Previous Posts: April 2017

Happy Easter!

April 15 2017

The Deputy Editor and I wish those AHNers who celebrate it a very Happy Easter. May your baskets o'erflow with chocolate eggs. 

Trump's new threat to the arts?

April 15 2017

Image of Trump's new threat to the arts?

Picture: Met Museum, detail of Rubens' 'Atalanta & Meleager'

Much has been said by the US arts community about President Trump's first budget, and its proposal shutting down the National Endowment for the Arts. I haven't written about it, for the sums involved are quite small; the total NEA spend per year of about $148m is tiny by US government standards, and in any case represents only a fraction of total US arts funding. In the US, healthy tax incentives and a culture of personal giving mean it's possible to rely on private philanthropy. The abolition of that annual amount would be a shame, but for most arts institutions in the US not terminal.

But I had lunch with a US curator this week who told me that the proposed closure of the NEA presents a more alarming threat to the US museum sector, thanks to the NEA's indemnity programme. Currently, the NEA provides billions of dollars a year of free government-backed insurance to US museums, which significantly facilitates loans for exhibitions. The only cash cost to the government comes in the very rare event of a claim, so the liability does not figure in the NEA's annual $148m total. But if the NEA goes, then so too does the indemnity programme. And thus by extension, many international loan exhibitions in the US will cease, or become too expensive to stage. Institutions simply cannot afford the insurance cover themselves.

Here's a case study from the New York Times:

Similarly endangered, advocates say, would be many art exhibitions that entertain the country, sometimes stopping at small and large museums. The cost of insuring the art shown in these exhibitions can be offset by a federal indemnity program administered by the National Endowment for the Arts. So when the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati staged “Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape,” the most expensive project it had ever put on, the indemnity program paid for most of the insurance cost of bringing 54 on-loan paintings (out of 55 in the entire exhibition) to Cincinnati.

We have a similar indemnity programme here in the UK. Fortunately, nobody has suggested abolishing that. Yet.

Restitution news (ctd.)

April 15 2017

Image of Restitution news (ctd.)

Picture: TAN (showing the construction of the Berlin Wall)

The Art Newspaper reports that the German government is to launch a new restitution project aimed at dealing with all the art looted by the Stasi in East Germany. As Catherine Hickley reports, the DDR authorities helped themselves to anything left behind by those who fled to the West:

At the end of 1961, just a few months after the Berlin Wall had been built, the East German minister for state security, Erich Mielke, gave orders for a secret operation to force open abandoned, privately rented bank vaults, safety deposit boxes and safes at around 4,000 locations across the country and empty them of their contents.

The operation, known as Aktion Licht (Operation Light), ran from 6 to 9 January 1962. It was a state-sanctioned mass theft of assets from those who had left the country. The seized treasures belonged to East Germans who had escaped to the West, but also to Jews forced to flee or deported to concentration camps during the Third Reich.

More here

NPG acquires Lawrence portrait of Wellington

April 15 2017

Image of NPG acquires Lawrence portrait of Wellington

Picture: NPG

I'm glad to see that the National Portrait Gallery has successfully raised the £1.3m they needed to buy Sir Thomas Lawrence's last portrait of the Duke of Wellington. More here

'Sir Anthonio Van Dyck'

April 15 2017

Image of 'Sir Anthonio Van Dyck'

Picture: JVDPPP

Research for the Jordaens/Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project has confirmed that Van Dyck was christened 'Anthonio'. I prefer to call him Antoon, though.

Art history handbags

April 11 2017

Video: Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton has launched a range of Old Master handbags, created with Jeff Koons. You can have a Rubens, Titian, Fragonard, or a Leonardo one. I want them all. Van Gogh has crept in too.

