hand. I've an array of new spectacles; some for reading screens, some for looking at pictures, some for looking afar, some for reading books, and so on. And a smart new 'manbag' to lug them all around in. It means I'm able to scour the world's auction houses for pictures (which must come first in my tasks of the day) without feeling too ropey to tend to AHN.

I'm also something of an evangelist about this new 21st century problem. Did you know there's a new type of spectacle lens you can get for screen use, called 'blue protect'? It filters out some of the degenerative light, and I highly recommend it. I'd urge all of you, whether you use glasses or not, to take extra care when looking at screens, especially things like reading text on smartphones, and to try and limit the amount of screen time in your day. Except when reading Art History News of course.

Update - a reader writes;

I was interested about your comments about the damage computer and I pad screens do to your eyes. I sit every night before I go to sleep and look at auction sites, mainly paintings. I had laser treatment on my eyes by Dr David Gartry at Moorfields eye hospital some years ago. My eyes were perfect until recently and I am sure it's the I pad. Too many auctions to look at and that habit has taken its toll on my eyes. I totally agree with your comments.

Another reader has this suggestion;

I'm in no way affiliated with it but I use a neat little tool called f.lux you might like to try alongside all the new spectacles. It essentially links your screen's 'blueness' to the day's natural cycle - in the day you'll see no change but as the sun sets in your time zone the screen's light becomes warmer in tone to compensate for it, should you be using your computer at sunrise you'll see it gradually shift from the warm tones to a cooler, daylight one. Which probably sounds rather odd but the software is free, the link is and the site has a 'f.luxometer' which gives a demonstration of how it alters the night-time screen colour for various models of computers and devices. 

You can switch it on and off if you're viewing art and need an unfiltered sense of the colours in a piece but its warmer evening shades are fantastic at reducing eye strain when writing or reading late into the night.

As a contact lens wearer who works with screens and a laptop everyday and reads entirely too much, I suspect f.lux might be the sole reason my vision has remained stable over the last two years and I stopped having migraines. Anyway, I hope you find it of interest and/or use.

Update II - another reader, inspired by AHN, has been shopping:

Sorry to hear about the eye problems Bendor, as a photographer, I know how the eyes tire somewhat. Even getting on a bit things change ! 

Just to let you know I read AHN everyday, and have learnt a lot from you wise musings.. and have found a sleeper awhile back at my Richard Ansdell..though as it was waterlogged [ a sixth of the painting was missing..]

Update III - another reader wonders:

Read your updates today. Congratulations on your impressive viewing figures; surely there must be a way for you to financially benefit on these!

Alas not, and I've always resisted the temptation to take adverts. That said, I do every now and then plug something else I'm involved with. 

What you're missing at Frieze

October 14 2015

Video: Vernissage TV

People trying desperately hard not to look confused.

'Highlights of the Wallace Collection'

October 14 2015

Video: Wallace Collection

Here's a video featuring highlights from the Wallace Collection, presented by its director Dr Christoph Vogtherr. I was interested to hear him say at the end:

"We are still trying to find out more about our collection and to reveal the secrets of the artworks in the museum."

A laudable aim. But some years ago now I urged Dr Vogtherr to investigate a painting in the Wallace Collection which is described as 'Ascribed to Titian' [which essentially means 'the label says Titian but we don't believe it], and hung high up above a display case on the ground floor. For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure it's an early Titian, but it is much obscured by dirt, old varnish and over-paint. The thing is, early Titians like this don't grow on trees, and if it were 'right' it would instantly become one of the Wallace Collection's highlights. I'm not the only person to rate it highly, by the way.

But alas, Dr Vogtherr's response (to me at least) seemed to suggest he wasn't really bothered, and nor that he was a particular believer in the concept of authorship. Perhaps something was lost in translation, but each time I go to the Wallace I am saddened to see it hanging in the same place, unloved.

Surely it's worth a little further exploration?

The Wallace's website says:

The picture’s poor condition makes it difficult to attribute with certainty, but it is evidently an original Venetian composition, related to Titian’s early Giorgionesque phase, c.1510-15.

By 'poor condition' they mean as it is currently seen. I should have thought some cleaning tests and technical analysis might reveal whether there are further grounds for attributional optimism. And, AHNers, I have tried my best to get the Wallace Collection to get a little excited about the prospect of finding a Titian in their collection - but so far with no luck. So in case anyone at the Wallace is reading; if the question is one of cost, then I'm very happy to help meet them.

Update - a reader writes:

I have only two old (concise and inadequate) lists of the Wallace collection: 1970 gives 'Attributed to...', and 1979 gives 'Follower of....', and now the website as you say gives ' Ascribed to....'  -  all round the houses. I did look at the BM Van Dyck Italian sketchbook drawing that one entry refers to (no doubt that has increased your interest in the Wallace 'Titian'. It is a hasty sketch of the figures of Venus and Cupid, said to be copied from the Wallace painting - that has differences but what do I know? As a Van Dyck nerd (?) I'm sure you do.  I do think you should pursue it - looks good to me - and it has a top-notch pedigree / provenance. If nothing else, a bit of prodding might get them to crowd-fund (!) cleaning and research. You presumably remember the insouciance that the Wallace accepted the demotion of their Rembrandts many years ago - it seems they are now back in favour - with van de Wetering's reappraisals. The collection, being fixed, seems to have adopted a less than troubled attitude to such external opinion and accepted the RRP verdicts, and now the changes. What difference would it make to have (another) Titian to add to their already bursting treasure chest of art. As you suggest, it would matter to some people outside the ivory tower of the Wallace.

Update II - another reader writes:

Thank you for reminding me about the Ascribed to Titian on the ground floor of the Wallace.

When I saw it last year I also was struck by the similarities to other early Titians, and was disappointed that it was hung in such a difficult place. 

Good luck with your efforts. If nothing else, perhaps you can get it hung somewhere where it is possible to look at it closely.

Update III - another reader likes the pic;

A fine thing indeed though I have concerns about the anatomy of the female figure and, BTW, they already have a Titian of course [Perseus and Andromeda, which was once owned by Van Dyck, but which alas is in pretty ropey condition, perhaps even worse than the Venus and Cupid].

Was there the other day and wondered about their skying of the excellent Eworth – I don’t think I’ve been closer than a couple of metres in nearly 40 years of going to the Wallace.

'Entertaining at the National Gallery'

October 14 2015

Video: National Gallery

I know not everybody is keen about institutions like the National Gallery being used for corporate parties. But videos like the above help explain why the National Gallery's income is higher than it has ever been, despite 'the cuts'.

So many of our great galleries, across the regions, are tailor-made to follow the National Gallery's example - great architectural spaces, great art, central locations, and lying empty after 6pm. We should expect to see videos like this one on the website of pretty much every large art gallery in Britain.

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