Previous Posts: December 2016

What I want for Christmas

December 12 2016

Image of What I want for Christmas

Picture: Amazon


But if you want to know what it feels like to be one of Hirst's studio assistants, then you can order it here for £8.99. 

Here's the pitch:

Damien Hirst: Colouring Book features the British artist's most iconic works rendered as simple line drawings. Coloring fans of all ages can immerse themselves in themes and motifs found within some of the artist's most enduring series, including anatomical models, butterflies, medicine cabinets, spin paintings, color charts and kaleidoscope paintings. Featuring Hirst's most popular images, including "The Incomplete Truth," "Myth," "Loving in a World of Desire," "Hymn," "For the Love of God," "Benevolence" and more, the volume brings some of the most controversial and groundbreaking work of contemporary art to a witty coloring-book format.

Sadly, Amazon says the book 'is not eligible for review'.

Sotheby's OMP mannequin challenge

December 12 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Only just seen this - terrific. Award for the most athletic pose goes to Andrew Fletcher. The winker at the end is Julian Gascoigne.

'Treasures from Chatsworth' Episode 3

December 12 2016

Video: Sotheby's

This one's on the Old Master drawings at Chatsworth, including Leonardo's 'Leda and the Swan' drawing at Chatsworth. As the Duke says, 'it's on the fringes of pornography'.

'Treasures from Chatsworth' Episode 2

December 12 2016

Video: Sotheby's

This one's on some of the sculpture at Chatsworth, new and old.


€15m Leonardo drawing discovery

December 12 2016

Image of €15m Leonardo drawing discovery

Picture: New York Times

The New York Times has news of a previously unknown drawing by Leonardo, which has been deemed the real deal by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Apparently it was found by a Paris auction house, Tajan, after a collector walked in off the street:

In March, Mr. Prate [Tajan's Old MAster specialist] recalled being “in a bit of a rush” when a retired doctor visited Tajan with 14 unframed drawings that had been collected by his bibliophile father. (The owner’s name and residence somewhere in “central France” remain a closely guarded secret, at his request.) Mr. Prate spotted a vigorous pen-and-ink study of St. Sebastian tied to a tree, inscribed on the mount “Michelange” (Michelangelo).

“I had a sense that it was an interesting 16th-century drawing that required more work,” said the elegantly suited Mr. Prate, speaking in the boardroom of Tajan’s Art Deco premises, near the Paris Opera.

He eventually asked for the view of Dr Carmen Bambach of the Met, who said:

“The attribution is quite incontestable,” Dr. Bambach said, even though the drawing has no pre-20th-century ownership history. “What we have here is an open-and-shut case. It’s an exciting discovery.”

A closely related drawing is in Hamburg.

The drawing has been valued by Tajan at about €15m.

London Old Master sales (ctd.)

December 10 2016

Image of London Old Master sales (ctd.)

Picture: Bonhams

The sales in London appear to have been a success. Sotheby's combined sales for the week made £19.8m. The evening sale pulled in £14.8m, which even without the buyer's premium exceeded the high estimate of £11.85m for the sale. By Sotheby's own admission there were no really stellar lots in the sale, so the strong performances, with many lots going substantially over-estimate, was a sign of the health of the Old Master market. Sotheby's day sale was also solid, making £4.4m in total. Their press release is here.

Christie's evening sale made £12.24m. Their two stellar lots, a £4m-£6m Goya and the £10m Monarch of the Glen by Landseer were withdrawn. For the whole week, Christie's sold £17.2m. Christie's press release is here. Evening sale totals are here. The day sale (here) was a little patchy. (But I think Christie's suffers here by having it on a Friday, when Old Master fatique has set in and most people have started to leave London. Their day sale used to be on Wednesday, but then they moved the evening sale to Thursday (from Tuesday). Perhaps they should be brave and have the day sale befor the evening sale, on Thursday afternoon. Why not?

I'll go through some of the individual prices achieved in a later post. But I think (even though as an Old Master dealer I am of course open to accusations of bias) that this is the year we can put 'the Old Master market is dying' story to bed. Last year's sale totals, gleefully seized on by those who wanted to herald the demise of Old Masters, were indeed down on previous years. But as I and many others explained this was due to vagaries of supply, and the unusual absence last year of a single mega picture selling for big money. This year we've had two; the Rubens of Lot and his Daughters at Christie's, and the Orazia Gentileschi at Sotheby's. This year, Christie's have sold £152m of Old Master pictures. That's about £100m more than last year.

