Previous Posts: January 2016

Kenneth Clark's Raphael portrait

January 12 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Here's a video from Sotheby's on their $2m-$3m Raphael Portrait of Valerio Belli. It used to belong to Kenneth Clark, and was bought at his estate sale in 1987 by Alfred Taubman, then owner of Sotheby's. I'd love to own a picture of Clark's. In 1987 the picture's hammer price was £200,000.

New identity for Raphael's 'Lady with a Unicorn'?

January 12 2016

Image of New identity for Raphael's 'Lady with a Unicorn'?

Picture: Galleria Borghese

Raphael's Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn has travelled from the Galleria Borghese in Rome to a new exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. There, a new identity for the sitter has been proposed, as reported in The Huffington Post:

Writing in the exhibition catalogue, Galleria Borghese director Anna Coliva sticks to the long-standing view that the fair-haired sitter is Maddalena Strozzi -- based on similarity in pose and composition to a Raphael portrait from Florence's Pitti Palace. Through a detailed exploration of the sitter, unicorn, and setting, Dr. Linda Wolk-Simon, Raphael specialist and director and chief curator of the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University, suggests a new identity for the young woman.

In a catalogue essay that reads like a detective story, Wolk-Simon makes a persuasive case that the sitter is Laura Orsini, daughter of acclaimed beauty Guilia Farnese, mistress of Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI (the rumor at the time was that Laura's father was Alexander, not Farnese's husband). In late 1505, right around the time Raphael painted the portrait, 13-year-old Laura Orsini wed Niccolo Franciotti della Rovere, nephew of Alexander's successor, Julius II.

"I started looking at every detail in the picture for clues and certain things started jumping out," says Wolk-Simon. To start, the sitter is blonde -- like Lucrezia Borgia, Alexander VI's illegitimate daughter and Laura Orsini's probable half-sister. A tower in the portrait's background is from a landmark in Urbino, the duchy ruled by the della Rovere family. Wolk-Simon also discovered that the sitter's stunning ruby and pearl pendant necklace closely resembles a description of Guilia Farnese's jewels from court documents; the mythical unicorn cradled in the young woman's right hand turns out to be part of the Farnese coat of arms.


January 11 2016

Image of Errata!

Picture: RA

King of all things pastel, Neil Jeffares, has posted a list of errata for the new Royal Academy/Scottish National Galleries exhibition on Liotard. It's quite, er, long. Moral of the story: when writing a catalogue like this, make sure you share the text widely pre-publication.

Update - a reader writes:

Once again Mr. Jeffares has done a great service to art history.      I suggest that the extensive errata to the Liotard  exhibition catalogue be posted in several sites that might come up in future searches lest some well meaning but misguided student or writer consider this catalogue an authoritative source. 

The Errata could go to Google Books, Amazon in the form of a review stating that the volume contains numerous errors of fact, for publication in The Burlington Magazine or Apollo, and should be included with each future sale of the volume and to those who purchased it mail or online previously.   Any art bibliographies mentioning the catalogue should include a reference to the Errata list.    The list could be sent to all future purchasers of the R&L et al catalogue raisonne.     

Additionally, any articles or books regarding Liotard published subsequently should include in the text and in the bibliography a statement that this catalogue contains numerous inaccuracies and that an list of Errata list is available. 

Old Masters at Petworth

January 11 2016

Image of Old Masters at Petworth

Picture: National Trust

It's not all beanbags at the National Trust - there's what looks like an excellent new exhibition at Petworth on the Old Masters in their collection, which, for the first time, includes works from the collection of Lord and Lady Egremont, who live on the first floor of the house. More here.

$4.6m 'Van Dyck' seized in Turkey

January 11 2016

Image of $4.6m 'Van Dyck' seized in Turkey

Picture: via Art Daily

Every now and then there's a "police seize $Xm masterpiece" story where the picutre is neither a masterpiece nor worth $Xm. And it makes you wonder quite what's going on. Is somebody trying to establish value in a dodgy deal? 

The latest concerns an alleged Van Dyck seized in Turkey, and put out by the normally reputable AFP. Here's the story via Art Daily:

Turkish authorities have detained two people who were caught smuggling a painting which experts suspect is by the 17th century Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck, reports said Sunday. 

The Hurriyet newspaper said authorities had seized the artwork in Istanbul after two businessmen attempted to sell it to undercover Turkish police officers for 14 million lira ($4.6 million, 4.2 million euros).

The two men had reportedly bought the painting from a criminal gang for $200,000. They were arrested at the luxury hotel in Istanbul's historic Topkapi neighbourhood where they had tried to make the sale, Hurriyet said.

