Previous Posts: March 2016

A Grand Tour at Chatsworth

March 6 2016

Image of A Grand Tour at Chatsworth

Picture: Chatsworth/"A Grand Tour"

There's a new exhibition at Chatsworth opening soon, which features many works usually not on the usual visitor route. The show focuses on the Grand Tour, and opens on 19th March-23rd October. More here on the Chatsworth website.


Other museums in the area are involved in a series of related exhibitions called "The Grand Tour". There's a not entirely satisfactory website, published by Experience Nottinghamshire, to tell you more here. The main feature on the site is a slow and clunky video that's generated just 317 views in eight months. I don't like to be too critical of regional museum efforts, but when you see logos on the site from major funding bodies such as Visit England and the Arts Council you have to wonder how and why the site could be allowed to be so bad. There is no excuse for a primary contact point for potential visitors to be a) so bad, and b) out of date. 

Paxman on Delacroix

March 6 2016

Video: Art Fund UK

Here's Jeremy Paxman's take on the National Gallery's new Delacroix show.

Test your connoisseurship

March 6 2016

Image of Test your connoisseurship

Picture: RA

Poor old Giorgione, his oeuvre steadily whittled away by art historians as they decide much of it is early Titian, to the extent that his agreed output is now so limited we must wonder how he was ever so famous in his day. Now, in the Royal Academy's news exhibition on Giorgione, visitors will be asked to decide who painted the above picture, Portrait of a Young Man; Titian or Giorgione?

This story in The Guardian covers the contrasting views between Prof. Peter Humfrey, who argues for Giorgione, and Prof. Paul Joannides, who plumps for Titian. 

Update - here is Alistair Sooke's review in The Telegraph.

French police seize Liechtenstein Cranach

March 4 2016

Image of French police seize Liechtenstein Cranach

Picture: TAN

Vincent Noce in The Art Newspaper reports on the extraordinary news that police in France have seized a painting by Cranach (above, detail) belonging to the Prince of Liechtenstein, after doubts have apparently been raised over its authenticity and provenance. From TAN:

The work came on to the market in 2012 and was sold in good faith to the Prince in 2013 by Colnaghi Gallery in London. According to information provided to The Art Newspaper, the gallery bought the painting from the manager of an American investment fund for €3.2m and sold it to the Prince for €7m.

The gallery says the painting was discovered “in a Belgian collection, wh ere it had been held since the middle of the 19th century”. The gallery could not provide any further details about this collection and would not comment on the seizure. The authorities are now investigating this provenance, reviving doubts doubts over the work’s authenticity that were raised when the panel first appeared on the market. According to documents, the work had been offered for sale to Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other galleries, and was declined.

Colnaghi says that three leading specialists—Werner Schade, Bodo Brinkmann and Dieter Koepplin—have attributed the painting to Cranach. However other experts have expressed reservations over the condition of the paint, the signature and the winged dragon from Cranach’s family seal next to it, as well as the state of the wooden panel.

A laboratory report, commissioned by Christie’s in advance of its 2012 Old Master auction found six “concerns” that required “further research”. The first of these is the “rather coarse nature” of azurite pigment in the pearls Venus wears in the painting, mixed with titanium white, which was not available until the 20th century. This anomaly could be explained by later restorations, however, the author of the report said. Other concerns include “the manner in which the surface paint is cracked and delaminating from the panel, the nature of the panel itself and the blackish appearance within these cracks”.

The Liechtenstein collection have no doubts as to the painting's authenticity:

The director of the Prince’s collection, Johann Kräftner, says: “We still believe in the authenticity of the painting and are not willing to respond to anonymous gossip.”

You can see the picture in detail on the Colnaghi website here. I am no Cranach expert, and I have not seen the painting in the flesh, so cannot reliably comment on the attribution.

But the point is, would the French police seize a painting that was just thought to be an optimistic attribution, say a picture that was really 'Workshop of Cranach' being upgraded to 'Cranach', especially not if the owner was happy about it? Since when id the French police ever care so deeply about art history? It seems to me, though the article in TAN doesn't make it explicit, that the French police might only be involved in this if there was some suggestion the picture was an out and out modern fake. And they must have some more substantive evidence, one would imagine, before making this bold move to seize the Prince's picture. Is it connected to the existing German police investigation into a claimed forger of Cranach (as covered on AHN here)?

