Previous Posts: December 2017

Happy Christmas!

December 25 2017

Image of Happy Christmas!

Picture: BG

Season's greetings and Merry Christmas to all AHNers! The Deputy Editor and I thank you for all your interest in AHN over the last year, and particularly for your emails, Tweets and hellos; hearing from you is why we do it. We hope you have a restful and joyous holiday, wherever you are, and that your stockings bulge with gifts. The Deputy Editor is looking forward to seeing what Santa brings in the morning, and has decided that contrary to tradition, what he really likes to drink is chocolate milk.  

May all your art historical wishes come true in the New Year; see you in 2018!

New Jordaens discovery by JVDPPP

December 24 2017

Image of New Jordaens discovery by JVDPPP

Picture: JVDPPP/Museo Civici de Venezia

Excellent festive news from the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project; the team there have found a previously ignored version of Jordaens' Adoration of the Shepherds in the Museo Civici in Venice. The painting had been considered a copy of a painting by Jordaens in the Mayer Van Den Bergh Museum in Antwerp, but new analysis by the Project has found not only numerous pentimenti in the picture but also the panel makers' mark of Guilliam Aertsen of Antwerp on the back. Dendrochronology has revealed that the panel was made from a tree felled between 1612 and 1625, and intriguingly that the data was a close match to panels used by Van Dyck in some of his early Apostles series; the trees probably grew together in the same Baltic forest before being cut down and shipped to Antwerp. The Project believes the Venice Adoration to have been painted in about 1618. Incidentally, the shepherd bottom left is a model we frequently see in Rubens' paintings of the period. I would love to know who he was, this original hipster.

Not 'the last Leonardo'

December 24 2017

Image of Not 'the last Leonardo'

Picture: via Bloomberg

All you AHNers knew that the Salvator Mundi wasn't really 'the last Leonardo', (as Christie's billed it). But this article in Bloomberg has some interesting comments from Prof. Martin Kemp on both the Buccleuch and Lansdowne Madonnas of the Yarnwinder, which in theory could yet come back onto the market. The Buccleuch picture (above) I am lucky enough to see regularly, since it is loaned to the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. It's quite easy to see where Leonardo stops and the later overpainted background begins. But I would love to see the Lansdowne version (below), which appears to be all of a piece. It is in an unknown private collection, having last been sold in 1999 by Wildenstein & Co in New York, and could one presumes reappear for sale at any moment (the Buccleuch picture, though privately owned, will likely never be sold).

'What's it worf?' Well, so much depends on condition and critical reception; but who's to say it wouldn't be at a similar level to the Salvator Mundi? Remember, there were six bidders on the Salvator Mundi, which means there are at least five disappointed Leonardo buyers out there. 

TAN's round up of the year

December 24 2017

Sound: The Art Newspaper

Here's a new Art Newspaper podcast, rounding up the year's art news.  

Brexit and the art market (ctd.)

December 21 2017

The UK government has made much of its 'highly detailed' analysis of how the economy will be affected by Brexit. The Secretary of State for Leaving the EU, David Davis, said these covered 58 areas of economic activity, and had been undertaken to help guide negotiations with the EU. The analyses were published today (only after the government had been defeated in the House of Commons in their attempt to keep them secret), and it turns out the art market is not mentioned at all, not even in the paper on the UK's Creative Industries. Which is suprising since it is one of the few areas where the UK really does 'punch above its weight'; the UK art market is the second largest in the world. Much has been made of the art market's 'quietly quietly' approach to lobbying government, in the belief that it's better not to make too much of a fuss. It doesn't appear to be working.

Museum image fees - how to avoid paying them

December 19 2017

Image of Museum image fees - how to avoid paying them

Picture: Louvre

Those of us campaigning for UK museums to abolish image fees are often told by institutions; 'well, we waive fees for academic publications'. But actually making sure your publication qualifies as academic for 'free' images means you have to know how to game the system. 

One AHNer (a distinguished art historian and former national institution curator) has sent in this handy guide on what you must do:

Rule 1: Never fill in the online form until you have phoned up or emailed the Head of the Photographic / Images Licensing / Rights and Reproductions departments. Write on official letter paper and then scan that in to the relevant head of image rights department.

