Previous Posts: August 2016

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 22 2016

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

Picture: NYT

We're expecting Judge Gary Feinerman's verdict in the Peter Doig case tomorrow afternoon, according to an anonymous courtroom visitor who has been posting details of the case on Instagram (here). Sadly, it appears the verdict will be an oral verdict, so there will be no written record of the judgement. More pertinently, we won't be able to properly scrutinise why Judge Feinerman permitted this ridiculous case to go to trial, and so cause pointless pain and expense for Doig and his family. Perhaps he wanted to be remembered for presiding over the most fantastical court case in art history.

You can get an idea of the futile and aggressive nature of the plaintiff's case in the anonymous Instagrammer's full summary here. Here's just a taste from day 5:

Marilyn Bovard, Peter Doige's sister [recap - the painting was made by the late Peter Doige], testified. [...]

Doige made art since childhood. She remembers seeing many of his paintings and drawings. His 1976 Lakehead University ID was in his wallet when he died in 2012. Bovard began to cry when she viewed the disputed painting. She firmly believes it is her brother's work. She recognized the signature as her brother's. She showed a photo of a similar work of a desert by her brother.

On cross-examination Zieske aggressively tried to impeach her veracity, implying she had committed perjury and was subject to penalties. It was a bullying attack. He suggested she wanted her brother's life to have meaning by claiming he had done this painting which was really done by the famous Doig. She said she didn't really like Doig's work, that the painting was meaningful to her because her brother painted it. After her testimony, she was crying in the hallway. Zieske approached her with feigned solicitude. Doig's attorney yelled at his younger associate to get her away from Zieske. Tomorrow I will summarize the afternoon events. This lawsuit is unbelievable and so abusive.

Who do these $24m Cranachs belong to?

August 22 2016

Image of Who do these $24m Cranachs belong to?

Picture: Norton Simon Museum

A long-running legal despute over a pair of paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder appears to have been settled. Cranach's 'Adam and Eve' (above) were bought by the Norton Simon Museum in California in 1971 for $800,000. But Marie von Saher, the heir of the Jewish Dutch art dealer Jaques Goudstikker, whose collection was looted by the Nazis in 1940, has been suing the Norton Simon for a decade in her battle to get the pictures restituted. In her battle to reclaim Goudstikker's collection, Ms von Saher has so far successfully sought the return of over 200 other pictures from collections and museums worldwide. But the Norton Simon museum has resisted her claim from the outset - and now looks to have won, after a US judge ruled in their favour last week.

In this case, Goudstikker's ownership of the paintings was never doubted. The Norton Simon museum acknowledged that he had owned the pictures between 1931 and their forced sale (to Goering) in 1940. But the museum relied on the fact that in Holland, the Goudstikker family failed to lodge a claim for the Cranachs before a Dutch government imposed deadline to do so for looted property in 1951. Because of that, Goudstikker's art collection became the property of the Dutch government, and was distributed to various Dutch museums. Therefore, as US District Court judge John Walter ruled:

“This Court is required to apply a ‘strictly legal’ approach, as opposed to one based on policy or moral principles [...] That ‘strictly legal approach’ compels the conclusion that the Dutch State acquired ownership of the Cranachs, which necessarily resolves this action as matter of law in favor of Norton Simon.”

You might well think that such a narrow ruling ignores the wider moral question. However, there is a twist in this tale. The Cranachs turned out to have been looted twice; they had in fact been bought by Goudstikker from the Soviet government, in a 1931 auction of the Russian aristocratic Stroganoff collection. This meant that in 1966 the Dutch government returned the pictures to the Stroganoff heir, George Stroganoff, who had launched his own restitution claim. He in turn sold them to the Norton Simon in 1971.

The case therefore raises a number of interesting questions. First, how far back do we go on the restitution question? To World War Two? To the Russian revolution? To World War One? To the Napoleonic era? There is no easy answer, and all four periods have recently seen pictures seized or restituted (here's an example of the oddest case, from all the way back in 1818!).* 

Following on from that first question, which wronged owner do we feel the need to give recompense to most in this case? The Russian aristocrats or the Dutch Jew? It's certainly a difficult choice - both parties and their families were victims. But in this case, does the successful Stroganoff claim mean that Goudstikker's ownership of the Cranachs was effectively unlawful, in the sense that Jacques Goudstikker didn't have proper title to the pictures when he bought them in 1931?

Here, however, the answer is clouded by two factors. First, Ms von Saher's claim is that although the Cranachs were sold in 'the Stroganoff sale', they were in fact not part of their collection, but were taken from a church in Kiev, the Church of the Holy Trinity. Second, it comes down I supposed to what we define as 'lawful'.

