Previous Posts: February 2016

'The Renaissance Unchained' (ctd.)

February 29 2016

Video: BBC

Part 3 of the Great Waldemar's new series is on BBC4 tonight, at 9pm. Above is a clip. Well worth watching.

Henry Wyndham to leave Sotheby's

February 29 2016

Video: Creative Choices

I learn from Georgina Adam on Twitter that Henry Wyndham is to leave Sotheby's. For auction lovers this is sad news indeed, for he was the best auctioneer in the business. Although any succesful auction is usually thought to be down to whether things like the estimates or attributions were right, the actual performance of the auctioneer on the night is a large, and underrated, aspect of the whole operation. Wyndham's sales were always conducted with the perfect blend of humour (with Sotheby's George Wachter often playing Ernie Wise to Wyndham's Eric Morecambe), deadly earnestness in focussing on bidders (with a sharp 'are you bidding?' directed at anyone wavering), and just the right amount of bluff (auctions are all about bluff, especially when the bidders are thin). Despite his many skills, however, there was never a sense of 'look at me' with Wyndham on the rostrum, as there can be with other auctioneers.

Though I've only met him once or twice, I must have been to dozens of his sales, often just to see how he did it. A key technique was to focus on the pace of a sale. In a Wyndham auction there was rarely a moment's silence, for he would rattle off bids like a racing commentator with Tourette's. Other auctioneers sometimes let the room go too quiet when they're looking for bids, which immediately signals that something's about to 'buy-in' - in which case people sit on their hands. In a Wyndham auction one always had the sense that someone else was about to bid, so you felt you'd better get your hand up quickly.

In the video above, he talks about his career at Sotheby's, and how he got started. I wonder who'll replace him?

Update - and of course the more significant questions are; why is he going, and is he going anywhere else?

Update II - Melanie Girlis in The Art Newspaper reports that Wyndham, who was of course Chairman of Sotheby's Europe, will take a break for 'six months before deciding what to do next'. 

Museums and the Trade (ctd.)

February 29 2016

Image of Museums and the Trade (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

I mentioned last year a planned conference at the National Gallery in London on the art trade and museums, and now the Gallery has published the programme. It's a two day event, on Friday 1st April and Saturday 2nd. The list of speakers looks good, though it seems to be quite museum-centric, and the topics for discussion skirt around many of today's real issues (such as; why do so many museums refuse to pass judgement on paintings that happen to belong to dealers, or even are just privately owned? Surely, as Sir Nicholas Penny says, 'the picture comes first').

Anyway, it looks like an interesting two days. Here's the blurb:

The National Gallery, in association with the University of Manchester, presents a two-day international conference on the interactions between art dealers and museums

An array of experienced professionals, established scholars, and emerging researchers explore the complex, complementary and conflicting associations between art dealers and museums.

The conference has its origins in the acquisition of the Thos. Agnew & Sons archive by the National Gallery. Although focused on the London and British art market in the late 19th century, papers are spread across a range of geographical areas and extend to the present time, establishing connections and contrasts between places and periods.

'Negotiating art' raises many fundamental topics, such as the relationship between consumption and culture; the creation, separation, and ethical remits of professional specialisms; the nature and role of art institutions; and the multifaceted roles of art collecting. Papers examine these topical questions by examining historical case studies as well as presenting broader analytical investigations, and are complemented by structured discussions and informal networking sessions.

Christie's Old Master charity run

February 29 2016

Image of Christie's Old Master charity run

Picture: Christie's

The Old Master department at Christie's are doing a charity run to raise money for Cancer Research. But this is no ordinary charity run, for on 6th April London's St James' area will be awash with running Old Masters. There'l be Dutch still lifes, Italian gold grounds, and who knows, maybe even a Stubbs horse.

Sadly, the department has been affected by cancer in a number of ways this year, and you can support their cause here.

The picture above is a cleverly photoshopped version of Noel Halle’s Hippomenes and Atalanta. Spot the trainers.