New Titian portrait at Christie's

April 11 2017

Image of New Titian portrait at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

This is exciting: a newly discovered portrait by Titian being offered at Christie's in New York. Estimated at $600k-$800k, the portrait shows Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari (c. 1508-1578), a publisher in Venice (hence holding a book, I suppose). Wisely, the catalogue entry for the painting makes no secret of the last time the picture appeared at auction, in 2013 in a small sale in Geneva. There it was catalogued as 'Follower of Titian', and was being sold from the estate of a Swiss collection. I went to see it, and remember having a good, if surreptitious, look at the painting under a tree in the garden. I believed in an attribution to Titian then, and though I have only seen the online image of the cleaned painting, can well believe it now. Many congratulations to the sharp-eyed buyer in Geneva - I hope it does well now. The estimate seems to me quite reasonable. The painting is signed. 

Re-framing Del Piombo's 'Raising of Lazarus'

April 11 2017

Image of Re-framing Del Piombo's 'Raising of Lazarus'

Picture: The Frame Blog

I've mentioned every now and then the progress of the National Gallery's reframing of their major Sebastiano del Piombo, The Raising of Lazarus. The finished frame, above, is quite magnificent, and a testament to the skills of National Gallery framing director Peter Schade. You can read more about the project here in The Art Newspaper, and here on The Frame Blog. The new frame is a composite of antique parts and newly recreated additions. After close inspection recently, I couldn't begin to tell which bits were old and which were new.

The Uffizi's new 'Super Director'

April 11 2017

Image of The Uffizi's new 'Super Director'

Picture: Apollo

In Apollo, editor Thomas Marks has an interview with the Eike Schmidt, one of the new generation of often foreign-born directors brought into try and shake up the Italian museum sector. One of Schmidt's first challenges is to fix the way visitors enter the museum:

Crowd control is inevitably one of Schmidt’s highest priorities. This begins with the chaotic ticketing system, whereby visitors can queue for hours in high season or pay a premium for a timed ticket, the revenue from which goes to the private contractor that (mis)manages the system. ‘It’s virtually the same way of people purchasing tickets as they did when the Uffizi first opened to the public in 1769,’ Schmidt says. 

An early attempt by Schmidt to help fix the queues saw him being fined €295 by the City of Florence; he had used loudspeakers to warn visitors about ticket touts, but was prosecuted by city officials for illegal broadcasting. Which tells you all you need to know about the enormous challenge Schmidt faces...

We were just in Rome recently, and the ticket touts at sites like the Colloseum are a menace. Those at the Vatican Museums are even worse. 

Cleaning Dobson

April 11 2017

Image of Cleaning Dobson

Picture: Waldemar Januszczak

The Great Waldemar, who is among many things the world's number one William Dobson fan, has decided to fund the conservation of one of Dobson's most intriguing paintings, Portrait of a Musician, which belongs to the Ferens Gallery in Hull. The painting has been difficult to assess properly in recent years due to layers of dirt and old varnish. AHN looks forward to seeing what the cleaned picture reveals...


April 11 2017

Image of Award!

Picture: RTS

This is nice - 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces' has been nominated for a Royal Television Society award. The programme was co-produced by two Scottish companies, Tern and Iconografie Films (my wife's production company) so it is up for a Scottish RTS award. All finger's are crossed here - and we hope that the RTS typo is not a bad omen...

Update - a reader writes:

Let’s hope that AHN’s own typo (‘All finger’s are crossed here' - presumably the work of predictive text software) isn’t a bad omen either…..

Predictive dyslexia!

Sleeper Alert!

April 11 2017

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Adam's Auctioneers

The above copper panel of Christ made €120,000 at Adam's auctioneers yesterday in Dublin, against an estimate of €800. Such is the fascination with all things sleeper-y these days that the auction house were keenly spreading the news themselves (here on Twitter, and here in the Irish Times). 


April 7 2017

Forgive the lack of posts; I'm on holiday in wonderful Madrid. The Prado is open till 8pm! Back soon.

Brexit threat to UK museums (ctd.)

April 4 2017

Image of Brexit threat to UK museums (ctd.)

