Previous Posts: April 2017

Flinck Mania!

April 27 2017

Image of Flinck Mania!

Picture: Christie's

Amazing news from today's Old Master sale at Christie's in New York; a 1646 painting by Govaert Flinck of an old man (above) raced to over $10m from its estimate of $2m-$3m. This is by some margin a new record for Flinck, but the astonishing thing is that last appeared at auction in 2011 in London it made £2.3m (the estimate then was £700k-£1m). This tells us a number of things: the Old Master market is still full of surprises; Flinck is on the up (and quite right too); and that valuing art is always really, really difficult. 

New Dutch and Flemish curator at the National Gallery

April 27 2017

Image of New Dutch and Flemish curator at the National Gallery

Picture: Linkedin

Congratulations to Bart Cornelis, who (I see from Codart) is the new curator of Dutch and Flemish art 1600-1800 at the National Gallery in London. Bart has recently curated the Adriaen van de Velde exhibition at Dulwich, and for the last 15 years has been deputy editor at The Burlington Magazine


April 26 2017

Video: Hiscox, via Art Market Monitor

Only 8% of the art market occurs (if that's the right word) online, according to Hiscox's annual online art market report. The reason why? There are many reasons, but a key one is that when surveyed, 88% of people worried about an artwork 'looking different' in real life as opposed to the image online. This of course is true; it always amazes me how much a digital image can distort a painting, for example. Scale is also hard to assess.

Will it change? There's a conviction out there that the online art market will sson grow significantly. I think there is indeed scale for growth, in terms of people transacting online (ie, bidding). But there are limits. Above all I think an online presence has to go hand-in-hand with a physical presence. Because there is always so much risk associated with buying art (condition, authenticity, forgeries) online buyers will I think always want to be comforted by the knowledge that there is company with a physical premises at the heart of the operation, with contactable specialists, and of course the ability to inspect the work in person should you wish. So it's no surprise that Sotheby's and Christie's top the online art market rankings, and companies trying to function as online-only platforms are failing, like Auctionata, which recently went into liquidation. I don't think it helps either that the likes of Auctionata often fail at the basics, like providing good, high-resolution images, as well as videos - in other words, all the things that you need to give a buyer if they can't actually physically inspect an artwork.

It's worth remembering also that new distance-selling regulations, which afford online shoppers comfort when buying items they haven't physically seen (with generous refund rights) don't apply in auctions. 

Finally, few auction houses have yet realised that in order to provide a good online art buying service you also need to provide all the other online services that people now take for granted. When I go to Amazon, for example, I select my product, and can then spend almost as much time again in selecting my delivery options, to get the product safely delivered at a convenient time. How often can you do this as an online art buyer? Not often enough. When it comes to buying art online, once the hammer falls you get sent an invoice, and then that's pretty much it. The auction house rarely wants to hear from you again, except to say that unless you organise to have your lot picked up soon, storage charges will be incurred. As my school reports used to say; must do better.

Update - I should also point out that online platforms like, Invaluable and Bidsquare have lamentable image zoom functions.  

Vermeer show at the Louvre; 'victime de son succès"

April 26 2017

Video: C News

The Vermeer show at the Louvre seems to be a great success - but it looks as if the Louvre under-estimated the number of people who'd want to visit.

Entry charges at The Met?

April 26 2017

Image of Entry charges at The Met?

Picture: The Metropolitan Museum

Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times reports that the Metropolitan Museum in New York (currently grappling with a defecit) is considering introducing mandatory entry charges. At the moment you only pay a 'suggested' fee, and it's possible to walk in for free if you're prepared to run the gauntlet of stern looks and cash registers. 

Dorotheum Old Master sale

April 26 2017

Image of Dorotheum Old Master sale

Picture: Dorotheum

We're always being told the 'middle market' for Old Masters is suffering, but it's always worth keeping an eye on Dorotheum's auctions to see how prices in Europe are holding up. Their Old Master sale today posted consistently strong prices (browse here) for works from all periods. It doubtless helps that they always present their sales so well, with handsome printed catalogues, with explanatory text, high-resolution photos on the website, and (in Vienna) one of the world's best auction rooms. 

One of the top lots was a pair of 'Antwerp School' portraits (the gent, above) which made €466k (inc. premium).

Can non-Curators direct museums?