On the first point, the evidence is not certain that the pictures were taken from the Kiev church. The pictures were claimed as Stroganoff pictures at the time of the sale, but there is also no concete evidence of that before the 1931 sale (which is not unusual, of course, and proves little). Neverthelss, even if the pictures were taken from a church and not the Stroganoff family, they are still surely 'looted' in some sense - and doubtless the Ukrainian government of today would say so too.

Secondly, on the legal point, by the standards of the day Goudstikker thought he was buying his pictures perfectly legally. The notion of restitution, and of someone subsequently challenging his ownership, evidently did not matter to Goudstikker even though he knew the circumstances of their sale. And in turn, Goudstikker's forced sale of the works was itself 'legal' under Nazi laws passed at the time. These laws were of course immoral and illegitimate in a thousand ways - which is why we have the European Human Rights Act -  but the point is that today's restitution cases are governed by today's moral standards as much as today's laws. As a result, the Dutch government has already handed back to Ms von Saher some 202 pictures, even though under Dutch law the fact that Goudstikker's family missed the 1951 deadline meant that the pictures became property of the Dutch state. Rightly, the Dutch government decided to change its policy on restitution in the 1990s.

In that sense, I can share the concern of some restitution campaigners that a US court has based its ruling on a law from another state which is no longer recognised by that state as being morally valid. For quite rightly, we today view arbitrary claim deadlines such as the 1951 date used by the Dutch government as irrelevant.** So I find the judge's ruling in this case somewhat unsettling.

And yet, it seems to me that the question is not so clear cut. Ultimately, Ms von Saher was seeking the restitution of two Cranachs which could only morally have been hers in the first place if she ignored the fact that they had in turn been seized from their previous owners - whoever that may be - by the Soviet government. 

* My own view is that some form of generational time limit should be imposed on restitutions. For example, should the children and grandchildren of looting victims be given recompense? Of course. Great-grandchildren? Probably. Great, great grandchildren, or other relatives four generations on? Not so sure.

** The State of California passed a law in 2006 limiting Holocaust era claims to 2010. 

'Fake or Fortune?' - plug!

August 21 2016

Video: BBC

The final episode of this series of 'Fake or Fortune?' goes out today, Sunday, at 9pm on BBC1. It's on immediately after the Olympics finishes, so it'll be interesting to see how the audience numbers do. 

A sixth series has been commissioned, though I'm not sure when filming starts.

In the meantime, 'ForF?' fans may be interested to know that I'll be in a new series on BBC4 this September called 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces'. More on this soon...

Update - we got 3.83m viewers, which was pretty good considering the scheduling was quite a gear change from heavyweight Olympic boxing.

National Trust acquires £5.2m miniature

August 17 2016

Image of National Trust acquires £5.2m miniature

Picture: TAN/NT

The National Trust has bought the above miniature by Isaac Oliver, of Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert. Reports The Art Newspaper:

Valued at £5.2m, it has been acquired for £2.1m, because of tax concessions on a sale to a public collection. Even at the lower figure, it is probably a record price for a British miniature. [...]

Depicting Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, the miniature (around 1610-14) will remain on display at the National Trust-owned Powis Castle, near Welshpool in Wales. The sitter was a poet, philosopher and statesman. He is shown as a fashionable and melancholic young lover with his head resting on his hand, as he lies stretched out on the banks of a stream in a shady forest. His shield includes a bleeding heart.

The acquisition was supported with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (£1.5m) and the Art Fund (£300,000), along with the remainder raised by the National Trust. The sale was arranged by the London-based agent Omnia Art.

In terms of pounds per inch, is this the most expensive British work of art ever sold?

Thomas Hardy's lost altarpiece

August 17 2016

Image of Thomas Hardy's lost altarpiece

Picture: Guardian

There's 'lost art', and then there's art that you think - how on earth did we ever lose it? In the last category, The Guardian reports on that an enormous marble altarpiece designed by the novelist Thomas Hardy has been discovered behind panelling in a church in Windsor. Churchgoer Stuart Tunstall happened to be peering through a gap in the panelling with an iPhone torch, and found it. The original design - which was itself only discovered in the 1970s tucked away behind the organ - can be seen above. The vicar, who has been there for 18 years, had no idea it existed.

The panelling is itself architecturally important, and must be removed with care. The church is seeking to raise £9,000 to do this. 

Kudos to The Guardian sub-editor who came up with the caption, 'Rood the obscure'...

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 17 2016

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

Picture: NYT

Dushko Petrovich of Artnet news has done the world a great service by reporting on the courtroom arguments in the Peter Doig trial. To recap (here and here) Peter Doig, the valuable contemporary artist, is being sued by Robert Bartlow and Peter Fletcher, who say that he falsely denied painting a picture they were attempting to sell for many millions of dollars. The painting in question (above) is signed 'Peter Doige', and there is compelling evidence that someone called Peter Doige (now dead) really did paint the picture. (The whole business seems to be one of mistaken identity, albeit blended with a degree of viciousness).

