Previous Posts: December 2016

New tower for Westminster Abbey

December 15 2016

Image of New tower for Westminster Abbey

Picture: Ptolemy Dean

The first structural addition to Wesminster Abbey since 1745 has been given the go ahead. The new tower can be seen in green, above. More here from Jonathan Foyle in the FT.

'Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt'

December 15 2016

Audio: NGA

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Drawings for Paintings in the Age of Rembrandt, has been drawing praise. There's a good podcast, above. More here

Introducing 'The Art Detective'

December 15 2016

Audio: History Hit

The Oxford-based art historian and TV presenter Dr Janina Ramirez has a new podcast series looking into the hidden meaning of pictures. Well worth a click.

Gurlitt horde (ctd.)

December 15 2016

Image of Gurlitt horde (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

A German court has ruled that Cornelius Gurlitt's art collection can indeed go to the Bern Museum of Art, as he wished. More here. For earlier AHN on this saga, put 'Gurlitt' into the search box, top right.

Re-uniting Giovanni di Paolo's Branchini altarpiece

December 15 2016

Image of Re-uniting Giovanni di Paolo's Branchini altarpiece

Picture: Getty

Good new podcast from the Getty here, on their recent research into Giovanni di Paolo's Branchini altarpiece:

In 1427 Renaissance manuscript illuminator and panel painter Giovanni di Paolo completed one of his most important commissions: an altarpiece for the Branchini family chapel in the church of San Domenico in Siena, Italy. The polyptych was disbanded, likely in the fifteenth century. The Getty exhibition The Shimmer of Gold: Giovanni di Paolo in Renaissance Siena unites several panels of the remarkable altarpiece for the first time since its dispersal.

In this episode, we visit the galleries with Yvonne Szafran, senior painting conservator, Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings, and Bryan Keene, assistant curator of manuscripts, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, who discuss what is depicted in the panels as well as di Paolo’s painting techniques. We also learn about the exciting technical analysis being undertaken that may eventually help to identify other missing panels.

'Bridgewater Seapiece' saved for public display

December 15 2016

Image of 'Bridgewater Seapiece' saved for public display

Picture: National Gallery

The late owner of Turner's 'Bridgwater Seapiece', Harry Hyams, has left his collection to a charitable trust with the aim of making his collection 'available to the nation'. It is thought to be the largest donation of its kind in the UK. Some works will be on display at his house, Ramsbury Manor, while others will be in museums. More here

Job Opportunity!

December 15 2016

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Guardian

Jennifer Scott has been named as the new director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The Holburne Museum in Bath will now be looking for a new director, if you're interested. More here

Tefaf 2017

December 14 2016

Image of Tefaf 2017

Picture: Tefaf

The Antiques Trade Gazette has published the full list of exhibitors for next year's Tefaf (The European Fine Art Fair) in Maastricht. Notable absentees, they say, include the Fine Art Society, Mallet, and Otto Naumann (the Obi-Wan of the Old Master world).

Also not returning, at least for this year, is the modern and contemporary dealer Daniel Blau. He set out his reasons in a fruity letter to fellow exhibitors;

As some of you will remember, I sent a letter to all in March expressing the wish to find ways to improve communication between fellow TEFAF exhibitors (many of whom also regularly make large purchases at TEFAF) and the Board. 

Problems concerning the hasty ”expansion“ to New York and potential weakening of Maastricht have been ignored and denied.

From entrenched positions, questions about the following issues are stubbornly brushed off:

-Prominent TEFAF dealers involved in a very public forgery scandal and the resulting damage to our vetting reputation.

-Monetary and legal questions about the Dutch European Art Foundation tax status in relation to investment in or loan to USA to form TEFAF NY LLC and TEFAF USA INC, two for profit companies (*), thus facilitating the creation of two fairs competing with TEFAF Maastricht.

-Naming galleries ”signed on“ to exhibit in future TEFAF fairs. For recruitement purposes, there has been bluffing about prominent contemporary and modern galleries committing to participate.

Newly discovered Velasquez donated to the Prado

December 14 2016

Image of Newly discovered Velasquez donated to the Prado

Picture: Museo Prado

A new body called the American Friends of the Prado has acquired a recently discovered portrait of Philip III of Spain by Velasquez. The picture was found by the celebrated Velasquez scholar William B. Jordan, who has donated it to the AFP. Here's the full story from the Prado's press release:

The first donation received by American Friends of the Prado Museum, on this occasion made by the art historian William B. Jordan, has entered the Museo del Prado as a long-term deposit. This is a previously unpublished Portrait of Philip III, which exhaustive research and technical analysis have confirmed to be an autograph painting by Velázquez. It will be exhibited at the Prado as a temporary, renewable deposit.

