Previous Posts: June 2016

Christie's London 'Classic Week'

June 16 2016

Video: Christie's

Christie's makeover for 'old' art continues. Very good, I think.

Apologies (ctd.)

June 13 2016

Image of Apologies (ctd.)

Picture: BG

I am so sorry for the abject lack of blogging lately - I've been too tied up with our new series for BBC4. I'm just back from Burssels and Antwerp (where we said hello to Rubens, above), and tomorrow am heading to Madrid.

By the way, Belgium is one of my new favourite places. I never really explored it properly before. But the sheer density of great art, architecture and history is fascinating.

Beit collection picture back at auction

June 9 2016

Image of Beit collection picture back at auction

Picture: Christie's

Christie's July Old Master auction catalogues have gone online. I'll look at these in more detail soon, but I noticed that one of the Beit Collection pictures has been re-offered for sale. Last year, a number of Beit pictures, once owned by the late Sir Alfred Beit, and house in Russborough Hall in Ireland, were withdrawn at the last minute after an outcry in Ireland. Now, a Rubens sketch, Venus Supplicating Jupiter, is to be sold at £1.2m-£1.8m.

Since last year, a number of Beit pictures have been secured for continued public display in Ireland.

Update - there are two other Beit pictures in the sale, two Guardis, lots 38 and 39.

Update II - the National Trust for Ireland, An Taisce, has loudly condemned the sale, and called for the three pictures to be withdrawn (again). They say that the export licence might not be valid. More here


June 8 2016

Sorry for the radio silence - again. I'm off to Europe for a few days filming. 

Peter Shaffer (1926-2016)

June 7 2016

Video: Orion Pictures

I was sorry to read that Peter Shaffer, the British writer of 'Amadeus' and 'Equus', had died. I have seen the film of 'Amadeus' many times - above is part of the great opening sequence with F. Murray Abraham - and was also lucky enough to see David Suchet play Salieri at The Old Vic.

Brexit and the Art Market

June 6 2016

Image of Brexit and the Art Market

Picture: Apollo Magazine

In a few weeks here in the UK (on June 23rd) we'll be having a referendum on whether we should remain in the European Union. I'm a fervent 'Remainer', and will be voting for the status quo. I won't bore you with my views on the matter (at least, not yet), but want to point you instead to two articles in the latest Apollo Magazine, where two art market experts set out their case for Remain and Leave. Pierre Valentin, one of the world's leading art market lawyers, is for Remain (and makes, it seems to me, a largely unanswerable case) while the dealer Frank Partridge argues for Brexit.

From this dealer's point of view, being part of the EU, and thus being able to buy, sell and transport works of art across Europe with relative ease, is an absolute necessity. What are your views, from an art market perspective? (And of course I realise there are other more important perspectives).

Update - a reader writes:

Regarding the toxic EU debate I wholeheartedly agree with you that 'being part of the EU, and thus being able to buy, sell and transport works of art across Europe with relative ease, is an absolute necessity'. But surely this doesn't necessitate our continuing membership of the EU, but just our continuing membership of the European Single Market, which are two separate entities? 

If we follow the EEA/ EFTA route and continue to participate in the Single Market, I fail to see how leaving the EU would have any effect on the art market.

First, I'm not so convinced the 26 remaining EU countries, all of whom will have an independent veto over any post-Brexit deal, will want to allow us all the benefits of continued free trade and access to the single market, without us 'paying in'. And if we do strike a deal to stay in the single market, which will inevitably come with strings attached like free movement as well as continuing financial commitments, then what really is the point of leaving. We will lose any ability to help shape any future EU policies that might impact on the art market. Finally, as far as the art market is concerned, can we be so sure that protectionist elements within the remaining EU will not want to seek to limit the ability of the UK's art market to operate within their countries (I'm thinking especially France)? There are too many uncertainties for us to take the Brexit risk.

Update II - an economist writes:

Your concern about Brexit focuses on the sale and movement of art.  The movement of art will continue because it is in everyone's interest whether inside the EU or separate from the EU for it to continue. Goods flow in a Common Market but labour doesn't.  The major impact on the art world will be the flow of talented people.  When work permits and residence visas are required it will impair the movement of curators, gallery staff, museum directors and their working spouses or partners, conservators, and all manner of talent.   And the availability of health and educational benefits for British citizens seeking to study art history and conservation or work in the EU and vice versa will be severely affected. The EU has its costs but Britain has become accustomed to its advantages.

