Previous Posts: August 2016

Test your tattoo connoisseurship

August 31 2016

Image of Test your tattoo connoisseurship

Picture: Dr Matt Loder

The great Dr Matt Loder, art historian at the University of Essex and a master of all things tattoo, would like to know if any AHNers recognise the composition on the above tattoo. I'm afraid I'm stumped, but I guess it must be some European painting or illustration of the late 19th Century. Matt tells us that the design was available to be tattooed in London before 1900, and that the tattooist is also known to have copied designs by Faleros and Bougereau. All thoughts gratefully received...

'Can Old Masters be relevant again?' (ctd.)

August 31 2016

Image of 'Can Old Masters be relevant again?' (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

Regular readers may wonder why I get so exercised about articles in places like the New York Times that make up statistics to suggest that the Old Master is in dramatic decline. But on the Guardian website today we see how the view of a respected paper like the New York Times can quickly gain momentum, and even get exagerated. Here's Jonathan Jones' response to the Times piece:

I see a depressing feature in the New York Times claims that “old master” art has lost all relevance, is no longer of much interest to collectors, and may even cease to be sold by major auction houses.

Actually, the Times didn't say anything like that about auction houses ceasing to sell Old Masters - but you can see how easily rumours and sentiment spread. Jones (I presume) has mis-read a quote in the Times piece from Phillips auction house, which doesn't sell Old Masters (and of course has an interest in publicising its modern and contemporary wares over those of Old Masters).

But anyway, Jones then gives us his own somewhat curious diagnosis on why Old Masters have fallen so far from favour:

The reported crisis in the old master market is the inevitable result of the snobbery and elitism that has suffocated paintings for far too long. The very term “old master” is a horrible, destructive piece of pretension – what does it even mean? The custodians of oil paintings often seem to revel in the obscurity of their taste, putting on exhibitions that flaunt erudite connoisseurship and have little to say to the general public. 

Ironically, the Guardian website illustrates this piece with an image of a painting (Lady in a Fur Wrap from Pollok House in Glasgow, above) captioned as El Greco, which is of course now viewed by El Greco scholars as not being by El Greco.* But let's not flaunt our snobbish connoisseurship, for Jones has his own remedy for our Old Master woes:

This autumn’s exhibition Beyond Caravaggio at the National Gallery in London is exactly the kind of show museums need to put on. It starts with Caravaggio, a late Renaissance artist of huge modern appeal, and shows how his art influenced his time – in other words it uses him as a key to unlock art by painters many visitors won’t have heard of. Too much of the time, curators repress the universal appeal of great art by focusing on side issues and snobby footnotes.

If the National Gallery explored the most attractive artists in its collection with more big shows on Bruegel, Bosch, Caravaggio and their like, it could sell out [...] 

At this point, we wonder quite where Jones has been for the last decade or so. Exhibitions like Beyond Caravaggio have been the staple of museums for years. I don't know of any curators who obsess about footnotes over putting on a good show. All the ones I know want passionately to get new audiences into see Old Masters.

And the thing is, they're really good at it. Look at the Bosch show selling out in the Prado, and the Rembrandt show that sold out in London, like the Leonardo show in 2012. Look at the Royal Collection's highly successful tour of ten Leonardo drawings to regional museums in Britain. There are better ways to encourage people to see Old Masters than ranting against imagined snobby curators. 

Finally, Jones thinks he can see a good side to the alleged collapse of Old Master values - which is what the New York Times falsely claimed was happening:

And there’s another reason to shrug off the art market’s philistinism. If great paintings are going cheap that’s good for museums. They could actually buy a few. Meanwhile owners of great works from earlier centuries will be less likely to cash them in on the art market, which will help to keep them in places like Britain that still have a lot of old art stashed away in stately homes.

In fact, the reason more great pictures are leaving Britain than for many years (e.g. the Rosebery Turners, the newly discovered Rembrandt self-portrait, and so on) is because the best Old Master paintings are fetching sums never seen before. Many doubted that Rubens' sumptuous but challenging scene of Lot being seduced by his daughters would break its £20m reserve, but it soared to £45m, with six bidders, including three Chinese collectors. These are facts that the Guardian and the New York Times ignore. Because writing a 'new art beats old art' story is just easier.