Here are the main points from the last day of testimony:

Bartlow and Fletcher's lawyer highlighted the fact that there is no evidence to prove Peter Doig was not in Thunder Bay in Canada in 1976, where the painting was made and sold to Fletcher in $100. There's also no evidence to show I was not in Timbuktu last Friday. 

Bartlow and Fletcher have asked the judge for an award of $7.9m if he says it is by Doig, and $100,000 if it is not. The latter claim is that even if the painting is not by Peter Doig, he 'interfered' with its sale (even though all he did was say he didn't paint it!). The $100,000 figure is on the basis that Fletcher and Bartlow's own 'appraiser' said the painting as a Doige was worth between $50,000-$100,000 - even though there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Doige's work has ever made that sort of money. It's probably worth barely thousands of dollars, and its chief interest is as a souvenir of this idiotic court case.

And here's the most alarming part of Petrovich's report (which is well worth reading in full): Judge Feinerman wants more time to make his mind up:

Earlier in the day, Judge Feinerman had said that he might issue a verdict at the end of the day, but as the two sides finished their remarks, the Judge demurred. Despite a request from Doig’s lawyers for Feinerman to render the decision immediately, and issue the rationale later, the Judge insisted that he needed more time.

His verdict will be given orally at an as-yet-undetermined point in the coming weeks.

Feinerman’s final request was to examine the artwork further, so an arrangement was made to keep the painting in his chambers during the day, and the US District Court for Nothern Illinois’s safe at night.

'The true face of Lord Darnley'

August 16 2016

Image of 'The true face of Lord Darnley'


I've always been slightly suspicious of facial recreations of historical figures from their skulls. A recent case saw a recreation Richard III's head from his newly discovered skull. But I couldn't help wondering how much of the 'likeness' derived from early portraits of the king, especially for things like eye and hair colour, which of course one cannot derive from skulls. The recreation wasn't done 'blind'. Some even claimed that the results 'proved' that the 16th Century portraits of Richard were accurate - even though they're all posthumous, and we have no evidence of a life portrait ever having been made. 

However, a new recreation has examined two skulls that claimed to be that of Lord Darnley, husband to Mary Queen of Scots,* and I must say the results appear to be rather impressive. One of the skulls recreated by Emma Price of Dundee University does indeed look like known life portraits of Darnley (e.g. here). The Daily Herald takes up the story:

Darnley was buried in the Royal Vault, Abbey Church, Holyrood but the vault was raided between 1776 and 1778.

As a result two skulls purporting to be Darnley’s – one held in the University of Edinburgh’s collection and the other owned by the Royal College of Surgeons in London – exist.

The University of Edinburgh engaged the services of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID). Ms Price then took on the project as part of her Masters, which is jointly offered by CAHID and Duncan of Jordanstone.

Ms Price has concluded the Edinburgh skull is not Lord Darnley's.

She said: "The University of Edinburgh had a skull in their collection inscribed ‘The skull of Lord Darnley, found in Kirk o’ Field’ and for years that was believed to be the case but there was another one said to be his at the Royal College of Surgeons. "Then, in 1928, a mathematician and scientist called Dr Karl Pearson analysed the RCS skull and pronounced it to be Darnley’s.

"He was an early pioneer of craniofacial superimposition and he used a technique that had only just been invented but the science has obviously moved on massively since then.

"In order to clear up the mystery, Edinburgh asked me to look at both skulls and find which was the most likely match.

"This wasn’t easy as the RCS skull had been destroyed in the blitz so we had to rebuild it using images and Pearson’s very precise measurements. Craniofacial superimposition is a method of analysis in which an unidentified skull is compared to images of a missing person, or in the case of Lord Darnley, contemporary portraits. Upon completion, one of the skulls was identified as fitting remarkably well.

The features on the portrait such as the very arched eyebrows and distinct sloping forehead led me to conclude that the Edinburgh skull didn’t stand up to scrutiny whereas the RCS one was a good match.  From the analysis I did we can say the Edinburgh skull is definitely not Darnley’s while I produced a craniofacial reconstruction of the other skull presenting a 3D sculpture of what Lord Darnley would have looked like before his untimely death."

Using 3-D software, Emma produced a model of Darnley’s skull and created the reconstruction using wax and silicone.

Update - an artist writes:

A long time ago, I had a studio open to the public in a fairly busy location. This provided me with a wonderful opportunity to use the public as Guinea pigs and subject them to various art related experiments.  One such concerned the accuracy of pre-photographic era portraits.