The work is a preparatory painting for the face of Philip III executed by Velázquez in relation to his composition The Expulsion of the Moriscos, executed in 1627 but destroyed by the fire in the Real Alcázar in Madrid in 1734 and only known from written descriptions as no copy of it has survived. 

The addition of this work to the Museum’s collections as a long-term deposit will contribute to completing its representation of Velázquez as a royal portraitist, given that it is a work of outstanding quality and previously unpublished in the scholarly literature. As such, it will help to cast light on one of the key works of the artist’s early period at court.

The painting was acquired by William B. Jordan on the London art market, where it was catalogued as a Portrait of don Rodrigo Calderón due to a false inscription at the top. Following its restoration, Dr Jordan studied the painting, leading him to consider the idea that it is a work by Velázquez, specifically a preparatory painting for the face of Philip III in The Expulsion of the Moriscos. 

Among the reasons that have led Dr Jordan to defend this attribution are: 
Philip III appears to be aged around 40 in the painting, his age in 1609 when the moriscos were expelled from Spain. 

Stylistically, the work necessarily dates from later than 1609. It must have been produced between 1623, when Velázquez arrived at court and introduced a new style of royal portrait that corresponds to that of this work, and 1631, when he returned from Italy and adopted a notably different portrait style.

The fact that Philip III is in profile and looking up indicates that this is not a portrait (in which the sitter normally looks straight ahead) but an image to be included in a narrative scene.

The fact that the work’s characteristics are not comparable to the styles of the other portraitists working at the court in the 1620s, such as Van der Hamen, Maíno, Diricksen, etc. 

A study of written descriptions of The Expulsion of the Moriscos suggest that the portrait of Philip III in that scene had a similar expression to this one and was looking in the same direction. 

Again, a study of those descriptions led Dr Jordan to consider the idea that The Expulsion of the Moriscos was conceived as a pendant to Titian’s painting of Philip II offering the Infante don Fernando to Victory (Museo del Prado), which hung in the same room (the Salón Nuevo in the Alcázar) for which Velázquez’s work was painted. This idea led him to compare the portrait of Philip II in Titian’s work with that of Philip III in the present painting; a comparison that revealed numerous points of comparison with regard to the size and pose of the portraits.

Sleeper Alert!

December 13 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Sotheby's

This 'Roman School, 17th Century' picture soared above its £1k-£15k estimate at Sotheby's last week to make £380,750 (inc. premium). There was even a round of applause in the room when the hammer came down. I've no idea what it was, but the provenance shows that it was once thought to be by Bernini.

Update - Colin Gleadell reports that it was bought by Nando Peretti of the Walpole Gallery. 

An impressionist on impressionism

December 13 2016

Video: NGS

Coming soon to the National Gallery of Scotland

December 13 2016

Video: NGS

More here

New US bill to protect loans

December 13 2016

Image of New US bill to protect loans

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports on a new bill in the US designed to make it easier to secure international loans for museums:

The bill was firmly backed by the US Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). Its executive director Christine Anagnos said: “The exchange of works of art between countries supports cultural understanding and enables Americans to experience works that they otherwise might never have a chance to see in person.”


[...] opponents say it would allow Russia to exhibit art and cultural property that was forcibly seized during the Bolshevik Revolution and block the heirs of the original owners from filing claims in US courts. The bill exempts objects that were looted from 1933 to 1945 by the Nazi regime or its allies, and for any works seized after 1900 by a foreign government against “members of a targeted group”. Critics say the later definition is too loose, and it could be argued the Bolsheviks’ appropriation of art and cultural heritage as government property was not aimed at a specific group.

The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)

December 13 2016

Image of The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Further to the Old Master sales this week, here's Colin Gleadell's overview of the market in The Telegraph:

[...] the sales revealed real strength in the under £1 million bracket, emphasising a flourishing market for the best work by minor masters. 

In the select evening sales, demand was more robust than it has been for years, egged on by tempting estimates that had not been driven up by auction house competition for the properties. [...]

Whereas last year 34 per cent of Sotheby’s Old Masters were unsold, this year the damage was reduced to just 17 per cent, and the total £14.8 million, while not a big one, was above the pre-sale estimates. [...]

A figure Christie’s was particularly proud of was the low 19 per cent of lots unsold; it was one of their best ever, they said.

Still waiting for the New York Times' take on the sales...

In my photo above are a pair of portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte from the studio of Allan Ramsay. They sold at Christie's for what I thought was a bargain £37k inc. premium, having been estimated at £40k-£60k. The overall quality was better than the usual 'studio' fare with these portraits, which were merrily churned out by Ramsay's assistants.