*I was very kindly shown this picture recently by Glasgow Museums, and for what it's worth I certainly didn't see El Greco's hand in it at all. This makes it no less of an interesting and beautiful picture, one of the finest in Scottish public collections. I suspect it's closer to Sanchez Coello.

To clean or not to clean?

August 31 2016

Image of To clean or not to clean?

Picture: NPG

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper reports that the National Portrait Gallery is considering cleaning the world-famous Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare:

The National Portrait Gallery in London is considering cleaning one of its most famous pictures, the Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare. The proposal was made at a seminar with outside specialists; the gallery’s trustees will decide next year whether to proceed with treatment. 

As the NPG stresses, however, the Chandos portrait is not just a dirty painting:

Tarnya Cooper, the gallery’s curatorial director, admits that the portrait is now “almost a relic”. The original paint was sparsely applied, so today only a thin layer survives. Early restorers made changes to details, such as lengthening the figure’s beard and hair. Retouches have become discoloured, most noticeably on the forehead. Old varnish has deteriorated, giving the picture a darker and yellow hue.

If the picture were to be cleaned, a very different portrait would therefore emerge. The beard would look less hipster-ish, and the hair would lose its thespian length. Shakespeare would look far more like an ordinary, bald, middle-aged Tudor. Could we cope with that?

I hope so. While I always appreciate the argument that later accretions are part of a paintings' history, I generally find myself thinking that where possible we should go back to the original. The Chandos portrait was never a great work of art, but in this case restoration is not intended to do justice to the artist, but to the sitter. Think how exciting it would be to excavate the true face of Shakespeare.

Of course, the pre-eminent consideration must be - is it possible to safely remove the various layers of dirt, overpaint and varnish? If anyone can work that out, it will be the expert curators and conservators at the NPG. I hope the trustees back the opinion of their staff. But it won't be an easy decision.

Getty seeks to buy major Parmigianino

August 30 2016

Image of Getty seeks to buy major Parmigianino

Picture: Getty

The Getty Museum in Los Angeles has bought, or at least is seeking to buy, a major work by Parmigianino currently in Britain; 'The virgin and Child with St John and Mary Magdalene'. The LA Times reports that the sale is being brokered through Sotheby's, and an export licence has been applied for. But no value is given, and so far I can see no reference to the picture on the export licensing website - so it must be in the early stages of the process. 

The picture is part of the Sudeley Castle collection. It used to be on loan to the National Gallery in London. I hesitate to place a value on such a rare and important thing - but it must be in the tens of millions. Let us hope some UK museum wants to lead the charge to keep it. 

Incidentally, I see from the export license website that the application to export the £30m Pontormo Portrait of a Man has been deferred till October. Which presumably means someone is making a bold bid to keep it in the UK - though there has been no public campaign.

Update - a reader writes:

Just a note to say how much I always enjoy your blog.  Reading your story on the possible purchase of the Parmigianino by the Getty, something rang a bell and I went to the Getty website, which confirmed that this would be at least the third item from the Sudeley Castle collection to enter the Getty, the other two being the magnificent Poussin "Calm" and Rubens' Miracles of Saint Francis of Paola.  I don't remember the Rubens, but the Poussin is one of the greatest landscapes I know, a masterpiece in the same class as the Kimbell's new Ruisdael.

Update II - Clovis Whitfield writes:

The Parmigianino - I published this in the Burlington in 1982, with Sydney Freedberg dissenting. Maybe the NG's 1974 purchase of the 'Mystic Marriage' got in the way of its recognition, (which they declared was the best Parmigianino in Britain) they hadn't heard of it and the powers that were decided to call the Sudeley work [as by] Mazzola Bedoli instead. I'm glad that it now appears to have got past that attributional difficulty. I hadn't heard of the Getty sale, but it is a little like the Poussin 'Temps Calme' landscape, which I discovered at Sudeley and published in the Burlington (1979)  after it had long been called Gaspard. Anthony Blunt saw it with me and scratched his head; 'who can it be  Orizzonte?'  But I think there too taste caught up before it was bought by the Getty (with great secrecy, at least from me) in 1997 for $26m.