April 26 2017

Image of Can non-Curators direct museums?

Picture: Apollo

Apollo Magazine has asked Sir Nick Penny and Robert Hewison to explore whether museum directors must have curatorial experience to be able to do the job properly. Hewison and Penny don't respectively argue 'yes' or 'no', but Hewison is not entirely convinced curators have all the answers, shall we say:

There is a tendency for curators, because they handle precious objects, to become precious themselves. The object is all, and the public a menace. The costive curator sits on the collection, thwarts loan requests, and would really prefer it if the public, like the collection, were kept in the dark. (Even worse is the controlling conservator, who must be wooed to surrender objects, literally, to the light of day.) Curators sometimes seem to be academics who hate people.

I completely agree about the 'controlling conservator', who these days wield far too much power, and would rather pictures remain untouched, unmoved, and unseen, usually in darkened storage rooms.

Penny is worried by instances of what he calls 'impresario curators':

It has often been argued that senior administrators are better qualified than traditional curators to serve as museum directors, but nowadays the trend is to appoint impresario curators, preferably those who are comfortable with contemporary art and, if a new building is planned, have some confidence in dealing with architects. Directors with no curatorial experience and without the related expert knowledge of art tend to diminish the value of such experience and expertise out of their own insecurity. The results can often be devastating, even if, being of little interest to journalists, whose attention is usually focused on the exhibitions programme, they generally go unnoticed by the public.

Both articles are well worth reading in full, which you can do here. As ever, I'm always interested to hear AHNers thoughts. 

Rubenshuis searches for lost Wautiers

April 26 2017

Image of Rubenshuis searches for lost Wautiers

Picture: Rubenshuis

The Rubenshuis museum in Antwerp is putting on an exhibition of Michaelina Wautiers in 2018. It will be the first monograph exhibition to focus on her work. The museum is therefore searching for a number of lost paintings by Wautiers, including the above depiction of a man playing the flute; this work is part of her series of 'five senses', which were last seen in 1975. From the Rubenshuis press release:

The Rubens House is looking for The Five Senses by the seventeenth-century artist Michaelina Wautier. The five individual works on canvas date from 1650 and all (or most) of them are believed to be signed and dated. They share the same dimensions (68 x 58 cm or 70 x 61 cm) and were twice auctioned as a series in Valenciennes (France) in the nineteenth century. The series belonged in 1883 to the collection of a ‘M. de Malherbe’, from which they were sold in 1898 to a certain Jean-Baptiste Foucart. A single black-and-white image of one of the paintings is the only known visual record. It shows a flute-player and was reproduced in a sale catalogue for the Drouot auction house in Paris dated 28 May 1975. There has been no further trace of the five works since then.

According to the nineteenth-century sale catalogues, each canvas depicts one of the five senses. One painting shows a man (or youth) gazing through a pince-nez at a coin in his left hand, representing the sense of sight. A second canvas uses a flute-player wearing a red beret and sitting on a chair to depict ‘hearing’. ‘Smell’ is represented in a third canvas by a boy in a felt hat and a grey shirt, whose disgusted expression tells us that the egg he is about to top has gone bad. The sense of taste is symbolized by a young man with long red hair and a cloak eating a piece of bread. The canvas representing ‘touch’, lastly, features another youth with long black hair, who cuts his thumb while shaping a piece of wood.

More details from the Rubenshuis here. To get an idea of just how talented Wautiers was, you can zoom in her fascinating portrait of Martino Martini, an Italian Jesuit missionary in China, here at the Weiss Gallery. 

New acquisition at Chatsworth

April 24 2017

Video: Chatsworth House Trust

A c.1703 birds-eye view of Chatsworth House, painted by Jan Siberechts, has been discovered and acquired by the Chatsworth House Trust. Above is an excellent video produced to announce the acquisition (if only more institutions would do this). Here also is some more info from the Chatsworth press release:

Until now a painting of the house and garden in the 1st Duke’s time was missing from the collection. This large scale, detailed painting is now on display at Chatsworth, with a series of landscape paintings of the house and garden detailing major changes through the past 400 years.

The Duke of Devonshire said “I am extremely excited that this landscape has joined the Devonshire Collection. It will be of great interest to our visitors as it portrays on a grand scale a complete view of Chatsworth, house, garden and park as built and laid out by the 1st Duke and this enables us all to know so much more about Chatsworth at the very beginning of the 18th century”.  