Rule 2: Once you have secured a fee-waiver from one top institution (i.e. NG London or the BM or the Royal Collection), use their name and reputation relentlessly to persuade other institutions to follow suit. As you get more fee waivers, add those names into your letter. This nearly always works. Major public institutions and those with a professed desire to promote their collections via scholarship and research, do not like the prospect of being shamed in front of their peers.

Rule 3: Be politely persistent until recalcitrant (or greedy) institutions give that fee waiver on academic grounds; if these image departments dig their heels in, say that you very reluctantly you will have no option but to write to the Director of Chair of Trustees. Always be prepared to do that, and follow up. Always be firm but polite, and never let go until you secure the fee waiver.

Rule 4: Use every relevant senior contact you have and also use a big name to get your way (i.e. in my case - my top boss, or a museum director or a leading professor that you know will support you).

Rule 5: Be politely steely and never give up. It is a battle out there and not for the faint-hearted or un-initiated.

As you can see, it's an expensive and time-wasting rigmarole for all concerned. Employing staff to read and decide on such requests costs museums money. And so they then need to charge fees. Catch 22.

But the main point here is this; image fees are disproportionately paid by those who don't have the right connections. Just one more reason why the whole system is a hustle. 

Guffwatch - The Burlington takes up the sword

December 19 2017

Image of Guffwatch - The Burlington takes up the sword

Picture: The Burlington Magazine

The latest Burlington Magazine editorial is a fine critique of art 'guff'. Formally, art guff is known as 'International Art English', and The Burlington is having none of it:

The concept of International Art English (IAE) goes back to a celebrated article published in 2013 in the art journal Triple Canopy.1 Written by the New York artist David Levine with Alix Rule, who was then studying for a Ph.D. at Columbia University, it is a witty attack on the language of the contemporary art press release: ‘IAE has a distinctive lexicon: aporia, radically, space, proposition, biopolitical, tension, transversal, autonomy. An artist’s work inevitably interrogates, questions, encodes, transforms, subverts, imbricates, displaces [. . .] IAE rebukes English for its lack of nouns: Visual becomes visuality, global becomes globality, potential becomes potentiality, experience becomes . . . experiencability’. As they ask, ‘How did we end up writing in a way that sounds like inexpertly translated French?’

The Burlington identifies a decline in the role of editors as part of the problem:

Editors are rarely involved in most online writing about art, and, depressingly, play a diminishing role in print media. But, as a journal with a wide range of international contributors, we regard editing as central to academic publishing: collaboration between writer and editor means that a ‘foreign accent or non-native syntax’ need not be a barrier to communicating new research and ideas.

To help combat IAE, The Burlington has launched a Contemporary Art Writing Prize:

which was launched ‘to promote clear, concise and well-structured writing that is able to navigate sophisticated ideas without recourse to over-complex language’. The closing date is 26th February 2018: IAE will not be welcome [...]

Writers must be under 35. Good luck! 

More on the latest Burlington edition (Including Canaletto, Rauschenberg and Courbet) here

'Morning Walk' attacked (ctd.)

December 19 2017

Image of 'Morning Walk' attacked (ctd.)

Picture: National Gallery

The trial of the man accused of attacking Gainsborough's 'Morning Walk' at the National Gallery in London earlier this year has begun. I hesitate to comment on a trial that is currently underway, but it seems to me that the defendant has suffered serious mental health problems, and that a criminal trial is of dubious public interest. 

Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

December 19 2017

Image of Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

Picture: FT

There was an interesting piece in the FT by Tristram Hunt, focusing on how 3D scans of objects can help us to preserve our fragile heritage. An obvious example is the ancient city of Palmyre. But Hunt (the director of the V&A) also touched on whether museums which own similarly important objects should be concerned about who is allowed to make such scans. And his argument has an important bearing on the issue of museums charging to reproduce images of out of copyright artworks. Hunt asks:

[...] who owns the data? If a private company flies a drone over the biblical cities of Jordan to digitally recreate lost civilisations, should the metadata lie with local communities, the government or the company?