A great collection; [originally] that of James Morrison [which] used to be at Basildon, but [was] then in store over the War years. [It was] inherited by Mark Dent-Brocklehurst (died 1969) and brought to Sudeley.

Come to think of it, the family have sold quite a great selection of James Morrison's collection!  The Poussin 'Richelieu Triumph of Pan' to the NG 1982, the 1660 Claude 'Adoration of the Golden Calf' to Manchester Art Gallery, 1981, the Hobbema to the National Galleries of Scotland, the Rubens 'Holy Family with a Cupid', c.1630, to the Ruzicka Foundation, Zurich Kunsthaus (1986), the Constable six-footer of 'The Lock', bought at auction by Baron Thyssen for £10.7m in 1990, the Rubens of 'The Miracle of St Francis of Paola' (now in the  Getty Museum), the Jan Steen 'Grace before Meat' (Sotheby's December 2012, £5.6m),

'Can Old Masters be relevant again?'

August 29 2016

Image of 'Can Old Masters be relevant again?'

Picture: Christie's

What is it with the New York Times and Old Masters? Here's another piece saying that the Old Master market is declining. It follows what has now become a fixed formula for their articles on the Old Master market: lead with an innacurate and selective statistic; quote prominently from an auctioneer of modern and contemporary art  whose obvious interest lies in pushing, er, modern and contemporary art; and bury the thoughts of anyone positive about the Old Master market at the bottom of the piece (if they're quoted at all). 

First, here's that dodgy statistic:

[in auctions in 2015] the values of works by old masters — a pantheon of European painters working before around 1800 — fell by 33 percent, according to the 2016 Tefaf Art Market Report.

This would be big news, if it were true. In fact, what the Tefaf report actually said was that the overall sale totals of Old Master paintings sold at auction (only part of the wider market picture) in 2015 was down by 33% compared with 2014. 

Of course, a decline in the accumulated sale totals of Old Master paintings offered at auction does not relate to the actual 'value' of Old Master paintings. Because the Old Master market is relatively small, and because not every sale contains a £30m Turner or a £45m Rubens, annual sale totals can be quite volatile. In fact, 2014 saw a bumper year for Old Master auctions, and if you look at the catalogues of the leading Old Master sales in 2015 you'll find very few mega pictures. So the 33% change in sale totals from 2014 to 2015 is not the headline news the Times has made it out to be. The author of the Times piece, Robin Pogrebin, evidently didn't bother to read the original report.

Indeed, the next Tefaf report will surely post a sharp increase in Old Master sale totals for 2016. We have already had the sale of Rubens' £45m 'Lot and his Daughters' (above) in London in July, on which three new Chinese collectors bid, and also the $30m Gentileschi sold in New York in January. Of course, don't hold your breath for any 'Old Masters are back!' articles (except from me).

Incidentally, if you look at the Tefaf report in detail (and here's Art Market Monitor's summary) you'll see that the volume of Old Master sales rose by 4% - which was against the trend in the wider art market. In other words, more people were buying Old Masters last year. The answer to the New York Times' headline, therefore, is; 'Yes'.

The Times article also illustrates, though perhaps unwittingly, why anyone who really knows about the art market doesn't equate the Old Master market directly with how the modern and contemporary market works:

Christie’s, for example, trains its old master specialists for six to seven years, whereas its contemporary experts get three to four years.

In other words, selling Old Masters is expensive, because you have to do it well. You can't just cut and paste your Cy Twombly notes from one auction catalogue to the next, and look forward to raking in the commissions. You have to think and work hard at selling Old Masters.

Here is an earlier AHN sticking up for Old Masters under attack from the New York Times.

Update - I tried to point the statistical innacuracry out gently to the author of the piece, Robin Pogrebin, but got no response. There was me thinking the New York Times always strived for accuracy...

Update II - another part of the Times formula for these articles is to quote a long-standing art dealer who is mystified by today's market. Previoulsy, Richard Feigen in New York has been relied on for a good quote, but this time it's Guy Sainty of London:

The London dealer Guy Sainty, who has long specialized in old masters, said that he is mystified and frustrated. “I’ve been an art dealer for nearly 40 years, and I just don’t get it — I don’t understand where the collectors have gone, the people with knowledge,” he said.