I would collect together high resolution images of people whose portrait had been painted many times by several different artists - David Garrick for example - print their faces onto A4 sheets of paper and tack them to the studio wall using a proprietary sticky gum.

I would then select one of the printouts at random and set it apart from the rest.  At opportune moments, I would point to the single image and say to my studio visitors - this is a portrait of the 18th century actor David Garrick, can you spot the other portrait of him from among the remaining group of printouts?

After varying lengths of deliberation, one other portrait was usually selected.  In six months, only one person ever said 'all of them', and she revealed herself to be professionally informed.  By contrast, several thought it was a trick and said 'none of them'.

This experiment strengthened my conviction that each artist had developed their own fashionable way of drawing and painting people; that the best artists were at best 90% accurate and that portraitists, within that 10% margin of error, juggled and combined assumptions about (i) how the sitter perceived themself (typically not accurately!), (ii) how they thought the sitter would wish to be remembered and (iii) how things actually were. 

* and one of AHN's great grandpas.

Musée D'Orsay puts conservation on show

August 16 2016

Image of Musée D'Orsay puts conservation on show

Picture: NYT

The New York Times reports on the Musée D'Orsay's decision to let visitors see the cleaning of works such as Auguste-Barthélemy Glaize's 'Women of Gaul'. I'm always in favour of this sort of thing - it not only encourages visitors to look more closely at pictures, but can also help demystify the science of conservation.

Letting the public see the cleaning, however, is not to every conservator's taste:

For the conservators — a profession dominated by women — the attention to such a solitary métier is gratifying. But they were trained to use swabs and tools to thin and swipe away old varnish. Many found it difficult to cope with waves of noise, abrupt public announcements and, sometimes, rapping against the protective glass cube. Not to mention the limits on their use of chemical solvents because of their proximity to the public.

Laurence Didier, who leads the independent team of 13 conservators restoring “The Women of Gaul,” had never worked in public before. She said that it took time to become accustomed to an audience, even though conservators faced the canvas with their backs to visitors.

“Everyone is different and has their own style,” she said. “I need absolute calm, and so I have my headphones playing Baroque music or Vivaldi.”

Cécile Bringuier, who leads the second team on the Courbet restoration, also said she is not a fan of conservators on display. “Would you like to be watched while you work?”

Incidentally, that is an interesting remark that conservators are mostly women: it's true, but I've never stopped to think why, or when that became so. Anyone have any thoughts?

Update - a reader writes:


Update II - another reader writes:

Regarding why more women work in conservation than men: more women study Art History, and therefore there are more women to go into conservation - you usually need an Art History degree before you can do post-graduate studies in conservation. What I found interesting when I studied (which was over a decade ago) was the ratio of men to women - more women were studying art history than men, more women were teaching than men, but more men in the institution were Professors and also more men ran major art institutions and galleries. I don't know if these stats still stand, or are international, but they were the reality when I was a student. The only area wholly dominated by women was Conservation. I know the TV is now spattered with female historians and curators etc. but I don't know how that stacks up in the Art History world, having been out of it for so long. There seem to be limited male art historians on TV (presenting whole series) and they don't seem to be of a Phd level or higher - but journalists, while the women on TV seem to be curators or university tutors/ fellows etc. 

These are just my observations as a (now) armchair Art Historian. 

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 15 2016

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

Picture: NYT

ArtNet news reports on the latest in the Peter Doig trial, including more of the bizarre evidence put forward by the dealer suing the artist, Peter Bartlow:

“To Peter Doig, this painting is kryptonite,” Chicago art dealer Peter Bartlow testified [...]

Expert witnesses took the stand on Thursday, as judge Gary Feinerman presided over a restless courtroom on the third day of the trial. The morning began with Tibor L. Nagy’s cross-examination of Bartlow, and focused on the techniques he used to authenticate the painting as Doig’s. “The Bartlow Method,” as Doig’s attorney sarcastically dubbed it, relied heavily on identifying small elements in the disputed painting that can be found in Doig’s verified work, such as the line of a skier’s right arm in a 1994 oil on canvas, Chopper, which Bartlow says is nearly identical to the ridge of a rock formation in the disputed painting.

The defense then called Richard Shiff, an art historian who calls himself “a connoisseur of [Doig’s] works.” He characterized Bartlow’s methods as “entirely unreliable,” adding: “If you go looking for coincidences, you’ll find them.” He also questioned Bartlow’s relationship with Fletcher, noting that the Chicago dealer stands to gain a 25 percent commission of the painting’s sale. “An authenticator should have no stake,” Shiff said.

What a waste of time and money this is - Judge Feinerman should wrap this thing up without further delay.

