Previous Posts: December 2017

Who bought the Salvator Mundi? (ctd.)

December 12 2017

Image of Who bought the Salvator Mundi? (ctd.)

Picture: via Twitter

So this much we know for sure; the picture has 'been acquired' by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as the museum has confirmed, and will go on display there. But who actually bought the picture? Christie's statement says:

Christie’s can confirm that the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi is acquiring ‘Salvator Mundi’ by Leonardo da Vinci.

...'is acquiring' is interesting wording, and implies a break in ownership between the Christie's sale and now. As I mentioned below, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported that the picture was bought by the Saudis. The Times first mentioned the name of Prince Bader bin Abdullah, but the WSJ believes he was acting for the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and also that the picture has been gifted to the Louvre Abu Dhabi by him.

But CNN has reported that the painting was not a gift, and was definitely bought by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and that the Saudis were just intermediaries. CNN published a statement by the Saudi embassy in Washington:

"His Highness Prince Badr, as a friendly supporter of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, attended its opening ceremony on November 8th and was subsequently asked by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism to act as an intermediary purchaser for the piece."

Such mystery is typical of anything related to Leonardo da Vinci, but the pattern of events is unusual in the art world. I'm told that the US government believes that Mohammed bin Salman was indeed the buyer at Christie's. But why would the Saudi Crown Prince, who is busy shaking up Saudi Arabia in the most dramatic way for decades, be used as an intermediary to buy a picture of Christ for a museum in another country? Was he looking for a commission? Of course not. And are we to believe that the Louvre Abu Dhabi didn't have the cash or an account with Christie's? Again, of course not.

So what's going on. I'm speculating, but I wonder if the bidding war for this picture was due to a battle for cultural supremacy between the Emiratis (with their Louvre Abu Dhabi) and the Qataris (with their less glamorous sounding Qatar Museums Authority).

Both countries have been on buying sprees, as they seek to create world class museums from scratch. The Qataris have set many price records on their buying spree, such as the reported $250m for Cezanne's Card Players. But what might have given the battle for Salvator Mundi added zing is the diplomatic falling out between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both are majority Sunni nations, but the Qataris have been accused of being more aligned with (Shia) Iran, and have also irked the Saudis through their media outlets such as Al Jazeera. Amidst all this, the UAE are important allies for Saudi Arabia and their energetic new Crown Prince.

But this is all guesswork, so don't pay it much attention. Maybe the underbidders were connected to an Asian museum, as has been speculated. Either way, we're seeing a return to the sort of national bidding wars for great art that defined collecting in the 17th Century. 

Four Dutch 17thC works acquired by the National Gallery

December 12 2017

Image of Four Dutch 17thC works acquired by the National Gallery

Picture: National Gallery

The National Gallery in London has been bequeathed four paintings by the collector Baron Willem van Dedem. These include a still life by Adriaen Coorte (above) - which is the first Coorte in the National's collection - two Jan van Kessel's, and a David Teniers the Younger.

I would give you more information, but the National Gallery has only put the news out via a PDF press release (which are a nightmare to cut and paste), with only embedded small photos, and even though the press release says images are available if you log into the press office site, they're not. And even if I'm told they're 'only for print use'. Finally, as is invariably the case, the paintings have not yet been put up on the Gallery's collection site.

This happens all the time in the museum world. Note to museums and museum press offices; in the digital age, please for the love of God do the following: send out press releases with decent images attached, not in PDF form, and make sure your main museum website is also carrying the relevant news item, so people like me can then drive traffic to your website. That's what we're here for!

Update - the pictures are now on the Latest Arrivals page, and zoomable.

Update II - there's a profile of Baron van Dedem here in Apollo.

Art Newspaper podcast

December 8 2017

Sound: TAN

The latest Art Newspaper podcast is out, and I'm on it, discussing Salvator Mundi and other things Old Master. More here

Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's (ctd.)

December 6 2017

Image of Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's set a new auction record for Joseph Wright of Derby, selling his Academy by Lamplight for £7.26m (against an estimate of £2.5m-£3.5m).

'Salvator Mundi' heads to Louvre Abu Dhabi

December 6 2017

Image of 'Salvator Mundi' heads to Louvre Abu Dhabi

Picture: via Twitter

On Twitter, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has announced that Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' will soon be on display there. In another tweet, Christie's has described the museum as the painting's 'new home'. While that doesn't rule out the fact that the painting is being loaned by a private collector - and thus not acquired by the museum itself - it at least sounds like a long-term loan. There's no announcement that I can see on the museum's website (which incidentally is pretty clunky). 

Update - David Kirkpatrick has the scoop in the New York Times; the buyer was a Saudi prince:

He is a little-known Saudi prince from a remote branch of the royal family, with no history as a major art collector, and no publicly known source of great wealth. But the prince, Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, is the mystery buyer of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Salvator Mundi,” which fetched a record $450.3 million at auction last month, documents show.

Update II - the Wall Street Journal now says that Bader bin Abdullah was a front man for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia himself. 

Have you seen this missing Freda Kahlo?

December 4 2017

Image of Have you seen this missing Freda Kahlo?

Picture: AFP

A new exhibition in Poland highlights the fact that the above painting by Freda Kahlo, The Wounded Table, has been missing since it was sent to Warsaw for an exhibition in 1955. More here

Identifying Russell's 'petite fille aux cerises'

December 4 2017

Image of Identifying Russell's 'petite fille aux cerises'

Picture: Louvre

One of the best known examples of English 18th Century pastel painting (because it belongs to the Louvre) is a portrait of a girl with cherries by John Russell. The sitter has long been unknown, but king of all things pastel Neil Jeffares has painstakingly identified her (as Mary Hall) on his excellent blog. More here

Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's

December 4 2017

Video: Sotheby's

A highlight of the Old Master views in London was seeing Joseph Wright of Derby's 'Academy by Lamplight' in the prime viewing spot at Sotheby's. This picture, estimated at £2.5m-£3.5m is in pretty much perfect condition, and gives the lie to the old clicheé that there's a problem with 'supply' in the Old Master market. The catalogue note is here

ArtUK's new young art writer prize

December 4 2017

Video: ArtUK

ArtUK have launched a new art writing prize. Open for school children, to win the £500 prize you must:

  1. Choose one artwork from the Art UK website which interests or intrigues you.
  2. Write about it (max 400 words) in a way that would persuade members of the public to share your interest.
  3. Your text should aim to encourage your readers to take a closer look at the artwork or find out more about it for themselves.

More here

Want to be a trustee of the National Gallery?

December 4 2017

Image of Want to be a trustee of the National Gallery?

Picture: NG

There are two vacancies on the board of the National Gallery. They're looking for a) a scientist, and b) someone who can connect with a "more diverse demographic of audiences". More here

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