The quote is a good reflection of how the Old Master market has changed. In my experience, collectors are still out there, you just have to know how to reach them. It's not good just doing the same old art fairs. Above all, dealers can't just rely on people 'with knowledge' walking into their upstairs galleries any more. Dealers now have to help impart that knowledge, and enthuse new collectors; we need to be ambassadors for our product. At the moment, it's the auction houses that are doing this most effectively - so it's no wonder dealers are losing market share.

Update III - a reader reminds me that the New York Times takes a lot of advertising from the modern and contemporary sector.

Update IV - a reader writes:

Just lazy journalism here - five minutes extra research on Old Master sale numbers might have yielded a very different story.

Can you see all the art in London in one day?

August 25 2016

Art Fund - See Everything from 101 London on Vimeo.

Video: Art Fund

Of course not (not least because 80% of it will be in storage) - but here's a great video by Alex Gorosh for the Art Fund, in which he gamely tries. 

Marian Jeffares 1916-1986

August 25 2016

Image of Marian Jeffares 1916-1986

Picture: Neil Jeffares

Regular readers will know about Neil Jeffares' art historical work, and also his blog. He is the leading expert on French 18th Century pastels, and his freely searchable Dictionary of Pastellists has revolutionised our ability to learn more about this unjustly neglected corner of painting. AHN appointed him a 'Hero of Art History' some time ago, though such is his modesty and industriousness that he will squirm to read these sentences. 

Anyway, I've just read his extraordinary and moving account of the life and work of his mother, Marian Jeffares, who is, as Neil says, 'entirely forgotten' these days, though she enjoyed critical success in her lifetime. Above is a drawing made during the war, in 1944. I encourage AHNers to read it, not only because the story is fascinating in itself, but also because I've rarely seen an example of art writing that is at once so compellingly passionate and dispassionate about an artist and their work. It is in that sense a powerful example of good art criticism - which of course is the fundamental skill of a connoisseur (and Neil is a great connoisseur).

Britain's regional collections

August 25 2016

Image of Britain's regional collections

Picture: ArtUK/National Trust

There's a good piece by Martin Gayford in The Spectator on the richness of Britain's regional collections. Here he recounts a visit to see a pair of Claude's in Cambridgeshire:

Last Sunday, I went to see two of the greatest paintings in Britain — at least in the estimation of our Georgian ancestors. When they first arrived here, in 1790, they were accompanied by a special naval escort. After Turner saw one of them, he said the experience made him both ‘pleased and unhappy’, because it seemed beyond his powers to imitate.

These are the so-called ‘Altieri’ Claudes, by any reckoning among the most spectacular pictures produced in late 17th-century Rome. Today they hang at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, where — at least on the afternoon I was there — few others had found their way to see them. Not that the place lacked visitors. The car park was packed; the park and gardens full of family parties sitting in deck chairs enjoying the unusual experience of hot weather in an English summer.

There were plenty of people in the rest of the house, diligently examining the bedrooms, bathrooms and possessions of the late Lord Fairhaven, who left it all to the National Trust. But not many penetrated to the room where the Claudes hang, down a staircase near the end of the circuit, although a mother came in while I was there together with a toddler who took an intense interest in both ‘The Father of Psyche sacrificing at the Temple of Apollo’ (1662–63) [above] and ‘The Landing of Aeneas at Latium’ (1675). We could both examine the fabulously delicate treatment of woodland shade, distant hills and light-filled air in tranquillity, far from the madding and maddening tourists and tour groups you would be surrounded by in, say, the Louvre. It was a good example of an old-fashioned experience: going to the country to look at art.

Jacky Klein and I will be highlighting other treasures from Britain's regional collections soon in 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (for which I'm afraid you'll have to expect many more plugs in the coming weeks). It's currently scheduled to begin on BBC4 on Wednesday 14th May at 9pm.

In the meantime, Art UK allows you to rummage through all of Britain's paintings, whether in London or the Shetlands.