This bird’s eye view of Chatsworth originally belonged to Admiral Edward Russell, later 1st Earl of Orford, a close friend and political colleague of the 1st and 2nd Dukes of Devonshire.  It passed by descent to his great-niece Letitia Tipping who married the 1st Lord Sandys in 1725, and has remained in the Sandys family until now. 

Previously catalogued as by an unknown late 17th century English artist, A View of Chatsworth has recently been reattributed by Omnia Art to Jan Siberechts, who specialised in painting bird’s eye views of English country houses in this period.  Siberechts is known to have worked for the 1st Duke of Devonshire as payments to the artist are recorded in the Chatsworth archives, and a number of watercolours by Siberechts exist showing views of Derbyshire near Chatsworth.

On Durer's 'Hare'

April 23 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Here's a short video from Sotheby's, with good, clear images, of Durer's famous Hare in the Albertina. Interesting that an auction house is making videos about museum pictures like this - and rather showing how it's done, too. 

A new Velasquez for sale in Spain?

April 23 2017

Image of A new Velasquez for sale in Spain?

Picture: Abalarte

Belen Palanco in The Art Newspaper reports that a portrait of a young 'immaculate' up for auction this week in Spain may be a previously unknown work by Velasquez. The picture has been adjudged by the auction house to be an early work, but no Velasquez scholars have been cited in the catalogue. An x-ray of the painting has revealed the subject originally had a halo of stars, and this has been compared to another early Velasquez in the National Gallery in London. From the photos, well, I can see where they're coming from. But Velasquez scholarship is not straightforward. It's a gamble for someone. You can zoom in on the picture here.

Update - it made €8m. I'm told this was the reserve too. 

Selling Nazi looted art in Austria

April 23 2017

Image of Selling Nazi looted art in Austria

Picture: Im Kinsky

In The Guardian, Kate Connolly reports that an Austrian auction house, Im Kinsky, are openly selling a painting that is known to have been looted by the Nazis. The picture, by Bartholomäus van der Helst, was stolen during the war from the collection of the heirs of Adolphe Schloss in Paris. The auciton house say that under Austrian law, the current owners (who bought it in 'good faith' from an art dealer in Austrian in 2003) are not obliged to return the painting to the Schloss heirs. Which seems extraordinary, and for a painting valued at €15k-€30k you have to wonder why the owners don't do the decent thing. The painting is not likely to fetch much, for it can't in practice be taken outside Austria - other countries have far more stringent laws on looted pictures.

It's curious there's not an EU wide standard on these matters. But that's an unfashionable thing to say these days.

'Sebastiano & Michelangelo' (ctd.)

April 19 2017

Video: ArtFund

Here's a short video from Andrew Graham-Dixon on the National Gallery's exhibition. 

Is a fake hanging at the National Gallery?

April 19 2017

Image of Is a fake hanging at the National Gallery?

Picture: National Gallery

There are reviews of exhibitions, and there are reviews which say; 'this show contains a modern fake'. In the London Review of Books (paywall), the art historian Charles Hope has claimed that a portrait of Michelangelo thought to be by Sebastiano hanging in the National Gallery's new 'Sebastiano & Michelangelo' exhibition is a 20th century forgery. The exhibition dates the picture to c.1518-20, and labels the picture 'Probably by Sebastiano', which is like (but better than) the old 'attributed to' label. So there's some distance between the National Gallery's attribution and Charles Hope's.

I'm late to the story, which was reported last week in The Times. But I wanted to look again at both the picture and the evidence before writing about Hope's conclusion.

First, a few undisputed facts:

  • The portrait shows Michelangelo.
  • He is holding a book of drawings, showing a head study and a leg and hand. These relate to a drawing now attributed to Bartolomeo Passarotti in the Fitzwilliam Museum (above), which in turn is thought to be a copy of a lost original study by Michelangelo. The drawing is rendered as two seperate ones in the painting. The drawing was also engraved in 1777, in the same direction, when it was thought to be by Michelangelo himself. 
  • The painting, when it was sold at auction at Dorotheum in Vienna in 2001, was previously attributed to Passarotti.
  • It is oil on panel, and x-rays show it is painted on top of a c.1518 Madonna and Child with John the Baptist by or after Andrea del Sarto. The original of this painting, which is slightly larger than that seen underneath the Michelangelo portrait, is in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. It is known in many copies.
  • The sitter's pose is almost identical to Sebastiano's portrait of Francesco Arsilli (below) of about 1522.
  • On the back of the panel is a wax seal permitting the painting's export from the Papal State in the latter half of the 17th Century, and not earlier than 1646.
  • The picture is not in great condition, and parts of it have been restored and overpainted.