Picture: UKRG

I've been sent a report by the UK Registrar's Group, giving their view of what Brexit means to the nuts and bolts of organising things like museum exhibitions, and facilitating acquisitions. Registrars are the unsung heroes of the museum world, and toil away with the paperwork and logistics needed to bring a Caravaggio from one side of the world to the other. 

Here is the summary of their report:

The key questions and concerns outlined within this document highlight that there are some very real risks for UK museums and galleries that an EU exit could severely restrict our ability to maintain the level of lending, borrowing and acquiring of artefacts previously enjoyed by the UK public. Many of these factors outlined as they relate to laws and standards, systems and people, are interrelated. Costs, funding and planning resources are all likely to be negatively affected by each of the areas of impact outlined unless these are addressed and action is taken. The major concern of UKRG members with regard to resources is that the likely scenario is that costs will go up and funding will go down. If systems are not introduced (or maintained) for aspects of regulation and licensing currently based in EU law, then this could have a severe and limiting impact on the movement of cultural property. The result will have a detrimental effect on the UK public (reduced exhibitions), as well as the public purse (many institutions may struggle to absorb costs and resource requirements).

We hope that UK government will consider the movement of cultural property (and the corresponding movement of collections specialists concerned with its care) when assessing the EU exit and take appropriate action to lessen the impact on UK museums and galleries, for the benefit of the UK public, by addressing the areas of concern raised here. 

The matters that the Registrars raise are somewhat technical and complicated, but I'll focus on a couple of examples here. None of the concerns they raise are insurmountable; but they will take a great deal of time and government energy to resolve, and the fear is that ministers will have their mind on matters other than museum exhibitions over the next two years. 

The first example relates to import Vat, which I have mentioned on AHN a few times in relation to Brexit and the art market. A brief recap: currently, if you buy a picture within the EU, there is no duty payable. If you buy one from outside the EU, 5% Vat is payable when you bring it into the UK. The registrars are concerned about what will happen if this 5% is extended to pictures acquired across Europe. And they also note that the mechanism by which UK museums can avoid paying 5% Vat on pictures acquired from outside the EU is itself underpinned in EU law:

Currently VAT is not paid for exhibition goods but 5% is paid on acquisitions for non-EU works of art. If in the future this applies to all works from the EU, VAT would need to be paid for them to be in free circulation/home use resulting in a severe impact on budgets and an increased administrative burden. The Museums and Galleries Relief administered by the National Import Reliefs Unit (NIRU), which allows museums to import goods from outside the EU without paying duty and VAT, is provided for by European Union legislation, so under the proposed "repeal act" could cease to operate upon exiting the EU. 

Therefore, both UK museums and the UK art market will be pressing the government to abolish the 5% import Vat on all works of art brought into the EU. If this is not done, there will be significant extra costs for museums, and a significantly detrimental impact on the art market. I can't myself see the government, cash-strapped as it will be, prioritising a tax break for the art market. But we'll have to wait and see. The fix for the National Import Reliefs Unit should presumably be an easy one - Parliament can simply import the relevant EU law into UK law. But again, it's a question of whether this issue will be enough of a priority for ministers to act on.

The second area of concern I'd like to highlight for now is that of export licensing. At the moment, museums can apply for general licences to move a number of artefacts in to countries in Europe. Will this continue to be the case after Brexit? The Registrars note:

If there is an increase in licensing requirements as a result of the EU exit, this is likely to have a wide-reaching negative impact on resources. For example if there is a requirement for submission of import and export declarations for every shipment in and out of the UK, this will have a severe impact on our ability to lend and borrow (one National institution reported that 70% of the gallery's shipments are EU based). 

Since it has been clear for a while that the UK"s export licensing system will be reviewed, I'd imagine these matters are already under active consideration. But again, we must hope that the government is prepared to put all the necessary resources into devising and planning the new systems required. Otherwise it will be some years before everything is working smoothly.

'Corporations and the Arts'

April 4 2017

Image of 'Corporations and the Arts'

Picture: BBC

Should it particularly bother us if oil companies sponsor arts institutions? BBC Radio 4's 'In Business' looks at the issues affecting corporate sponsorship of the arts. Listen here.

