Previous Posts: August 2016

George Stubbs and the use of wax

August 8 2016

Image of George Stubbs and the use of wax

Picture: NMM

The 18th Century animal painter George Stubbs is one of the most fiendishly difficult artists to deal with when it comes to conservation. He often used to mix wax in with his paints, which makes his paintings particularly vulnerable to the sort of solvents restorers usually use. Consequently, many Stubbs pictures are in bad condition. I once heard of a Stubbs that had been accidentally left in front of a sunny window in a New York auction house - parts of it literally melted. When I'm asked about cleaning works by Stubbs my advice is usually to leave things as they are. 

Happily, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (owner of Stubbs' Dingo, above) is doing its bit to publicise Stubbs' use of wax at a day long symposium on 14th October. More details here

Update - a reader writes:

Surely that "Dingo" is a Falklands Wolf, painted by Stubbs in 1772 from a preserved body brought back by Banks when the Endeavor completed its round-the-world trip in 1771. 

Perhaps Australia should feel only half bad that they didn't get the paintings after all.

Job Opportunity (ctd.)

August 8 2016

Image of Job Opportunity (ctd.)

Picture: Burlington Magazine

Many raised eyebrows in AHN's email inbox over the advertisement for a new editor at The Burlington Magazine. The magazine is art history's most esteemed publication, and it was only last year that editor Frances Spalding was appointed, after the long tenure of Richard Shone. 

The job application details are the same as before:

The Burlington Magazine is looking for an Editor to lead the publication forwards in both print and digital formats. The successful candidate will be responsible for maintaining the integrity and academic standards of the editorial content, including selecting, commissioning and editing articles with the assistance of an experienced editorial team. The successful candidate must have a bachelor’s degree, but an advanced degree in art history, literature, or a related field is desirable. A high professional standing in a scholarly press, museum, university or equivalent environment is required. The candidate must also have a tested understanding of the editorial process, be able to work to tight deadlines and have a a broad knowledge of art. The successful candidate must also have proven leadership and management skills, and the ability to create a positive and productive team environment. The candidate should be able to collaborate effectively with a wide range of colleagues and contacts, both external and internal, and must possess excellent communication skills. This is a board-level position that reports to the Chairman and so requires a candidate who is organized, able to set priorities and juggle competing demands. Occassional travel is required.

If you're interested, the deadline is 31st August. I'd secretly like to have a go myself, but I fear my changes would be too radical for the trust that owns the magazine. Here were some of my suggestions last time the editorship was vacant. I see also this time around that the new editor will need to be:

Responsible for planning future issues at least 4 – 6 months in advance

I'm not sure how any publication these days can hope to stay relevant and up to date with a such a long lead time.

Fitzwilliam Museum's 200th birthday gift

August 8 2016

Image of Fitzwilliam Museum's 200th birthday gift

Picture: Camrbidge News

The Fitzwilliam Museum is 200 years old this year. They've just announced the acquisition of the above early 17th Century Italian cabinets for £1.2m. The cabinets had been sold last year at Sotheby's in London by Castle Howard, and had been destined to go overseas. But the museum, led by its director Tim Knox, stepped in to save them for the nation. Cambridge News reports:

Described by the museum's director as a “perfect combination of Italian pomp and English splendour", the ebony and rosewood cabinets, inlaid with semi-precious stones and mounted with gilt-bronze, will form the centrepiece of its birthday celebration.

Made in Rome in about 1625 for the powerful Borghese family, they have been part of the private collection at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, since their purchase by Henry Howard, the 4th Earl of Carlisle.

Last year they were put up for auction at Sotherby's, selling to a foreign buyer for a cool £1.2 million.

However as the only surviving pair of Roman hardstone cabinets in a British public collection, they were deemed so important the Government placed a temporary export bar on them, to provide an opportunity to save them for the nation.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund gave £700,000 and the ArtFund gave £200,000. Congratulations to all involved. 

Sotheby's expands video platform

August 8 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Interesting news from Sotheby's (in The Art Newspaper) that they'll be making more short films about museums and important collections, from the Met in New York (as above) to Chatsworth in the UK.

Sotheby's videos are now of very high quality, and demonstrate to many museums how these things should be done. And here's the commercial imperative for doing so:

There is also a clear financial incentive for Sotheby’s to host films on its website. The auction house has seen an increase of 187% in its video views, and clients who engage with videos or other editorial content are 33% more likely to bid, according to a spokesman.