Update - just heard today that the schedule has changed for 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces'; it looks like it is now going to start on Thursday 24th September. Will confirm more as soon as I know.

Medieval 'Death Poem' on view in Stratford

August 25 2016

Image of Medieval 'Death Poem' on view in Stratford

Picture: Coventry Telegraph

A rare medieval church wall painting in Stratford upon Avon is now on view to the public for the first time, after a £100,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The paintings were covered up during the Reformation by John Shakespeare, William Shakespeare's father. More on the opening here, and more photos of the painting, and others in the church, here.

Job Opportunity!

August 25 2016

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Tate

There are three new jobs open at Tate - one of which is as Assistant Curator, Modern British Art. To qualify, you'll need:

[...] a degree or post-graduate degree in art history or a related field, along with a broad knowledge of twentieth-century art, and demonstrable relevant work experience working with displays, exhibitions or a permanent collection. You will also need specialist knowledge of at least some aspect of the area that the post covers: Modern British Art. 

The salary, however, is £24,360, for a full-time position. AHN has huffed and puffed about low curatorial salaries before (e.g here). But it's especially curious to see such low salaries being offered at Tate, one of the world's leading and best funded museums. Only a few weeks ago they opened a new £260m extension at Tate Modern. If it was possible to raise such sums for a building, why not a fraction of that to pay people properly?

Over on Hyperallergic, Benjamin Sutton has done some further number crunching, and points out that:

[...] with starting annual salaries of £24,360 [...] the average monthly rent in London, £1,561 (~$2,065), will gobble up all but £5,628 (~$7,450) — or 23% — of that.

Though Tate’s entry-level assistant curator salary works out to £13 (~$17.20) per hour before taxes, comfortably over the London Living Wage of £9.40 (~$12.44) per hour, it amounts to just half of the average London salary of £48,023 (~$63,500). 

And don't forget the cost of those degree-level qualifications you'll need to apply - the average student debt in the UK is £44,000. For a PhD it's way more.  

The Tate's job website says:

Our jobs are like our galleries, open to all.

But the reality is that the low pay offered, twinned with the expensive skill requirements, means only the better off can afford to apply - and this can hardly lead to the diverse workforce Tate aspires to achieve.

Meanwhile, Tate in Liverpool is looking for artists for a 'Socially Engaged Commission'. The artist will need to:

[...] research and deliver a new commission in Spring, 2017. The commission process will include a research period with the opportunity to develop a new work at Tate Liverpool, in collaboration with local communities and a network of established partners in the North of England and beyond. [...]

Artists should have experience of working in the field of collaborative socially engaged practice, understand the ethical issues involved, be relevant to local conditions and engage a broad audience.

You get £40,000 for that. 

Update - here's an advert on Codart for a Junior Curator at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, so in terms of experience and seniority a broadly comparable job as that advertised at Tate. You need to have a degree, though no mention is made of post-graduate degrees. The salary depends on experience but is a minimum of €34,344 a year, with a maximum of €44,928.

Quite a difference - and I bet Amsterdam's a cheaper place to live than London.


August 24 2016

Image of Instagram!

Picture: Instagram

I've decided to have a go at Instagram. Here's my so far dormant account, if you'd like to come along for the ride.

My first task is to get a new phone, with a camera that actually works.

Update - not so fast, Groves: of course, getting a phone upgrade (from O2) involves a world of pain and 'computer says no'.

Update II - well I've got a new phone, but so far I have to say I'm not really getting into Instagram. I find Twitter more responsive and immediate (you can't easily share things on Instagram). And Instagram refuses to allow you to upload from your desktop. 

New discoveries in the Sewell collection

August 24 2016

Image of New discoveries in the Sewell collection

Picture: ATG

Christie's, who are selling the collection of the late Brian Sewell, have made some important discoveries amongst his Old Master drawings. Reports the ATG:

One of the Sewell’s notable finds was a finely executed study on paper of a soldier carrying a ladder [above]. While the identity of the artist has long been a mystery, the drawing has now been attributed to the Florentine artist Agostino Ciampelli (1565-1630) by Dr. Julian Brooks – the recently appointed senior curator and head of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

The technique of using black chalk heightened with white on blue paper was found to be characteristic of Ciampelli in the late 16th century, while the subject of the two figures (one with a ladder and the other a torch) was deemed to relate to a Medici marriage in 1589.