For museums, much of this is a conversation around letting go. The era of mass digital reproduction starts to separate authority from authenticity, as online communities gain the means to manipulate scanned images and 3D prints for their own ends. To my mind, we have the right and indeed obligation to prevent the overt commercialisation of our collections, but not disavow the wisdom of crowds. Similarly, there is merit in generating internationally recognised systems of content licensing and data harmonisation to create greater access to our shared history for an increasingly connected global community.

Ultimately, we should not be fearful of the digital turn. From Syria to Tibet, we know that communities deeply value having their heritage recorded and cultural identity valorised. And, for museums, the era of virtual reality, super computers, mass data and 3D printing does nothing to undermine our allure. The early prophet of mass production, Walter Benjamin, once mused, “in the trace, we gain possession of the thing; in the aura, it takes possession of US”. The aura of the original and the inauthenticity of the replica remains; for the human condition it seems there is no substitute for seeing the real thing. As we put more online, more visitors come through our doors to view our collections and make their own photographic records.

Reading that, I don't see how the V&A can justify charging image fees. By 'putting more online' I presume Hunt doesn't just mean only on the V&A's own website, but other sites, journals and so on. All of it helps generate interest and awareness of the V&A's collection, and therefore drives people through the doors. Indeed, it is up to 3rd party sites, and even books and television programmes, to effectively 'curate' what is in the V&A's collection for an online audience. Who after all is going to browse through the however many hundreds of thousands of objects on the V&A's own website? 

Similarly, I think Hunt is right to warn of the 'obligation to prevent the overt commercialisation of our collections', but the same applies to the V&A itself commercialising publicly owned collections, by charging fees for people to reproduce them. And nor does Hunt add, in his final line about encouraging visitors to 'make their own photographic records' that the small print would say; 'you may only take photos for your own personal use'.

While the V&A does have one of the more liberal attitudes to image fees among the UK's national museums, it is a long way from 'letting go' of control of their collection. While it allows free image use in 'non-commercial' (ie, academic) publications up to 4,000 copies (Good) there is a lot of onerous small print. For example, 'non-commercial' is defined as;

[...] any use that is not intended for or directed towards commercial advantage of monetary compensation.

In other words, you, poor academic, must write your book for free. 

Then, the free images are only available in small sizes and at low resoultion:

Images can be published in print at up to A5 size and digitally at a maximum 768 pixels along the longest side.

And the worst sleight of hand of all:

Images for use in exhibitions, displays and catalogues are subject to our commercial conditions.

So if you're a small museum or other gallery wanting to put on an exhibition, and make reference to a work in the V&A, you must pay the commercial rate, even if your exhibition is free and entirely non-commercial.

Of course, the main point is; having the staff to write, implement and police all these rules costs money, and so the temptation is to charge where possible in order to raise the fees to pay the staff. And so it goes on.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to money. Will museums be prepared to sacrifice the relatively small revenue brought in by image fees in order to reap the benefits of what would be a massive, free and perpetual advertising campaign for their collection, as enjoyed by the likes of the Rijksmuseum? In the FT, Hunt talks the talk on opening access to his museum's data. But let's see if he'll walk the walk. 

£40m worth of art acquisitions for the UK

December 19 2017

Image of £40m worth of art acquisitions for the UK

Picture: ACE/Ashmolean

In the UK, the government's Arts Council has published details of all the new artworks acquired by museums through the various tax concessions available to instutions. The most important of these is Acceptance in Lieu, whereby owners of important items can offer them to a museum, and the government effectively foots the bill for the museum for agreeing to forgo the tax. Then ther is the Cultural Giving Scheme, which allows donors to write off some tax if they gift a work to a museum. In the latter category, as the latest Arts Council report reveals, is an extraordinary renaissance terracotta foot, given to the Ashmolean Museum by Danny Katz, the major London art dealer. Bravo to Danny, and to the Treasury for continuing this enlightened policy. 