Second, case for the prosecution:

  • The picture only emerged in 1960. There is no certain provenance for it before this time. Even then, the provenance for 1960 is only listed as 'documented', which suggests there is no photographic evidence for the painting at this time. It is quite easy to engineer a 'document' from the 1960s.
  • Hope says it is 'inconceivable' that Sebastiano would have painted over the work of a 'prominent contemporary'. 
  • Instead, "Everything suggests that it is a modern fake, probably dating from just before its emergence in 1960, and that the forger took the standard precaution of acquiring an old panel on which to paint it."  
  • Hope says the wax seal allowing the picture's export is damning, and relates only to the painting when it showed a copy of the Andrea del Sarto Madonna; "It is easy to see why permission would have been granted to export a copy of this kind, but much less easy to believe that a portrait with the well-known features of Michelangelo could have been exported. In other words, the portrait itself must have been painted after 1646. and that the forger took the standard precaution of acquiring an old panel on which to paint it."
  • The composition was copied by the forger from the Arsilli portrait; "[the forger] simply borrowed the composition from a rather obscure portrait by Sebastiano of which photographs had been published"
  • The Passerotti drawings are explained thus; " [the forger] reproduced a drawing said to be by Michelangelo and available in an engraving."
  • The costume troubles Hope: "Michelangelo is shown with a type of collar not worn in Italy until the middle of the 16th century."
  • Hope makes no comments on the technique of the painting, or why he thinks stylistically it is not by Sebastiano (or someone else from the period like Passerotti).

The case for the defence:

  • The x-ray is said to 'bolster' the paintings origins to the 1510s.
  • The fact that Sebastiano painted over the Andrea del Sarto composition could relate to the fact that a patron of both del Sarto and Sebastiano, Pierfrancesco Borgherini, was unhappy with a del Sarton Madonna in early 1517, and Sebastiano offered to execute a substitute if Michelangelo provided a drawing (which he did, for another Sebastiano Madonna on show at the National Gallery, cat. 20). Sebastiano then may have painted over Andrea del Sarto's to 'cancel his Florentine rival's composition'.
  • The 'enamel-like layering of paint is consistent with Sebastiano's method, and unlike Passarotti's looser handling'.
  • The catalogue makes no reference to any further technical analysis on the paint layers, which would help rule out any allegation of forgery. But the curator of the show Matthias Wivel told me via Twitter that "Everything in original paint layer consistent with 16th century. Cracking and thus oil solution consistent with confirmed Sebastiano". 
  • The collar that troubles Hope is all or partly re-touched.

My thoughts, for what they are worth (I am certainly no Sebastiano, Michelangelo or Passarotti scholar):