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 23 2016

Image of Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

Picture: New York Times


3.15pm US central time, Judge Feinerman rules that Doig: 'absolutely did not paint the disputed work'. 

More later.

Update - various outlets report some of the judge's remarks and findings. Here's Artnet News:

“While most narratives have gaps,” Feinerman went on to say, “and certainly both narratives have gaps, the evidence conclusively demonstrates that despite some gaps, Peter Marryat Doig absolutely did not paint the disputed work.”

Feinerman then reviewed all the details of the case, painstakingly going through the evidence and repeatedly stating that Peter Doig and his mother Mary had “testified credibly” about Doig’s whereabouts, employment, education, where they were backed up by more than ample evidence.” Most importantly, the judge stated that Peter Doig “Could not have entered the Thunder Bay Correctional Institute in August and could not have been the author of the painting.”

As for the contradictions between the timeline Doig initially sent to his own gallery, stating that he didn’t go to high school in ’76/’77, Feinerman called this a “hiccup” in the narrative and underlined that this “understandable mistake that does not harm Mr. Doig’s credibility because it was 40 years ago,” citing his own imprecise memories of being a counselor at Camp Ojibwa decades ago. Feinerman took a similar position on Doig’s lack of tax records, pointing out that not many teens even file taxes for part-time employment, much less keep records for decades afterwards.

Saying that glitches in Doig’s statement would have had more significance if it wasn’t for the “unmistakable and unimpeachable evidence” that supported his final timeline, including a letter from the summer of 1977 from Mary Doig to her own mother in Great Britain saying that “Peter phoned from Edmonton.” Reading aloud that “Peter’s hair is long and messy and if you smell his hat, it smells of oil,” Feinerman emphasized how Mary would have had no conceivable motive to invent these details, which corroborated her son’s timeline about where he was when the painting was made.

Turning to the evidence that Peter Doige “almost certainly painted the work,” Judge Feinerman described the deceased man’s sister’s testimony as “the third cherry on top of the sundae.” [...]

The judge ruled against the plaintiffs on both counts, ruling that the painting wasn’t by Doig, and that this “unjustified interference” in the painting’s sale at auction was, in fact, justified. Underlining the fact that Doig’s representatives had threatened suit only if the painting was sold “as a work by Mr. Doig,” Feinerman stated that “An artist is well within his rights to ensure that works he did not create are not sold under his name.”

Doig's lawyer said:

“I have rarely seen such a flagrant example of unethical conduct in the US courts nor a case that inflicted such needless burdens on a defendant,” said Matthew S. Dontzin, the lawyer representing Doig and his gallery, Michael Werner, in an email to artnet News. “Artists should be grateful to Peter for having the ethical and financial fortitude to fight tirelessly to ensure that justice prevailed in today’s verdict.”

Doig said (in the New York Times):

Mr. Doig, who was not in court but called in to hear the ruling, said from Rome by telephone that he felt angry that he had been forced to prove he had not painted the work.

“I feel a living artist should be the one who gets to say yea or nay and not be taken to task and forced to go back 40 years in time. It was painstaking to piece this together,” he said.

This trial must go down as one of the most ridiculous in art history. Frankly, the judge should be ashamed of himself for allowing it to go ahead. Nothing in his verdict can come remotely as a surprise to anyone who spent even half a day reading the details of the case. A week long trial was not necessary, and a waste of Doig's and the court's time. It was blindingly obvious that this painting was not by Doig, and that those who claimed it was had no evidence whatsoever that he had painted it. They presented merely supposition and conspiracy to the court. At best, the plaintiff's case was one of mistaken identity - this picture was surely painted by the late Peter Doige. But Judge Feinerman fell for it. Perhaps he enjoyed the publicity. The case will stand as a model for how attributions should not be decided in court.