Facebook live tour of the National Gallery

August 15 2016

Image of Facebook live tour of the National Gallery

Picture: Facebook/National Gallery

Here's an interesting thing - the National Gallery hosted a 'live' tour of their current Painters Paintings exhibition on Facebook last week, and very good it was too: you can watch it here. The picture featured above is the Van Dyck self-portrait I discovered some years ago (which I might have mentioned just a few times already, sorry).

The tour was a fairly simple production, with a low-res, unlit camera following 'Curatorial Assistant Allison' (actually Allison Goudie) around the exhibition. But I was amazed and impressed to see that it has been seen so far by over 21,000 people. This is far more people than would normally click to see a National Gallery video on You Tube (which are more slickly produced).

Is Facebook the future for museum videos and digital marketing like this? I'm afraid I'm not on Facebook, so I don't know enough to suggest an answer (and it's abore that Facebook is so controlling about content - I can't for example embed the National Gallery's footage onto this site, like I can with You Tube videos). But just think what the National Gallery could achieve if they did more online tours like this, but actually used some proper equipment (like a light).

Restoring 'the UK's Sistine Chapel'

August 15 2016

Video: Art Fund

The Art Fund has launched a campaign to raise £21,500 to help restore a part of the Painted Hall in the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich:

Called 'the Sistine Chapel of the UK', the Painted Hall is one of the finest Baroque interiors in Europe. Its centrepiece – the proscenium arch – has endured 50 years of dirt and grime and we need your help to preserve it. With the funds you donate, we’ll be able to do the painstaking conservation work needed to make this unique treasure shine once more.

There are various 'rewards' on offer, including for a donation of £995 the chance to climb the scaffolding and see the conservation work on offer.

That said, £21,500 doesn't buy you a lot of restoration, especially when it involves gilding. If I was to ask my frame restorer to clean and regild a standard 30 x 25 inch 18th Century frame, for example, it would cost about £2,500. Add in the cost of making the above film (with a drone) and all those rewards, and the change left over from the campaign is probably enough to regild a dew finials. But as the Art Fund's page states:

This project is one part of a wider £7million conservation plan to restore the Painted Hall at Old Royal Naval College.

So that's all good, but it is interesting to see how the Art Fund capitalises - in terms of marketing - on far larger donations made by bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund. Here, for example, is how The Guardian reported the news.

Rise and fall of a contemporary artist

August 11 2016

Image of Rise and fall of a contemporary artist

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports on the sad bankruptcy of an artist called Andrew Vicari:

The Sunday Times Rich List, which in 2006 valued Vicari at £92m, described him as “the Port Talbot-born son of an Italian restaurateur” and gave the unlikely story that he was the youngest student to be admitted to the Slade, at the age of 13, where he trained under Francis Bacon. The newspaper wrote that in 1991 Prince Khalid of Saudi Arabia bought 125 of his Gulf War paintings for £13m and he later won a £25m commission for “the world’s largest oil painting”.

49 portraits by Vicari, including the above of Margot Fonteyn, are being sold in an online auction, with bids starting at £30.

Update - oh dear, here's an investment company caled 'Templar - Alternative Diversification' which has been plugging Vicari's work as a potential good buy:

Historically art increases in value, once the artist has passed away, and this is one of the main reasons why Templar has chosen Andrew Vicari to promote for investment and future value - while he is still alive. [...]

Templar has successfully, secured a small selection of Andrew Vicari art work which is a mixture of fine oils, pencil and charcoal sketches; these future masterpieces are 100% original and can be authenticated for future sale. If you would like to find out more about our current opportunities please speak with your dedicated Templar Consultant.

Final 'Fake or Fortune?'

August 11 2016

Image of Final 'Fake or Fortune?'

Picture: BBC

The last episode of this series of 'Fake or Fortune?' will be shown on Sunday 21st August, at the different time of 9pm. It had to be moved due a clash with the Olympics. 

A new series has been commissioned, but I haven't yet been told when filming begins.

Tate acquires Castle Howard Reynolds

August 11 2016

Image of Tate acquires Castle Howard Reynolds

Picture: TAN

More good news from the UK's Acceptance in Lieu scheme - a fine full-length by Sir Joshua Reynolds of the 5th Earl of Carlisle (above) has been acquired by Tate Britain from Castle Howard. The picture was offered to the nation to clear £4.7m of inheritance tax. Happily, the picture will stay in situ at Castle Howard, though it will be made available for loans and exhibitions in the future as Tate sees fit. More here in The Art Newspaper.

'What do art advisers do?'...

August 11 2016

Image of 'What do art advisers do?'...

Picture: Artnet News

...asks Henri Neuendorf for ArtNet News. The answer sheds a maddening light on the snobbishness of the contemporary art market:

[...] with rising demand, galleries often sell only to their most loyal or high-profile clients, making it difficult for new buyers to get access to desirable works. A respected advisor on the other hand can use their connections to help facilitate access to artworks normally reserved for loyal repeat customers.