Of course, we mustn't expect the New York Times to run an 'Old Masters are back' story. But an acknowledgement that Old Masters never really went away might be nice.

Finally, points for effort go to Bonhams press office, who heralded Bonhams' sale of a newly discovered sketch by Constable (top) for £869,000 as "setting a new world record at auction for a small-scale sketch (under 10 inches) by the artist". It's a very fine picture, and I'm glad it sold well.

New Rubens drawing after Raphael on display

December 10 2016

Image of New Rubens drawing after Raphael on display

Picture: Pheobus Foundation

A previously unknown drawing by Rubens after Raphael has gone on display for the first time in Belgium. The drawing (above) surfaced in a small auction house in Belgium earlier this year, and sold for €670,000 to the Phoebus foundation. I'm told the underbidder was the Metropolitan Museum in New York. 

Here's the Phoebus press release:

The pen-and-ink drawing with horsemen is a double-sided drawing. It is a study of Arab horsemen, which came under the management of The Phoebus Foundation in May of this year. Katharina Van Cauteren, curator of the exhibition and Chief of Staff of The Phoebus Foundation, explains why the work is so important. “This sketch is based on a scene by the Italian painter Raphael (1483-1520). However, Rubens isn’t making a copy. He breathes life into Raphael’s composition. Horses snort. Muscles are taut. A clever perspective draws the viewer into the story. This makes the drawing the first example of a brand new style: it is a forerunner of northern Baroque. With his entrepreneurial mind, Peter Paul Rubens was playing a new market here. His refreshing aesthetic was particularly to the taste of the public of his day. Rubens created an innovative visual language that conquered the world in no time”.

The drawing is on display in an exhibition organised by the Phoebus foundation in Ghent, called 'For God and Money: the Birth of Capitalism'. I went to see the show recently, and can highly recommend both it and Ghent. As regular readers will know, Belgium is my new favourite country. More on the show, which runs until 22nd January, here.

Dispute over Mucha's 'Slav Epic'

December 10 2016

Image of Dispute over Mucha's 'Slav Epic'

Picture: Economist

When Alphonse Mucha gave his giant series of paintings 'The Slav Epic' to the city of Prague in 1928 it was under the proviso that a permanent home would be built to house them. That never happened, and Mucha's heirs are now suing the city saying that the terms of the gift are void, and so ownership must revert to them. The city doesn't dispute that a permanent home must be created, but says that they're still working on it. 

More here.

First Cezanne portraits show

December 10 2016

Image of First Cezanne portraits show

Picture: Guardian

The first exhibition to look at Cezanne's portraits will be held in Paris, London, Washington. Paris goes first, at the Musée d’Orsay from 13 June-24 September 2017, then the NPG in London form 26 October-11 February 2018, and finally the National Gallery of Art in Washington from 25 March-1 July 2018. More here

Who will save Nonsuch Palace? (ctd.)

December 10 2016

Image of Who will save Nonsuch Palace? (ctd.)

PIcture: DCMS

The V&A have raised the £1m required to keep a rare watercolour of Nonsuch Palace in the UK. The picture had been bought by an overseas buyer earlier this year. More here.

London Old Master sales (ctd.)

December 6 2016

Image of London Old Master sales (ctd.)

Picture: BG

I'm sorry for the lack of posts lately, I've been hither thither in London during the Old Master sale week; meetings, client lunches, conservation planning, that sort of thing. I also managed to pick up a picture in a regional sale through an online bid which, miraculously, actually worked for once.

I thought I'd quickly mention a few things that have caught my eye in the London sales. 

Here is a piece I've written for The Art Newspaper about some of the highlights on offer in the main evening sales: Goya, Constable, Brueghel.

I didn't mention in TAN a rather interesting picture at Christie's; a previously unknown portrait of Erasmus by Peter Brueghel the Younger (above). It seems to be the only portrait Brueghel ever painted. Does the subject matter, taken after a portrait by Holbein, give us any insight into the artist himself? Or was it just a random commission? Who knows. The estimate is conservative: £40k-£60k.

All eyes at Sotheby's will be on this rare double child portrait (above) by Titian and his workshop. The estimate is £1m-£1.5m. It was last on the market in 1828 in Paris, when it made 200 'Louis'. The two boys are members (it is thought) of the Pesaro family, who commissioned Titian's famous Pesaro Madonna. I like the way the slightly anxious boy on the right is fiddling with his necklace.