  • The manner of the craquelure is unusual in some areas of the painting, which may give cause for concern. But it is consistent in my experience with a picture that has been painted over another picture. 
  • I did not think, from my admittedly brief assessment of the picture, but at reasonably close distance, that the technique indicates this is a modern forgery. 
  • If the unpublished technical analysis did conclude that the paint layers were consistent with those seen in 16th Century pictures, then this, from a forgery apparently made pre-1960, is impressive on the part of the forger. Forgers at this time, before the widespread adoption of paint analysis, were not usually dilligent enough to use pigments and ground layers that would entirely withstand modern testing. (These days, of course, it's a different matter).
  • The collar: whether it is a re-touching or not, the collar is such a small part of the picture, and so barely visible, that it is surely not possible to reliably date the picture on the basis of the costume we see in that area.
  • If it is a forgery, then it is interesting that the forger was not diligent enough to scrape off the Andrea del Sarto composition on which they painted. This is curious, for even in 1960 they were x-raying paintings. At the same time, however, this forger was dilligent enough to find a panel which, through the apparent composition of the del Sarto Madonna, happily coincided with the proposed date (of the late 1510s/early 1520s) of the painting they were intending to create. 
  • Hope's argument about the Papal States allowing the export of an Andrea del Sarto copy (but not a portrait of Michelangelo) strikes me as unduly speculative, and ignores the fact that a) people have been exporting great and not so great art from Italy for centuries, by fair means or foul, and b) there were even by the 17th Century many, many portraits of Michelangelo in circulation.
  • The lack of certain provenance before 1960 will always be an issue. And how reliable is the 1960 'document'?
  • As to whether the picture is by Sebastiano or not - if it is period (which I am inclined to think it is) - I am not qualified to judge. It is true that the comparison with other Sebastiano portraits in the exhibition, especially the Portrait of a Man (cat.19) next to it (below) is not a happy one. The portrait of Michelangelo looks pastey and stiff by comparison,while the shoulder and drapery are really quite weak, even allowing for the picture's condition issues. The repetition of a pose by Sebastiano, for a portrait of someone supposed to be his hero, is curious. It seemed more likely to me to be the work of a less able artist. Mind you, one of my (unfashionable) conclusions from the show is that Sebastiano was quite capable of being a 'less able artist'.
  • Finally, I am very pleased that the exhibition included this fascinating picture, which, as it happens, now belongs to a commercial gallery in Germany. We need to be less neurotic about exhibiting newly discovered and supposedly 'controversial' pictures, and it shouldn't matter a jot who owns it. The picture is still the picture.

Lost and found (ctd.)

April 19 2017

Image of Lost and found (ctd.)

Picture: ABC

From Australia comes news of another rare re-discovery:

A painting by renowned Australian landscape artist Eugene von Guérard, which has not been seen by art scholars for almost 150 years, has been rediscovered.

The work, titled View of the Granite Rocks at Cape Woolamai, depicts wild waves crashing over Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island along Victoria's coast and was last seen in public in 1873 at the Vienna World Exposition before it "disappeared".

Sotheby's Australia chairman Geoffrey Smith said the painting had been held by an international collector for the last 40 years, who was not aware of the work's significance.

More here.

How to make an equestrian statue

April 19 2017

Video: Getty Museum

Here's a terrific film from the Getty, showing how Edme Bouchardon made his large-scale equestrian statue of Louis XV. The process took 15 years. The statue was destroyed in the French Revolution, and now all that remains is half of Louis' right hand. What's clever about the video is that it uses historic images to explain the casting process. 

'The Mysterious Landscapes of Hercules Segers'

April 19 2017

Video: The Metropolitan Museum

I'm often asked how to make Old Masters 'relevant' and engaging to moderning audiences. Well, the above video from The Met, shows us how you di it. What a great video; well narrated, no guffy theories or explanations, good graphics, nice music. It's really very simple; even the most obscure artist (and let's face it, Segers is not a household name) can be made interesting if you tell their story simply, with context, and in a way that modern audiences are used to finding out about things. 

The Met's Segers exhibition runs until May 21st.

Update - the video was I'm told originally commissioned by the Rijksmuseum, so well done them too. The Rijksmuseum is of course leading the way in making Old Masters exciting, and unashamedly so. Look at their multimedia efforts with the Late Rembrandt exhibition for example, and also their Rijksstudio website, where you can use their collection images for anything you like. 

More female artists at the Uffizi

April 19 2017

Image of More female artists at the Uffizi

Picture: Uffizi

Hannah McGivern in The Art Newspaper reports that the Uffizi gallery is to display more pictures by female artists, including, for example, works by Suor Plautilla Nelli (above, 1523-87), a nun who was Florence’s first-known female Renaissance painter. More here

Restored Veroneses go on tour

April 19 2017

Image of Restored Veroneses go on tour

Picture: via Artnet

Two paintings by Veronese that have never left the waters around Venice have been restored, before a trip to the Frick. The restoration bill was met by Bulgari, the jewellers - bravo to them. More here

Lost and found

April 19 2017

Image of Lost and found


A lost painting by the Finnish artist Albert Edelfeld has been discovered in a Russian regional museum. The two children shown above are the sons, Boris and Kiril, of the Grand Duke Vladimir, the Tsar's brother. The sitters had been thought to be girls, and the identification of the picture was lost some time after the Russian revolution in 1917. It was discovered online by the art historian Sani Kontula-Webb. More here.

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