I have, I must say, been aware of some rumours about this painting (and others) for a while. But the art world thrives on this sort of chatter, so it was hard to know whether to take it seriously, and to be honest in this case I didn't. I hadn't heard about Christie's and others rejecting the Colnaghi picture, and nor about the existence of any scientific report. I did hear a tale that some allegedly questionable paintings all came from the same source. But I don't know who that person was, with whom they were dealing, or what pictures they were involved with. Certainly, I have never heard anything about an American fund manager, as mentioned above. So I'm puzzled by this, and at first sight find it hard to believe that there's anything really serious going on.

But all I can say is that if some clever faker really is making fakes of the quality perhaps alleged, then they are the best faker there has ever been. Regular readers will know that on a few occasions I have raised an eyebrow, shall we say, about some new 'discoveries' that have been publicly offered at auction. But if the Liechtenstein Cranach is proved to be a wrong 'un (a massive 'if' at this stage) then we're talking about a whole different level. Of course, if the French Police's investigation widens and develops, then it could end up rocking the very foundations of the art world. Brace yourselves...

Update - Le Figaro reports that the investigation was begun after an anonymous complaint to police about the attribution. I cannot possibly think of any reason why the French police would get involved in a simple case of Old Master attribution. Only two scenarios spring to mind. First, as I suggested above, there is something more sinister going on, and the French police think it might be a case of fakery. Or is it possibly something to do with the curious system in French law whereby a vendor can unravel a sale if they sold something that was misdescribed? Ie, someone sold it as not a Cranach, for a relative trifle, and now wants a greater slice of the action. Maybe Belgian law is similar to French law in this area? 

As you can see, speculation in such cases is pretty pointless; though of course we all do it.

Picassos in the National Gallery

March 2 2016

Image of Picassos in the National Gallery

Picture: NG

Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper has an interview with Dr Gabriele Finaldi, in which the new director sets out his thinking about how best to display works in the National Gallery. Up for discussion is the current, predominantly 'national' hang. And also the question of when the Gallery stops exhibiting works. At the moment it is 1900, which means that Picasso is out, even though the Gallery owns a Picasso already (above, it's on loan to Tate). It all sounds encouraging and positive.

Renaissance Shoes!

March 2 2016

Image of Renaissance Shoes!

Picture: Marc Allum

Hot on the heels (pun intended) of their "Hogarth" range, Dr Marten now has a range featuring the work of Renaissance artist Biagio D'Antonio.

Antiques Roadshow expert Marc Allum has bought a pair, above. Of course, I'm disappointed the Great Waldemar wasn't wearing them in his new Renaissance Unchained series. Maybe someone can buy him a pair for Christmas.

Who will save Nonsuch Palace?

March 2 2016

Image of Who will save Nonsuch Palace?

Picture: DCMS

The best known depiction of Nonsuch Palace, one Henry VIII's most extravagant creations, is at risk of leaving the UK. The Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on the drawing, in the hope that a UK institution will step in to save the work. The amount needed is £1m. 

This is an extremely important picture, and I hope we can keep it here. It is not just a rare and beautiful object (painted by Joris Hoefnagel in 1568) but an important record of Tudor architecture at its best. The palace was demolished in the late 17th Century, after it was sold to pay the debts of Barbara Villiers, Charles II's mistress.

The picture was last seen at auction in 2010, where it went unsold (to my surprise) against an estimate of £800,000 - £1.2m.

Update - a reader writes:

The press releases don't mention that there is an almost identical watercolour in the British Museum.

It would be difficult for an institution to justify buying the other version!

Met Breuer opens

March 2 2016

Video: The Met

The Met's new Breuer building has been opened, with an exhibition of unfinished paintings. It looks fascinating, but then I've always loved unfinished pictures. They let us feel as if we're at the moment of artistic creation. 

The Met has leased the Breuer building from the Whitney museum for eight years. More here

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