A newly discovered Constable oil sketch at Bonhams (above) is real gem - small but sparkling, it will surely exceed it's estimate of £200k-£300k.

I've also been taken with some of the offerings in the cheaper (at least, relatively cheaper) Day Sales. 

This Madonna at Prayer (below) at Christie's is a newly identified Sassoferrato. There are Sassoferratos and there are 'Sassoferratos'. But I thought this one was unusually good, and beautiful. In the main areas it is in excellent condition. The estimate is £30k-£50k.

At Sotheby's this unfinished portrait by Danloux (below) is priced at £12k-£18k. The fact that it is unfinished makes it appear strikingly modern, and I would expect it to sell well. 

I love the story of Henry Cope, the 'Green Man', whose portrait by Francis Cotes is at Sotheby's (below, £15k-£20k). He was apparently obsessed with all things green, and according to one contemporary account; "He ate nothing but greens, fruit and vegetables; had his rooms painted green, furnished with green sofa, chairs, tables, bed and curtains. His gig, livery, portmanteau, gloves and whip were all green." He looks remarkably healthy, considering. Cotes painted in both oil and pastel. This portrait is in oil; the pastel expert Neil Jeffares tells me that Cotes didn't have a green pastel colour that was stable.

There were also some good pictures at Sotheby's from their New york preview, for the January sale, which looks to be very strong. I'll post more on these tomorrow.

Losing your looted art

December 6 2016

Image of Losing your looted art

Picture: Mail

In September this year, agents from the US department of Homeland Security arrived at the house of  Opera singer Craig Gilmore and his partner David Crocker looking for a painting; Melchior Geldorp’s “Portrait of a Lady” (above). The picture had been looted by the Nazis from the National Museum in Warsaw, and through a sale in New York a decade ago had been traced to the Gilmore and Crocker. They agreed with the evidence and surrendered the painting. Writing in the LA Times, Gilmore describes what it's like to have to surrender such a favourite object, and how to send it off in style:

As the day of departure drew near, we did what anyone would do for a loved one who was leaving: We threw a farewell party. Emulating our 17th century lady, David and I sported neck-ruffs crafted from car air filters, and prepared a buffet of Polish sausages, pierogis and vodka punch. Our friends came, marveled at the story, and expressed their personal goodbyes. It was a cathartic evening. 

The evening before she was to leave, we carefully moved her to an easel at the end of our long entry hall. We desired to send her off in a style that honored the time she had graced our household. The next morning we dressed to the nines, chilled champagne for a final toast with the Homeland Security agents, and nervously awaited their arrival.

Throughout this ordeal, the lead agent had graciously allowed us to feel like we had control over the process. Receiving no formal request for the painting’s return, we felt we were repatriating of our own volition. Reading the necessary paperwork, however, there was no avoiding the terminology being used: seizure. It stung. We signed the paperwork, and then our beloved 400-year-old friend was unceremoniously wrapped in what looked like blankets and pillows from someone’s couch and put into the back of a nondescript vehicle. 

Then she was gone.

Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's

December 6 2016

Image of Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

There's a wonderful self-portrait by Judith Leyster at Christie's in London, which I hadn't really paid much attention to until I came face to face with it on Sunday. I also hadn't realised that it's a new discovery (Christie's press office, where were you?) which has only been known to art historians through a reference to the painting through the inventory of Leyster's husband, Jan Miense Molenaer. The picture is quite different from Leyster's earlier and more famous self-portrait, which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The estimate is a very enticing £400,000-£600,000. It's from a UK collection - and I hope this picture can be acquired by a UK museum.

Update - some last minute digging in the attic of the vendor has uncovered the below family catalogue from 1957.

Interestingly, the picture was then known as a Leyster, but half a century later the identification had been lost, providing an interesting puzzle for Christie's specialists.

This happens quite a lot - indeed I've seen pictures appear at auction as 'sleepers' which had been sold as the real thing only a decade earlier. It's amazing how much information can be lost when one generation passes on. The analogy I often use is this; how many of us know the names of our great grandparents? Not many, I suspect, without looking it up. And yet we know so much about about our grandparents. 

The moral of the story is - always put a label your paintings!