Turkish anti-smuggling authorities released a photograph of a seized painting -- depicting a topless woman with her arms raised and two other figures -- without giving details of its provenance.

But Hurriyet said that based on an analysis by Istanbul art experts, authorities believe the work is a lost original by Van Dyck, potentially worth millions of dollars. 

Russia's Interfax news agency reported Saturday that the painting had hung on the wall of a family in Georgia for 15 years but they had no idea that it may have been a missing work by an Old Master.

A woman named Eka Abashidze told Georgia's Imedi TV channel that her family decided to sell the painting in 2010 after falling into financial difficulties, according to Interfax.

Two men had promised to pay the family $37,000, but they tricked them and only ended up paying $7,000.

This picture is certainly not by Van Dyck. And if it was mine I might even be quite happy with $7,000.

'Bridgewater Seapiece' future in balance (ctd.)

January 11 2016

Image of 'Bridgewater Seapiece' future in balance (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Turner's 'Bridgewater Seapiece' had been 'saved for the nation' after its late owner Harry Hyams specified in his will that the picture should be left on display at the National Gallery. The story was picked up today by The Telegraph.

The Sunday Times (paywall) reports:

Harry Hyams, who died last month, is understood to have stipulated in his will that Dutch Boats in a Gale should remain on loan at the National Gallery, where it has hung since 1998, for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps though the story is more interesting for what it doesn't tell us. There's no mention of an Acceptance in Lieu offer (though Hyams' stipulation that the picture stays at the National could signal that), and we don't yet know who the picture has been bequeathed to (except that it evidently wasn't directly to the National Gallery). So it's good that the picture isn't going anywhere soon - but I'm not sure we can yet say it has been saved for the National for good. That's up to the new owner.

Update - in a short notice the Jewish Chronicle states that the picture has in fact been bequeathed to the National Gallery, though without stating its source.

Update II - should the picture be offered to the nation in lieu of tax, then it's worth noting that the current limit for tax foregone in this manner by the Treasury is £40m per year. The Bridgewater Seapiece is hard to value, but it must surely be more than one year's worth of AIL, and perhaps two. 

Saying goodbye to Goya

January 8 2016

Video: Arts Alliance/You Tube

There's a nice piece in The Guardian on the soon to finish Goya exhibition at the National Gallery in London, and how the show's curator - Xavier Bray - will face up to seeing the end of a decade-long project:

Xavier Bray is planning a private farewell for a collection of portraits he spent more than 10 years bringing together, before they are scattered and returned to their owners.

“I’m hoping I’ll get permission from the director to have a few hours on my own when the show closes,” he says of Goya: the Portraits, which ends at 6pm on Sunday. “It’s going to be quite important to say goodbye.”

Bray may even share a few private words with the painter’s spirit. “I’ll probably have a quick conversation with Goya up there and we’ll hopefully shake hands and thank each other, and walk off, and that will be it.”

For all you Goya enthusiasts, there will be a film out soon based on the exhibition, which opens in cinemas in February (curious timing perhaps). A trailer is above.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition, and indeed even managed to revise my view of Goya. In the room which displayed portraits of his friends and fellow artists, I saw some of the best portraits I've ever seen. Other works, however, were so curiously variable you wondered how he got away with it. Doubtless, curmudgeons like me will say the same in centuries to come about some of the artistic megastars of today.

I've been meaning to link to Neil Jeffares excellent review of the Goya show, here.

Art History Ads (ctd.)

January 8 2016

Image of Art History Ads (ctd.)

Picture: via Flickr

I saw the above advert for Sixt car hire in Europe recently. Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring holds a set of car keys alluringly.

A quick word of consumer advice; don't use Enterprise car hire. We booked a car with them weeks in advance, but when we went to pick it up they'd cancelled the booking (for which they only give you a two hour pick up window) and wouldn't offer us a replacement car. In fact, they were militantly unhelpful. Happily, Sixt came to the rescue.

Rijksmuseum heads East

January 8 2016

Image of Rijksmuseum heads East

Picture: Weibo

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has started its own Weibo page [Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter], as part of a move to widen audiences in China. Very clever, easy to do, and I'd hope other museums soon follow suit.

Update - of course, if anyone wants to help AHN set up a Weibo page, that would be great...

Job Opportunity

January 7 2016

Image of Job Opportunity

Picture: NPG

The National Portrait Gallery in London is looking for a Curatorial Assistant. This is an ideal entry level job for anyone wanting a career in the museum world, and there can be few nicer places to work. More here.

Who'll buy £30m Pontormo portrait?