Blenheim Palace virtual tour

February 28 2016

Image of Blenheim Palace virtual tour

Picture: Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace has made a high-definition, 360 degree virtual tour of the great hall. Impressive.

Update - Google has digitised St Paul's cathedral. Even more impressive.

Orlando Rock - optimist

February 28 2016

Image of Orlando Rock - optimist

Picture: Telegraph

There's an interesting interview with Orlando Rock, the Chairman of Christie's UK, in the Telegraph. Like me, he may be biased - but he sees grounds for optimism in the antique art market:

Rock believes that the younger generation will come around to art. “They have a passion for recycling and sharing. We see that with more people using Airbnb and buying vintage clothing. We’re searching for real value, and this mantra can be applied to art and antiques,” he says.

Obviously, AHN agrees.

"Loving Vincent"

February 28 2016

Video: via You Tube

There's a new animated film being made on Van Gogh's life. The Independent reports that the film is made up of 12 oil paintings per second, all done in Van Gogh's style:

Billed as ‘the first fully painted feature film in the world’, the truly staggering feat involves over 100 painters, all trained in van Gogh’s style.

The trailer above gives a glimpse of how the film will look. But the studio is still looking for artists. So if you think you can paint like Van Gogh, then why not sign up. I'm sure the Knoedler gallery knows a few people.

'Your Paintings' becomes 'Art UK'

February 28 2016

Image of 'Your Paintings' becomes 'Art UK'

Picture: Art UK

The wonderful Public Catalogue Foundation (which has photographed every publicly owned oil painting in the UK) has a new website; Art UK. It takes over from the BBC's hosting of the PCF's data, which was called 'Your Paintings'. Personally, I'm sorry that the BBC is no longer as involved as it was. But the new site has much better functionality (though the image zoom function is not yet operational, I'm told it will be later this year).

The launch of the site saw, in The Times, some surprise expressed that the Royal Collection's paintings are not included in the site. This seems to be because the Royal Collection has refused to let the PCF in. The absence of the Royal Collection images highlights the curious status of what was formerly the Queen's personal collection. It is nowadays described as being 'held in trust for the nation', which isn't quite the same as saying the nation owns it, but gets around the tricky question of inheritance tax.

Though it sounds like a fudge, it's always struck me that the Royal Collection's trust status is good compromise between public and private ownership; the Royal Family were never going to sell the pictures, so they weren't really privately owned in that sense, and the trust status means that the government doesn't own them either. And that means a future government can't one day sell anything. Furthermore, the Royal Collection goes to great lengths to make works publicly accessible, and its exhibition catalogues are the best you'll find these days.

Anyway, from the point of view of whether the Royal Collection should be on the Art UK site, then it is in one sense moot; the Royal Collection already has an excellent website

Update - a reader writes:

I’m not sure I can agree with your sympathetic views towards the Royal Collection and their continued refusal to support Art UK’s digitisation work. The Royal Collection website is indeed excellent but so are the websites of so many other institutions - e.g. the Wallace Collection - and that does not stopped them from embracing the digitisation project.  By my reckoning The Royal Collection website only includes records for c.4,700 paintings out of an estimated total of 7,000 so Art UK’s work would make the collection more accessible to the public and scholars.  You will recall the discovery a few years ago of two Caravaggio paintings in The Royal Collection; what other riches could Art Detective help identify if the whole of the collection was available for scrutiny?  I think the issue of whether the Royal Collection paintings are owned ‘by' the public or ‘for' the public is a red herring; the collections of the Oxford colleges are not publicly owned but the enlightened souls there take the view that the collection should be available for all to see.  What logical reason is there for the Royal Collection to continue to obfuscate except for a bad case of ‘not invented here’?

Suing the Met (ctd.)

February 27 2016

Image of Suing the Met (ctd.)

Picture: The Met

Back in 2013 a group of people tried to sue the Metropolitan Museum over their admissions policy, saying that the museum didn't have the authority to charge an entrance fee, and had been over-charging visitors for decades. That lawsuit, rightly, didn't get anywhere.