It is also an uncomfortable example of how the US legal system permits legal harassment and bullying. Doig should never have had to go to the lengths he did to prove he did not paint this picture. Having to rely on dragging your mother to court, and the fortunate survival of letters from the 1970s (to prove he wasn't in jail) placed an unjustified burden of proof on Doig. What if those letters had not survived, or his mother had passed away? The court gave every indication that it was not enough for Doig to simply say he did not paint the painting - he had to prove he did not. But how do you prove a negative?

The conclusion in the press and amongst commentators is that this case gives comfort to artists, and allows them to say that they did or did not create works. In fact, it does not do that; as far as I can see, there is no precedent set in this case where the judge has said, 'an artist has the right to say they did or did not create a work'. On the contrary, Judge Feinerman has made a point of going through all the evidence about who was where when, specifically to see if Doig was correct in saying he did not paint the picture. In that sense, the case simply demonstrates that any old chancer with access to a lawyer and a US court can create distress and financial loss to an artist for having the temerity to give an opinion on a work of art.

Worse still, the case presents an even greater dilemma for experts in antique paintings. In Doig's case, we had an artist in the dock saying 'I didn't paint that' - and still that wasn't enough to persuade the judge. So what do we do for a Rembrandt, who is very dead?

Say you're an expert on Rembrandt in the US, and a dealer sends you a painting they say is by Rembrandt, and which might have been valued as such, for appraisal. If you think it is not by Rembrandt, are you now going to feel able to say so? Might you be worried about being sued for 'interfering in the sale' of the painting, and be harassed for damages? You'd be right to be worried, for the Doig case shows that even the most groundless claim on attribution can now be dragged through the courts at great expense over years. This daft case could yet have a worrying effect on art history.

Update II - the Art Market Monitor directs me towards this Art Law Blog, by Donn Zaretsky, who writes:

[...] I don't think artists should be especially heartened by the decision.  The case still stands as a warning that an artist who disclaims authorship of a work -- even on facts as ridiculous as these -- faces the possibility of thousands of hours of wasted working time and stress and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. 

Update III - Marion Maneker of the AMM tells me on Twitter that under the 1990 US Visual Artists Rights Act, an artist has the right to say a work they created is no longer their work. But in this case, because the painting was not by Doig, or might not be, the Act afforded Doig no protection. Which of course is baffling. Marion also tells us that Judge Feinerman said in his summary:

An artist is well within his rights to ensure that art he did not create is not sold under his name.

Which begs the question of why Judge Feinerman felt compelled to hear this case in the first place?

I hope Doig seeks and gets full costs from the plaintiffs.

Update IV - a reader writes:

In regards to Update III of your recent Doig post [...] the 1990 US Visual Artists Rights Act. 17 U.S. Code § 106A reads:

Subject to section 107 and independent of the exclusive rights provided in section 106, the author of a work of visual art— (1) shall have the right— . . . (B) to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of any work of visual art which he or she did not create;

In fact, I believe it would have been under this law that Doig would have been able to sue Fletcher and Bartlow if they had tried to go forward with the sale.

Clearly, in this case, Doig was not afforded the protection the act would appear to afford. Either that, or the judge did not pay sufficient heed to it.

Two new series of 'Fake or Fortune?'

August 23 2016

Image of Two new series of 'Fake or Fortune?'

Picture: BBC

I was wrong about a new series of 'Fake or Fortune?' being commissioned - in fact there will be two new series. 

Here's a list of the artists we've investigated so far, in order, along with a score of whether the pictures were deemed to be genuine or not.

  1. Monet - No (scandalously, in my opinion)
  2. Winslow Homer - Yes
  3. Van Meegeren - Yes 
  4. Rembrandt - No (Isaac de Joudreville instead)
  5. Degas - Yes 
  6. Turner - Yes 
  7. Van Dyck - Yes (the portrait of Henrietta Maria)
  8. Vuillard - Yes
  9. Constable - Yes & maybe (though subsequently upgraded to yes).
  10. Chagall - No (a modern fake alas)
  11. Gainsborough - Yes
  12. Lowry - Yes
  13. Renoir - No (scandalously)
  14. 'A Mystery Old Master' - attributed to Francesco Montemezzano
  15. Munnings and Churchill - Yes and No (wrongly, in my opinion)
  16. Freud - Yes 
  17. Delaroche - Yes
  18. Rodin - No
  19. 'Three Portraits' - De Kooning (Yes), Mercier (Yes), Menzel (No)

More information on all the episodes here.

