Previous Posts: September 2016

'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

September 15 2016

Image of 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' (ctd.)

Picture: Tern Television

Pray allow me to share with you a publicity still for my new series 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces', which begins Wednesday 28th September on BBC4 at 9pm. Here I am with my excellent co-presenter, Jacky Klein.

Brace yoursevles for many more plugs over the days head...

Job Opportunity!

September 15 2016

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Whitworth

This looks like a good one, senior curator (Historic Fine Art) at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. Pay, £38,896-£47,801, deadline 2nd October. The Gallery is:

[...] looking for a dynamic, open minded, passionate curator who loves fine art and can demonstrate a thorough grasp of art history, current display and exhibition making trends and is committed to sharing their specialist knowledge with the widest range of people – from academics to toddlers and their parents.

Details here.

New £7m Soane renovation opens

September 15 2016

Image of New £7m Soane renovation opens

Picture: Soane Museum

The Soane Museum in London has unveiled the results of a £7m renovation. Photos and details here in The Art Newspaper.

Who will take over at Tate?

September 15 2016

Image of Who will take over at Tate?

Picture: Tate

The Guardian lists six candidates: Francis Morris (director of Tate Modern); Maria Balshaw (director of Manchester city galleries); Iwona Blazwick (director of Whitechapel Art Gallery); Sheena Wagstaff (head of modern and contemporary at the Met); Nicholas Cullinan (director of the NPG); Tim Marlow (artistic director at the Royal Academy).

I'd have thought that Serota's long time deputy, Alex Beard (now director of the Royal Opera House) should also be on the list. 

Get paid to study Rubens

September 12 2016

Image of Get paid to study Rubens

Picture: Wikimapia

The Rubenianum, the Antwerp-based centre for research into Rubens and his contemporaries, is offering a $27,000 post-graduate fellowship. You can choose to study pretty much anything you like ove the course of the year. But the catch is you must be a US citizen. More here

Sewell Collection catalogue

September 12 2016

Image of Sewell Collection catalogue

Picture: The Times

The catalogue of the Great Brian's collection is now online. The sale is at Christie's King Street on 27th September. I'm hoping to be able to pick something up - how nice it would be to own something of his.

Also on Christie's site is a good essay by Noel Annesley on Brian's life and collection. 

National Gallery sued for return of Matisse

September 12 2016

Image of National Gallery sued for return of Matisse

Picture: National Gallery

The heirs of the sitter in a portrait by Matisse are suing the National Gallery in London for its return. They claim the sitter, Greta Moll, gave the portrait to someone for safekeeping in 1947, and that it was subsequently sold illegally. The National Gallery bought it in 1979.

The National Gallery is refusing to return the work and notes that there is at the moment no proof of an alleged theft. They also claim that they are forbidden by UK law from transferring the title to any of their paintings. The case is being brought in a New York court; quite why I'm not sure, for no US court can compel a British museum to return a painting. Perhaps the aim is to rack up legal fees in the hope of cutting a deal.

More, including a full statement from the National Gallery, here.

'Art History for Everyone'

September 12 2016

Image of 'Art History for Everyone'

Picture: Wallace Collection

Roll up: if you're a state school student here in the UK a free AS-level art history course is being offered at the Wallace Collection in London. It takes place on Saturday mornings for 2/5 hours each week. Here's more:

Enrol for a free-fast-track AS History of Art course on Saturday mornings, based at the Wallace Collection from 24.9.16, and using other museum and gallery collections as appropriate.  The course is an independent development of a successful pilot scheme trialled at two London state schools in 2014-16 with excellent outcomes and 100% pass rate. The course followed is AQA AS History of Art and is taught by a qualified and experienced specialist teacher with a track record of excellent results. Study materials, exam entrance fees and administration included.

Benefits to students include:

  •     an additional AS qualification
  •     additional UCAS points and strengthened FE/HE applications
  •     career development
  •     CV building opportunities
  •     developing analytical and communication skills
  •     Gaining as understanding of great works of art in the capital’s public collections.

This excellent initiative is being organised by Art History Link-Up.

Rare Titian child portrait for sale

September 12 2016

Image of Rare Titian child portrait for sale

Picture: ACE

The Arts Council's 'Notification of Intention to Sell' page (whereby museums are notified in advance if tax exempt paintings are to be sold) tells us that the above Portrait of Two Children by Titian is to be sold at Sotheby's in London in December. No estimate is provided. It is described as 'Titian and Workshop'.

Good luck to any museums hoping to acquire the picture - a fine addition to any collection.

An art dealer's nightmare

September 12 2016

Image of An art dealer's nightmare

Picture: via Wikipedia. Courbet's "Desperate Man" self-portrait.