Another reader writes:

I can't conceive of my vote being swayed primarily by my business interests as an art dealer. Having grown up under the EU I am exhilarated to finally have the chance to take back control of our own laws and our own borders. Uncontrolled immigration is the number one factor for me - anywhere near the current rate is totally unsustainable in terms of the NHS, schools, housing and culture. It will be a challenge even post-Brexit to regain control but the alternative is no-control and that is a prospect that far outweighs any short-term personal financial interests for me.

While another adds, in exasperation:

Even my favourite art blog is talking about Brexit and Remain with a bias…! there is no escaping it. HELP!

Update III - I'm informed, however, that there may be a silver lining for me personally if the vote goes for 'Leave':

Brexit might benefit you and your property value as well.

If Leave win then Scotland [where AHN lives] will leave the UK and promptly rejoin the EU which will be a great boost to the Scottish economy as those companies and institutions that want to be in the EU flick north. A great demand for prime Edinburgh property will occur and a demand for appropriate art to fill the offices. You win personally with either result. What a world. 

New Rubens discovery in Russia

June 6 2016

Image of New Rubens discovery in Russia

Picture: Hermitage Museum

A painting long called a copy of a Rubens, has been restored and put on display in the Hermitage in St Petersburg as a work by the master himself (reports The Art Newspaper). The painting had been in storage for over 80 years. The subject is the Resurrection of Christ, from about 1610-11. You can zoom into the photograph here, though it's not possible to determine the quality of the painting from the images available. Rubens painted the same subject with very similar figures - and the Christ inverted - in a Triptych now in Antwerp Cathedral.

'Wrecked beyond repair'?

June 6 2016

Video: The Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum has restored and put back on display Sebastiano del Piombo's 'Adoration of the Shepherds'. It had been in storage for many years, and was considered unfit for exhibition - indeed, deemed 'wrecked beyond repair'. As you can see in the film above, the picture is in a very damaged state, due to a restorer in the 18th century having the bright idea of transferring it from panel to canvas. As is often the case, those who have done the most damage to paintings have been those charged with the preservation.

But now, however, conservation methods are better than ever. The work was done at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge - which rightfully has legendary status in the art world - under the leadership of Rupert Featherstone. I was lucky enough to see the painting as the work was being done. Don't be too terrified by the 'stripped down' photographs - although the painting looks at first sight like a complete wreck, actually there was enough to begin a restoration, and as Featherstone explains most of the really crucial areas of the picture were relatively intact. A copy in France allowed most of the losses to be recreated. Featherstone also discusses whether the painting should have been restored in the first place, since many might say that would have been better to leave it in its damaged state. But personally I think the museum was right to embark on the project - surely it would be wrong to let the people who damaged the painting have the last word. 

PS - don't adjust your set, the sound quality in the video is terrible.

Les inondations

June 6 2016

A Montargis, les oeuvres d'art du musée Girodet abîmées

Video: France 3

The Louvre looks to be safe, but the Chateau de Chambord has been flooded (drone footage here), and so have the store rooms of the Musée Girodet in Montargis. In the video above, staff can be seem gamely trying to wash the mud from various paintings. More here.

Update - There was no damage at the Chateau de Chambord - they tell me via Twitter - and it is open again. Splendide.

White glove shot (ctd.) (ctd.)

June 4 2016

Image of White glove shot (ctd.) (ctd.)

Pictures: Chiswick Auctions

Further to my post below about the sale of Francis Bacon's painting gloves, Chiswick Auctions have responded magnificently to my call for a white glove 'white glove shot', and have sent me these wonderful photos.

I declare that we have now reached peak 'white glove'.

The sale is on Tuesday, and the preview is on Sunday and Monday. More here.

Update - the gloves sold for £5,800.

Living still life

June 3 2016

Video: You Tube

A large still life made of real flowers has been put up outside the National Gallery. Amazing. More here

Framing news!

June 3 2016

Image of Framing news!

Picture: Peter Schade

AHN likes to keep an eye on all things framing - which is so often an area ignored by art history. Nowadays, the wonders of the web and social media means we can bypass all those closely cropped photos in books which chop off frames, which are such an essential part of how pictures were displayed and even conceived.


In the National Gallery, the head of framing Peter Schade continues to work framing wonders, and his latest project has been to put Murillo's St John the Baptist with a Lamb in a more appropriate Spanish 17th Century frame, top. You can see the rather dull frame that used to hang on the painting above. Here is Peter's Twitter feed, where he posts photos of his progress.

Meanwhile, another museum in the US has re-framed its prized Caravaggio, this time in a modern replica of a period frame. The Cleveland Museum of Art commissioned Paul Mitchell Ltd to designed and make a new frame (above) for its Crucifixion of St Andrew. You can read more about the process here on Paul's website. I love the fact that US museums still come to London, home to a number of world-class framers, to get this kind of thing done.