January 7 2016

Image of Who'll buy £30m Pontormo portrait?

Picture: Arts Council

And, more importantly, should the price actually be £30m?

To recap, the above exquisite portrait by Pontormo was discovered in 2008 in a UK private collection by the legendary Old Master scholar Francis Russell, of Christie's in London. It was soon loaned to the National Gallery in London - but recently the picture was sold from under the noses of the National's former director, Sir Nicholas Penny. The seller broke, we are told by Francis Russell in The Guardian, the terms of the loan agreement with the National, which understandably wanted to protect itself from the suggestion that a painting could be sold from their walls. The NG had asked for an assurance that the picture would not be sold whilst on display.

Furthermore, the owner did not give the UK government, through the Arts Council, the traditional three month 'notice of intention to sell', which the owners of tax exempt works of art (ie, works which have a tax liability on them - usually inheritance tax of 40% - but for which the tax has not yet been collected) are expected to do. This means that UK institutions have a three month heads up that a work of national importance is potentially available for sale, and that any museum wanting to buy it can seek an effective discount of the tax due. 

The net effect of the owner breaking both 'conditions' is that a UK institution must now raise the full amount of £30.6m to buy the picture, not (assuming the tax was due at 40%) a much reduced figure, with the UK Treasury forgoing the tax due. The picture has already been sold, and the new owner (for whom the tax question does not arise) has applied for an export licence. The seller will pay their tax to the Treasury directly. 

So, the question is, should sellers in cases like this be obliged to submit their works of art to the customary process wherby the Treasury effectively contributes, through tax foregone, to a museum's fundraising process? Those, like the Grumpy Art Historian, who think that we shouldn't be so focused on 'saving' art that has happened to be in the country for a century or two, would say not, and that the Treasury should keep its tax, and instead contribute the funds to a genuine acquisition fund, where museums are free to chose what to buy on a work's merits, not its geographical history. The chances of this happening are of course zilch.

Personally, I always thought that the 'notice of intention to sell' was obligatory. But I am told it is not; it's merely a 'recommendation' in the small print of a Treasury document. Since the whole point of conditionally exempting art works of national importance is to help ensure that they should eventually go into public ownership, or at least have a high chance of doing so, and at the very least going on public display, then it seems to me entirely logical that any intention to sell such works must be properly notified - by law if required. I'm told, however, that such a step would require primary legislation, and so it's not the work of a moment. I hope that something can be done, for there does seem to be a trend for vendors of conditionally exempt art works to make life as hard as possible for UK institutions to step in and acquire works. 

Of course, there is a wider question in this case; if the picture was 'lost' for 200 years before Francis Russell found it, would we really miss it if it went overseas? Let me know what you think.

Update - a reader writes:

As with the recent Rembrandt portrait, for which the export licence request was withdrawn to avoid an Art Fund campaign, the situation on the Pontormo portrait suggests that it is increasingly unsafe to rely on the goodwill of buyers or sellers to give British institutions a fighting chance to save at least some works from export. Given their huge financial disadvantage relative to overseas galleries which (in some cases) have almost unlimited purchase budgets our rules need to ensure that the mechanisms in place to give them a chance to step in the few cases where they thinks funds can be raised are not easy sidestepped by parties to the export. At the moment it seems they are, and it will quickly become the norm for buyers to make any purchase dependent on sellers cooperating to frustrate any effort to save a work that is made. The rules clearly need changing to give UK institution rights much closer to the pre-emption rights existing in France.

I have to say it is not clear whether the Grumpy Art Historian is being deeply naïve or simply disingenuous. We all know that the UK Treasury isn't going to give UK museums and galleries more money to buy what they like. Undermining the regime for saving works will simply mean that our institutions make no significant purchases of any sort - a result which would regarded with delight by the Treasury.

Another reader adds:

A Pontormo portrait such as this is hugely important and rare irrespective of any artistic discussion. It would be very desirable to have it remain in the National Gallery. Then who should or could pay for it. It isn't a part of Britain’s national heritage and it wasn't “lost” given that the Treasury knew of it from an estate filing. The Treasury has needs beyond funding this picture and AHN has mentioned some other pictures historically more important to the national heritage than this one that are likely to be offered by estates or others in the foreseeable future.

National heritage and patrimony should be kept in Britain if possible but that doesn't extend to barring export of every picture deemed artistically important. A number of people might want eventually to apply such export barriers to Hirst or Koons.       

The Grumpy Art Historian makes good sense even when that view it results a picture going abroad simply because no one in Britain will pay the price to keep it in the country Monarchs, Emperor's, and Popes devoted vast amounts of their realms resources to art and architecture but elected governments don't have that freedom of action without the consent of the governed.