There are few things more boring than other people's dreams. But last night I dreamt a shocker. I'd bid £20m on an unattributed painting of a teddy bear in an online auction, believing it to be a priceless, lost, life portrait of Winnie the Pooh. It turned out not to be, of course, and I was ruined. As I've often said, optimism is the art dealer's worst enemy.

Update - a reader writes:

Horrified by the nightmarish purchase, the deputy editor [my daughter] seizes the portrait of Winnie the Pooh, takes a night flight to Peru and sells it to Paddington Bear for £25m. 


Another reader writes:

I liked your dream about Winnie the Pooh his portrait; at least someone else thought it was worth £19M.

Clearly the subject - a teddy bear - and the inflated price show a repressed desire to collect the work of Jeff Koons.

The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)

September 8 2016

Image of The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)

Picture: The Economist

Regular readers will know that I've been fighting a running battle with some art market writers, mainly from the New York Times, over the state of the Old Master market. The most recent salvo from the NYT came in a piece that used an inaccurate statistic to try and say that Old Master 'values' were down by a third. As Disraeli allegedly said, 'There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics'. 

But wait, here (in The Economist magazine) is another set of statistics that appears to prove what I've been saying all along about the Old Master market - that there are parts of it that are doing well, and parts that aren't (and that overall it's doing better than many believe). This is, fairly obviously, because the Old Master category covers such a broad range of art and tastes, from 18th Century Italian religious pictures to 17th Dutch lanscapes. Therefore, drawing a comparison between five centuries of art and post-war modern art, as many market commentators like to do, is hardly fair.

The graph above shows that some sectors of the Old Master market are doing really quite well. Happily, it fits in with my experience of watching the market. For example, Flemish Old Masters are apparently out-performing strongly, and are some way ahead of the relative benchmark of the S&P500. It seems to me that there's something of a buzz around interesting and rare works by the likes of Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck.

By contrast, Italian Old Masters are not doing so well - too 'Catholic', perhaps - and neither is British painting 17th-19thCentury. That said, I believe that within those categories there are other more subtle changes. British 16th and early 17thC pictures are doing quite well at the moment. But for much of the 19thCentury British market, it appears to be game over - at least for now. As ever, tastes change, and values ebb and flow accordingly.

I haven't had time to go into the analysis in some detail, so we must treat all this with some caution. But I think we can already guess what are the chances of it being picked up by the New York Times...

Update - a dealing reader writes:

Thank you for putting up a fight against the negativity of many around the Old Master market. 

What you say about the picture market is echoed in the Old Master Sculpture market. Some aspects of the market, such as early religious wood sculpture and Rococo art, are doing worse than previously, but other areas, such as the top end of the market for Renaissance bronzes are flying, and medieval sculpture has been doing increasingly well for a while. The last two years have seen the two highest prices ever made in the market, the Adriaen De Vries bronze sold to the Rijksmuseum at Christie's and Bernini's marble bust of Pope Paul V privately sold to the Getty. Tastes have changed quite radically, but there are artworks out there that cater to these changes in taste. 

Part of lost Magritte found

September 8 2016

Image of Part of lost Magritte found

Picture: Guardian

Investigation of a painting by Magritte at the Norwich Castle Museum has revealed that it was painted over part of his 'Enchanted Pose' (above), which has been missing since the early 20th Century. Magritte, for reasons unknown, chopped the canvas up after its exhibition in 1927 and used it for other pictures. Two bits have previously been found, and now the Norwich discovery - underneath Magritte's The Human Condition - of the bottom right hand corner (as seen in an X-ray below) makes a third. There's one quarter left to find, apparently.

The discovery was made by a sharp-eyed conservator, reports The Guardian:

The Norwich Castle discovery came to light while Alice Tavares da Silva, a conservator who also works for the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge, was studying the picture before its loan to the major Magritte retrospective at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which opens this month.

Once the picture’s frame had been removed, she noticed the edges had been painted over and round the stretcher in a way that was unrelated to the composition on the front. There were details, she later discovered, such as “a little bit of the blue sky”.

Further research led her to a report by conservators at MoMA. The painting was then transferred to the Hamilton Kerr Institute to be x-rayed and studied further. The results confirmed initial suspicions. She describes the discovery as “hugely exciting”.

Connoisseurship and Rubens

September 8 2016

Alejandro Vergara - CODART NEGENTIEN Madrid 2016 from CODART on Vimeo.

Video: Codart

Here's another great video from the Codart conference on connoisseurship. Prado curator Alejandro Vergara discusses the tricky issue of attributing works to Rubens, given the widespread involvement of his studio assistants. 

Job Opportunity!

September 8 2016

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Tate

Sir Nicholas Serota is leaving Tate, after an extroardinary 30 years as Director. Has anyone transformed a UK arts institution to such an extent? He's going to become Chairman of Arts Council England. More here.