Sotheby's new science department

December 6 2016

Image of Sotheby's new science department

Picture: Sotheby's

There was an interesting development in the fake story yesterday, when Sotheby's announced it had bought Orion Analytical, the company which has helped unmask forgeries in both the Old Master and Modern art sectors. Here's a report in the Financial Times (with some comments by me). Here's the Antiques trade Gazette, and here's the New York Times.

I think it's a shrewd move, and will help buyers be confident in attributions. Orion's Jamie Martin (above) will now become head of Sotheby's new head of scientific research. Jamie is perhaps best known for proving some of the Knoedler fakes, such as a Rothko, but has also shown a newly discovered Hals portrait to be fake too.

Christie's Classic Week (ctd.)

December 3 2016

Image of Christie's Classic Week (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's/Facebook

Here's my Britain's Lost Masterpieces colleague Jacky Klein in typically excellent form in a Facebook live video, looking at some of the highlights in Christie's classic week. It was posted on Facebook yesterday and already has over 7,000 views.

I'll be viewing the Old Master sales tomorrow, Sunday, and in London for most of next week. I'll be posting as much as I can here, but there'll also be more from me on Twitter.

'Treasures from Chatsworth' Episode 1

December 3 2016

Video: Sotheby's

The current Duke of Devonshire calls Lucian Freud's portrait of his mother, the late Duchess, 'the most beautiful thing at Chatsworth'.

This is well worth a click.

New Burlington editor announced

December 3 2016

Image of New Burlington editor announced

Picture: The Burlington Magazine

The Burlington Magazine has a new editor; Michael Hall. Here's a statement on the magazine's website:

Michael Hall was editor of Apollo from 2004 to 2010, during which time he oversaw the editorial transformation of the magazine. A former architectural editor and deputy editor of Country Life, he is an art historian who is known in particular for his work on the Gothic revival. His book George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America was awarded the Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain for the best book of architectural history published in 2014. Since leaving Apollo he has been a freelance author and editor, writing, among other books, Treasures of the Portland Collection, published in March this year to accompany the opening of a new gallery for the collection at Welbeck Abbey. He is currently working on a history of the Royal Collection, due be published in December 2017. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, he is chair of trustees of the Emery Walker Trust, which opens to the public Walker’s Arts and Crafts house in Hammersmith. He is also a trustee of the Marc Fitch Fund and the William Morris Society.

As is often the way these days I know Michael a bit, but only online; for example, he recently commissioned an article from me for Country Life magazine. I have no doubt he'll do a great job at the Burlington. 

It will be vitally important, however, for the trustees of the magazine to allow him time and space to do what he thinks best. The previous editor, Frances Spalding, left after only a year in the post, according to The Times, which reported that long-standing staff at the magazine didn't take kindly to Pro. Spalding's attempts to change things. She had wanted, for example, to eradicate 'dry Burlington prose' and said, 'I wasn't someone who was going to encourage high theory of an abstruse kind with jargon-ridden language'. (Quite so - there are too many articles in The Burlington that are just unreadable.) She also added that the previous editor, Richard Shone, had let things atrophy for too long; 'There had been no change among the senior editorial team for almost 20 years. There had been no new voice, no fresh ideas. The existing team were entrenched in their way of doing things, and some of the editorial practices were highly eccentric'.

From other conversations I've had about the magazine, it sounded as if the trustees were and are very reluctant to bring in the sort of changes needed to make sure this great art historical institution flourishes in the 21st Century. One change needed soon is to make the magazine more responsive to art historical developments as they happen. For example, I was interested to see that The Times said of the magazine that it 'has a reputation for scoops'. In the current edition there is an article headed 'A rediscovered portrait by Joshua Reynolds', and very good it is too. But the picture surfaced at auction at Christie's four years ago, in 2012.

AHN wishes Michael well!

A-Level art history saved!

December 1 2016

Image of A-Level art history saved!

Picture: Guardian

News is emerging that the art history A-Level will be back on the UK's national curriculum. It had been axed after the current provider, AQA, said they wouldn't offer the exam anymore. But now Pearson UK has announced that they will be offering a course and exam.

All of which is great news - well done to all those who campaigned to make sure 16 to 18 year olds were still able to study art history at A-Level.

We now need to build on this news and make sure the subject is more widely made available in schools, especially state schools. We must continue to ask the hard questions about why the A-Level is not offered in enough schools, and why only about 1,000 pupils took it last year.

More on the news as it emerges.

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