JVDPPP exhibition in Brussels

December 19 2017

Image of JVDPPP exhibition in Brussels

Picture: JVDPPP

Good news, via Twitter, that the excellent Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project is going to have an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels in late 2018, to unveil some of their early discoveries. 

Leiden Collection goes to Russia

December 19 2017

Image of Leiden Collection goes to Russia

Picture: Leiden Collection

The Leiden Collection (the privately owned collection of works by Rembrandt, Vermeer et al) will soon be going on tour to Russia. It'll be at the Pushkin State Museum in Moscow from March 26th to July 22nd, then the Hermitage from September 4th to January 13th (2019). It's currently on display in Shanghai (in fact, the first time a Vermeer has been to China). More here

New Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait makes €1.85m

December 19 2017

Video: Drouot/Christophe Joron-Derem

A newly discovered self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi has been sold in Paris for €1.85m. The estimate was a conservative €300k-€400k. It shows her in the guise of St Catherine of Alexandria, and compares to another recent self-portrait discovery now at the Wadsworth Atheneum, which had been offered at Christie's in New York with an estimate of $3m-$5m, but didn't sell. More on the Paris picture here

A wreck of a Leonardo

December 19 2017

Image of A wreck of a Leonardo

Picture: Christie's

My latest December diary in The Art Newspaper is now online. Of course, I talk about the you-know-what. January's duary is available to TAN print subscribers from later this week, and will be online in the New Year. 

'Charles II - Art & Power' review

December 15 2017

Image of 'Charles II - Art & Power' review

Picture: Her Majesty the Queen/Royal Collection Trust

Here's my Financial Times review of the new Royal Collection exhibition on Charles II. 

Cleaning Wrest Park's Huysmans

December 13 2017

Video: English Heritage

Here's a video from English Heritage, on the restoration of a group portrait by Jacob Huysmans at Wrest Park

'Gold' at the National Gallery

December 13 2017

Video: National Gallery

Here's the latest National Gallery video on the use of gold in Old Master paintings. It features works by Van Dyck and Rembrandt.

Reviews of the London Old Master sales

December 13 2017

Image of Reviews of the London Old Master sales

Picture: Christie's

I wrote a short review of the London Old Master sales for The Art Newspaper, which is here. Among the pictures I focused on was a Portrait of Petronella Buys by Rembrandt (above), which sold at Christie's for £3.4m. In his review for The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell managed to track down the name of the buyer; the Leiden Collection of Thomas Kaplan. 

Colin and I are in agreement that the Old Master market now has a decided spring in its step, post the Salvator Mundi sale. I hope finally we can now move on from the 'Old Master market is dead' myth. 


Spanish police remove artworks from Catalan museum

December 13 2017

Image of Spanish police remove artworks from Catalan museum

Picture: via Josep Goded

There's some alarming cultural fallout from the recent suspension of Catalonia's autonomy by Spain's central government. Spanish police have removed 44 artworks from the museum of Lleida, after the neighbouring state of Aragon said they had been unlawfully sold to the Catalan government. Until now, Catalonian autonomy had meant that Aragon's demands could not be acted on. Sam Jones has more in The Guardian:

The pieces, which include paintings, alabaster reliefs and polychromatic wooden coffins, were sold to the Catalan government by the nuns of the Sijena convent, in Aragón, in the 1980s.

The Aragonese authorities have been trying to recover the works through the courts, arguing they were unlawfully sold.

At the end of November, Spain’s culture minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, received a judicial order for the return of the works. 

Managing fire risk at the Getty

December 13 2017

Image of Managing fire risk at the Getty

Picture: NYT

The New York Times looks at how close the devastating wildfires came to the Getty Museum (answer; very) and how the museum was designed to manage such risks:

The Getty’s architect, Richard Meier, built fire resistance into the billion-dollar complex, said Ron Hartwig, vice president of communications for the J. Paul Getty Trust. These hills are fire prone, but because of features like the 1.2 million square feet of thick travertine stone covering the outside walls, the crushed rock on the roofs and even the plants chosen for the brush-cleared grounds, “The safest place for the artwork to be is right here in the Getty Center,” he said.

More here

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