So, who's next?

Prof. Christopher Brown on connoisseurship

September 7 2016

Christopher Brown - CODART NEGENTIEN Madrid 2016 from CODART on Vimeo.

Video: Codart

Earlier this year Codart, the organisation for curators of Dutch and Flemish art, held a conference on the subject of connoisseurship. In the video above, the former Director of the Ashmolean museum, Prof. Christopher Brown, gives what I think is the best defence of connoisseurship I've yet heard. Well worth a watch.

Update - you can see the other talks from the conference here. I'll be posting more of them soon.

Finaldi tour of the National Gallery

September 7 2016

Image of Finaldi tour of the National Gallery

Picture: Facebook/National Gallery

On Facebook last night the new National Gallery director Dr Gabriele Finaldi gave a 'live' tour of some of the Gallery's highlights. It's well worth a watch, as Dr Finaldi is a great and natural communicator - we need to get him on the telly pronto.

As of this afternoon, an astonishing 117,000 people have watched it. 

New light on Titian's studio

September 7 2016

Image of New light on Titian's studio

Picture: National Gallery

I've seen some tantalising tweets from The Burlington Magazine on an article on Titian's workshop practice in their new September edition:

In our new issue, a previously unpublished 16th century treatise sheds new light on Titian's studio.

The treatise reveals both the techniques used by Venetian artists & the interests of collectors at that time.

Read more about the treatise in 'A visit to Titian's studio' by Michel Hochmann.

That's about it; there's no further information on the magazine's site. You need to either buy the single article here, for a whopping £15, or the magazine itself, for £25.

Now, as a free marketeer I'm relaxed about publications charging for content. But £15 for a single, academic art historical article strikes me as almost ridiculous. First, Especially when you consider that The Burlington Magazine is actually operated as a charity, by The Burlington Magazine Foundation, and describes itself as:

The Burlington Magazine is a charitable, non-profit-making scholarly magazine.

I can't immediately see how - in this age of expected free access - charging so much for a single article really helps art historical scholarship. Indeed, the fee inhibits The Burlington's central mission. Also, The Burlington website stresses on its page for contributors (for whom, as far as I can see, payment is not obviously offered) that museums should supply illustrations for free, because the magazine is charitible and scholarly.

Surely the magazine should trial a different charging model - whether it be increased online advertisting revenue from free access, or a lower pricing structure. Perhaps if they charged just £1 an article they'd sell more than 15 times the amount they do now.

The most recent accounts, to the end of 2014, show that the Foundation had an income of £165,000.

Update - a reader writes:

Of course just because it’s a charity doesn’t mean it doesn’t need revenues.

I don’t know if they still do, but the Burlington used to pay contributors £50 for an article (which, as a percentage of the minimum hourly wage, is only just higher than the 0 most of us receive), which I and no doubt others waived. But this seems much less objectionable than the terms of the contributors’ contract which was introduced several years ago and which is the reason why I no longer contribute: it transfers all the risk for copyright, defamation etc. (nontrivial in this age in which so many experts now refuse to authenticate valuable art) onto the contributor. I could go into a huge amount of detail on this [...], but in short and in my opinion the value transfer between contributor and magazine through these indemnities far exceeds any fees.

Both Shone and Spalding [the current and previous editors] dug their heels in over this. No doubt they felt that the Magazine shouldn’t run the risk of bankruptcy over a contributor’s opinion. But the legal risks (however remote) may well be far more than the contributor can pay, so they are on the hook anyway with secondary liability, and if they are serious they should insure (which contributors mostly can’t).

Let’s hope the new editor takes a more enlightened view.

'Cols Rouges' sentenced in Paris

September 7 2016


A long-running case over theft and corruption at the Paris auction centre, Drouot, has concluded with jail sentences for the ringleaders of the Cols Rouges thieves. The Cols Rouges were the porters at the Drouot, and were marked out by their red collars. The had a monopoly on who could handle art for the various auctions that took place there. It turns out that items would regularly 'get lost' from sales, and that some of the Cols Rouges were casually helping themselves to goodies, including in one case a painting by Gustave Courbet. More here.


'Beyond Caravaggio'

September 6 2016

Video: National Gallery

The National Gallery's new show 'Beyond Caravaggio' opens on 12th October. More details here

If you can't wait till then, you can see a very similar show at the Thyssen collection in Madrid till 18th September. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of this during installation, and thought it was excellent. 

This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

September 6 2016

Image of This is not Shakespeare (ctd.)

Picture: BBC

A reader alerts me to the above story on the BBC website, about the mis-attribution of Shakespeare's phrases. Shame they've used the wrong portrait...

Update - someone seems to have told the BBC, since the story is now illustrated with the Droeshout engraving. One tiny victory...

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