I suspect good videos can be used to have a similar effect on museum fundraising.

By the way, just a quick note to Sotheby's - please put your videos on sites like You Tube and Vimeo, not just your own website. It's much easier for people like me to promote them. If you just put them on your own site, then I'm limited to showing tiny windows like the one above...

Bowes Museum acquires rare Bouts

August 8 2016

Image of Bowes Museum acquires rare Bouts

Picture: Guardian

The Bowes Museum has acquired a rare 15th Century picture by Dieric Bouts the Elder and his workshop for £2.3m. The picture, St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child (detail above), was secured with a generous grant of £1.99m from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  It had been threatened with a sale overseas, and happily the government's export licence scheme worked well. More here, and here

Amidst all the talk of gloom for Britain's regional museums, it's really inspiring to see an institution like the Bowes Museum achieving so much. This latest acquisition comes on top of their recent £2m endowment fund appeal, and the acquisition through the AIL scheme of Van Dyck's 'Portrait of Olivia Porter'. Great credit is due, I think, to the Bowes' energetic and creative director, Adrian Jenkins.

Elizabeth I 'Armada Portrait' bought for the nation

August 8 2016

Video: You Tube / The Art Fund

Excellent news that the National Maritime Museum has bought the Tyrwhitt-Drake 'Armada' portrait of Elizabeth I for £16m. The picture was being sold by the descendants of Sir Francis Drake, and it was the first time the picture had ever been put on the market. Christie's handled the sale, and the Heritage Lottery Fund made by far the largest contribution to the campaign (run the Art Fund) with a grant of £7.4m.

The intervention of the HLF is more evidence of the dramatic impact brought about by the last government's change in policy for Lottery 'good cause' money. When the HLF was first established, the purchase of objects was effectively forbidden. Now, however, more money is available to buy pictures for UK institutions than ever before. Donations from members of the public were £1.5m, which is another healthy sign of the public's acquisitional appetite in these uncertain times.

You can read more about the picture here in AHN's first reporting of the appeal. 

In the above video, made for the Art Fund's fundraising campaign, the Tudor historian Dr. David Starkey (of whom AHN is exceedingly fond) tells us why the picture is so important.

Please, don't touch...

August 8 2016

Video: You Tube

The New York Times looks at recent cases of visitors getting too close to museum exhibits, including the above disaster at the National Watch and Clock Museum in the US. The article cites this view as to why such things happen:

Steve Keller, who has worked in museum security since 1979, said the phenomenon of visitors’ defacing exhibits has been going on for years. He linked their actions to mental instability, a lack of appreciation of art or sheer ignorance.

Which sounds harsh, but is probably true.

The last time I was in the Louvre I saw a visitor vigorously rub the impasto on a painting by John Constable, and then compare it with the surface of a Turner hanging nearby. I gave them what for. 

Personally, I don't mind pictures being glazed, as long as it's done well. I recently visited the Queen's Gallery here in Edinburgh at Holyrood, to see the excellent exhibition Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer,* where every picture was glazed. But it was done so expertly, with perfect lighting, that it was impossible to tell at a normal viewing angle. If this is the price we have to pay to protect our finest pictures from the mad and the ignorant, then so be it. 

*Now at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

The flea market Durer

August 8 2016

Image of The flea market Durer

Picture: Guardian

A 1520 engraving by Albrecht Durer, Maria Crowned by an Angel, has been donated to the Staatsgallerie in Stuttgart after it was bought in a French flea market for just a few euros. The engraving had originally been in the museum's collection, but had been missing since the war. A museum stamp on the back identified the museum's ownership. The donor has remained anonymous, but whoever they are, AHN salutes them.

Test your Connoisseurship

August 8 2016

Image of Test your Connoisseurship

Picture: BG

On Saturday Jacky Klein and I finished filming for our new BBC4 series, 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces', which is scheduled to air in September. I can't tell you anything about the pictures we're focusing on yet. But above is a photomicrograph detail of one of them. I'm sure you'll all be able to guess the artist...

Blog on

August 8 2016

Image of Blog on

Picture: BG

I hope you've all had, or are having, a pleasant summer. Thanks for your patience while I've been away - the blog will now wind back into action. Above you can see the Deputy Editor making sandcastles on a beach in the Hebrides (which I can report has some of the best beaches in the world). 

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