But after much thinking, the Met has now changed its signage; instead of being asked to pay a 'recommended fee' of $25, visitors will now be asked to pay a 'suggested fee' of $25. I dread to think what the Met's legal bill has been over all this, and for such a pointless outcome.

More here in The Art Newspaper.


February 27 2016

Video: CBC

There's a pig in Canada, called Izzy, who paints. More here.

To New York!

February 25 2016

Image of To New York!

Picture: Frick/Palazzo Pitti

By the wonders of modern technology, I greet you from somewhere above Greenland. I'm heading to New York to see the Frick Collection's new exhibition on Van Dyck, which I shall be reviewing for the Financial Times. Expect 1100 words from me on Antoon some time next week.

Helpfully, the Frick have given me an advance copy of the catalogue. As The Great Brian said, a reviewer should always read an exhibition catalogue before he or she goes to the exhibition itself. I'm thumbing through it now as we bump our way through the jet stream. There's a strong headwind today, and the flight (from Edinburgh) will take 8 hours, longer than usual. 

I've also read an enjoyable blog post from the Frick's chief curator, Xavier Salomon, about a highlight of the show; Van Dyck's Portrait of Cardinal Bentivoglio (above), on loan from the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. This picture is one of Van Dyck's masterpieces, and prompted the 18th Century English artist Jonathan Richardson to write:

“I never saw anything like it. I look’d upon it two Hours, and came back twenty times to look upon it again …the colouring is true flesh and blood, bright, and transparent.”

Alas, I won't have time to spend two hours in front of the picture, but I can't wait to see it. Apparently it has been cleaned for the exhibition.

All of which reminds me that I've been meaning to mention Neil Jeffares' review of the first reviews of the Liotard exhibition staged recently in London and before that in Edinburgh. By a careful analysis, Neil suspects that some critics might have reviewed the exhibition only from the catalogue, for they lavish praise on pictures that were not actually on display in Edinburgh. 

Update - the excitement is almost uncontainable here in New York, AHNers; I've had a classic New York diner breakfast, and am now waiting to get into the Frick at 2pm. I see that the exhibition is 'the largest the Frick has ever mounted', and all on my artistic hero. Splendid.

And, to my astonishment, I've seen that AHN is actually quoted in the exhibition catalogue! I really must be more careful about what I write... It's in the catalogue entry for a contentious attribution - the Carmelite Monk sold as by Van Dyck at Sotheby's in 2011 - which at the time some (including me) thought was by Rubens. Now it's in the Frick show as a Van Dyck.

Might I have been wrong? Very possibly. I'm looking forward to seeing the picture again with fresh eyes soon... 

Looted Pissarro returned

February 24 2016

Image of Looted Pissarro returned

Picture: AP/Yahoo

AP reports that the University of Oklahoma has agreed to return the above painting by Camille Pissarro to a Holocaust survivor:

Under the settlement, the title of impressionist Camille Pissarro's 1886 "Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep" will be transferred to Léone Meyer, a French Holocaust survivor whose father owned the painting when it was stolen, her New York attorney, Pierre Ciric, told The Associated Press. Going forward, the painting will split its time being displayed at the university's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman and a museum in France.

University President David Boren said in a statement that the school is pleased the painting will still be accessible in Oklahoma and available for educational purposes. He said the agreement also recognizes "the good faith and generosity" of the Weitzenhoffer family, who bought the painting in 1956 from a New York gallery and donated it in 2000 to the university.

The University had at first tried to oppose returning the picture. Title will be passed to Mme. Meyer - but she has decided the picture must remain on public display, hence the rotation plan.

Bacon's last work revealed

February 24 2016

Image of Bacon's last work revealed

Picture: Guardian/Estate of Francis Bacon

Fascinating news in the Guardian about Francis Bacon's last painting, The Bull (above):

The art historian Martin Harrison on Tuesday revealed Bacon’s final completed painting – a work that has never been publicly seen, reproduced, discussed or written about. Residing in a “very private, private collection” in London, Study of a Bull. 1991, only came to light as Harrison worked on editing a catalogue of every work by Bacon, due to be published in April.