Update II - another reader writes:

Regarding the Pontormo portrait, I wonder why the name of the seller who reneged on his (or her) agreement with the National Gallery has not been made public.I understand why there might be a case for maintaining the anonymity of the purchasers of export-stopped works of art - to keep them sweet when a campaign to purchase by a British museum or collector is mounted (though, of course, that isn't relevant if the campaign fails and the work leaves the country). There is no case to retain the anonymity of the seller of the Pontormo portrait.

I am amazed that in Britain the story has only been picked up by you and The Guardian. It's all rather strange - a grave case of lack of public spiritedness involving a wonderful and extremely expensive painting which apparently is of no interest to, say, The Art Newspaper or The Times or The Telegraph?

Thought for the Day

January 7 2016

Image of Thought for the Day

Picture: Tate

Just come across this in the foreword to a Tate exhibition catalogue (on Cedric Morris) published in 1984, and written by the then Tate director Alan Bowness (above, now Sir Alan):

The Tate Gallery is sometimes criticised for presenting exhibitions of earlier twentieth century British artists instead of undertaking more shows of contemporary art. Such criticism fails to take account of the essential character of the Gallery. Its contemporary and its historical functions are complementary, and in each field we are able to open territory which has been insufficiently explored.

'Fake or Fortune?' Monet owner loses Paris court case (ctd.)

January 6 2016

Image of 'Fake or Fortune?' Monet owner loses Paris court case (ctd.)

Picture: David Joel/BBC

As I mentioned back in 2014, the owner of a painting we featured in series 1 of 'Fake or Fortune?' - a disputed Monet - attempted to sue the Wildenstein art dynasty over their refusal to 'accept' the painting as a Monet. The owner, David Joel, lost his case. But he appealed, and just before Christmas the Paris court of appeal gave a definitive verdict in favour of the Wildensteins, and against the painting. 

It's important to remember, however, that this case tells us more about the truly bonkers French system of authenticating paintings than it does about the actual authenticity of the painting in question (which I continue to believe is by Monet). In France, the 'right' to attribute paintings depends not one jot on any skill or knowledge of the artist in question, but on whether you happen to have the 'droit de moral', which can be inherited and generally passed around to whoever the artist or their descendants likes. And it's more or less impossible to argue in a French court against this practice, especially if you're a plucky English former Royal Navy officer like David Joel.

Update - Georgina Adams covers the story here in The Art Newspaper.

How to preserve a Matisse cut-out

January 6 2016

Video: Moma

In Miami, a $1.7m El Greco

January 6 2016

Image of In Miami, a $1.7m El Greco

Picture: Miami Auction Gallery/

Just before Christmas, the above portrait head by El Greco sold for $1.7m (hammer price) at Miama Auction Gallery, of which I must confess I hadn't heard before.

The starting bid was $250,000. By the look of it, someone left an absentee bid of $425,000, which is brave: perhaps they'd got tickets for the new Star Wars, and just couldn't miss it.

The price reinforces the fact that El Greco is a name on the rise at the moment, at least in the Old Master world. His colourful and eccentric technique, not to mention the brazen immediacy we see in portraits like the above, fits in well with modern taste. Really, he could have been painting in the 1950s. Even 'difficult' subjects like praying saints sell well if they're by El Greco, as happened with his Saint Dominic in 2013, which made £9.1m against an estimate of £3m-£5m. 

Nonetheless, the New York Times, in its latest 'The Old Master market is dead' piece, declares El Greco so last season, and cites the modern and contemporary dealer Ivor Braka as saying;

“Everyone is rushing into contemporary,” said Ivor Braka, a London dealer and collector. “It’s dominated by prestige of ownership, and there’s no prestige to owning an El Greco any more.”

Of course, I look forward to the day when Scott Reyburn (for it is he) quotes an Old Master dealer on the state of the contemporary art market. 

Guffwatch - toilet edition

January 6 2016

Image of Guffwatch - toilet edition

Picture: The Poke

The Poke alerts us to this excellent use of Guff to mock a toliet wall graffiti-ist.

'Bridgewater Seapiece' future in balance

January 6 2016

Image of 'Bridgewater Seapiece' future in balance

Picture: National Gallery

The death of the owner of JMW Turner's Bridgewater Sea Piece, one of the most important paintings in the history of British art, was announced shortly before Christmas. Harry Hyams, a property developer, had owned the picture since 1976, when it was sold from the Bridgewater collection. It has for many years been on loan at the National Gallery in London. What will happen to it now? 

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