Major Turner at Sotheby's

April 4 2017

Image of Major Turner at Sotheby's

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's have secured for their next London Old Master sale in July in London. Ehrenbreitstein was exhibited at the RA in 1835, and was considered one of Turner's finest works. The estimate is £15m-£25, which I think is cautiously conservative; the last major Turners on the auction market have performed strongly, with Rome from Mount Aventine making £30.3m in 2014. More here.

Brexit threat to UK museums (ctd.)

April 4 2017

Image of Brexit threat to UK museums (ctd.)

Picture: Time

My April Fools suggestion that the UK's best artowrks could be used in the government's Brexit negotiations was not, alas, entirely a joke. In The Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson argues that we should give back the Elgin/Parthenon marbles to Greece, in return for 'discounts' on our EU divorce bill. 

The art of close-looking

April 2 2017

Image of The art of close-looking

Picture: New Yorker

Good cartoon in the New Yorker.

Or you can do what I do, and take binoculars.

Brexit and the Art Market (ctd.)

April 2 2017

Image of Brexit and the Art Market (ctd.)

A picture: of despair

There's a good piece by Scott Reyburn in The New York Times about the view of the UK art market on Brexit. It's fair to say I think that most people in the market are probably in favour of Brexit ('Droit de Suite' being partly to blame I think). Here's the view of Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation:

“This is an opportunity we have to grasp to improve our global competitiveness,” said Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation, an organization that lobbies the government on behalf of auction houses and dealers. “We are in a very strong global position already,” Mr. Browne said, adding that the world’s second-largest national art market last year was in Britain.

According to the estimates of the Art Basel-UBS art market report, published last week, Britain’s dealers and auction houses captured 21 percent of the $56.6 billion of global art sales in 2016. Those in the United States led with 40 percent, and those in China came third with 20 percent, according to the report.

Mr. Browne sees Brexit as an opportunity for the British art trade to free itself from the encumbrances of Europe-imposed tariffs and regulations, such as the value-added tax (5 percent in Britain) on artworks imported from outside the bloc. He said his organization would lobby for streamlining cross-border tax arrangements with Europe and for amending or abolishing a regulation that grants artists a royalty payment each time their work is resold.

I applaud Anthony's ambitions here, and wish him well. But I find it difficult to see how, from outside the EU, we can negotiate an arrangement that lets British dealers sell art to Germans (import Vat on art, 19%) at the same tax rates as to the French (Vat, 5.5%). At the moment we can sell art across the EU with zero additional Vat.

And here's my friend, the London-based dealer Offer Waterman:

“A cheaper pound helps us to sell more art, and all sales to the E.U. will become export, so VAT will be eliminated,” said Offer Waterman, a London dealer specializing in 20th-century British art. At present, “secondary market” dealers in Britain must pay a domestic 20 percent tax on their profit margin on sales to clients from the European Union.

“But this isn’t going to be an easy divorce,” Mr. Waterman added. “Ultimately it’s about the deals we get from the E.U.”

Offer primarily sells British art, sourced I presume in the UK, so a cheap pound is good for him. He is also right about margin Vat (20% on the profit art dealers make on a painting) being abolished if all art sales to the EU become eligible to be 'export sales', as is the case with sales to the US. In the same way, US tourists to the UK can get back the Vat they have paid when they get to Heathrow. But any saving of Vat in this way is usually, in practice, offered at least in part to buyers (at least, canny ones) as part of their negotiation. And in many cases (e.g. Germany) the saving on margin Vat sill won't cover the price hike dictated by the new tax for selling into the EU.

Anyway, theses are merely the objections of a defeated remainer.

Top ten Old Master shows in 2016

April 2 2017

Image of Top ten Old Master shows in 2016

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper has published its annual visitor survey. Full details are in the printed paper. Online, you can read here about 2016's top ten Old Master shows. Basically, everybody went crazy for Bosch: 582k visitors at the Prado, and 421k at the Noordbrabants Museum. 

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