“There are a lot of novice collectors out there who don’t realize that you can’t run through the doors and make your first purchase,” dealer David Zwirner told the New York Times in 2006. “Primary market galleries like us often have three-year waiting lists. We’re very picky.”

For those of us who strive to make art, and the art market, accessible to everyone, to hear dealers bragging about being 'picky' is jarring.

But perhaps the wider question is, why do people still fall for this act? The system of advisers and gallery waiting lists - of a manufactured exclusivity only available to those on the inside - is designed to make collectors feel compelled to pay, unquestioningly, high prices for mediocre works. 

As the article goes onto to explicitly state:

Beyond providing access to elusive artworks, advisors also help refine their clients tastes [...]'

In other words, you pay a fee to be told what you like, and for the privilege of buying it. And as Neuendorf wisely concludes:

The downside to relying on art advisor is that the age-old “buy what you love” mantra is lost when a market expert tells you what to purchase. As a result, art collecting has become increasingly homogenized and eclectic, individual collections have become increasingly rare.

This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

August 11 2016

Image of This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

Picture: AHN reader

A reader has spotted the above range of gifts in the shop at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. £50 for framed reproductions, and £25 unframed. Alternatively, you can go to the National Portrait Gallery's online shop here, and buy a framed print of Shakespeare for £70. It's more expensive, but has the added advantage of actually being him.

'FT Weekend Live' at Kenwood

August 9 2016

Image of 'FT Weekend Live' at Kenwood

Picture: FT

The Financial Times has kindly asked me to give a talk at the first ever 'FT Weekend Live', at Kenwood House in London on 3rd September. Fancy coming along? Tickets are avilable here.

There will be lots of other speakers and events, with the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Vivienne Westwood, as well as much food and wine to consume. The seven stages ('House & Home', 'Food & Drink' etc.) will include an Arts stage, which is where I'll be, along with the art market expert Georgina Adam (on 'Has contemporary art sold out?'), the FT's arts editor Jan Dalley, the writer Peter Aspden, and others. 

I'm pitched as follows:

How to identify a lost masterpiece

Art historian and broadcaster Dr Bendor Grosvenor (BBC1’s 'Fake or Fortune?’ and BBC4’s ‘Britain’s Lost Masterpieces’) will give an insight into the fascinating world of art discovery, and show how anyone, if equipped with the right tools, can learn how to identify lost masterpieces.

Hope to see some AHNers there!

Doig or didn't he? (ctd.)

August 9 2016

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

Picture: NYT

The case against the contemporary artist Peter Doig has reached new levels of ridiculousness. To recap, he is being sued by Robert Fletcher, who says he bought a painting (above) from Doig in the 1970s, when the artist had served time in a Canadian detention centre and Flether had been his parole officer. Doig, however, maintains he didn't paint it, and that he has never been incarcerated. And there's strong evidence the picture was actually made by someone called Peter Doige, with an 'e', and indeed that is what the signature says too. (This Peter Doige is dead.) When Doig was sent the painting for 'approval' so that Fletcher could sell it, and denied it was by him, he was promptly sued for the apparent loss of value.

This is possibly one of the most bizarre artworld court cases I've ever come across. Not least because the lawyer for the owners has said:

“This is not a work painted by someone with no artistry or no artistic talent [...] It is a work of master artistic talent.”

Clearly, it is not (in my opinion). And then we have the curious assertion by one of the co-plaintiffs in the case, an art dealer called Peter Bartlow (who had hoped to sell the work for Fletcher) that the reason Doig is disavowing the painting is because he is not someone with 'master artistic talent'. Bartlow told Artnet News:

Bartlow, who helped bring the case against the artist, told artnet News in a phone interview that he believed Doig’s motive in disavowing the work is not to deny a criminal past but to disguise the fact that “he can’t draw.”

Everybody in the art world thinks he’s telling the truth, and thinks I’m crazy, but people outside of the art world are skeptical… I know why he did it [disavowed the painting]. He did it because he can’t draw. Everything he does is projected, and he sketches it from the picture…This painting we have proves it.

The Chicago dealer insists that Doig relies on using projections on the canvas. “No critic has ever written this about it,” he acknowledged. “The only reason I did is that I have this book of his by Phaidon of the painting in the Canadian National Gallery, and I was looking at it upside down. There’s a couple of shapes in it that are the same shapes located in our painting. I could see what he did.”

Barlow goes on to describe Doig as a “sociopath,” and added that “his paintings play on words for LSD. I think he doesn’t care if anybody knows he got busted for drugs. It’s all about his art.” In his closing remark he said, “I like his work though.”

A 'sociopath'? What has Doig done to deserve this kind of treatment?