Rubens' self-portrait to be restored

December 13 2016

Image of Rubens' self-portrait to be restored

Picture: Rubenshuis

I was glad to discover that one of the Rubenshuis museum's star pictures - his c.1630 self-portrait - is to be restored. At the moment it is rather obscured by a thick and plastic-looking layer of varnish, which in normal viewing conditions has the effect of deadening the painting. The varnish, one of the newer 'synthetic' varnishes, was applied no doubt with good intentions during an earlier restoration, in the hope of avoiding the fate of traditional organic varnishes, which go yellow.

As is so often the case in conservation, every generation of restorer's is convinced they've got the best solution to a problem. But in fact they're just storing up trouble for the next generation of conservators.

The picture will leave the Rubenshuis in January, and be back on display in 2018.

Ribera's 'Bearded Woman'

December 13 2016

Image of Ribera's 'Bearded Woman'

Picture: Web Gallery of Art

I never knew the story of Ribera's painting of Magdalena Ventura. Jonathan Jones has written about it in The Guardian:

Ribera’s painting Magdalena Ventura, also known as La mujer barbuda – The Bearded Woman – shows its subject breastfeeding her baby. This is Ribera’s none too subtle way of showing us that Ventura is anatomically a woman, for there is no sign of that in her face. Her huge, black beard makes her look like an Old Testament patriarch. Her facial features too are heavy and powerful, in other words they conform to common assumptions of what looks “masculine.” Her body is big and muscular, her hands strong and hairy. Her clothes are finely coloured but gender-neutral – again, they evoke a Biblical prophet.

Ventura’s husband, standing behind her right shoulder, looks less of a man than she does. His beard is smaller, his physique slighter. Ribera captures the fact that he is overshadowed by his wife’s fame, for Magdalena’s defiance of 17th century images of womanhood made her a celebrity in Italy. She came from Abruzzi where, according to the inscription on a stone slab in Ribera’s painting, she gave birth to three sons before her beard suddenly grew when she was 37 years old. In the painting she is 52.

Two more Max Stern restitutions

December 13 2016

Image of Two more Max Stern restitutions

Pictures: TAN/Max Stern Foundation

In The Art Newspaper, Catherine Hickley reports on two more restitution successes by the Max Stern Foundation in Canada. The above marine picture by Jan Porcelis and the below Landscape with a Goat by Willem Buytewach the Younger were spotted in German auction houses. More here

For earlier AHN on another Stern restitution case that I was involved with when I used to work for Philip Mould, see here.

Ferens acquires Castello masterpiece

December 13 2016

Image of Ferens acquires Castello masterpiece

Picture: Art UK

The above c.1650 picture by Valerio Castello, Tobias Healing the Blind Tobit, has been acquired by the Ferens Gallery in Hull. The picture has been on loan there since 1973, but has now been bought with help from the Art Fund and the Arts Council. It will be restored and put back on display in time for the Ferens grand re-opening (it's currently undergoing a £4.5m refurbishment) in January 2017. More here.

Fitzwilliam's new Whistler pastel sketches

December 13 2016

Image of Fitzwilliam's new Whistler pastel sketches

Picture: Guardian/ACE

The Fitzwilliam Museum has acquired three pastel sketches by James Whistler through the UK government's Acceptance in Lieu scheme. One of the sketches shows Cicely Alexander (above right), the daughter of one of Whistler's most important patrons. The Guardian reports:

The sketch was made for one of Whistler’s most valuable patrons, the banker William Alexander, who was buying his work when many thought his art was recklessly modern. He had bought the first of the artist’s famous Nocturnes. A later one would lead to a famous libel action when Whistler sued the critic John Ruskin for describing it as “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”, and was almost bankrupted when he won but was awarded a farthing damages.

Alexander also bought Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1, better known as Whistler’s Mother. The artist then offered to paint the banker’s eight-year-old daughter, and gave him the pastel sketch – his first ideas for the portrait. He was already working on a portrait of her older sister May, but promised that Cicely would get his full attention.

Whistler said: “I should work at the present moment with more freshness at this very fair arrangement I propose to myself than any other.” The final portrait became one of his most admired works, now in the Tate collection: Harmony in Grey and Green – Miss Cicely Alexander.

The latest annual report for the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, and also the new Cultural Giving Scheme, has been published by the Arts Council, and is well worth a read. Many great treasures have been acquired by the UK's museums this year, all gratis, including (ahem) the portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie by Allan Ramsay that I helped discover.

Artemisia Gentileschi, 'Feminist Icon'

December 12 2016

Audio: NPR

I love NPR (National Public Radio), and in particular their presenter's quirky inflections. Here's a piece from them on the new Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition in Rome (which runs until May 7th next year). 

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