Finally, there's a two day framing conference coming up in London on 5th & 6th October at the Wallace Collection. It's being organised by Lynne Roberts (who has the excellent Frame Blog here) and Gerry Alabone of Tate. The conference is all about auricular style frames of the 17th Century, of which an example is below, around a copy of Van Dyck's Self-Portrait with a Sunflower at Ham House. More here

Flemish drawings at the Scottish National Gallery

June 2 2016

Image of Flemish drawings at the Scottish National Gallery

Picture: NGS, Jacob Jordaens, 'Head of an Old Woman'

It's a bumper time for lovers of Flemish drawing at the moment - as I mentioned earlier, there's a show at the V&A on until November, and opening soon here in Edinburgh is 'Rubens & Company - Flemish drawings from the Scottish National Gallery'. Says the Gallery's website:

The Scottish National Gallery has a fine collection of Flemish paintings, including famous works by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. The Print Room houses some 35,000 works on paper which, due to their fragility and sensitivity to light, can only be displayed for short periods of time and are therefore little-known.*

Rubens & Company highlights an outstanding selection of the Gallery’s Flemish drawings of the seventeenth century. Masterpieces by Rubens, the towering figure of the Flemish Baroque, are shown alongside famous works by Jordaens and Van Dyck and accompanied by works by less prominent artists such as Jan Cossiers, Abraham van Diepenbeeck and Cornelis Schut, which have rarely, in some cases never, been displayed before. Many of them are preparatory drawings or studies which offer a fascinating insight into the function of drawings as well as studio practice. Rubens & Company celebrates these artists and invites our visitors to discover and enjoy their skill in the art of drawing.

The exhibition is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue, providing a lively panorama of Flemish draughtsmanship in the seventeenth century, its subjects and techniques.

The show opens 18th June, until 28th August. Come to Edinburgh!

*Note to the Scottish National Gallery - none of your drawings by Rubens and Van Dyck are illustrated on your website.

Louvre clossed - at risk of flooding

June 2 2016

Video: YouTube

There are fears in France, which has been hit by severe flooding, that the Seine might burst its banks. The river has been steadily rising for three days - you wouldn't get a Bateau Mouche under the Ponte Des Invalides (above) today. Paris has had its wettest May in 150 years.

The Louvre will be closed tomorrow as staff begin to evacuate works from the underground store rooms. The Musée D'Orsay has also been closed as a precaution. More here

A new store for the Louvre, some 200km north of Paris, is due to open in 2018.

Knoedler fakes 'biggest art scam in US history'

June 2 2016

Video: CBS/YouTube

There's a good CBS '60 Minutes' on the Knoedler fake scandal, presented by Anderson Cooper. You can watch it above on You Tube at 15m10s in, or in better quality here (with ads) on the CBS site. It only lasts about 12 minutes, but even in that short time you are left wondering 'how the hell did the Knoedler Gallery not know these pictures were fake'? 

We learn, for example, that the technical specialist James Martin of Orion Analytical was able to discern 'within an hour' that one of the Rothkos he examined was a fake, simply by noticing a white ground layer that Rothko would never have used at the date the painting was supposed to have been made. He also discovered that tea had been used to age some of the pictures, and an electric sanding machine had been applied to the paint layers to wear them down.

Also, an art historian who first rumbled the sale of fake Motherwells by Knoedler, Jack Flam, was able to find 'within a week' through the use of a private detective that Glafira Rosales was not the top-flight international art dealer who Freedman said she was, and that her boyfriend, Carlos Bergantinos-Diaz, had been accused of selling forgeries in Spain. (Seperately - reports Artnet news - a Spanish court has this week prevented Bergantinos-Diaz's extradition to the US on grounds of ill health.)

All of this is basic stuff the Knoedler gallery and its director Anne Freedman should have done, but say they didn't - or didn't know. In all, some 63 fakes were sold, totalling $80m - it's being called 'the biggest art scam in US history'. It's a reminder that for all we worry about authenticity in the Old Master art world (and rightly so) it's an even bigger issue in the modern and contemporary world.

There's also a line from Anne Freedman's attorney to the effect that the buyers of these pictures should have been wary of the fact that there was little provenance or paperwork, and if they weren't comfortable with that 'they shouldn't have bought them'. Which is a shameful defence for any reputable art dealer to use. I'm astonished to see that she has set up a new gallery in New York. Caveat emptor.