The New York Times reports on the early testimony in the case:

The plaintiffs are suing the painter for at least $5 million in damages and, in addition, are seeking a court declaration that the artwork is authentic.

Mr. Doig took the stand on the first day of the trial, called as an adverse witness by the plaintiffs, whose lawyers asked him to go through the minutiae of how he creates art. The plaintiffs contend the work resembles other paintings by Mr. Doig and employs colors he typically uses.

Mr. Doig, dressed in a light gray suit, answered politely through several hours of testimony, describing how he used projections and other tools to help create images. Most of his answers revolved around technical issues, not direct commentary on whether he had created the work.

Asked, for example, to describe how he would create a silk-screen on punk-rock T-shirts, Mr. Doig said, “You slop on varnish and you paint the paint through a screen.” [...]

Mr. Fletcher, who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and Mr. Bartlow have no record of Mr. Doig being jailed in Thunder Bay, but they have focused on what they assert is an incomplete account of his teenage years in Canada, when he cannot fully explain where he was or what he was doing.

Mr. Fletcher testified in the afternoon and said that he remembered Mr. Doig well, partly because, he said, he had known him at Lakehead University and then later when he worked at the detention center.

While at Thunder Bay, Mr. Fletcher recalled watching the person he said was Mr. Doig work on the desert painting over a period of months. “He was almost bragging and said how good he was getting at it (painting),” Mr. Fletcher said.

And his progress as a painter showed in the work, Mr. Fletcher told the court. “The painting stood out,” he said. “I fell in love with it.” [...]

Judge Gary Feinerman of the United States District Court for Northern Illinois decided that there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial and will rule after what is expected to be about a week of testimony.

It would seem pretty clear, the case having got this far, that there is no documentary evidence to support the Doig attribution. Maybe there is, as the plaintiffs allege, a gap in the account of Doig's early life. But that proves nothing - and can any of us document where we were all the time in our teenage years?

Therefore, the case must it seems come down to the connoisseurship of Judge Feinerman - he is being asked to decide, on the evidence of the painting before him and how it was made, whether the canvas is a work by the young Doig. Courts are, as AHN has often warned before, an unsatisfactory place to decide matters of attribution. And in this case (as the line of questioning described above suggests) the court is being asked to judge a piece of juvenalia on the assumption that Doig painted in the 1970s in the same way he does now. It's frankly ridiculous. If Doig wins this case, I hope he is awarded punitive damages, as well as costs.

The wider point here is that the American legal system can put the fear of God into those who would say whether a painting is or is not by a particular artist - even, in this case, the artist themselves. As Doig's case shows, even when there is no direct evidence at all for an attribution, the person who is brave enough to say so can be harrassed by the litigious, and landed with huge legal fees. It's legalised blackmail.

Update - Mariona Manneker of Art Market Monitor says:

One of the things that makes the trial interesting is the previous case law where courts have ruled that authenticity cannot be determined by judge.

In which case I am even more baffled by the whole thing.

Update II - here (with a link to a high-res photo) is the entry for the painting on the Peter Bartlow Gallery website, where it is listed as a work by 'Peter Doig':


34 x 41 1/2 inches

acrylic on linen


Painted and signed as Pete Doige 76

Subject of groundbreaking case before the U.S. court in which the gallery complains that the artist unjustly interfered in the attempted sale of the painting.

'Interfered in the attempted sale'? If someone sends Doig a photo of a painting, and asks 'did you paint this?', and he gives an answer, then how can that be described as 'interfering'?

Update III - The New York Times, here, presents the evidence assembled by Doig's lawyers that the painting is by Peter Doige (above):

Mr. Doig and his lawyers say they have identified the real artist, a man named Peter Edward Doige. He died in 2012, but his sister said he had attended Lakehead University, served time in Thunder Bay and painted.

“I believe that Mr. Fletcher is mistaken and that he actually met my brother, Peter, who I believe did this painting,” the sister, Marilyn Doige Bovard, said in a court declaration. She said the work’s desert scene appeared to show the area in Arizona where her mother moved after a divorce and where her brother spent some time. She recognized, she said, the saguaro cactus in the painting.

The prison’s former art teacher recognized a photograph of Ms. Bovard’s brother as a man who had been in his class and said he had watched him paint the painting, according to the teacher’s affidavit.

But Peter Bartlow, the dealer who is suing Peter Doig along with the painting's owner Robert Fletcher, has posted a bizarre video on YouTube, in which he appears to suggest that the Peter Doige shown in the photo ID above might actually be Peter Doig, the artist. 

Furthermore, in another video on YouTube, Bartlow claims that Doig re-uses the composition from Mr Fletcher's painting, and that it can be seen in later examples of Doig's work. This is proved, Bartlow says, by turning one painting upside down and then super-imposing another picture on top of it at a slightly different angle, and then comparing some of the outlines. It is plainly absurd, fantastical stuff. There are 15 videos from Peter Barlow, here.