Finaldi's plans for the National Gallery

February 24 2016

Image of Finaldi's plans for the National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

In the New York Times, Farah Nayeri has a fascinating interview with both Gabriele Finaldi, the new National Gallery director, and Hannah Rothschild, the new head of the Trustees. Their plans to refresh and improve the National Gallery include a new website, and most excitingly of all renovation of the hotel behind the Gallery, in Orange Street.

Mr. Finaldi said he planned to revamp the museum’s website — Ms. Rothschild described it as “not good”; redevelop parts of the Trafalgar Square building, which dates to 1838; and put on three large exhibitions each year, instead of the current two. Among those planned, he said in the interview, are a show of Gauguin portraits in 2019. [...]

The next few years will also see some building work at the gallery. Sections of the East Wing, now used for storage and as a back-room area, will be redeveloped to provide more space for the staff, Mr. Finaldi said. Down the line, St. Vincent House, now occupied by staff, a hotel and other businesses, will be used to expand the gallery’s spaces, he added, noting that the museum has 50 percent more visitors than it did 20 years ago but the same floor space.

In terms of image resolution, the National Gallery's website is actually quite good; you can zoom into a high level. But navigation and overall presentation is pretty poor. There are many more things the site could do, in terms of videos and social media - both of which are vital if the Gallery wants to increase visitor numbers both online and in person. Of course, it's not just about how the site looks and works, but an ability to constantly put new and interesting material on it. The Gallery only has to look at The Met's website to see a good example of how these things should be done. 

I'm particularly pleased to see that the hotel site is to be redeveloped. This has belonged to the Gallery for many years. But the Trustees have until now (sadly) always preferred to see it as revenue supply, by letting it out as offices and a hotel - even though a look at the accounts reveals that the site is so old and dilapidated that much of the rent goes on upkeep. The building needs to be pulled down and rebuilt. If Tate can do it, why not the National Gallery?

But first, something probably needs to be done about the small road (St Martin's Street) seperating the Gallery and the Sainsbury Wing from the hotel site. It's a rather useless little street and hardly used by traffic - can the government not just cede the land to the Gallery, and build over the entire site?

We also learn in the New York Times piece that Dr Finaldi has moved a piano into his office.


February 23 2016

Sorry for the lack of action lately - 'Fake or Fortune?' has been calling. Two programmes are now under way for our 5th series, which should go out in the summer. 

"The Renaissance Unchained" (ctd.)

February 22 2016

Video: BBC

The latest installment of Waldemar's 'Renaissance Unchained' is on BBC4 tonight at 9pm. A clip is above.

Bish, bash, Bosch

February 21 2016

Image of Bish, bash, Bosch

Picture: Ghent Museum of Fine Arts

The controversy around Bosch attributions continues, in light of the new exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum, and the work of the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP). The latter seems to be going the way of the Rembrandt Research Project in its early days, and becoming 'exclusionist' - even to the extent that we must wonder if the number of Bosch attributions that they accept can ever reflect his subsequent reputation and art historical impact. Generally, committees always result in an excessive downgrading of attributions, because they tend to be follow the lead of the most cautious and sceptical member.

But we learn a worrying flavour of the BRCP's approach to connoisseurship in this report on Art Daily over a discussion about the attribution of Bosch's Christ Carrying the Cross (above) in the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent. The Bosch Research Project says it isn't by Bosch. Partly because:

[...] the BRCP compared the shapes of human ears across several different works. Those in Christ Carrying the Cross are significantly different to those seen in Bosch’s other paintings.

So - great artists only ever had one way of painting ears? This is the Morellian method of connoisseurship. Which has been redundant for about a century now.