'Feminine Beauty' at the Bowes Museum

June 2 2016

Image of 'Feminine Beauty' at the Bowes Museum

Picture: Bowes Museum

A new exhibition at the Bowes Museum, 'English Rose - Feminine Beauty from Van Dyck to Sargent' opens on May 14th. The show is partly a response to their recent acquisition of a portrait of Olivia Porter by Van Dyck. More here

Oligarch buys expensive art (ctd.)

June 2 2016

Image of Oligarch buys expensive art (ctd.)

Picture: AMM

The legal wranglings between a Russian oligarch and his sometime art agent continue, this time with wider ramifications for the art market. Dmitry Rybolovlev (above) bought a large number of artworks through Yves Bouvier, whose main business was running art 'freeports' around the world. Mr Rybolovlev says that Mr. Bouvier overcharged him and took more commission than they agreed, and to that effect has apparently secured from Sotheby's agreement that they will provide information on some of the works sourced through them, which included the Salvator Mundi by Leonardo.

I presume this means the figures involved will also be revealed, so the scale of Mr. Bouvier's margins can be discovered. A side effect might be to also shed light on the commissions charged by the big auction houses in such transactions - which generally are structured in a very different way to auctions, where all the commissions and charges are listed clearly in sale contracts and catalogues. Part of the attraction of private treaty sales through auction houses is the fact that prices and transactions remain confidential - so having that information made public might not be a happy precedent for some.

More here on Art Market Monitor. For greater background on the case see here.

Update - AHN has kindly been contacted to say that the:

[...] hearing that took place this past Tuesday in New York only granted discovery from Sotheby’s pertaining to two Picassos – “Femme se Coiffant” and “Espagnole à l’Éventail.”  The decision regarding further discovery has been delayed and Sotheby’s will only produce documents as ordered by the court.

Lely self-portrait for sale

June 2 2016

Image of Lely self-portrait for sale

Pictures: Sotheby's

A rare self-portrait drawing by Sir Peter Lely is to be sold by Sotheby’s this summer in London. the estimate is £600k-£800k. The drawing has until recently been on long-term loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. In the same collection is a drawing of Lely’s son (80k-£120k (below) and his wife Ursula (of whom no image is provided by Sotheby's, but the estimate is £6k-£8k - perhaps a reminder that portrait valuation can be somewhat subjective).

White glove shot (ctd.)

June 2 2016

Image of White glove shot (ctd.)

Picture: Chiswick Auction

Francis Bacon’s painting gloves are to be sold at auction, with an estimate of £5k-£7k. Here’s the catalogue entry. They’re two left handed gloves, and according to Chiswick Auctions:

Francis Bacon was right handed, as part of his standard studio method, he would wear a glove on his left hand on which to clean his brush as he worked.

Bacon is supposed to have worn them while he was working on his painting ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’ in 1969, which picture sold in 2013 in New York for $142m.

AHN would be much obliged if Chiswick Auctions could send a photo of someone holding up Bacon’s white gloves with white gloves.

New Director for the Wallace Collection

June 2 2016

Image of New Director for the Wallace Collection

Picture: Art Fund

Excellent news that Xavier Bray is to be the next Director of the Wallace Collection in London. Xavier has most recently been Chief Curator at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, and before that has been at the National Gallery. He has been responsible for a series of highly successful and innovative exhibitions, such as The Sacred Made Real. More on the announcement here.

I spent some time with him a while ago, and found him to be a very Good Thing, a deep thinker on all matters art historical. There’s an interesting interview with him here on the Art Fund website. He will bring new energy and dedication to the Wallace, which, while undoubtedly a jewel in the British museum crown, seems to me to be somewhat in need of a fresh purpose, or at least outlook. 

I know that anyone running the Wallace is constrained by the unusual strictures of the collection’s bequest (no loans out and nothing new) but perhaps it’s time to think the unthinkable and break free from the conditions of Lady Wallace’s 1897 bequest. I may be in a minority, but I think collections need to be be ‘alive’ in some respects, and borrowing, sharing, and buying works is an essential part of that. 

The Bowes Museum is a good example of how a collection built and bequeathed by an individual can put on exhibitions and buy new, relevant works, without diminishing the original collection’s ethos and feel - in fact, such an approach enhances it. At the Wallace, there is a token, very small exhibition room in the basement, but that’s about it. And it’s not as if the Wallace’s interior, the actual layout and fabric of the building, is preserved as a glimpse into the world of the Wallaces’ London of the late 19thC. The building has changed - why not the collection too?

Update - I omitted to mention of course that Xavier curated the recent and superb Goya Portraits exhibition at the National Gallery in London.

Update II - Apollo Magazine also discusses some of the points above, here.

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