If this sort of nonsense is being presented in a US court as a reason to sue Peter Doig, and Judge Feinerman is entertaining it as serious evidence even for one second, then it's a complete scandal. A British judge would have dismissed this case within minutes. As Peter Doig says, 'it's a scam'. Why is a US court allowing this to happen?

Update IV - here's a piece from 2012 in the Chicago Reader, setting out some of the background to Mr Fletcher's interraction with Peter Doige. It also reports that Mr Bartlow attempted first to sell the painting to Doig himself, which is curious. And that when the article was written the picture had been priced by Bartlow at $1m. This was after Doig had denied painting the picture. So if it was only 'valued' at $1m then, how can Fletcher and Bartlow be claiming damages with a value of $5m?

Update V - here's more from Marion Maneker on how US courts view determining authenticity. He cites a decision in a 2009 New York court as saying:

Moreover, because of the procedures and processes by which our civil litigation is decided, courts are not equipped to deliver a meaningful declaration of authenticity. For such a pronouncement to have any validity in the marketplace or the art world, it would have to be supported by the level of justification sufficient to support a pronouncement by a recognized art expert with credentials in the relevant specialty. For example, in the French legal system, declarations of authenticity are reportedly made by courts, but they are based on more than a determination of which side’s expert is the more credible. In addition to the parties’ disputing experts, the French court appoints its own neutral expert who possesses the necessary expertise (see Van Kirk Reeves, Establishing Authenticity in French Law, in The Expert versus the Object, supra at 228). In contrast, in our legal system, courts have neither the education to appropriately weigh the experts’ opinions nor the authority to independently gather all available appropriate information; we can only base our conclusions on the evidence the parties choose to present to us, and our findings as to a party’s entitlement to relief are generally made according to a preponderance of the evidence standard. […]

This is not to say that courts do not address the issue of authenticity. Courts are often required to issue findings as to art works’ authenticity as an element of claims, such as those brought by dissatisfied buyers, seeking money damages from sellers or appraisers, or rescission of art sales. However, in these actions, the relief awarded by the court binds only the parties to the transaction, and does not attempt to affect the art market generally.

I believe this is in effect saying that a court, in the present Doig case, could decide to award damages if it believed in the authenticity of a painting, and that somehow that question of authenticity resulted in a financial loss or gain for a particular party. This is seperate from issuing a declarion, 'this painting is authentic', which a French court is able to do (whether anyone in the art market would pay attention to it is another matter). I would be truly staggered, on the sort of evidence presented so far in the Doig case, if Judge Feinerman was able to even come close to pronouncing the painting authentic. 

'Fake or Fortune?' episode 4

August 8 2016

Video: BBC

The final episode of this series of 'Fake or Fortune?' has been moved until after the Olympics. I gather it will now be going out on 28th August.

Above is a clip from episode 3, which looked at a possible Rodin. I missed it whilst on holiday, but caught up here on iPlayer. I won't spoil the ending for you, but it's a great watch. Look closely and you can see my office here in Edinburgh - the AHN hotseat - looking unusually tidy. There was also an extraordinary moment when MOMA in New York refused to let us look at a vital series of fake Rodin drawings in their collections. They would let us look at their genuine Rodins, but not the fake ones.   

Incidentally, on the wall in Philip's gallery above are two Van Dyck sketches I discovered whilst working there. I've always wanted to buy them myself, but never quite had the means (the curse of a Van Dyck obsessive).

Recreating a lost Degas

August 8 2016

Image of Recreating a lost Degas

Pictures: NY Times

I've been amazed by the digital recreation (above right) of an over-painted portrait by Degas, made possible by the sort of thing they only discuss at Cern, a particle accelerator. The New York Times has the story:

For decades, a mysterious black stain has been spreading across the face of an anonymous woman in Australia [below]. She is the subject of a painting by Edgar Degas, the French Impressionist painter, and since the 1920s, the oil paints in her portrait have gradually faded, revealing the hints of another, hidden portrait underneath.

Until recently, attempts to capture the image underlying “Portrait of a Woman” with conventional X-ray and infrared techniques have only yielded the shadowy outline of another woman. In a study published on Thursday, however, a team of researchers reports that they have revealed the hidden layer underneath the painting, which hangs in the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia, at a very high resolution. It seems to be a portrait of Emma Dobigny, a model who was a favored subject of Degas. [...]

To get their high-resolution image, the research team used a type of particle accelerator called a synchrotron. Synchrotrons are sources of extremely high-energy light. They work by directing that light, which is a million times brighter than the sun, into an X-ray beam that’s one tenth the diameter of a human hair.

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