'Dutch Flowers: In conversation'

August 23 2016

Video: National Gallery

Nice discussion here between a curator (Betsy Wieseman) and collector (Brian Capstick) of Dutch flower paintings.

Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

August 23 2016

Image of Fakes, fakes everywhere? (ctd.)

Picture: AHN reader

The French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine is a satirical weekly publication, something akin to the UK's Private Eye. So I report the above article, kindly sent by a reader, with caution. But it alleges that the panel of experts asked by a French judge to look into the authenticity of the painting bought by the Prince of Liechtenstein as a 1531 work by Cranach the Elder for €7m from a London dealer in 2013 has concluded that it is 'un faux'. For more background to the story so far, see here and here.

Quite how 'faux' the painting has been deemed to be is unclear at this stage - the article cites no direct sources. It appears to quote from a report of some description, but whether this is the actual report commissioned by the judge, we are not told. The paper claims that the panel on which the picture was painted has been dated to the 18th Century, that signs of artificial ageing have been detected on the paint surface, and that pigments 'not in accord' with the period of Cranach have been detected.

However, one source of my own tells me that the pigments used in the creation of the panel have not, as the article claims, been proved to be later, but that any traces of later pigments have been put down to restorations. This is entirely possible - Old Master pictures are often re-painted and fixed or improved throughout their lives, and the detection of later pigments is far from proof that the whole picture is 'not right'. Any strong claim that this Cranach is fake will have to assert that the faker was so clever they not only used old pigments to  make it, but deliberately created some damages and then used modern re-touching media for the repair. Possible? Of course. Likely? Not easy to say.

The Canard story also reports that the panel has been determined, by dendrochronology, to be 18th Century. Now, dendrochronology is not, in my experience, the perfect science most people assume it to be. The Canard report states that the Prince of Liechtenstein has been assured by another expert in wooden panels that his panel is indeed consistent with one made in the 16th Century. If the later dendrochronology is deemed correct, then the possibility must remain that the painting is not a modern fake, but a very good old copy (or rather, something created in the 18th Century that was intended to decieve, and has been decieving people for centuries ever since).

Nevertheless, if it is the case that the picture is determined to be a modern fake, then Le Canard Enchaine is right to suggest that this will now create 'une belle panique' in the Old Master market. Everybody will be drawn into the scandal - auction houses, dealers, museums, advisers, curators, and scholars.

And though I hesitate to get off the fence at this stage, I feel I ought to report my own opinions sooner rather than later. I have not seen the Cranach in the flesh, so cannot in truth give an opinion on the picture. From the high-res photos I have wondered about the nature of the craquelure. But I must admit that until the whole possibility of fakery was raised, I did not think look at the picure and immediately think; 'that's a wrong 'un'. The same goes for another picture that has been mentioned in connection with this case. However, for what it is worth, I have seen one of the paintings mentioned in this case in person, and I am pretty convinced it is indeed a fake. I may well be wrong. 

Museum buys back Durer print

August 23 2016

Image of Museum buys back Durer print

Picture: Art Daily

Art Daily reports that the Kunsthalle Museum in Bremen has acquired a 1501 engraving by Durer, 'Saint Eustace' (above) - over a century after it sold the work. When it was founded, the Kunsthalle had two versions of Durer's print, but sold one in 1905 to raise money to buy new works. Sadly, the retained print was destroyed in World War Two - so now the gap has been filled.

Trump - the gargoyle

August 23 2016

Image of Trump - the gargoyle

Picture: Samira Ahmed/Twitter

This photo (of a 700 year old Gargoyle on Southwell Minster) surfaced on Twitter this morning. It seems the fates have been trying to warn us about Trump for centuries. 

Christie's at 250 years

August 23 2016

Video: Christie's

Nice montage of auctioneering life in the film above.

How to be a collector

August 23 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Marvel at the Paris mansion featured in Sotheby's above video (the collection of Robert de Balkany); not a spare inch of space in the whole place.

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