Update - a reader writes:

The Bosch team might have been exclusionist as far as the paintings are concerned, but they have almost doubled the amount of accepted drawings: from 11 to 19 sheets. This is quite amazing in the light of the wonderful work Fritz Koreny has recently done in this field. He occupied himself with the works on paper for decades and  his 2012 book on Bosch’s drawings is truly exemplary. This prompts me to wonder if the members have really been looking at the material at hand instead of toying around with X-rays, IIR curtain style, paint samples etc.

Finaldi - "ban the buskers"

February 18 2016

Image of Finaldi - "ban the buskers"

Picture: Independent

The new National Gallery director, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, has declared war against the buskers and 'street artists' who cluster around the front of the National Gallery. Reports The Independent:

Gabriele Finaldi and chair Hannah Rothschild hope to clear street performers from the square’s North Terrace, directly in front of its building, to create a destination more suited to welcoming art lovers.

Management from the gallery, about to open a new exhibition on Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art, plans to write to Westminster City Council, which controls the terrace that was pedestrianised in 2003, about how to improve the area.

Dr Finaldi said: “It would be nice for Trafalgar Square to become an attractive part of London,” before adding: “We can talk to Westminster about doing things together. It would be lovely to make it a space that works for us.”

Ms Rothschild agreed: “We should start the campaign to make it beautiful. It could be a place with trees, for shade and respite and calm.”

I hope Finaldi wins his battle. I like a good busker as much as the next person. Up here in Edinburgh, naturally, we have a regular array of excellent pipers, including outside the Scottish National Gallery. They add to the culture of the city. But the area in front of the National Gallery in London has become an endless parade of din and dinginess.

The rot started as soon as the area was pedestrianised in 2003, and now the National Gallery visitor must negotiate (generally bad) buskers, at least three or four 'floating Yodas' at any one time, and various other street performers with PA systems so loud you can hear them inside the Gallery. My least favourite 'act' is the person who sits with a large semi-finished chalk drawing (after Raphael if I recall correctly), and a pot of chalks, giving the illusion she's hard at work on a masterpiece. But actually it's the same drawing rolled out day after day. They don't tolerate this sort of scene outside the Louvre, and nor should the National Gallery.

Update - a reader writes:


Good on him [Finaldi]. I had always thought the buskers were a nuisance but had not really minded them. Until recently, when, I suddenly found my viewing of pictures at the National Gallery disturbed by the noises of performers from outside the building. It is one thing for our country’s art (which we try so hard to promote) to be diminished by having base buskers allowed to preform outside the front of the gallery but it really does take the biscuit when they are allowed to infringe on peoples experience of art inside the gallery.


Another wonders:


Could a substantial improvement not be made simply by banning electrical production of sound on Trafalgar Square, subject only to specific licenses for specific events?  Only acoustic sound and voices.  Just a start, but still…


Update II - another reader writes:


Totally agree re Yodas and Grim Reapers at the NG.

The answer is a set of pavement water jets a la Somerset House, which visitors will be able to turn on for a pound a go from the NG Lobby.


If you go down to the RA today...

February 18 2016

Image of If you go down to the RA today...

Picture: Charles Saumarez Smith

You might find Charles Saumarez Smith (the RA's Chief Executive) manning the tills. He recently had a go in the shop, and writes on his blog:

It was slightly scary learning the mysteries of the till system, remembering to ask if customers are Friends (they get a 10% discount), putting in my pass number, watching the amount of time people spend browsing, seeing the huge pile of catalogues gradually go down, cack-handedly trying to put postcards into a paperbag, and enjoying the camaraderie of the other shop staff under the eagle eye of Ramon.   Someone asked me if I was a regular.   They could probably spot that I wasn’t.   In fact, the last time I served behind a till was driving an ice cream van across the South Downs.

New Met logo

February 18 2016

Image of New Met logo


The Metropolitan Museum in New York apparently has a new logo, above. Justin Davidson in Vulture describes it as a 'typographic car crash'. But it doesn't look so bad to me. Compare with the old one below.

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